Recently I stopped by a chapel at a truck stop hoping to introduce myself and maybe learn a thing or two from the chaplain there. We did have a nice chat and I stayed for the evening bible study. One thing he and I discussed before the study was the importance of focusing on the important matters of the faith and not getting bogged down in discussions of secondary issues.
In essence we restated the old adage;
In necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas
in essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in everything, charity (or love).
The problem came during the meeting, when a common bible topic was raised, to which there are several valid interpretations. He told the group “what it meant”, and when I mentioned one of the alternatives, I was shut down quickly. While he was not rude, his posture and tone made it clear that “this is the only way to read that passage”. That bothered me. Ok… I was peeved. By God’s grace, I wisely shut my mouth and the meeting went on. But that got me thinking….
- How do we understand what Truth is?
- Are some Truths more important than others?
- How should I respond when there are conflicts in our understanding of Truth?
What is Truth?
First and foremost, far and above all else, the Bible is Truth. God supernaturally superintended the writing of the scriptures. Because of that, what the original authors wrote was exactly what God wanted written. Our problem understanding is because we live in a different culture and we speak a different language that the writers did.
So we learn all we can about the author and his audience (the historical and cultural context) and we rely on scholars to translate the text into our language. We also make every effort to keep passages in textual context. For example, in psalm 14:1 David says “there is no God”. That is contradictory to the rest of scripture. But in context it reads “The fool has said in his heart, there is no God”. That is in line with the rest of scripture.
So what do we do when even in context a passage doesn’t make sense? Or when several passages seem to be contradictory? We turn to two friends, reason and tradition.
Reason, our mind, intellect, and logic, controlled and directed by the Spirit of God, is the first path to an understanding of a passage. We can compare passages with each other. We can use logic, ie if A its true and B is likeA then B must be true also.
Tradition can be viewed as a record of the interpretation of scripture through the church’s history. Another way to view it is as a compilation of godly men’s reasoned attempt to understand scripture.
Unfortunately, Much of our beliefs about the bible come not from personally wrestling with it, but rather from hearing someone else (usually our pastor) tell us what he thinks it means. Problems occur when we accept our own reason and our favorite traditions’ version of a complicated or debated doctrine as the ONLY acceptable understanding.
Are some truths more important than others?
Of course! I once heard the are four kinds of truth: the 4D’s
- Truth you would Die for
- Truth you would Divide over
- Truth you would Disagree about
- Truth you would Discuss over coffee
The problems arise when we put a truth in the wrong category. Say we elevate a “discuss over coffee” to a “divide over”, for example, was Paul right or left handed? Or worse, we demote a “die for” to a “disagree about”.
And that is what happened the other night. We were talking about a topic I thought was a “discuss over coffee” or maybe a “disagree about” and he thought it was a “die for”. That’s when toes got stepped on. I was hurt that my view was squashed and he thought I was bordering on heretical.
What should I do when disagreements arise?
- PRAY! For and with the other person.
- BE KIND! Remember, he is your brother.
- Seek to understand the other’s view
- Review my own points to see if I have misstated anything or maybe misunderstood scripture.
- Look for points in common.
- Disengage BEFORE harm is done.
ps. I have intentionally used examples that I thought were non issues. I sincerely apologize if anyone was offended.
pps. For me, the authority and inspiration of scripture is a “die for” doctrine. All authority and truth comes from Jesus, passed to the apostles, who then wrote it down. If He was and is God as the apostles claimed He said, surely He is powerful enough to have overseen the writings. As all but one book of the Old Testament is referenced or cited in the New as authoritative the church has historically accepted all 66 books as divinely inspired. All of true doctrine flows from a right understanding of scripture. If, as some claim, it is just a man-made book, then it has no authority and no claim to be truth or even true. In that case, we could not trust any of it including Jesus’ own story.