Theology in the Age of Relativism

While theology may seem like a daunting subject for any mere mortal to undertake, one finds that there are many layers to this proverbial onion, and the subject gets both easier to understand and more perplexing at the same time.  Additionally, given the many different categories of theology, its no wonder that many people quickly abandon their studies and passively rely on some other “more educated” person to tell them what it all means.  However, the study of this subject should be the lifelong goal of every human being, especially every Christian, since the mastery of the subject extends beyond this life and into the next.  There should be no other higher goal than to gain a better understanding of Almighty God!

To provide clarity, I will focus on two main categories of theology—biblical and systematic—that, when properly linked, enables a more holistic understanding of God based on His own truth.  According to Paul Enns, while both theologies “are rooted in the analysis of Scripture…systematic theology also seeks truth from sources outside the Bible.”  Furthermore, “biblical theology seeks to determine what the biblical writers said concerning a theological issue, whereas systematic theology also explains why something is true, adding a philosophical viewpoint.”[1]  Given how these two theologies function apart from one another, believers should realize that when the study of both are linked together sequentially, a more accurate understanding of God based on His truth rather than mere mortal speculation emerges for the empowerment of the believer.

In turn, it is dangerous for a church or denomination to not actively learn or apply both biblical and systematic theology to their teaching.  A failure to do so can produce heresy and corruption in varying degrees.  While this has been the case throughout the history of the church, it seems ever more relevant to the modern church.  With the onslaught of relativism and the acceptance of abominable social issues, many Christians are experiencing these very dangers.  On its face, relativism views moral issues as “dependent upon one’s own personal views or the collective beliefs of one’s culture”[2]  When applied to the interpretation of Scripture, relativism fosters a ‘pick and choose’ mentality, often resulting in an erroneous human interpretation driven by wayward emotion.

To help rectify these errors, a return to proper hermeneutics aided by the wisdom of the Holy Spirit is crucial.  When done correctly, hermeneutics plays a key role within the study of both biblical and systematic theology, and is equally important within the modern church.  Hermeneutics provides clarity when tension and conflict arise within a body of Christians, thus rectifying any damage done by types of relativism.  In essence, this is where biblical-based correction comes into play.

Lastly, the linkage between biblical and systematic theology provides a type of roadmap for developing an accurate understanding of God based on His own truth.  By applying biblical theology, with its historical context roots, coupled with additional insight through systematic theology, one could properly interpret Scripture in a disciplined and educated manner.  By returning to the absolute truth of Scripture, relativism within the church cannot stand in the modern age.

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[1] Paul Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2008), 24.

[2] Ed Hindson and Ergun Caner, eds., The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics (Eugene: Harvest House Publishers, 2008), 418.

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