Seminary Viewpoints

Conventional Wisdom vs. Biblical Theology

Ken Casillas with BJU Seminary Staff | March 17, 2022
Theology Thursday

As discussed by Ken Casillas on The Steve Noble Show on March 17.

A variously attributed aphorism holds that it isn’t so much what people don’t know that gets them into trouble, but what they know for sure that just isn’t so.

It happens a lot in Christian circles — and not just with regular church members. In his entry in the just-released Spring 2022 edition of the Journal of Biblical Theology & Worldview, my colleague Layton Talbert laments, “Theologians, too, can become habituated to making dogmatic assertions about things of which they know very little.”

TakE on Conventional Wisdom with Next-Level Scholarship

As theologians charged with “rightly dividing the word of truth,” we can’t afford to stand pat on Christian conventional wisdom. Our job is to conduct next-level scholarship that continually advances each field of study or discipline to bring us closer to correct doctrine in every respect. Sometimes, as Dr. Talbert points out, that means leaving a little room for a “dimension of mystery.”

Consequently, taking on conventional wisdom from the perspective of biblical theology could be seen as the theme of this edition of the Journal, probably the most controversial we’ve ever published.

Among the common knowledge pondered that may or may not “be so”:

  • Most Christians have heard a fair number of sermons on the bodily assumption of Elijah to heaven in a whirlwind, based on the story related in 2 Kings 2. But is that what the Bible really teaches?
  • Was Jesus always the “begotten” Son of God? Or did Sonship in its fullest sense happen in multiple stages?
  • Clearly we and unbelievers view the world differently, but Christians generally figure we can agree on certain facts. Yet do we actually “know” the world differently? Though we experience common grace, can we even have common ground on basic facts given our very different presuppositions about God? If not, how can we even talk to each other?
  • Speaking of common facts, are there two acceptable ways of approaching history — world history (Weltgeschichte) and salvation history (Heilsgeschichte)?
  • Scholars and others have come up with varying explanations as to how an unchanging God can repent. But can we on this side of eternity even have a notion of what the term even means when applied to God?

Explain God with Candor, Modesty and Humility

That matter of God’s repentance in particular, as examined by Dr. Talbert in his Journal article subtitled “Divine Repentance and a Brief Inquiry into Anthropomorphism & Anthropopathism, Impassibility & Affectability” (stay with me here), brings this question of things we know for sure biblically into sharper focus.

Dr. Talbert demonstrates our inability to explain with dogmatic confidence, despite continuous study and examining as many jots and tittles as we can, certain aspects of God’s being and character that are both experientially and revelationally beyond us. Specifically, he cautions against approaching the question of how God can “repent” based on questionable assumptions about His nature, form, and emotions.

Asserting that “(w)e need to be prepared to go only but fully as far as God’s self-revelation compels,” Dr. Talbert finds that the answer to the question of whether God can repent is both “yes” and “no.” But the answer must be based on a “genuinely biblical-theological approach,” meaning objective implications of the context.

Dr. Talbert concludes that we should have more candor, modesty and epistemic humility in our theological assertions about a Being infinitely beyond our experience and comprehension, while underscoring that modesty is not the same as theological agnosticism.

Even as we, along with these Journal contributors, commit ourselves to a relentless and continuing search for God’s truth as revealed in His Word, all of us can agree with the “theologian’s prayer” from Psalm 131:1 with which Dr. Talbert closes his article: “LORD, my heart is not proud, nor are my eyes lofty, nor do I strut in great matters or in things too wonderful for me.”

To learn more on Layton Talbert’s topic and from other contributors, find the Spring 2022 Journal edition here.