How Not To Think
This is one of the hardest questions we have to ask ourselves. “Hey, why do I believe what I believe? Why do I think what I think? What sources do we use to inform and “flesh-out” our understanding of the world? How do we think about morality, theology, and the world?
I’m a Wesleyan. As a Wesleyan, I usually use four tools to understand these things; Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience. Other theological traditions might use some other source, and some might take issue with one of my four. That would be a great conversation to have in some other article, but today I want to talk about what we can agree on.
Whatever we use to study scripture, I think we can all agree that these ones don’t work. These are kinds of knowledge that will mislead us, that will obscure more than they ever reveal. I specifically reject these when it comes to my study of God’s word, world, and truth.
“Feels Good” or “Feels Right”
Many immoral and illogical things feel good. Sometimes, they even feel right.
I got into a lot of fights as a kid- scratch that- I beat up a lot of people who I felt wronged me. I can tell you it felt good and right. It felt like justice; it was not. It was evil, but my feeling never would have told me that.
I’m not the only one to get mixed up by feelings either. I know a half dozen marriages that ended because it felt right. I also know a few dozen marriages that stuck it out and did the hard work even though it felt terrible. I’ve heard thieves insist that they deserved what they took because it felt right.
The reality is that in both morality and theology, we’ll often find truth that is difficult and painful.
Expedient or useful
“If we changed our opinion on this, we could bring in more millenXYZ- you fill in the blank.”
Just because an idea is useful, doesn’t mean it’s true. Indulgences were useful, but clearly manipulative. Manipulation and brainwashing can be useful, but are clearly wrong. Prosperity preaching brings in the dough, but is misleading and false.
The most popular ideas are probably the ones feel the best and are most expedient. We’ve already covered those, but just let me at: murdering Jesus was incredibly popular, as was the Iraq War and the song “Who let the dogs outs”.
That which is theological familiar is not necessarily theologically right. To think otherwise is to think that we know or have heard everything, and that everything we know or have heard is right. This one is hard because it’s human nature to prefer that which is familiar.
Our Own Understanding
“Scripture is inerrant, but my interpretation of it is not.” -D.G. Powers
I have ideas about scripture and about what certain phrases or verses mean. Some of them might even be good ideas, but when I study scripture, I want to find out it’s ideas, not my own. The biggest example of this kind of thinking is proof texting, sometimes called Eisegesis, when we take our own ideas, and try to find enough evidence, enough support, to prop them up.
If you believe the Bible is inspired by God, then it’s imperative that we find out what it’s telling us. If you don’t believe that the Bible inspired, then why are you wasting your time trying to put your meaning into it.