More Humble Theologians, Please


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Who said “Elementary, my dear Watson”?

From what movie was the line “Play it again, Sam”?

How certain are you that Patrick Henry said, “Give me liberty or give me death”?

These quotes are burned into our culturally memory, but it turns out they are all wrong.

Sherlock Holmes never said that. The line from Casablanca is actually “Play it, Sam.” The famous Patrick Henry quote is almost certainly made up.

Why is it that despite the horrible record of “conventional wisdom” we continue to rely on it and trust it?

While this problem is widespread in culture, it particularly impacts the church. Once something becomes adopted by the majority of Christians, even if it is not biblical, it is almost impossible to change their minds.

Well meaning Sunday School teachers would stake their life on the “fact” that Adam and Eve ate an apple, even though the Bible never mentions what kind of fruit they ate.

Most believers just know the three wise men came and presented their gifts to baby Jesus in the manger just like all the nativity scenes show, despite the Bible never saying how many wise men there were and explicitly saying they came to see Jesus as a small child living in a house.

In one of my favorite movies, Men In Black, Agent Kay (Tommy Lee Jones) tries to explain to soon-to-be Agent Jay (Will Smith) how there are aliens living on earth and no one knows about it:

A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it. Everything they’ve ever “known” has been proven to be wrong. A thousand years ago everybody knew as a fact, that the earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew that the Earth was flat, and fifteen minutes ago, you knew that humans were alone on it. Imagine what you’ll know tomorrow.

In terms of what we know, we humans have the distinct disadvantage of not being God. Therefore, in our current situation, we have to work with limited knowledge.

There are things we can know. God has revealed Himself through the Person of Jesus Christ and His Word, the Bible. We can know with all certainty that God loves us and that Jesus died and rose again in order that we might have the ability to have a relationship with God.

The core doctrines of the Christian faith have been around since the foundation of the Church and are true. Apart from those central beliefs of our faith, we must admit that other things operate on a sliding scale of certainty.

After seeing yet another Christian leader attempting to malign the historically-accepted theological position of other believers, I tweeted this:

That doesn’t mean we should stop having opinions on the controversial topics – I probably have more strongly held theological beliefs than the average person – but it does means that we should hold them a bit looser in our hands than others.

I’m not saying you plant a church together, but the very least you can be is cordial, if not excited about the work God is doing through servants who love Him and take His Word seriously.

Proverbs 11:2 says, “When pride comes, disgrace follows, but with humility comes wisdom.”

When we ground ourselves in the established truths of God’s Word and then are humble enough to admit where we are relying on our own interpretation, wisdom can grow. Otherwise, our arrogance prevents wisdom from taking root in our lives and disgrace is the inevitable and unenviable result.

The title of the post is an allusion to Humble Beast record label and their popular shirt that reads, “More Humble Rappers Please.” They want to be counter-cultural artists in a musical genre known for brash arrogance.

We need more humble theologians and Christian leaders who will acknowledge their own limitations and refuse to attack those who disagree on non-essential topics.

Here’s the point. When you first read this column, you probably just “knew” that Patrick Henry gave the famous death wish.

You also may have “known” the church will be raptured out before the tribulation, miraculous spiritual sign gifts ended in the first century with the apostles, or that TULIP is the equivalent of sacred writ (or maybe the exact opposite of all three of those).

But remember that while some issues for Christians are cut and dry, others are not quite as “elementary” as we think.

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Aaron Earls

Christian. Husband. Daddy. Writer. Online editor for Facts & Trends Magazine. Fan of quick wits, magical wardrobes, brave hobbits, time traveling police boxes & Blue Devils.