Yes, systems of theology fail in their primary attempt and alleged purpose to sum up the Bible in a complete, universal and absolute way. Every theological system I’ve encountered (or might invent) was based on favored passages of scripture. Then a logical system was constructed around this subset of Bible passages to mute the effect of other Bible passages that did not fit well into that particular system of theology. But, lo and behold, these muted passages from the Bible are the favored passages of another theological system and the basis of another logical structure that was used to mute the effect of the passages of scripture favored by the former theological system.
I’ll show some examples later. For now, it should be apparent that if—and I do say “if” because I’m placing an enormous, perhaps an inordinate, amount of emphasis on a biological analogy…if this analogy has any descriptive power to illuminate the actual usefulness of the Bible to the body of Christ, the theological systems constructed thus far are wrongheaded in the extreme. But, on the other hand, if one is looking for a functional body—a body with cellular differentiation caused by switching-off gene suites (e.g., different passages of scripture)—rather than a mass of identical cells, these same theological systems I’m calling wrong and irrelevant might be preeminently useful.
A preacher is not a blank slate. More often than not he has been schooled in one or more of the extant theological systems. He is less likely to emerge from his study with a sermon contrary to his favorite system than complementary to it. If his goal is to preach universally applicable absolute truths, he was wearing blinders before he began it. But if his goal is to preach absolute timely and necessary truths to a specific cell of the body of Christ, to fill specific needs and catalyze specific functions at specific times, well, those blinders might just be models of efficient design. Did Jesus, efficient programmer that He is, commission these theological systems as the spiritual equivalent of repressor molecules?
And so the third and final application of my would-be sermon is that I should pray for preachers. They are up against it. I’m not talking difficult here, like walking a tightrope. I’m talking impossible, like walking on water. And I should pray for us philosophical types. We’re going to have to find other preoccupations than biting and devouring other believers. Of course, just telling us we’re irrelevant failures won’t change the fact that we have a philosophical bent to our minds.
As for me, I think I’m becoming convinced that the kind of universal absolute truth I’ve searched for by parsing text will remain as elusive as the DNA-RNA-protein complex was to the deductions and inferences of Plato and Aristotle. Perhaps my point is clearer in the analogy. Here I am, a disgruntled amino acid, reluctant to join any amino acid chains and form any useful proteins until I possess an understanding of the whole DNA molecule in all its relations with every cell in the body. That’s what I’m saying, right? I want a universal absolute understanding of the Bible.
Now, let’s say for the sake of argument that the Lord indulged me and downloaded into my brain all the truth I crave for a specific moment in time. Let’s assume that my brain did not explode or melt, and that the emotional content of that knowledge did not reduce me to a puddle of tears. Long before I could digest that information, write it down, publish it and be hailed as the greatest living philosopher among amino acids, the information would have ceased to be absolute or universal or both. Why? Because the body to which the truth referred would have changed.
Now wait a minute, one might say, not all of it!
True enough. There are probably some basic life-maintenance functions common to every cell in the body. Which ones were those, amidst this massive download of information I am assuming to be something akin to a database that lists the geographic location of particular cells, hopefully arranged by some kind of functional hierarchy akin to organ systems, the specific passage or passages from the Bible with sermon and application highlights, and maybe the need or function addressed? Now what’s not in the download is whether the preachers actually preached the intended sermons from the correct passages from the Bible with the correct applications. It doesn’t say whether the appropriate members of the congregation responded appropriately and filled the need or accomplished the function. And I’m certainly assuming that a download accomplished in a finite amount of time does not include the historical, cultural and biographical dossier of every member of every cell in the body. None of this, of course, affects one word in the Bible. All of it affects how those words are organized, analyzed or applied in the next sermon—next Sunday!