Once upon a time, a particularly pragmatic professor gave my class advice I had never heard before, and have not heard since. The advice was simple enough, but somewhat shocking.
Can’t decide between theological and/or philosophical alternatives? Pick one. Move on. Wise words? Perhaps. But this willy-nilly wisdom must be carefully qualified.
My professor was not talking about essentials of the faith. We all know…well, the orthodox among us know…’thou shalt not play fast and loose with doctrinal essentials.’ I fear for my fundamentalist readers already. Right now they are scratching their heads wondering what doctrine is non-essential. And so we have a good illustration of why it’s terribly impractical to be a fundy.
My professor was referring to theological and philosophical positions that are non-essentials. Tertiary. Debated. Not terribly clear. Insert your maddeningly stupid ‘pan-millenial’ joke here. Now I fear for those holding an overly simplistic view of the perspicuity of Scripture. Allow me to clarify. Not all of Scripture is every bit as clear as every other part. Regardless, we can think up lengthy lists of hotly debated non-essentials of the faith. That’s not difficult. What is difficult is finding our place in all the fuss.
One response to the difficulty is to ignore it. Focus only on essentials. That’s good, to an extent, but God gave us his word for a reason, and addressed particular topics for a reason. So let’s at least pretend to look interested. Perhaps we won’t be willing to go to the stake for something we believe, but that’s okay. In fact, that type of attitude shows some Christian maturity on our part. The danger is in cracking jokes about ‘pro-millenialism’ and angels dancing on the tips of pins. That type of attitude does not show Christian maturity on our part. It’s theological/philosophical agnosticism. Worse yet, it promotes the lie that theology does not matter, or is not terribly important.
Theology is important. Philosophy is important. We really should choose between alternatives. And we should do so in an informed manner. But it’s terribly unhelpful to be ever-learning and never coming to the truth. Picky. When we know about various options available to us, have done some study, and still cannot make a decision, it’s time to choose up sides and drop into the trenches to defend a view. If we lose, then we are better off for having found the weakness(es) in one view and having moved on to defend a stronger one. If we don’t lose, well, it looks as though we’ve found the position we’ll continue defending.