Have you ever wondered how to make a theological argument? While many tools can help us make arguments, there are four overlapping steps to making a theological argument. Here they are:
First, restate the meaning of a biblical text in its canonical context
Sometimes we make the assumption that restating the meaning of a biblical text ends our theological engagement. But that is not the case. We also need to relate that text to the whole Bible’s message. And even then, this represents only the first step of making a theological argument.
Don’t misunderstand. Interpreting the Bible takes work. It may include knowing biblical language or using original language commentaries. It may require memorizing large portions of Scripture so that one can relate one text to the whole. It is not easy. And it is only the first step.
Do remember, however, that “Not many of you should become teachers” (James 3:1) and “he gave … teachers” to the church (Eph 4:12). While everybody should know biblical truth, not everyone takes on the role of a teacher. This latter takes massive amounts of effort and also takes on massive amounts of risk (James 3:1).
Second, argue from revealed premises
Once one has interpreted the text and can restate it, then these become first principles for theology. If Genesis 1 says God created, then we conclude: God created and so is Creator. Adding the title “Creator” truly describes Genesis 1 despite the fact that the word “Creator” does not appear there. The concept does.
Second, by stating that the Creator creates, a number of conclusions follow. If God created (and Genesis 1 says he created everything), then nothing precedes him. He created “in the beginning.” So God comes before all things. He has no cause nor creator. He is the uncaused and uncreated Creator.
Next, by implication, God exists before any markers of time did (Gen 1:14), so it follows that he precedes the telling of time. And if he precedes the telling of time, he may precede time itself. This conclusion may follow from the nature of time, which seems simply to measure movement (Gen 1:14). If created things move and so can be measured by time (time here is a measurement of change), God does not move or change. He exists outside of what we call time. God is thus timeless.
So Genesis 1 tells us that God is uncaused, uncreated, unchangeable, and timeless. These conclusions follow from reasoning outward from revelatory first principles. What I did not illustrate, but what plays an important role is: we need also to compare Genesis 1 with other places in Scripture (as noted in step 1).
Third, use reason
God implanted his law on our hearts (Rom 2:14) and bestowed reason to our intellect (Rom 1:19–20; John 1:9). Due to the fall, humans will to suppress these truths (Rom 1:18). But truth still spills out as we obviously have a working society, cars that work, and so on. And sanctified reason has the potential to actualize the most true reasoning possible.
Hence, after revealed principles and their implications have been explored, we should use natural law or theology to further articulate and support biblical revelation. Nothing that natural theology teaches says more than revelation. But it says it differently. Hence, it provides more avenues to conceptualize and clarify God’s truth.
Here is one example. God created Adam and Eve to marry and to procreate in the material context of the family. Thus, Scripture says. Natural law specifies the same thing but in different language. For instance, everyone knows a good eye sees. Almost everyone agrees that putting hot sauce into an eye is bad. We would prevent it from happening to us or anyone else (unless it is a fraternity prank).
So people know that bodies have design. Sex is no different. Sexual capacities for parenthood, procreation, and familial intimacy are designed. Scripture assumes this reality; natural law can articulate it in ways appropriate to its capacity.
Thus, revelation and nature agree. This discussion repeats the common topic of the so-called conflict between religion and science. There is none. Science (nature) and revelation (religion) agree and complement one another.
Fourth, throughout, be Spiritual
It should go without saying, but I will say it anyway, the whole course of theological arguments (and of life) should occur by means of life in the Spirit. To be Spiritual means to possess the Spirit of God. Communion with God via the Spirit should provide the Spiritual context for arguments.
The Spirit not only leads to all propositional truth but to all ethical truth. Doing theology requires kindness (Eph 4:32) and love (1 Cor 13). Any theological conclusion that precludes these divine characteristics fails.
Doug Sayers says
FYI: I tried to make a small theological argument in favor of a natural revelation inclusivism on your Aug 10 article on natural revelation but could not get the comment to submit.