Romans 11:33-36

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Labels


Many times, those who reject theological labels do so out of ignorance or indifference. Others stealthily adhere to and teach a definite theological system but refuse publicly to acknowledge it out of fear of repercussion or other more spurious reasons (like trying to get hired). Some use labels as a weapon to accomplish their own version of McCarthyism. Still others hold humbly and deeply to their biblical convictions yet spurn labels as a matter of principle. I fit into the latter category. Maybe it’s a personality flaw.

At one time my family and I lived in Alabama. For those who have not experienced SEC country, college football is King (capitalization is intentional). When we first moved to Montgomery, we visited several churches. On our first Sunday in the church we eventually joined, we were greeted warmly. After the service, one of the men who came to shake my hand was not smiling as he made a terse statement. He looked me square in the eyes and said, “You need to declare.” Having been all over the world, I understand different places have different ways of communicating things. I assumed he was asking us if we were ready to “declare” by transferring our membership, so I began to explain that we were still seeking the Lord’s guidance as to where He would have us serve. His look of confusion betrayed the fact that we were not communicating. He was quick to clear up the confusion. “I wasn’t asking you about joining the church. You said you’re new to the area. You need to declare—Auburn or Alabama.” As I said, I have a deep-rooted personality flaw. When forced to choose between door #1 and door #2, I invariably choose the window, so I told him I was a West Virginia Mountaineer fan. Once again he looked perplexed as he tried to figure out which Alabama county West Virginia was located in.

If I am backed into a corner and forced to “declare” I like the unspoken third option. When confronted by Calvinists who want to know how many “points” I adhere to, I might tell them I’m an Amyraldian. Does that mean I hold to everything the French theologian Moise Amyraut taught? No, it means that most people know little about it so they drop the subject. At the 2007 Building Bridges Conference, I thought I had found a new label I could adopt. Dr. Ken Keathley taught about Molinism. I thought that would be a wonderful label to adopt because even fewer people know anything about Molinism than Amyraldianism. But, after a quick study, I realized that if I called myself a Molinist and someone actually knew anything about it, it would be bad. A “best of all possible worlds” theology is inherently fraught with peril. So I remain, for the most part, a man without a label. Maybe Dr. Danny Akin phrases it best when he calls himself a “radical compatibilist,” wholeheartedly affirming both the sovereignty of God and the real (as opposed to apparent) responsibility of man.

The problem with labels is that, rather than clarify one’s theological position, they often serve to muddy the water and hinder authentic Gospel relationships. Shortly before we moved from Alabama, our church was in the process of calling a new pastor. After a wonderful time of getting to know the candidate and his family during a fellowship meal, a microphone was set up and he was peppered with questions from the church. I will never forget one of the questions he was asked by a dear, sweet older lady. In the most disgusted tone she could muster, she asked him, “You ain’t one of them Calvinists, are you?” Was that a legitimate question? It could have been except for the fact the lady had absolutely no clue as to what Calvinism entails. All she knew was that, in her mind, it was bad. All she knew was the label—and the label was bad.

Sincere, biblically grounded theology is essential. Labels are not. I will continue to develop my theology as the Holy Spirit continues to illumine Scripture to me. I pray that that He continues to be the grid through which my theology develops. Until then, when asked, I will say I am calvinistic in my theology—not a Calvinist. I will say I am dispensationalistic—not a Dispensationalist. I hold to the fundamentals of the faith—but I’m not a Fundamentalist. I will read works from Reformed writers and non-Reformed writers—and agree with and disagree with both at times. I will read Covenant Theologians and Dispensational Theologians and learn from both. I might even read an Emergent guy or two, as well as those who proudly trumpet the fact that they are not Emergent. My prayer is that I will do all with the intent of viewing all systems through the lens of Scripture and not vice versa.

Maybe that makes me a Biblicist. Now, that’s a label I can live with!

1 Corinthians 1:12-13, 31

2 comments:

  • Strong Tower says:
    February 24, 2009 at 2:32 PM

    Decent!

    "Sincere, biblically grounded theology is essential. Labels are not."

    Let me ask you a question, cuz I think you answered it above: If you give definition to something, doesn't that label it?

    I do call my self a fundamentalist but I do what you do when labelled that, I define it.

    I am not adverse to labels, labels is just words. What matters is the definition that we give to them. To the unclean all things are unclean, so once a label is tarnished many will always see it in that vain. However, should we stop using the label? I hope not, for many words have been used rightly, or wrongly, but the definition hasn't changed. Christian? It is more and more being defined as some bad thing. Drop the label, no, it is necessary. Gay? How our skin tends to crawl if we are labelled such, but only because we have become predjudiced, not toward the word, but because of a definition. I am gay, though my wife my disagree, and call me a grump.

    Whatever! Define the label and where it proudly, defend the word, it may be the onliest opportunity to give a defense for the hope that is within.

  • Jim Drake says:
    February 24, 2009 at 3:02 PM

    Thanks for the comment! I agree that labels are just words. The trouble comes with the connotations people assign to those words. I have met many people who are so turned off by the label "Calvinist" that they refuse to even dialogue with a person who identifies himself as such. By the same token, I have met Fundamentalists who refuse to dialogue with those who will not wear their badge. People who identify themselves as Dispensationalists are often looked at as backwoods by those who are not. For me, that is one reason I am averse to those kinds of labels. They tend to squech dialogue before it can even get started.

    The other reason is far bigger. That is simply that I have difficulties with parts of each of those "systems". They are very neat and clean, but each of them minimizes or eliminates many of the tensions of Scripture. For example, I am not as willing to gloss over the Scriptural tensions between God's sovereignty and man's responsibility as many who proudly brandish their label (Calvinist or Non-Calvinist).

    Who knows, one of these days I might get it all figured out to the point where I can place it all in a neat little box and label it appropriately. But I doubt it--my brain's just not big enough (and it doesn't seem to be getting any bigger)!

    Thanks again for dropping by with a comment. Hang around for a while and see if there's anything else you like!

    BTW--you worried me with the whole "gay" thing. I'm happy too, but that's another label I'll shy away from.

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