Theology is Vanity

hot-sun[4]Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.
~King Solomon, Second Wisest Man Who Ever Lived

One thing I’ve learned about myself and other Christians is that our own theologies, as much as we would deny it, are not primarily based on careful biblical study. We think so, but even if you’ve read the Bible backward and forward 100 times, and can read Greek and Hebrew, there is another Christian out there who has studied the Bible just as much as you and rejects your theology.

I’m not talking about the essential beliefs of Christianity; I’m not talking heresy. I’m talking about all the many secondary issues which you will use to determine which church to go to and which other Christians to associate with.

The fact is, our theologies are more so based on personality, worldview, genetics, and IQ than on any biblical knowledge. Take a Charismatic, dancing in the aisle while singing in tongues, and ask him to biblically defend his practice. He might present a convincing case. Then take a Baptist, with his autographed copy of Strange Fire, sitting in the wooden church pew wearing his three piece Sunday suit, and ask the same of him. He will present a strong argument for why he does what he does and why he rejects what the Charismatic does.

According to Jesus, the wisest man who ever lived, the only theology that really matters is this….

And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. ~Deuteronomy 6:5

Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the Lord. ~Leviticus 19:18

I’m not suggesting that Christians should not debate theology. Good debate leads to truth (usually). But at least admit that the main reason you don’t follow a particular version of Christianity is simply because you don’t want to. There are many different Protestant denominations these days, and some would criticize that and say it is divisive. But, the different denominations are necessary at this point in Church history for the unity of the Church — everyone needs a place where they can worship.

Christians segregate themselves by personality, worldview, and even race. That segregation is not based on theology, although that might be the reason given. The truth is that we like to be around people who are the same as we are. There’s not anything necessarily wrong with that, but it does reveal how immature we are — and I don’t mean that in a negative judgmental way. Immaturity is a natural process in life. As Tim Keller puts it: You look back at yourself ten years ago and think of what a fool you were then. Well, that means you’re a fool now, you just won’t know it for another ten years.

So, the point I’m trying to make here is Theology is Vanity. You may indeed know more, and be closer to the truth, than most other Christians, but in regards to the Leviticus and Deuteronomy passages above, what will you do now?


In the Fullness of Time

hourglassBut when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.
~Galatians 4:4-5 (NKJV)

Why couldn’t have Jesus been born to one of Eve’s virgin daughters?

Why did God “fumble” around with Israel for hundreds of years before finally sending the One person who could save humanity from its fallenness?

One answer that could be correct is that God wanted humanity to mature to a certain point before sending Jesus.

When Jesus did come, there were two important things that had happened by that time: 1) The Roman Empire had advanced to the furthest point humanity could ever hope to advance to without Jesus; 2) Israel had regressed to the lowest state it could ever regress to thus completely disqualifying them of their God given purpose in the world.

Let’s start with Israel. Israel was a kingdom of priests to the nations; to act as mediators between God and the world. Just as original humanity was created to image God to creation in wise stewardship, and image creation to God in thankful worship, so Israel was created to image God to the nations and the nations to God. When they followed that purpose they were at peace with the nations, but when they rebelled against it, they were at war with the nations.

The number one issue which turned the Israelites away from their calling was the worship of the gentile gods. Read through 1 & 2 Kings and see the pattern: Israel worshipped false gods, there was a time of discipline from God, there was repentance, things got better. Finally, God had enough and sent Israel into exile. If they weren’t going to fulfill their calling, they would lose their nation and position as mediators. The exile was temporary and Israel was later allowed to go back to Jerusalem, rebuild the city and the temple.

Notice, when reading the Old Testament, the Israelites didn’t deal with demons at all. Elijah didn’t go around casting out unclean spirits from individuals. The war was with the false gods.* However, when Jesus came onto the scene, there were demons everywhere, and Jesus never had to rebuke the Jews for their worship of Baal. This is illustrated in the parable found in Luke 11:24-26….

“When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when he comes, he finds it swept and put in order. Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first.” (NKJV)

The Israelites were purged of their gentile god worship in the exile, and never fell into that again. But, by the time Jesus came, the Jewish people had fallen into something worse: they made their own religion into a false god. No longer were they acting as mediators between God and man, leading gentiles to salvation — now they were actively keeping people out of the kingdom through their false interpretation of their covenant with God (see Matthew 23:15). They couldn’t have made a more heinous mistake, and were worse off then than before the exile.

When reading Daniel 2 & 7 and Revelation 13, it can be seen that the Roman Empire was a conglomeration of the three empires which came before: Babylon, Persia, and Greece. After Babylon fell, Jerusalem and Judah became the spiritual heart (the Holy Land) of those empires. Israel was no longer a sovereign nation, but as far as God’s calling for the Jews was concerned, what came after the exile was more glorious than what was there before (see Jeremiah 31:31-40 and Zechariah 2:1-13).

