Theological Models

In our quest to understand God, we naturally and inevitably create theological models. Christian theologians, and regular people, do this by looking at the bewildering array of ideas in the Bible and contriving a simple set of propositions to tie it all together in some logical way.

There are big name, comprehensive models, like Calvinism and Arminianism. And there are less pretentious models, like The Shepherd and Sheep model, or We are the Bride of Christ model.

At their best, models are useful tools that help us comprehend and explain things abstract, complex, and invisible. At their worst, they are idols, man-made and misleading images of God.

We get in trouble when we ask our model the questions God has not chosen to answer plainly, like “Who will be saved?” Of course, if you embrace a big-name model, you believe God has plainly answered that one. But there are paradoxes in the Bible – statements that seem to contradict one another. The model depends on some statements as foundational, and then tries to explain away the others that appear to contradict it.

We get in the most trouble when we confuse our model for the truth. Or confuse it for God. If we find security in our model, trust it, obey it, defend it, love it – in place of God – it is an idol. And it will drive us, and those who hear us, away from God.

It takes humility to acknowledge the limitations of my favorite models. I don’t like to read Scriptures or hear about things in the world that my model doesn’t explain. I have to say “I don’t know,” and that is often the hardest truth to face. But there is freedom in that humility. There is peace when I am hidden in the arms of my Father, and trusting him even when it doesn’t all add up. But I’m often not willing to play the child and hide there. I want to be a big person and know all the answers.

He hasn’t asked me to have an answer for every tough question, only to have an answer for the hope that I have. That one is easy…

3 thoughts on “Theological Models”

  1. Sheep and shepherds, brides, children and fathers, brothers and lovers all at least have the advantage of being incarnate object lessons , created by God in His relentless quest to be known by us. Systematic theology starts on our side as a way to explain God.

    I think that the question of who will be saved is not nearly as bothersome as who won’t be saved.

    Do you think that the level of discomfort we have with the imperfection of our systems is related to how much we worship them rather than God?

  2. Bill,

    I think we must examine the purpose for our models. What are we trying to gain from them. Our discomfort comes from their failure to meet our purposes.

    Your “…created by God in His relentless quest to be known by us.” is an excellent statement of the purpose of his models.

    I am afraid that our purpose is often to answer such questions as “who will” or “who won’t” – questions we must leave with him. They are too big for us, and our attempts to be sure of their answers produce rotten fruit.

  3. Jim,

    I have really been captured of late by the incredible lengths our Papito has gone to to get us to know Him. I really love the YWAM statement of purpose which is (as I remember it) to know Him and to make Him known. It really is that simple. The difficulty comes from our substitution of things like knowing Him for a true love affair with our dad. Or that is what it has been for me.

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