Smorgasbord Theology

Smorgasbord Theology

Posted in Theologically Speaking

When we started home education, we wanted to teach the various subjects from Biblical presuppositions and perspectives rather than from the state humanistic party line used in the public schools (the “Secular Clause”, Section 77). For example, Maths became a study of God’s orderly and rational character: the mathematical systems are not human inventions, but are human discoveries of a part of God’s revelation. He is proven to be the sovereign of all when it is found that maths can be used perfectly to describe every aspect of the creation, from the micro world to the macro world of interstellar space. That is why we describe the cosmos as a “universe” rather than a “multiverse”….there is a demonstrable unity throughout all the known cosmos, a unity that is predictable down to centimetres and seconds, as in a satellite rendezvous with distant planets and moon landings. Now if maths is only a human invention, used to impose order on the chaos around us, there is no logical reason for this invention to so perfectly apply and predict events on other planets.

(Dr Remo J.Ruffini, physicist at Princeton University, reacted to the successful landing of men on the moon thusly: “How a mathematical structure can correspond to nature is a mystery. One way out is just to say that the language in which nature speaks is the language of mathematics. This begs the question. Often we are both shocked and surprised by the correspondence between mathematics and nature, especially when the experiment confirms that our mathematical model describes nature perfectly.” Dr Ruffini openly admitted that the mystery could be solved by positing the Biblical God. But to him this explanation was unacceptable.)

Anyway, to know what Biblical presuppositions even are, we have to know the Bible fairly well. But then we found that different Bible study helps would approach the Bible differently….that is, they had different presuppositions about the Bible!! Aaarrrrgggghhh! We had already been frustrated by that kind of thing: I grew up in a Methodist church and went back to one for a few years after being converted. We attended several Baptist and Presbyterian churches. We were among the Open Brethren for 14 years. We are now with the Reformed Churches of NZ. These various churches approach the Scriptures in very different ways, I can assure you.

One day I heard someone say that most Christians had a “smorgasbord” theology, a bit of this, a bit of that, but nothing comprehensive, complete and cohesive. It immediately struck me how that perfectly described my own theology at the time, and certainly that of most Christians I knew. I began a search for whatever was the counterpart to “smorgasbord” theology and discovered “systematic” theology. In this view one does not toss out all the old teachings and doctrines of the past simply because they are old. Instead, one takes the view that surely the Church of God here on earth, the Body of Christ, has learned something over these last two thousand years. Surely there are some basic things that we Christians don’t have to re-invent with each new generation of believers.

This view led various Reformers in history to write out statements or “confessions” of what constitutes a proper doctrine or Biblical understanding of God, of man, of the Fall, of Sin, of the Trinity, of Christ, His humanity, His divinity, salvation, justification, sanctification, church government, church discipline, proper worship, etc, etc. That is, they produced “creeds” and “statements of faith” which are fairly comprehensive, fairly complete and fairly cohesive. One church we were with for a while refused to have written creeds, saying they were merely the words of men (which is true: creeds are not inspired as are the Scriptures). These good people would say things like, “No creed but Christ”, and yet the congregation would be torn apart when some members would display gifts of the spirit or wander off into immorality or simply ask for an explanation as to why we baptise this way and not that way…..the leaders just didn’t know the answers nor apparently where to start looking!

Actually, it seems to me many churches these days shy away from that kind of thing a bit, that is, accepting a written creed or statement of faith: something containing a logically presented, categorised and systematic breakdown of what the Scripture teaches on any particular subject. The fear includes the idea that such statements might cause divisions, or one aspect or another might be offensive to someone who might then leave. I have to laugh at this! It is the same as saying, “Doctrine divides, but love unites.” That in itself is a statement of doctrine! Doctrine is inescapable: we all believe something and should be able to “confess” what it is, that is, write it down in a clear, concise fashion.

As parents we must avoid presenting to our children a muddied, unclear or confusing picture of Who God is or what He requires of us as we take our children through the Bible. We need to study hard so that we will not be ashamed of our Bible knowledge and understanding before our children, and so that we may not be ashamed before God but instead rightly handle the Word of truth (II Timothy 2:15).

There is a lot of good material out there to help you come to grips with a consistent overview of what the Bible teaches. There are several Statements or Confessions of Faith by the Baptists, and buying one that has a commentary with it is very helpful. I think that the Anglicans, Presbyterians and Reformed all subscribe to one degree or another to documents such as the Canons of Dort, the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism. These lay out in very orderly and logical fashion the basic teachings of Scripture on the various items listed above. Again, getting a copy that has a good commentary with it is a great way to come to grips with these doctrines. There are also books on systematic theology from various theological perspectives. One I found exceptional for its clarity and brevity is “A Summary of Christian Doctrine” by Louis Berkhof (Banner of Truth, ISBN 085151 0558).

Brother Andrew (God’s Smuggler) of Open Doors was quoted in the Challenge Weekly of 3 April 2001, “Our big need as Christians, and evangelicals in particular, is that we don’t even know how to verbalise our faith in God when the Muslims challenge us with questions about who our God is. This is appalling. This is such an extreme poverty. Praise God for the Heidelberg Catechism! How many people know about this Confession of Faith today? In my view it is the most eloquent expression of the faith that we have had throughout the centuries.” These confessions and statements of faith help us to see how the whole of the Bible hangs together, they help us to see the wider implications of the Scripture to the whole of life, to every area of our lives. These are not to replace the Bible, but only to help us more accurately understand the incredible breadth and depth of the Scripture’s application to every area of our private, social and national lives. They are excellent spiritual reference books.

Smorgasbord Theology: it just seems that the Scripture should not be viewed in that way, especially when the Lord Jesus Himself says, “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that procedes out of the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4 see also Psalm 119:160). Anyway, I found that to have more than a smorgasbord theology meant doing a lot of work in reading and researching and comparing the various theological views around. Which one is the most accurate? Which seems most faithful to the whole of Scripture? These are difficult questions, but we must realise that we all, that is, each one of us, does have a theological point of view. It is inescapable. It can simply be one we picked up from tapes and sermons and our own Bible reading (a smorgasbord theology), or it can be one we have diligently sought out from all those on offer out there, conscientiously studied and now held as a personal view, one we can articulate to others, one we are ready to defend: and one we are explaining to our children, so that they will not be tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine, but will know precisely what they believe and why they believe it. Such is our duty to our children: to train them up “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4, RSV); to teach them God’s commandments diligently all day every day (Deuteronomy 6:6-7); to impart to them a systematic rather than a smorgasbord theology. For the Lord and His Word are not composed of many unrelated bits chosen by us, but are like His tunic gambled for at the Cross: a precious whole, without seam, woven from top to bottom. (John 19:23-24).

From Keystone Magazine
May 2001 , Vol. VII No. 3
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