Christianity 201

August 13, 2021

‘I’ve Never Heard That Interpretation Before’

Three days ago, I looked at a detail of The Good Samaritan story that I had not noticed before. I am constantly amazed at the depth of the parables, how many different lessons there are to be gained from what is always just a few short verses.

But we need to be careful when we hear something new that it conforms to everything else we have been taught. Someone has said, “If it’s new it’s not true.” I am not comfortable with such a sweeping generalization, but obviously in the course of Christian history, there have been many people who have come along with new ideas; some helpful and instructive; others rather off base.

In 2 Corinthians 3-4 Paul writes,

I am afraid, however, that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may be led astray from your simple and pure devotion to Christ.  For if someone comes and proclaims a Jesus other than the One we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit than the One you received, or a different gospel than the one you accepted, you put up with it way too easily.

Paul says this twice in the same paragraph in Galatians 1:7b-8

Evidently some people are troubling you and trying to distort the gospel of Christ.  But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be under a divine curse! As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you embraced, let him be under a divine curse!

Years ago, I had the responsibility of coordinating two completely different Sunday morning services at our church. The first service was meant for believers, and I asked a friend, who specializes in cult research to do a message for which I gave him the title, “How Does a Rocket Go Off-Course?” In other words, I wanted him to share not so much how groups come along with something completely out of left field (i.e. The Book of Mormon) but rather how orthodox groups suddenly seem to take a turn down a road of questionable theology.

I suspect it starts out with one small particular point of doctrine. Perhaps it’s something a reader wishes was in the text. Perhaps it’s a word that has been less than perfectly rendered in one of our translations. Perhaps it’s a lack of attention to the context of a particular verse. Perhaps it’s just a lack of sleep the night before due to bad pizza!

The problem is once you start undoing a working systematic theology, because of the inter-relatedness of the parts, you can end up undermining its foundation as to the very nature of God, or the essential plan of salvation. Some may find the study of theology boring, but there is a real beauty in how the various doctrines can fit together, if the theology makes sense.

I also want to point out what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:2

By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.  (NIV)

It is this Good News that saves you if you continue to believe the message I told you–unless, of course, you believed something that was never true in the first place. (NLT)

The second rendering, in the NLT suggests something that is true far too often, and that is many people have come into the faith family believing things that “were never true in the first place.” Again, using the analogy of a rocket that has gone off course, we need to apply what rocket scientists call “a mid-course correction.” We need to gently steer that person away from the false understanding which, left unchecked, will lead to other errors or perhaps lead to great frustration in their Christian growth and life.

However, in the case of The Good Samaritan story, the “new” insight added a greater depth of detail, or if you prefer, offered a slightly different way of seeing the cleric who stepped aside an opportunity to help the man injured on the road; a man who not only failed to help because of what he felt the law required, but one who in fact may have been going beyond what the law demanded of him.

But it doesn’t change the thrust of the story. It does not impinge on any major tenet of the church, any major doctrine, or any element of orthodox theology. Furthermore, the “new” teaching may simply represent an element of the narrative we’ve simply skipped over in the past.

If the premise makes sense to us, we can accept it, but if not, we can choose to dismiss it. The parable, and its applications to our lives, is unharmed.

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