The Roman Empire was the furthest development of those empires; it was the combined strength and wisdom of the greatest societies that existed before the rule of Jesus. Where was humanity to go from there but downward? It was time for the true King of the world to come and take His place. That is illustrated in Daniel 2 & 7 — the kingdom of God comes and crushes the old empires and consumes the world.

It is somewhat of a mystery** as to why God would want humanity to progress to a certain point before acting. That is true for our own personal lives as well. If God would act sooner, things would get better quicker, right? But, if humanity was created to grow and mature over time, then this action of God makes sense, to a certain degree anyway. Children don’t always understand the actions of their parents, at least not until they’re old enough to do so.

We must trust that in the fullness of time, or when the time is right, God will act, and the best possible outcome will result.

Here is a related message by James B. Jordan in which he discusses the maturation process of humanity…..


*I realize that there were demons behind those false gods.

**N.T. Wright in his book The Day the Revolution Began writes this:
“…the ‘continuing exile’ [the exile into Babylon and the continued subjugation under Gentile powers afterward] of Daniel 9 and many other texts, was not just a long, dreary process of waiting. It was the time in which the strange power called ‘Sin,’ the dark force unleashed by human idolatry, was doing its worst precisely in the people of God. God’s people were captive, enslaved, to Babylon and its successors and to the dark powers that stood behind them. What God was doing through the Torah [the law], in Israel, was to gather ‘Sin’ together into one place, so that it could then be condemned.” (Page 286)


Some Methods and Tools to Read the Bible


There are two ways, I think, we should read the Bible. One is to study it deeply. This means choosing a chapter or a couple of verses at a time and reflecting on each word carefully. The second way is to read it in a more general fashion, like how you’d read a novel. The first way is to get you to understand fully what each specific author wanted to get across to his readers. The second is to get you intimately involved with the whole overarching plan of God.

One handy way to deeply study the Bible is to use a Hebrew and Greek lexicon. This way you can look up the original meaning of the words you’re currently reading in English. I wouldn’t recommend getting too caught up in this though. The people who translated the different versions of the Bible were experts in the Greek and Hebrew, and so, took great care in getting the proper meaning of the original into English. But still, if you’re curious about a word, you can look it up, and you might be surprised at what you find.

Here’s an example:

Romans 8:15 says,
“For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!'”

We read the word ‘adoption’ and assume that it simply refers to kids with no parents getting parents. But it means something different. The Greek word, ‘uihothesia’, means the establishing or setting in place a male child into the position of being a son. And what Paul was likely referring to is the Roman practice where a father would officially set his oldest son into the place of being the legitimate heir to the family. A male child didn’t automatically become an heir simply for being the oldest biological offspring, and the father could cast him out of the family if he wanted to. It wasn’t till the boy was older, and had proven to his father that he was worthy of the family name, that the father would officially name him the heir. Once the boy was set in place he had all the rights, privileges, and burdens of that family. He was seen as being one with his father and having the authority of his father.

Now when we apply this analogy to the modern Christian, the term ‘son’ becomes gender neutral, and the ‘adoption’, or setting in place one as God’s heir who has rights and authority as His heir, appertains to all believers. This changes our understanding of adoption from being, “I was an orphan and now I have a daddy who loves me” to being, “I was not rejected by my Father, and now I have all the rights and privileges of being His son, His heir.” And when you begin to study what having His authority means, you will begin to understand how profound this ‘adoption’ really is.

A tool I use for this kind of study is “eSword“. It is free for PC, and there is an app for iPad, which is not free, but I bought it and use it all the time.

A tool I use for my general reading of the Bible is a reading plan called “Professor Grant Horner’s Bible Reading System”. This plan is designed to get you to read from all over the Bible each day. The plan suggests you read ten chapters per day, but you can set your own pace. Click here to read about the plan. I like this plan because it gives you a good bird’s eye view of the whole Bible and you will see scripture supporting scripture — all of the Bible tied together.

Another tool is, as you’re reading the New Testament, when an author quotes an Old Testament passage, you may have a Bible which gives you what that OT verse is. For example, Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15:27, quotes Psalm 8:6. Now if you flip to the Psalm verse you won’t see in your Bible a reference to 1 Corinthians. So, write it there yourself. Now, every time you read the NT and see a reference to the OT, go to the OT and write in the NT verse yourself. Once you’ve done that for awhile you’ll find as you’re reading the OT all sorts of references to the NT. Why is this helpful? Because then you’ll have Jesus, Paul, Peter, John, and the other NT writers teaching you how to understand the OT passages. Every time you come across one of your written references in the OT to the NT, go and look it up, and the NT writer will tell you what that OT verse is really saying. Now, again, you have a tool to give you a clear overarching view of the plan of God.

There are lots of good ways to read and study the Bible. I love studying the Bible and can spend hours doing it. These are just a couple of ways I do so.