the weblog of Alan Knox

Connecting the dots

Posted by on Apr 10, 2009 in scripture | 12 comments

About two years ago, I wrote a series that began with a post called “Connecting the dots“. While I would probably say some things differently today, I still think this is an important topic for discussion. In many areas of life, Scripture does not always “connect the dots”. The question, do we exhort people to live according to the “dots” of Scripture, or to the way that our tradition connects the “dots”? (There are links to the others posts in that series at the bottom of this post.)

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Connecting the dots

Have you ever completed a “connect-the-dots” picture? Usually, the dots are so close together that the final picture is fairly obvious before you even begin. Thus, you know the picture is a rabbit even before you draw a line from dot 1 to dot 2.

Sometimes, studying Scripture is much like connecting the dots. The biblical writers did not write complete theological treatises to their recipients. They wrote occasional letters to deal with specific problems. True, some of the books are more general. However, Scripture does not give us a complete picture of many aspects of living the Christian life.

Through exegesis (see a post by Steve, at “Theological Musings“, called “Exegesis vs. Eisegesis“) we can attempt to understand what the authors of Scripture were teaching in a certain passage. This understanding becomes our point of reference. This point of reference is based strictly on the the text of Scripture, not on what we believe, but on what the text actually says.

By exegeting other related passages we can begin to add other points of reference. But, once we have exegeted all of the passages of Scripture related to a certain topic, we have many points of reference: some fairly close together, others are not as close. The question now becomes, how are we going to connect those points of reference? How are we going to connect the dots?

For example, my favorite topic is the meeting of the church. What should happen when the church gathers together? There is no book or even chapter that tells us exactly what should happen and how it should happen, who does what and who doesn’t, where can we meet, when do we meet… None of the biblical authors wrote a complete description of the gathering of the church. However, we do have points of reference. As we exegete 1 Corinthians 14, Hebrews 10:24-25, several passages in Acts, etc. we find points of reference about the gathering of the church. Now, what do we do with these points of reference?

How do we live in the space between the dots? I’m not talking about the points of reference themselves. If Scripture speaks to a certain issue, then we, as servants of our Lord, should obey. So, I am not talking about living around the dots; I’m talking about living in the space between the points of reference – in the spaces where Scripture does not specifically speak, or if it does speak, it seems incomplete.

It is normal for us to draw lines connecting the dots. We like to have everything spelled out for us. In fact, for the past two thousand years, many systematic theologians have attempted to do just that: connect the dots. Many of these systems have been very complete, spelling out exactly how a believer should live and believe in any circumstance. Many of these systems are also quite true to Scripture: that is, where Scripture speaks to an issue, many systems intersect Scripture. But, what about an issues where Scripture does not speak? Or what about the spaces “between the dots” where Scripture speaks?

My next post will continue to examine this issue of hermeneutics. In the meantime, I ask you, how do we live in the space between the dots? How do we live in the areas between the points of reference that Scripture gives us? Or, are there no spaces between the points of reference?

“Connecting the Dots” Series:

  1. Connecting the Dots
  2. Adding more Dots
  3. Living between the Dots
  4. Blurring the Dots
  5. Discussing the Dots

12 Comments

Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 4-10-2009

    I would assume that some of the issues are what we would call grey area’s? Possibly drinks with alcohol in them or the structure of the church etc. Will you give examples in your next blog? This is an area where most christians struggle. Although, for most of us, if we just followed the things the Bible was clear on we probably wouldn’t be quite as confused about the rest.
    Al

  2. 4-10-2009

    What this post once more reiterates is that simplistic approaches to life and the Bible can often miss out on some of the richer stuff that lies beneath some of our cliche one line scripture references to answer life’s issues. Thanks for this Alan, I’ll ponder andchew over this and the others in the series.

    dmcd

  3. 4-10-2009

    I think this speaks well to the difficulty we have creating absolutes from traditions and practices that may have once fit a culture and time well, but now create walls between the dots in a new time, people, and/or culture.

    God’s word was meant to be lived by every people, time, and culture of the world. The dots give us points of reference that tell us what we must obey (as you said, Alan) in any culture, and the spaces offer us ways to fit into every kindred, tongue and tribe across time.

    We take this marvelously adaptable biblical system and give it “hardening of the arteries” when we make the space between the dots the absolutes,.

  4. 4-10-2009

    Al,

    I’m not going to extend this series, but I mention a few examples in the series. The problem with the “grey areas” is that we want to fill them in, and then we expect others to fill them in the same way.

    Christopher (Ur Man CD),

    “Cliche one line scripture references to answer life’s issues”… that would make things easier, wouldn’t it? But, I think that’s misusing Scripture.

    -Alan

  5. 4-10-2009

    Art,

    That’s a great summary of this post. Thanks!

    “hardened arteries”… I like that phrase. :)

    -Alan

  6. 4-10-2009

    Alan,
    Really like Art’s comment.

    I truly appreciate sytematic theology for what it is, a tool and a work of one or more fallible human minds, who, no matter how spiritual, or mature, are unable to supply the correct sequence for the dots.

    Scripture does that, but, amazingly, the sequence we see in Scripture has a few dot numbers which, for every individual are quite hazy. Those dots can only be revealed as I live in relationship with my fellow believers, as we “hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering…,and ..consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together… but encouraging one another…”.

  7. 4-10-2009

    Aussie John,

    I like the connections to Hebrew 10:19-25. I’m teaching on that passage tomorrow.

    -Alan

  8. 4-10-2009

    For example, let’s take meeting of the church. Once I really started studying the subject and realized just how little it was addressed in Scripture I was fascinated. How could something with such potentially far reaching implications have garnered so little attention from the biblical authors?

    So is it possible that the questions we typically ask such as what should happen, how it should happen, who does what and who doesn’t, etc. are important to us and us only? Are we more concerned with form or function? Have we ever been more legalistic than we are today?

    Is it possible that at least some of the space “between the dots” is to allow for expansion and contraction in culture and time? How else would Scripture remain just as relevant today as when it was written? I digress, I ask too many questions.

    So to connect the dots and fill in the spaces we have developed various theological systems, some good, some not so good. Additionally we have developed Creeds, Confessions, Catechisms and other assorted statements of faith. Are these things bad? I would say no. Do they have the potential to be? I would have to say yes. Just some random thoughts…

    -jeff

  9. 4-10-2009

    Jeff,

    Yes, exactly. And, often, the way we “connect the dots” causes us to miss other dots that are clearly described in Scripture. For example, “mutual edification”… We have rules about how to meet together as a church that actually hinder us from keeping this clear command in Scripture.

    -Alan

  10. 4-11-2009

    This one is a keeper and belongs in your “5-Star” file. Great post with much to think about! How’s that book coming along?

  11. 4-11-2009

    Guy,

    Thanks. I’ll start working on my dissertation this summer.

    -Alan

  12. 4-13-2009

    Alan,

    Just another thought, but perhaps He wants us to seek Him to connect the dots and fill in the spaces. It seems if all the answers were presented to us all neat and tidy, we would have even less motivation to seek him.