Not being one who hangs my faith on a name other than Jesus Christ I do very often observe people of different theological persuasions proudly proclaiming they are Calvinist, Arminian, Evangelical, Fundamentalist.Pentecostal Dispensationalist and every other self identifying group in between; however when you ask them what they mean by that very often they can’t articulate it or agree with their supposed compatriots as to what defines them as such.
For example many people who call themselves Calvinist, if you ask them if they chose to become a Christian as an act of their own free will in cooperation with God’s Holy spirit in the work of regeneration, or if they were chosen by God and saved by a divine act of the Holy Spirit acting independently of the human will to bring about regeneration would more than likely say they chose to become a Christian. In other words they self identify as a synergist not a monergist. Not Calvinists at all. Once more You could ask a professing Calvinist if they believed in infant or adult (believers) baptism. The answer depends on whether you are Baptist. Lutheran or Presbyterian. For each of these, and the aforementioned theological groups a lot of pride seems to go with the name tag; also a lot of tradition!
My point is this. People put a lot of faith in the denomination or theological name tag they self identify with. People put a lot of faith in their theological positions. Its a case of high stakes over and sometimes against the other positions. When people start puffing out their chests boldly claiming they are this, that or the other my first question generally is “Yes but are you saved, are you born again, have you repented of your sins?
My question is framed on the presumption that the person making such boasts actually has a clue that they are a regenerate child of God. Have they asked for forgiveness of their sins and believed in faith that Jesus Christ paid the full penalty for their sins which we call Penal substitution. The subtext if you will, is what is your faith based on? Is your faith in John Calvin, Martin Luther, J. N. Darby, C. I. Scofield, Curtis Lee Laws or Jacob Arminus or is you faith based in the saving work of Christ? Most of these you may recognize at a glance while others you may not but I digress.
If you look into the formation of Christian Theology over the past five to six hundred years you will find that the men mentioned above have either consciously or unconsciously influenced the way we think about theology or faith and how it is practiced. More importantly it determines the kind of Gospel we preach to others. Most importantly it effects our view of God. I say effects, because how we view the person of God reflects how we practice our faith and transmit our beliefs to others. Once more I digress.
All this being said I have to admit that this banner waving often irritates me no end. Why? Because very often people have no real clue as to their own traditions history. Why would I use the word tradition rather than use the word truth you may ask? Truth is something we search out and determine. We come to know the truth through various means but truth should lead to an intimate knowledge of that subject and its history. If we are honest we will admit that our own truth is not entirely objective, it is not fool proof and most of all as human being we have a fairly slim grasp on the subject matter even when we claim to be experts in that field. None of us can claim exhaustive knowledge no matter how well researched we are. There is always an element of the unknowable, the unforeseen and the undiscovered.
However! When many claim they are experts in the field, when they claim to know the truth or most commonly they grew up believing their theology because their experience and research confirmed it was true and it has been passed down from one generation to the next: I kind of get the feeling that they have accepted the tradition of their ancestors. I say this because when you start asking them to explain what they mean by the name tag they go buy they often revert to quoting their Pastor or one of the great Preachers of the past parrot fashion. When you ask them what did their idol mean by what their beloved idol said they circle back to we believe this because or worse, they stare at you blankly or indignantly that you would dare to questions their all seeing oracle of truth as maybe being not as inspired as they first thought. Further to this ask them if they see any flaws in their own theological system.
Okay I realize questioning and criticizing your own theological system may cause you to catch on fire or be set on fire by your former friends but I would rather burn to death than not admit to the inconsistencies I can see in my own theology. Dr James R, White often quotes someone else in saying “Theology matters“. I agree 100% Good theology as opposed to bad theology matters. An Honest appraisal of ones own theological position matters, Having well formed doctrine and theology matters regarding its importance in defending one’s position. Not having a well formed theology and doctrine often leads to poor exegesis. No doctrine and theology leads to chanting scripture meaninglessly at its victims. Parroting what others have said without any semblance of what it means just makes Christians look stupid and insults the God of our salvation.
The truth of the matter is that the whole truth is only knowable to the creator, our great and personal God. Now we can sit on that statement and listen to the crickets chirping while the wind blows gently through the trees or we can take the risk of investigating our great theological ancestors and ask ourselves what is the most reasonable or even rational position to hold.
God in His grace and mercy reveals Himself to those who he calls and causes them to seek Him out or seek after truth. It is His banner we should be holding high, it is faith in the finished work of His Son Jesus Christ that saves but don’t just stop there. Work out the implications of your relationship with the Holy Trinity so that when you are asked what that means you can give witness to how it changed your life and bring glory to the Father.