Ambassador of Reconciliation
3/15/13 at 11:49 PM 0 Comments

Skip the Cheez Whiz

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My last post was about fruit. Today I’d like to talk about vegetables. There’s a lesson in vegetables (although I’ve never heard of the vegetables of the Spirit).

We are studying Colossians in Bible study, and this week one of our topics is “The Problem with Reason,” from Colossians 2. Our memory verse for the week is “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ” (2:8). It occurred to me that human philosophy can take different forms, and we need to be alert not just to the obvious dangers of human reason but also to the more subtle ones.

Some human philosophy involves outright rejection of God and His truth. It’s not hard for Christians to spot an utterly secular worldview and know that it is not consistent with revealed truth. A greater problem for Bible-believing Christians is to accept Scripture as the Word of God but then allow biblical truth to be encrusted over with layers of human reason and speculation. Let me explain.

I’m all for systematic theology—taking revealed truth and trying to put it all together into a coherent whole. But as we develop a complex system that tries to explain it all, we run the risk of losing sight of the simple truths of the gospel. Paul does want us to have “full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery” (Col. 2:2), but the “mystery” is not some esoteric philosophy that can be understood only by a select few who manage to explain it all. The “mystery” is Jesus Himself, and the “knowledge” is knowing Him, “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3).

Our human reason—even when it’s driven by a godly desire for understanding—can suck the life right out of the truths of Scripture. Systems of theology can become deadly rather than life-giving. I’m reminded of a passage from a book that describes the theological systems that were prevalent in Puritan New England:

But it is to be conceded that these systems, so admirable in relation to the energy, earnestness, and acuteness of their authors, when received as absolute truth, and as a basis of actual life, had, on minds of a certain class, the effect of a slow poison, producing life habits of morbid action very different from any which ever followed the simple reading of the Bible. They differ from the New Testament as the living embrace of a friend does from his lifeless body, mapped out under the knife of the anatomical demonstrator; every nerve and muscle is there, but to a sensitive spirit there is the very chill of death in the analysis.

All systems that deal with the infinite are, besides, exposed to danger from small, unsuspected admixtures of human error, which become deadly when carried to such vast results. The smallest speck of earth’s dust, in the focus of an infinite lens, appears magnified among the heavenly orbs as a frightful monster. [1]

I picture the truths of Scripture as being like a beautiful basket of fresh vegetables—colorful, flavorful, nutritious, delicious. Some people just reject vegetables altogether. But is it any better to cook them to death and smother them with Cheez Whiz? Then they are no longer life-giving—the beauty and the color and the flavor and the nourishment are gone. Could it be that we lose sight of the simple and beautiful truths of Scripture when we build elaborate systems of theology based on human wisdom? I know I have been guilty. And even a small “admixture of human error” in our systems of theology can become “a frightful monster.”

One of the characters in C. S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce puts it this way:

There have been men before now who got so interested in proving the existence of God that they came to care nothing for God Himself…. There have been some who were so occupied in spreading Christianity that they never gave a thought to Christ…. Did ye never know a lover of books that with all his first editions and signed copies had lost the power to read them? Or an organiser of charities that had lost all love for the poor? It is the subtlest of all the snares.

Another character speaks of the artist who gets so caught up in his own art that he forgets the One who created him and gave him the gift of creativity:

Every poet and musician and artist, but for Grace, is drawn away from love of the thing he tells, to love of the telling till, down in Deep Hell, they cannot be interested in God at all but only in what they say about Him. [2]

One of the questions in our Bible study lesson asked what cardinal doctrine is affirmed in Colossians 2:9. It got me thinking about those doctrines that constitute the cardinal, fundamental, non-negotiable principles of our faith—the simple truths that we must never allow to get buried under our theologizing. Using the verses in that question and some from Colossians and elsewhere, I wrote the Sunday-school version of systematic theology:

1) God created the world (Gen. 1:1; Col. 1:16).

2) God loves the world (Jn. 3:16; Rom. 5:8).

3) The world rebelled against God (Jn. 3:19; Eph. 2:1-2).

4) God purposed to save the world (Jn. 3:17; Eph. 1:9-10).

5) The whole fullness of God dwells in His Son, who is fully able to save the world (Col. 2:9; Col. 1:19-20).

6) God sent His Son into the world in the flesh to save the world (1 Jn. 4:2; 1 Jn. 4:14).

7) He will save the whole world because He is the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the whole world (Jn. 12:47; 1 Jn. 2:2).

Have we strayed from these simple truths and become entangled in wrangling about doctrine? Are we so intent on proving a theological point that we forget the big picture of what God is doing and how He wants us to live? Then it’s time to get back to pure and simple faith in the Savior. For all the doctrinal treatises he wrote, Paul knew what was most important:

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified (1 Cor. 2:1).

From the beginning Satan has been trying to seduce us, and one way is by turning us away from simple truth and sincere faith:

But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ (2 Cor. 11:3).

If you find yourself being caught up in human philosophizing and theologizing, even about the Bible, stop and return to sincere and pure devotion to the Savior!

[1] Harriet Beecher Stowe, The Minister’s Wooing, 1859

[2] C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce, 1946

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