Vestigial Theology

coffeeHave you ever gotten to the bottom of a cup of coffee and taken that last swig only to encounter a mouthful of coffee grounds? Is there anything more surprising than expecting a beverage in your mouth and discovering what essentially amounts to bitter-tasting dirt?

Those of us who came out of established (and sometimes dogmatic) movements within Christianity have a problem others do not have. We often have these little bits and pieces of beliefs floating around in our cup of faith (and that metaphor is now exhausted).

These fragments of belief are often disconnected from most of our faith – little bits of eschatology (beliefs about the end times, heaven and hell) or soteriology (how someone is saved).

When you are asked about a matter you have not considered in some time, your first instinct should be to ask, “How does this fit with everything else we see in Scripture?”

When I first wrote the question above it said, “How does this fit with everything else I believe?” It was ironic that I had to filter that question, and I realized I made two mistakes.

First, our interpretation of these fragmentary, vestigial bits and pieces of our faith should not be based on an individual decision. This is not about what I believe but about what the community, the Church sees. The Scriptures are not for our private interpretation (2 Peter 1:21). They are held in stewardship by the Church. Therefore, we should be discussing our faith – both doctrine and practice. Led by the Spirit, we should be engaging in dialogue. That’s how doctrine is sorted out.

Second, this should not be about what I believe but what Scripture says. While my beliefs might be important in our modern world, they should be suborned to the Scriptures’ truth. What matters is not what I believe, but what the Bible says.

I find that when I am asking this question, it is useful to journal the dialogue. I write down my questions, what I think it is that I am supposed to believe, the interactions I have with others, and anything else that might be pertinent. I often read a lot – Scripture, the church fathers, and even commentaries (sometimes).

We should strive to bring our beliefs into submission to God’s Word. As we find these vestigial bits and pieces floating around, we should deal with them – or rather, we should conform our thinking to that of the Bible.

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