Theological Gurus

Now here is a speculative thought that has been bumping around my mind the last couple of days. I do not appeal to Scripture, nor to any studies on the matter – just my speculation.

I have been thinking about my bloggy excursion last week. One of the phenomena I noted was the tendency for a theological argument to fizzle out, not because one person had clearly won the argument, but because one side got cold feet, realising they were out of their depth. Such a person tries to end the discussion with “we’ll just have to agree to differ”. I have noticed this not only on blogs now but on email discussion groups.

What I think is at work here is the reaction of pride, when it is challenged, to retreat into tribalism. I know about this because I have noticed it in myself.

Here’s how it works, I think:

1) I have a particular theological view point, formed by adopting the views of others I respect. It makes sense to me, though because of the immaturity of the thought, it is vulnerable in a way that I don’t yet understand.

2) The view is challenged, perhaps in a way that I can handle and a riposte is given. However, it may be challenged in a way that is not easy to riposte. So there are two possible responses:

3a) I do some thinking and more research, this time at a deeper level which either solidifies my view, modifies it a little, or changes it completely. It is likely that this still rests upon the authority of others whom I respect. Nevertheless, the view is now more robust. Some learning has been achieved.

3b) I say, “we must agree to differ”. Either I will not look into the issue any deeper, or am not able to. Besides it threatens the place that my guru has in my thinking, or that of the tribe that I belong to. I like the tribe, it gives me a sense of identity, so I will not probe the argument any deeper. Thus in the last resort, the appeal is made to the authority of the guru.

It is because of this tendency that I believe that one must go as far as one can in understanding the biblical languages. Arguments over exegesis sit right at the root of theological formulations. A facility with the languages leaves one less beholdent to gurus and more dependent on the Word of God Himself.

Am I on the right track?

Theological Gurus

3 thoughts on “Theological Gurus

  1. Alastair says:

    There are few people who have the courage and honesty to publicly admit that they were wrong. I often ask myself whether I would be willing to climb down from some of the positions that I strongly hold to if it were proved that I was mistaken in holding them. One has to admire anyone who is willing to admit defeat in debate. I hope that, when I need to do this (and I have no doubt that I will frequently need to do this in the future), I will have the necessary humility and grace.

  2. Stephen says:

    Yes, it is hard to climb down. On reflection on my own arguments where I think someone else should climb down, it is all too easy to make it difficult for them do so because of too much aggressiveness. I certainly don’t want to climb down if my opponent is not very ‘nice’ about it!

  3. Anonymous says:

    I think you are on the wrong track, however this is because I am an agnostic and don’t start from the position that one is trying to understand the word of God as written in the original languages.

    If one assumes initially the texts are the word of God, then I’d agree that exegesis is the favoured route to understanding His word.

    However, if one starts from my position, the labour behind the requirement of exegesis to understand a possible spiritual message diminishes the strength of argument that there is such a message. Someone in my position has to adopt an exegesis for all religious texts. This can be seen historically to be more than a lifetimes work. However, against this must be weighed the more easily absorbed alternative presented by the scientific method, and the simpler position of starting with as little belief as possible. This results in my current agnosticism.


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