Calvin and Hoops
One of the fun things about working with teenagers is that you can be playing basketball with them while simultaneously having a discussion about predestination vs free will. This actually happened to me last night. It was part of a larger conversation about the differences in Calvinist and Wesleyan theology that spanned a basketball game AND bled over into football. At one point in the conversation, this student asked “Well isn’t there evidence in the Bible for both?”. Yes. Yes there is.
The fact that this student stumbled upon is the bane of every theologians' existence: the Bible can be used to support a lot of different theologies. This is part of the reason why our current series "The Book" is so important, because it gets into some of the myths about the Bible. People from every Christian denomination are reading the same Bible (well, different translations of the same ancient texts) yet they still believe vastly different things. The other thing this student said that was way ahead of his age was “Well, doesn’t that mean that their theology isn’t wrong, just different?”
And that’s where youth ministry breaks, or at least my ability to multitask sports and theology breaks. The short answer is yes, or no, or I don’t know. The long answer is getting a Sacred Theology Doctorate and coming to the same answers but for different reasons. With empirical reasoning it can be easy to say that if person A and person B believe differently about the same thing they can’t both be right. Either person A is right or person B is or they could both be wrong. The fun part is we can’t say for sure on a lot of things which person is actually right. But then you throw in God logic where Jesus is fully God and fully man yet part of a three in one trinity and you can get to the point where maybe they are both right.
Now that I’ve probably muddied up the waters too much, what are we supposed to do about this? Well the first and most important step is you should read your Bible, but that can’t be your only step.
There’s this thing called the Wesleyan Quadrilateral that is designed exactly for these kinds of situations. John Wesley, the leader of the Methodist movement, is the one who put this process together. He posited that theology and interpretation should be based on scripture, reason, experience, and tradition. This explains how people can look at the same book and get two different conclusions, because while the scripture doesn’t change our traditions, experiences, and reasoning can be different. It’s a process of hermeneutics and exegesis (Big Scary Words for trying to figure out what scripture actually meant for the original audience and how that applies to us today). This process is so important that there are entire classes on these things and it’s woven into any sermon or small group lesson that’s worth while. And while those words and the process can seem daunting, it’s something that anyone who wants to take the next step in their understanding of scripture should take.
What about me?
There are several good books out there that help people figure out the basics. The standard book is How To Read The Bible For All It’s Worth. There are others out there that might fit your level better. If you’ve never done any Bible study before, maybe start with The Bible for Dummies (sorry for the name, you are not dumb). Or if you really want a challenge, try working your way through New Testament Exegesis. These books, especially that last one, might bring up all sorts of questions. You might have to have the book open in one hand and the other hand typing things into google, but you can always talk to one of us on staff about it. Find other people who are interested in these things as well, get in a small group (or better yet talk to Faith about leading a small group because the best way to learn is to teach, right?)