Why Having Bad Theology Can Be Good

Hopefully all is well with everybody.  I’m not sure if anybody still checks this blog.  Just in case some people do, I leave this little reflection on life and theology.  I just finished writing this huge paper on Justification.  Part of the paper was from a historical perspective where I tracked the theological development of the doctrine from Origen until Calvin.  One thing I noticed while doing research was how some of these theologians grew in their theology over time.  Luther’s understanding of Justification drastically changes over the five year period of 1515 till 1520.[1] In his original Romans commentary his understanding of justification is a declaration of righteousness based on Christ’s ability to heal the sinner.  Almost five years later it changes into the concept of Alien Righteousness which is completely external and given to us through faith in Christ. Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion was revised multiple times from1536-1559.  Saint Augustine himself wrote a whole treatise called Retractions at the age of 73 where he recants and revises much of his previous thought.

Here are some quick thoughts about what we can learn from these Giants:

It’s humbling. If Augustine can put out a massive list of retractions in the last years of his life then who knows how jacked up my theological frame work is today. Sometimes I catch myself trying to construct a complete and perfect systematic theology. If these men couldn’t do it then, I know I am hopeless. Their track records urge me on to know His Word but more importantly to know Him in true worship.

It’s freeing. It is okay if we don’t have perfect theology. In fact, it is okay if I have bad theology at times. The problem with heretics isn’t that they have bad beliefs but it is because they have bad hearts. It is okay to be wrong when you are open to wise rebuke. Too often do I see people who have theological stances (both good and bad) simply because of pride. Where having this or that belief set makes them superior to all others. I think that’s the great sin of fundamentalism. It can have decent beliefs but a rotten heart behind it. It’s obvious that these theologians were open to change. I’m encouraged to have the same heart.

It’s motivating. The fact that these men produced such great works yet still revised them years later motivates me to further my theological formulations. Sometimes I think people are so scared of making theological errors that they develop doctrinal agoraphobia. People hide in their confessional huts and are scared to venture outside of them. These theologians of old were pioneers. They mapped out previously undeveloped areas for the sake of the Church. Sure they had to back track at times and even ventured into dangerous areas but alas they reaped great rewards for their brothers and sisters in Christ.

In the end, it can be good to have bad theology. If a person doesn’t have bad theology to some extent then it makes me wary. May we all grow in the Grace of Christ.

[1] . Carl Trueman, edited by Bruce L. McCormack, “Simul Peccator et Justus”, Justification in Perspective, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006), p. 81.


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