How to Make Theological Choices

How to Make Theological Choices

The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, for, “Who has known the mind of the Lord, so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

1 Corinthians 2:14-16

Making decisions is an important part of what Christians do every day. We need to consider how to make theological choices. For instance, how might we think theologically about choosing a new job? Again, we can certainly take the “cognitively non-effortful” approach and make a decision based on some specific criteria or small set of criteria (e.g. salary, time-off, location, required travel). We could try to determine what will make us happy, but that is also a challenge.

I’m not sure I’m ready to say that choosing based on a single criteria is a horrible way to make decisions. On some level, there just isn’t time to agonize over and deeply analyze every choice. At the same time, I’m not ready to call these theological decisions either. So, what are our options? I’ll offer three thoughts that might help us make more theological choices.

Three Methods for Making Theological Choices

1. Choose something that isn’t as clear cut as your top-level, most important criteria

One of the decision-making challenges we face as humans is avoiding sucker’s choices. We need to try not to assume that we have to answer the sort of “either … or” or “yes/no” questions that eliminate any possibilities other than those right in front of us.

In an effort to avoid the sucker’s choice, evaluate choices from the perspective of a deeply held, complex belief. For example, rather than voting for a candidate based on a single, quantifiable issue (e.g. this candidate is for lowering taxes) so that one issue becomes your most important criteria, vote based on a criteria like the importance of the unity of the body of Christ which resists closure. What might it mean for Christians to use such a theological concept as the criteria by which they determine who to vote for? How might something like Romans 14-15 change the way we think about the candidates we support? How might we act differently were we to privilege unity rather than allowing the “issues of the day” consume us?

2. Don’t start with human logic 

There is a way that seems wise to humankind … and sometimes we need to ignore it. So, if we want to make theological decisions, we should probably tap the source. Pray, worship, study, and find the time to listen to God. I know (from experience) that stepping away from a question to pray can seem less than productive. We may feel a sense of urgency to find an answer to our questions, but we are wrong if we think that the patient acts of prayer, worship, study, and retreat are not appropriate expressions of such urgency. 

3. Be willing to use your Christian imagination

There are some questions that the Bible answers directly. Others, not so much. It isn’t that the Bible doesn’t offer wisdom and insight. Instead, it is that it may not offer specific wisdom and insight regarding a particular issue that arises in a particular context.

The Bible does more than give us answers. It shapes us into people who have the mind of Christ. We need to use that mind to consider factors we may not see otherwise. Part of making theological decisions involves using the imagination forged within the community of faith to make wise decisions.

Making theological decision requires us to be intentional about thinking theologically. We have to make room to do it. As I wrote in Thinking Christian, “…we must develop space for theological thought where the Christian mind can thrive. We need a space to have the sort of slow, deliberate dialogues that reflect our deep conviction that discerning the Spirit is crucial to offering faithful testimony.”

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JAMES SPENCER, PHD is Vice President and COO of Moody Center, an independent non-profit organization based in Northfield, MA, and author of Thinking Christian: Essays on Testimony, Accountability, and the Christian Mind. He also writes a regular blog at nextgenchristians.com.

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