On Assessing Theologies and Theologians

Norman Geisler, with whom I only occasionally agree, made a comment in a book that has stuck with me ever since I read it (unfortunately which Geisler book I read it in escapes me now) some time ago. He said something along these lines, “I read only one book to believe, all others to consider.” That, I think, is quite right. Quite right.

Scripture excepted, all of us are fallible, not to mention sinful, human beings and we produce theologies that can be erroneous. By God’s grace some of us are being renewed after the image of God in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness (per Eph. 4:24 and Col. 3:10), but we are not granted infallibility in this life. That’s too bad, because I could really use a little infallibility now and then. Seriously there is a point to all this.

If we combine the points of paragraphs one and two we can see that the reason why only one book should be read to be believed (the Bible) and all others considered is because of our fallibility. But we all know this. So why am I wasting your time with all this? Good question.

Here is why I raise these issues. There is a prevalent error that circulates among the saints that I frequently run into and it is this: a trusted theologian or writer is embraced en toto and a distrusted theologian or writer (there are some theologians who know how to write) is rejected en toto. Now there are theologians whom I have come to respect and trust and where I disagree with them I had better have good reasons. But no theologian or other authority gets it right 100% of the time (of course granting fallibility in general does not prove specific error at any one point). And, truth be told, no less than trusted theologian gets it wrong 100% of the time. We must learn to read with critical accumen. We must learn to sift the wheat from the chaff. In an interview with Rev. Dr. Mark Garcia at Christ the Center, he noted how it was possible, in the midst of the various debates at the Westminster assembly, for the divines to cite a theologian with approval in one instance and criticize him in the next.

So let’s read with attentiveness and accept the fact that our favorite writers sometimes blow it royally and sometimes theologians we dislike get it right. I can learn from those with whom I disagree and I can critically assess the work of a respected theologian and reject something he writes. I am thankful that I can and ought to do this as I am far from perfect myself. I need the imputed righteousness of Christ in my academic pursuits as much as with any other area of my life.

* The statue in the picture is of the venerable Charles Hodge of Old Princeton. I even disagree with him from time to time, although the last time I did that escapes me now.

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