What ever happened to ‘agree to disagree’? Even in theology!

In this politically correct America, where all things are ‘supposed’ to be tolerated, we have lost the attitude of ‘agree to disagree’.  Have you ever noticed when watching the talking heads on the political shows or listening to political radio, people are constantly trying to  convince you they are right and you are wrong.  We have lost our willingness to ‘agree to disagree’!   Everyone, and I mean everyone will discuss, debate, and even degrade one another in an attempt to win the argument, therefore having the satisfaction of knowing I was wrong and they are right.  In the old days people could have a common sense dialogue about issues and still be amicable.  These days it really comes down to people thinking ‘if you disagree with me, you are wrong and a stupid fool who does not deserve to voice your opinions’.

I know I sound like an old timer (“that’s pretty good Johnny, but that ain’t the way I hear’d it”) when I say it’s not like the old days of people sitting around with others of differing views, discussing the issues, and then going out for pizza afterwards.  We are so sensitive and ‘intolerant’ of opposing view points we take the views and opinions of others as a personal attack if they disagree with us.  People get mean, nasty, sometimes violent and resort to name calling instead of having a substantive and intelligent conversation.

I believe this attitude has made its way from the political realm into the theological realm.  I agree with an old saying, “in essentials, unity . .  in non-essentials, liberty . . . and in all things, charity”.  To me one thing this saying means is we need to be able to distinguish the essentials from the non-essentials in theology.  We are having way too many battles over the wrong things, no wonder nonbelievers don’t see much attractive in Christianity.  Don’t misunderstand me, there are essentials to Christianity that are non-negotiable:  the Deity of Jesus, the Trinity, Salvation being by Grace Alone through Faith Alone, the Virgin Birth of Jesus, the divine inspiration of Scripture, and others.  There are, however, some non-essentials:  the exact breakdown of eschatology (doctrine of Last Things or future events), church government, which songs to sing in a church service (hymns or choruses), which version of the Bible to use (KJV, NIV, NASB, NLT, ESV, ad infinitum ad nauseum), etc.  But many well meaning, truly dedicated followers of Our Lord Jesus Christ have taken a stand on issues that just are not essential.

When I taught High School Bible a while ago I received complaints from a parent that was angry with me that I was presenting the various main views of the book of Revelation instead of picking one view (obviously it was insisted that it be THEIR view) and just teaching it.  To me this is a non-essential.  Do not misunderstand what I am saying!  I believe the Bible teaches that Jesus will return to set up His kingdom; sin, death, hell, and Satan will be banished forever; God will be vindicated; all wrongs will be righted; and GOD WINS!!!  What I am saying is we often get lost in the Pre-Trib, Post-Trib, Mid-Trib, Pre-Mill, Post-Mill, A-Mill, Preterist, Historicist, Idealist, Futurist views and will fight to the death for that particular view when in all honesty God just is not that specific about exactly how these things will happen.

I have encountered way too many people in my life that stress the wrong things.  We are so focused on winning the argument that we lose track of the Gospel.  Some cannot see their way to even listen to other viewpoints and strive to find some common ground on which to build a healthy ‘Christian Family’ relationship because they are too busy trying to be the winner of the argument and they have the Bible and God all figured out.  I would like to encounter believers that disagree with me on non-essential doctrines, have some healthy intellectual dialogue, and still be friendly to one another – agree to disagree.

So go out and debate and discuss, but only stand firm on the essentials of the faith and be nice to one another.

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Who are considered to be the theologians with the most influence on history and theology?

This is a very interesting question, because if you were to ask 10 historians you very well may get 10 different answers.  When I was in seminary my historical theology professor was asked this question and he gave this answer:  St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther and John Calvin.  Now some things must be considered when reflecting on this assertion; 1.  This answer was coming from a Conservative, Evangelical, Protestant perspective (non Protestants will have a different answer);  2.  once a person spends time reading and thinking the thoughts of specific individuals, that individual can and probably will be seen as one of the greatest theologians (even though they are not on this list);  3.  this is a matter of opinion so any view, I suppose, is as legitimate as any other view.

As I have studied Church History I tend to agree with the 4 names given above, however, this does not mean the plethora of other theologians are insignificant.  When looked at through the lens of time certainly St. Augustine must seen as at least one of the top 5 most influential theologians.  Augustine wrote on many topics as he reflected on he pondered the mysteries of God.  He wrote on the Trinity, predestination, time, salvation, the person of Jesus, the nature and impact of sin, original sin, and many, many others.  I believe one of the major factors of him being ‘history’s greatest theologian’ is his place in time.  Augustine lived from AD 354-430, so came before many good thinkers.  Augustine paved the way for these issues to be tweaked and modified by brilliant followers simply due to his place in history.  He lived early in the history of Christianity, therefore others stood on his shoulders.  Augustine did much of the initial heavy lifting which allowed others to think about the assertions made by him and improve on them.

Second in the church history timeline would be Thomas Aquinas.  He surely is accepted by both Catholics and Protestants as an extremely significant theologian.  Not only did Aquinas boil down arguments for God’s existence into 5 short pithy ideas, but he wrote one of the most comprehensive tomes concerning Christian theology in all of history.

