I’ll well into my 7th year of authoring the Kineti blog. In those discussion-filled years, I’ve seen a veritable carousel of theologies come and go. I’ve seen a lot of arguing over those theologies. I’ve seen people lose sight of brotherhood in Messiah in order to win theological arguments. But on a positive note, I’ve gained some wisdom – difficult-to-acquire, battle-earned wisdom – regarding how to approach and evaluate theology. Oh yes! I’ve gained some insight, my friends.
And today, fine and fortunate blog readers, you’re going to acquire some of this wisdom awesome-sauce.
(Just think, it took me eight years to develop this insight, but you’ll have it in a few short minutes by the end of this post – lucky you! Think of it like enjoying a nice glass of wine that someone else had aged and preserved for a few decades. )
So here’s some uncommon wisdom for the Messianic Mensch: disclose your theological assumptions.
What does that mean?
It means you first acknowledge your beliefs have assumptions. That’s surprisingly hard to do, because no one wants to admit their beliefs are based on assumptions -- and worse! -- that those assumptions could be wrong.
Those assumptions may seem positively certain to you, but it might not for everyone. When people argue for a belief, they often don’t disclose these assumptions, because it does not strengthen their position. It might even appear to weaken their position, because it allows for doubt about their position. So, the assumptions are left out of theological sales pitches, while you, the theological consumer, are left with context-less, assumption-less beliefs that seem positively certain, but truthfully are not so.
Why is disclosing assumptions important?
For clarity’s sake and for honesty’s sake.
Honesty, because it’s ultimately dishonest to show only the things that strengthen your position while withholding the things upon which that position is based.
Clarity, because without knowing the assumptions of a theology, one can be convinced of almost anything from Scripture. Removed from its context, and based on the sand of faulty assumptions, one can argue virtually any idea and claim Scriptural support. Slavery, genocides, anti-Semitism and all kinds of evil has been done in the name of theology; but if we properly understood the assumptions behind those theologies, people would not have been so easily fooled, I’m convinced.
Likewise for us: don’t be fooled by various trending theologies. Understand them at a deep level, including all the assumptions made to arrive at that theology. Only then you stake out your position.
What do you mean by “assumptions”?
The easiest way to grok it is to see an example:
I hold a general belief, a theological position, common among many Messianics, that the Torah (the first 5 books of the Jewish and Christian Bibles) contain instructions that are still relevant for God’s people.
We’ll call this “Torah Relevance” theology. (I just made that name up, so don’t use it for real stuff, mmmkay? )
Normally, if I was arguing for my theology, I’d show you all the verses and Scriptures that support my position. I wouldn’t disclose the assumptions about this theology, since that wouldn’t strengthen my argument. But today, for the sake of clarity and honesty, I’m going to disclose the assumptions behind my theology.
What are the assumptions of Torah Relevance theology?
- Jesus didn’t intend to start a new religion.
- Jesus and his disciples practiced the religion of Israel, which was and is based on Torah.
- Jesus was Torah-observant, observing the laws and commandments in the Torah.
- Disciples of Jesus observed the Torah.
- Mark 7’s “Jesus declared all foods clean” is a scribal interpretation, and a faulty one at that.
- Jesus never broke a Torah commandment nor encouraged his disciples to do so.
- The New Testament doesn’t contain any “the Torah has ended” instruction, and thus, today’s followers of Jesus are in error for discarding the Torah’s instruction.
- The Torah was given as an eternal covenant.
- Jesus was the only person to have ever kept the Torah blamelessly, that is, never breaking a single commandment.
- The Torah defines sin.
- Without the Torah, we don’t know what sin is.
- Paul’s writings that seem to contradict the Torah are mostly misinterpretations by today’s gentile audience, far removed from the context of Israel, Judaism, and the practice of Jesus.
- The Song of the Lamb and the Song of Moses spoken of in Revelation refers to those who hold to Yeshua and to Torah.
- God has one people for himself, and the Torah contains God’s instruction for that people.
- The Torah contains God’s instructions.
- Jesus was the Messiah.
- God exists.
That’s just a few from the fore stream of my thoughts; there are undoubtedly many more unspoken assumptions upon which the general “Torah is relevant for people today” theology is based.
It gets complex from here: there are more intricate extrapolations of this theology: One Law (Torah for everyone), Divine Invitation (Torah obligation for Jews, invitation for gentiles), Bilateral Ecclesiology (Torah obligation for Jews, gentiles are separate people and no observance needed), Moral Law Only (Torah’s moral laws are applicable to all) – we’re barely scratching the surface here. These complex differences arise out of assumptions being interpreted in different ways.
Bottom line: assumptions matter. If enough of the assumptions are incorrect, the theology itself might, just might, be wrong.
Next time you’re presented with a theology, consider the assumptions it makes. Ask the person pitching you the theology what are the assumptions behind it. It’ll cause introspect in the proponent of the theology, and, best yet, it will let you judge a theology not on trends or personal tastes, but on the merit of its foundations.