Three years ago, I wrote a post called “Losing Focus” which was a follow-up of a series I had written a year earlier than that. (See the post below for a link to that series.) Have you ever thought of ecclesiology (or any portion of theology) as a “connect-the-dot” type puzzle? I think it’s a good analogy, since we all have to admit that we don’t know everything about God. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.
Just over a year ago, I wrote a series called “Connecting the Dots“. The premise of this series is that Scripture gives us certain points of reference that are similar to the “dots” of a “connect-the-dots” picture. Over the last year, I’ve seen more and more examples where people are losing focus of the “dots” – that is, the scriptural reference points – and are focusing instead on the pattern they’ve chosen to “connect the dots”.
When I took geometry in high school, I learned that two points can define a line. In fact, given the coordinates of those two points, it is possible to construct an algebraic equation that defines one particular line and every point on that line.
Once we mastered lines, our teacher led us into even more exciting territory: curves. Suddenly, two points were no longer enough to define a curve. Instead, as the curves became more and more complicated, more and more points of reference were needed.
When we read Scripture, we find points of reference concerning various topics. If we started with a clean slate (that is, without presuppositions and biases), we could mark off these points of reference much like drawing dots on graph paper. Eventually, we might find a pattern emerge. Since we don’t start with a clean slate – that is, we all have presuppositions and biases – we often begin looking for points of reference in Scripture with a pattern in mind. Regardless of how we reach a pattern, eventually we will notice a pattern in the “dots”.
In fact, it might even be possible to connect some of the dots so that the pattern becomes more visible and clear – much like connecting the stars in the signs of the zodiac so that the image of the bull or the crab or the twins becomes easier to see. I think that something interesting happens when we begin to connect the dots in order to make the pattern more clear: we slowly begin to lose focus on the the points of reference and begin to focus on our pattern instead. In fact, when we find additional points of reference that fall outside the boundaries or within the lines of our pattern, we either draw these points lighter (de-emphasize them), explain them away as anomalies in the data (ignore them), or move them slightly so that they better reflect our pattern (re-interpret them).
Of course, adjusting the dots to match our pattern creates a great image, but also misses the “point”. The pattern is not the goal. The image is man-made – artificial. When we begin to de-emphasize, ignore, or reinterpret Scripture to match our nice pattern, the “dots” – points of reference in Scripture – cease to have any value at all, other than a contrived value that we have placed on them. Suddenly, we’ve become the master craftsman, choosing which points are important and which points are unnecessary. We’ve become the judge and arbitrator, not only with Scripture, but with others who have connected the same points in a different manner, probably giving emphasis to points that we de-emphasize, including points that we ignore, and disagreeing with our reinterpretations. We hold people to the standard of our inferences and extrapolations, not to Scripture itself.
Then, we find ourselves in the mess that we are in today. Each person holding their blurred drawing as if it was a masterpiece, and failing to notice that the points of reference from Scripture have faded into the background so far that they are almost invisible. But, since we can point to occasional correlation with Scripture, we call our little “connect the dot” drawing “biblical”, which means, of course, that everyone else’s drawing must be “unbiblical”. What arrogance!
I admit freely that I still carry around many beliefs and practices that are based more on a picture that was handed to me than they are based on Scripture. I admit that I often argue more about how to connect the dots than I try to help people live in the dots, trusting God through his Spirit to help them (and me!) connect the dots as he desires. I admit that often my “picture” has become blurred to the point that the dots are barely visible.
But, I recognize my condition. And, because I recognize that my vision is faulty and that in many ways I have lost focus, I hold my image with much more humility now. And, as hard as it is, I try to look beyond the lines that once appeared so dark and clear and precise in order to find the dots. I want to live in the dots, and trust God’s Spirit to teach me and guide me as I walk between the dots.