For Protestants next to make this list is Martin Luther.  This is obvious if only because of his writings and concerns catching the attention of the masses fueling the discontent toward the Pope and his bishops.  On the one hand I try not to make short pithy statements like ‘Martin Luther lit the fire that started the Reformation’ because the story is so much more complex than one statement can cover.  On the other hand I strive to simplify statements about people and theology for my students so I do have a tendency to come up with what I call ‘bumper stickers’ for them to comprehend some deep ideas. Luther’s writing expressing his thoughts on the bondage of the will is a significant treatment of the issue of original sin and its ramifications.  Also of great value is his tenacity when it comes to textual accuracy.  He was unabashedly devoted to proper exegesis.

The final name on this list is that of John Calvin.  I believe his impact is due what would later be called Reformed Theology.  Many followers of Jesus Christ throughout the entire world in AD 2015 are convinced of many of the tenants of Reformed theology.  Millions of believers all over the globe follow the ideas presented by John Calvin (therefore believe he was correct in his interpretation of the Bible), I am convinced this is why Calvin is on the list of most significant theologians in history.

Was Jesus a created being? I mean after all his human body did not exist in eternity past.

As I have been teaching through the setting and struggles of early Christianity at my home church, an interesting question came up that needed to be addressed.  We had been going along in our study and came upon a look at the Council of Nicaea held in AD 325.  In this council the main issue (although there were many issues addressed, not however canonicity as held by Dan Brown in the DaVinci Code) was the relationship between the Father and the Son.  An influential bishop named Arius was preaching and teaching that Jesus was the highest of all created beings, yet a created being nonetheless.  Arius made a statement ‘there was a time when Jesus was not’.  He believed Jesus to be second only to God in importance and power and authority but still created.

So as we discussed this idea I had a student ask me, ‘Well wasn’t Jesus created because His human body came into existence and did not exist in eternity past?’  This was a very interesting question that made me stop and ponder for a moment.  So I thought about it and explained that we must say what the Bible says, no more and no less.  Then I asked some leading questions like, ‘does the Bible teach that Jesus is eternal?’ and ‘Yes’ was the answer; ‘does the Bible teach that Jesus took on a human body or was born as a human?’ also the answer was ‘yes’.  So I needed to explain the concept of Jesus being eternal (John 1:1), and that he was born a human being (Matthew 1&2).  But these truths does not mean ‘there was a time when Jesus was not’.  This means that He existed (evidently without His human body) until the time when God saw fit to have Jesus born of a virgin woman, taking on human form.

Now I TOTALLY understand that this is a very difficult concept (in all truthfulness I do not understand it myself).  But as I said earlier I am obligated to say what the Bible says, no more and no less.  So the idea that Jesus was ‘created’ in order to take on a human body is a legitimate concern, but I believe there is an answer.  Jesus is eternally the second person of the Godhead, and He has certain functions different from the other 2 persons of the Trinity.  He was the one designated to ‘take on flesh and dwell among us’.  So He is an (the?) eternal being, yet chose to SOMEHOW limit Himself into a human body to live a perfect life and die to deal with sin. Elsewhere in many books there are lengthy discussion of the whole ’emptying himself’ concept, but that will not be addressed here and now.  The point I want to get across is the Arius and his followers were attempting to explain the person of Christ in a way that made sense, and they could comprehend, yet they were wrong and expounded an idea that is not biblical.  Jesus may have taken on a human body that did not exist before that body was conceived by the Holy Spirit, yet He as God has existed from all eternity and will exist into all eternity.

How exactly this works I do not know, but I do know Jesus must be divine in order to satisfy the demands of an eternal God.  He was not created, even though there was a time when His human body was not.

The Apostles are dead, now what???

The last of Jesus’ apostles, John, died around the year AD 100.  According to many legends and much reliable materials (Eusebius of Caesarea’s Ecclesiastical History) we know most of Jesus’ apostles (if not all but John) died martyrs.  John’ brother James, for instance, was beheaded under the reign of Herod Agrippa.  The death is recorded for us in Acts 12.  Tradition tells us Peter was crucified upside down.  Paul the Apostle was beheaded according to the right of a Roman citizen to have certain rights, including NOT crucifixion.

As these men were spreading the Gospel, many of them (along with some associates) were writing down the words of God through inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  They were literally writing down the very words of God.  These words (later called the New Testament) would become the next step on our journey of asking about theological authority.

While the apostles were living they were the instrument of God’s authority.  But after John dies the question come up, ‘from where did the Christians get their authority’.  I believe the Holy Scriptures fulfills this need.

The Bible is God breathed (2 Timothy 3:16) and therefore IS the very words of God.  So once the followers of Jesus asked questions about theology they consulted the Scriptures.  Almost at the same time, however, some decided the answers should come from groups of knowledgeable believers that could reason through the difficulties.  They periodically called together groups of leaders into a council to discuss the major issues and heresies.  Some of the Christians (later to be called the Orthodox Church) claim their authority comes from 2 places:  the scriptures and the councils.

So in our study of theological authority the list so far is like this:  the Old Testament, then Jesus, then the Apostles, then the Scriptures.