This is the age of information. Never in history has so much information been shared in such a short period of time. This is primarily due to the introduction of the internet. Today websites abound in the search engines touching on every subject found in Christianity. What was once limited by demographics and time restraints is now open to the entire world.
This is a far cry from the times of past theologians such as Augustine, Aquinas, Zwingly, Arminius or Calvin. Yet still today, we study the writings of these theologians and for the most part, reference their teachings in the foundations of our doctrinal beliefs. These, and for that matter, theologians at the beginning of the past century, did not benefit from an information system as is provided to us through this technological age. Their studies into any subject or topic of the Christian faith would have required many months if not years to complete. Keep in mind that such did not benefit from our Google or Yahoo search engines. Each point had to be dissected through a manual search of archives and a constant dedication to prayer for clarification.
Roger E. Olson, in The Story of Christian Theology, explains the differences in levels of importance found in Christian beliefs. He goes on to explain the differences between dogmas [worth serious and even heated defense, such as for the Trinity and incarnation], doctrines [considered essential to the Christian in their groups, such as part of their particular tradition, denomination, or church], and theological opinions or individual interpretations [matters of indifference ‘adiaphora’, for example details of belief about the exact nature of angels and about the details of events surrounding the second coming of Christ].
It is here where the distinctions of traditional theology must take place. What has been handed down as dogmas normally stay within the foundation of every system of belief in time. It is the responsibility of all theologian today to safeguard those traditional theologies that represent our dogmas [that which is certain]. Doctrines are developmental based on the specific inclinations of a group with regards to their traditions. It is the responsibility of the individual theologian in their specific groups to present and uphold the doctrines that form part of the core teachings of that specific group. However, the individual theologian must accept that other groups exist with their one particular doctrine which may differ from their own. Theological Opinions are ever changing based on the times and the interpreter’s point of view. It is the responsibility of all theologians to understand the limits of their own Theological Opinions as a matter of choice in an inconclusive topic.
Today we have at our fingertips the ability to isolate within seconds information through the web on any specific topic. Yet we continue to rely on the teachings of these theological laborers to anchor our system of beliefs. We use their writings for teaching the principles of Christianity today in our classrooms and churches. We seek to present a stamp of approval in our discussions by quoting their work. We establish relevance to our lectures in the sole mention of their names.
Yet differences existed then as they do today between modern theologians. Their viewpoints where just as diversified as well. They sought to present their positions and argue for the right to discern Scripture in light of new understanding or interpretation of the application of the text. The theologians of those past times experienced persecution from the structured church in their specific age, if they deviated in any way from a consensus viewpoint and teaching.
Today we have branched out into a great number of schools of thought in the various subjects of theology. We have even tolerated the introduction of a new postmodern theology, seeking to fit into relevance a culture and society that finds itself worlds apart from the culture and society of those ancient times. This is not totally a bad idea until we stop utilizing the Scriptures as the instrument of reference and solely begin the structure of our new theology through a sole connection with the writings of theologians that stand on our side of the aisle, not differentiating between what are dogmas, what are doctrines, and what are theological opinions.
We must study and return to the building of theology in the same manner as those that positioned all matters of the faith based on the text of the Scriptures. This is what has stood against the test of time to make the writings of those theologians of the past centuries, foundational to the dogmatic positions today. We can agree to disagree on the interpretation of a Biblical text. However, positions that are presented based on the ideologies of those that have drifted away from the Scriptural reference, itself carries very little weight and should have no influence in dogmatic theological issues.
So, being careful to maintain the Scriptures as centered in the foundation of our theological arguments and categorizing the issue into one of three positions [dogma, doctrine, and theological opinion], we can truly see the impact that traditional theology [whether accepted or dismissed as irrelevant by the Church] has done on today’s modern Christian worldview.
Dr. Samuel Galloza, Ph.D., D.D.