(Lisa Robinson)

A few mornings ago was one of the those mornings nobody likes.  Everything is going normal…until you turn the ignition key to get nothing in return but a ticking sound.  Ok, so I don’t know much about cars and had no idea what it could be.  I thought it wasn’t that long ago that I replaced my battery (I can hardly keep track of such things) so I figured it must be something else.  After a few tries, I figured it was time to call AAA.  As I waited, and walked around a bit, one of my neighbors who had been observing the whole thing, approached me and thought he should give me his assessment of the situation.  “It was my starter”, he said affirming that it had to be based on the sound the car was making.  He even had me turn the lights on so that he could see if it was my battery.  Nope, had to be the starter.

Well, that’s just great.  How much is that going to cost? I wondered.  So in response to my neighbors emphatic assessment, I got on the phone with my mechanic to let them know there was a high probability that I would have to have my car towed.  I had them give me an estimate based on this assessment of needing a starter.  Almost $400 bucks!?!?  I was two days away from payday and already had expenses earmarked.  I immediately started re-organizing things in my head to accommodate this unexpected expense.

Finally, the guy from AAA shows up.  Upon hearing the sound that replaced the engine noise, he immediately asserted “it’s your battery”.   I thought surely this AAA battery I got from the last time this happened should not have such a short shelf life.  But I figured that AAA had more credibility than the neighbor, who could only offer an emphatic statement based on his speculation.    I find out from the AAA guy that the battery only lasts a couple of years anyway.   And this is the business of AAA, right?    The guy actually knew what he was talking about.  Sure enough, after locating the receipt I discover that it had been 23 months since the last battery replacement.  Within 15 minutes, I was on the road again.  Whew!

But I think you know where I’m going with this.  It seems to me that this same kind of thing happens in our evangelical circles.  There are many preacher/pastor personalities that make emphatic statements based on speculation.   And the statements sound believable to those who don’t know any better.   Just like my neighbor who probably did have some kind of understanding of cars, these folks may have spent many years reading the bible but it is superficial.  There is not the type of engagement with the text that will accommodate an understanding of the historical or cultural context, authorial intent and correlation with the entire witness of scripture.  This is especially true when the theological method of ascertaining what a passage is communicating is based on a “spiritual” understanding  devoid of the realities of the text’s actual communication.  Turn on the TV and you will see plenty of this.  Unfortunately, that is a small percentage of what actually exists.  I would not be so concerned if I didn’t hear so much perpetuation of speculation.

But what is even more troubling – the number of people who believe such speculation upon hearing it.  After all, isn’t that what I did with the battery situation?  See if I had know more about cars, I probably would not have been so quick to accept what this neighbor said.  And that is the way it works with Christians who, for whatever reason, are not fed a proper diet of biblical literacy and rely on a theological method of experience and what sounds right.  Instead, there is gravitation towards crumbs that can be detached from a reasonable meaning and perpetuated because of this easy belief.   Personally, I am grieved that this happens.  The charismatic (no I don’t mean large “C”) deliverance of dogmatic speculation makes it sound reasonable and true.  Persuasion is a powerful tool especially when backed by large congregations, books and endorsements.

My wish is that pastors/church leaders take seriously the charge to disciple Christians.  That means giving them more than sound bytes and therapeutic remedies with selected proof-texted passages to support whatever claim is being made.   But more importantly, it means making sure their own their own theology is grounded in the historic witness of Christianity and is something more than speculation.  Yes, that means engaging in some type of objective learning experience where ideas and interpretations can be measured against that witness.  I can only hope that would cut down on the level of dogmatic speculation and circumvent erroneous understandings, giving Christians what they need and not just what sounds good.


C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. He can be contacted at [email protected]

    6 replies to "The Easy Belief of Dogmatic Speculation"

    • Brian Roden

      Lisa,

      This is the kind of thing that has driven me crazy since my first hermeneutics class (even though is was just a 1-day seminar after reading a text on Biblical interpretation) a couple of years ago — and one of the reasons I’m now pursuing an MATS.

    • Brap Gronk

      “But more importantly, it means making sure their own . . . theology is grounded in the historic witness of Christianity and is something more than speculation. Yes, that means engaging in some type of objective learning experience where ideas and interpretations can be measured against that witness.”

      Can you expand on what you mean by measuring one’s theology against the historic witness of Christianity? I assume it’s more than simply “make sure you agree with the early Church fathers,” but maybe not.

    • NW

      I’ll second the request for more clarification on what is meant by a theology grounded in the historic witness of the Christian faith. For example, would this mean anything more than what is clearly revealed in the NT plus the ancient Christian creeds?

    • Val

      My big issue is with the gullibility of Christians. The endless dogmatic speculation that all scientist are atheists who are part of a giant plot to overthrow the church, or all christian scientist are at odds with evolution (they aren’t, most accept it), or all non-creation/ID scientist (secular or not) are deceived really makes me question church culture. When church leaders promote this dogma, I begin to question them.

    • Lisa Robinson

      What I mean by historic witness is based on the NT witness and reflected in the creeds. It is a recognition of the basis of Christianity from the promises delivered in the OT, which the Fathers spoke of often.

      By way of example, a friend directed me to a comment that a well meaning Christian made to him on Facebook, that Jesus needed to speak life into his spirit and resurrected after 3 days because he spoke it into existence. I can only imagine that this person received his information from the kind of speculation I’m referring to and then regurgitated it.

    • Richard Worden Wilson

      Long ago done conversation, but I’m guessing that the author will get notified of comments. So, Lisa, I appreciate the subtly of your phrasiology in this: ‘What I mean by historic witness is based on the NT witness and reflected in the creeds.” What I keep wondering is why we evangelicals can’t just say the historic witness IS the NT witness. I keep wondering why bible believing followers of Christ can’t just camp out unequivocally with the Apostles’ witness rather than what gets “reflected,” and by that I would suggest second handedly and rather distortedly, given the poor quality of mirrors in those days and especially given the virtually antithetical nature of the philosophically grounded cultural mirrors in those days, as “reflected in the creeds.” Yeah, long complex sentence; I’m not so good with words myself. Why, pray tell, are we so apologetically without explication dependent on “the creeds”?

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