Why Do Theologians Disagree?

How we see theology can make all the difference to our understanding of certain concepts. That brings me to my question: Have you ever wondered why theologians DISagree? Most of us tend to look up to and believe educated people, and especially those who are well known and/or have written books. And this is a good thing because we may learn much from them. It is also true that we are to submit to the leadership of our Elders. However, even learned men (and women) are fallible, and it is a fact that theologians disagree with one another. Not on who Jesus is, of course, and not on the fact that God shows Himself in three different ways: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; but they can disagree on many not quite so important issues.

In the light of having a Bible that claims to be the inspired Word of God, this puzzled me, and so I made it my business to find out. After extensive studies of human behaviour (in the light of God's Word, of course) and a lot of historical research, I came up with two main reasons: (1) The founders of doctrinal distinctives were themselves influenced by the theological models of their time, some of which originated from the traditions of men rather than God, and they were also influenced by their own cultural and philosophical background. (2) Men and women tend to resist change. They take on board what they have learnt from the teachers they admire and then prefer to stay within these 'safe' parameters rather than chart new waters. Systematic theology gives comfort and provides security, and this is where our theological colleges play an important role.

The first difficulty arises when students enter theological college. They want to learn God’s truth in order to serve Him better, and their intentions are most sincere. However, theological colleges are subject to denominational preferences and associated theological concepts. They reflect particular mind-sets that they pass on to others. The problem is that students are constrained by time and exam expectations. They need to cram a lot of information in a relatively short period of time for the passing of tests. This means that they simply don’t have the time to properly research for themselves what is being learnt, or even fully digest what they have taken on board.

The outcome is that colleges tend to reproduce more or their own, i.e. academics with the same mind-set of ‘truth’. Students entering a chocolate-flavoured college, for example, will eventually pass on chocolate flavour. Those who enter a strawberry-flavoured college will pass on strawberry flavour. Hence, individual flavours will be retained automatically within their life cycle: A denominational college educates pastors and teachers, these move to congregations, congregations bring in new converts, some of these eventually become new students, these are educated once again by the college and eventually move back into congregations. And why do we have different denominations in the first place? That‘s best left for another post (maybe).

The second difficulty stems from the fact that most people don’t like change. They feel threatened by it. Even among academics there are very few free thinkers, i.e. those who are able and willing to think outside of the quare, and who are willing to stand against the mainstream if their own research brings to light a different ‘truth’. Being eloquent and ‘studied’ does not necessarily mean that one has discernment and the agility to consider issues from new and different perspectives. This is also why commentaries make such interesting reading. When considering ‘difficult’ Bible passages, many remain silent or copy the thoughts of other commentators.

Having said all of this, it is important to remember that those people, who unwittingly pass on erroneous teaching on a particular topic, are usually sincere in their motives! And moreover, they can be excellent teachers of truth in other areas. Yet in some instances they can also be wrong, albeit sincerely wrong. What’s the point of this post? Search Scripture diligently as the Bereans did (Acts 17:11).

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