theology

‘What a Waste of Time!’ Are Theological Debates Futile?

7 November 2023

4.6 MINS

Theology matters, but vain and unedifying arguing needs to be avoided.

As always in the Christian life, there are various unbiblical extremes to avoid. We see this occurring so often. If some believers are wrongly doing or saying or believing certain things, too often, other believers will go way over to the opposite extreme, with neither one being helpful – or biblical.

One recent example of this came my way in the form of a comment on my website. I had written an article on a rather important debate called ‘Replacement Theology’, or what some prefer to call ‘Fulfillment Theology.’ As I said in the piece, it can be quite a deep and detailed discussion, and plenty of debate arises when believers go back and forth on it.

It has come up again in a rather big way with the current Hamas assault on Israel. So I have been writing on these matters of late. And things can indeed get rather complex in these sorts of theological debates. Often, you need to be aware of not just the biblical data, but the various other theological matters that can be related to the discussion at hand.

Knowing God

As I said in that earlier piece, issues of hermeneutics, eschatology, history, biblical theology, the relation between the Testaments, salvation, and so on all come into play. Such deep thinking and study and reading that is required to get a good handle on these things is not for the faint of heart.

This is exactly why so many believers simply throw up their hands and say they want nothing to do with theology: ‘It is just too hard. Just give me the simple gospel.’ I can understand such reactions, and I hear this sort of thing fairly often. For example, one fellow sent this comment in on my article:

I’ve come to the conclusion that most theology is bunkum. All this arguing and futile division over ancient texts and end times speculation – pre trib, pre mil, post mil, dispensationalism, yadda, yadda, yadda…

Nobody knows! It doesn’t matter how many “whole libraries are filled” with discourse on these matters. It’s all nothing more than fallible and often egocentric human opinion.

Why can’t we all just be Christians, and treat all humans, irrespective of their beliefs, with respect? We will know the real answers soon enough.

A few things can be said in reply to this. First, theology need NOT be bunkum. Theology is simply, as the term implies, the study of God. ALL Christians should want to study and learn more about the God they serve. We all should desire to know and love God more, and good theology can certainly help us do that. See more on this here.

In a sense, all Christians are called to be theologians. We all should seek to better and further understand the Bible, and get a better grasp on Who God is and what the central tenets of the Christian faith are. We are to “study to show ourselves approved unto God” (2 Timothy 2:15).

Having said all that, I agree that for some folks, theology can become divorced from the Christian life and the real world. Some folks can get so obsessed over the minutiae of theological debates that they seem to have no bearing on the things that matter. Sadly, we all know of some folks who are awash in theological knowledge and detail, but their life is not exactly a good advertisement of what it means to be a follower of Christ.

Wilful Ignorance

But the other extreme is no better: claiming to love God, yet knowing next to nothing about the most basic of Christian doctrines and beliefs. That helps no one either, and can easily lead to falling into cults and heresies, etc. And as I have written before, we DO need to learn from others. We do need teachers in the faith. So, reading and studying some good works on basic theology is a part of this.

Getting back to this fellow’s comment, yes, a lot of wasted time and energy can go into various eschatological discussions and debates. Some folks can spend all their time on the end-times and various scenarios about it, yet still live lives that are not much of a witness for Christ.

Eschatology IS important, and we all should love and long for the Lord’s return, but plenty of useless and unnecessary arguing and fighting over end-time options and eschatological views can sometimes do more harm than good. And I should know – as a young Christian, I was VERY argumentative, dogmatic and often just plain unpleasant to be around when it came to the “right” views on these things.

I have, over the years, mellowed and hopefully become more mature and wiser in all this. I am no longer ready to hurl anathemas at those who might differ with me on so many of these issues. They are vital issues, but there can be room to move here, and one’s salvation is usually NOT at risk if one has a particular end-time stance.

Is it true that discussions about theology and eschatology are “all nothing more than fallible and often egocentric human opinion”? Yes, sometimes it can well be. But certainly not always. Yes, we are all fallible, but we are to ask the Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth. (John 16:13)

So, as always, we need the biblical balance here. We ARE to avoid wasteful and unhelpful arguments and wranglings over words and so on. And we are to avoid overly argumentative people as well! See here for example.

Duty-Bound

Lastly, should Christians “treat all humans, irrespective of their beliefs, with respect”? Well, generally speaking, yes. But, of course, not always. When clear heretical teaching is being pushed, when obvious false doctrine is being promoted, then the Christian must stand strongly against it.

When heterodox beliefs and ungodly practices are being championed and circulated, we are under obligation to resist them and fight against them. Paul could go so far as to say that those pushing the teachings of the Judaisers in Galatia should be accursed. (see Galatians 1:6-10)

So yes, I get where this fellow is coming from. There IS far too much vain, fleshly and counterproductive arguing and fighting over so many theological and eschatological matters. Too many arrogant believers need to pull their heads in and learn about speaking truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) and being full of grace and truth like Jesus was (John 1:17).

But throwing the baby out with the bathwater helps no one. Yes, we should avoid pugilistic Christians who get their jollies out of arguing all the time. But we still need good theology, because bad theology exists, and it needs to be countered.

Also, good Christian theology will (or should) lead to good Christian living. Orthodoxy should result in orthopraxis, and we need both. So I will continue to promote the importance of sound doctrine and good theology. And I will also continue to avoid unedifying arguments and debates, staying clear of those who just want to argue, as I seek to stay humble before God, certainly while I seek to share biblical truth.

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Originally published at CultureWatch. Photo by Kampus Production.

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