Tossing TULIPs Helps No One
So some will have heard there was a "Calvinism Debate" recently. That's one of those diplomatic events where people throw Bible verses at each other in an effort to reform their opponent's theology. These things are often a complete waste of time. There are two groups responsible for making them such: 1) the Bible verse throwers and 2) the people who listen to Bible verse throwers.
Let me lay out where I am going. I am persuaded that philosophy and sociology have more of an impact on theology than Scripture verses. This is not to remove Scripture verses from the equation per se but to highlight that no reader of the Scripture approaches the text as a blank slate. Or let me put it another way, there is no "just read the Bible." This tabula rasa concept made popular by John Locke is seen everywhere in Biblical interpretation today. We have been convinced by rationalism that we can approach a text searching for objective truth without presuppositions. Ultimately this kind of thinking lead to higher criticism and liberalism but I'm getting off track. Back to "just read the Bible."
Many of us who have engaged in theological discussion know from experience this type of thinking is alive and well. We always think we "just read the Bible" while our opponent brings their presuppositions to the text. They, in turn, think the same about us.
Are you beginning to see how this ends up as nothing more the Bible verse throwing?
Put bluntly, Bible verses in themselves do no persuaded and change minds. They certainly don't alter ingrained theological patterns. It is the interpretation of these verses that define theology and it is these crucial interpretations that are affected by our presuppositions.
The difference between a credobaptist and paedobaptist is not some super secret passage of Scripture. The distinctions between views on predestination and assurance are not to be resolved by a proof text from Romans 9. It is the wide lens exposition of these texts that drives theology. Thus, for debates/discussion to be beneficial they need to emphasize hermeneutics. As we begin to emphasize hermeneutics, the presuppositions that are set by philosophy and sociology will become clear.
This is where the problem lies. Most individuals are incredibly ignorant about the philosophical paradigms that underlie their thinking. Sure maybe the average joe can spot pluralism. That's fantastic for defending that Christ really is "the way, the truth, and the life." I'm talking about the stuff that is ingrained into our minds already (e.g. the enlightenment). Pragmatism. Existentialism. Hedonism. <cough> Individualism <cough>. All these ideas affect our understanding of the Scriptures. We read the texts to affirm our presuppositions on theology, church, society, and God. We can see the extremists (e.g. liberals, full preterists, Baptists <I kid, I kid>) but we struggle to see the philosophical currents that separate those within orthodox ilk.
Philosophy affected Augustine. Philosophy affected Aquinas. Philosophy affected Calvin. This is not bad. It means we need to stop being simpletons. Not only must we read outside our traditions we must learn to understand them. Not just their theology but the entire undercurrent of their thinking.
So let's stop tossing verses around. Let's open our Scriptures together and talk about the specifics of how we determine what the passage means. This may or may not fulfill that whole "love thy neighbor as thyself" thing.