Posted by: Billy Marsh | August 13, 2007

Is Bad Theolgoy Sin? A Revelatory Lesson From Job

Job’s Friends Trying to Comfort Him

Is there a right way to speak about God? Is it permissible to make careless theological mistakes or to be hasty in the belief and presentation of incorrect doctrines even though what we believe may be mainly orthodox? Or, is it acceptable to permit theological ignorance and chalk the knowledge of the Holy up to mysticism? These are the questions I have often asked myself in view of the many different theologies and interpretations of Scripture even with believers of whom I share many of the same insights. If it is approved before the Lord to agree to disagree, then what does that tell us about the importance of the pursuit of truth and whether or not biblical espistemology is an attainable possession? Here is what I have found in studying Job in hopes of answering some of these questions objectively:

Ultimately, God holds man accountable to his self-revelation whether in general or specific. Man rejected God in creation; thus, God spoke through the fathers, prophets, priests, apostles, and in his Son, Jesus Christ revealing himself to us through the scriptures (Rom 1:18-21; Heb 1:1-2). Man is condemned in his sinful nature yet is also judged for his blatant unbelief in response to the voice of God in the Bible and also in the speech of his creation which rings out in all the world (Ps 19). This teaching comes out clearly in the book of Job, namely in the prologue and epilogue.

Notwithstanding the main theme of the suffering servant and the debunking of the principle of retribution, an additional sub-theme in Job appears to be related to the pursuit and defense of right theology and sound doctrine. This concept is supported by two authorial affirmations of Job in 1:22 and 2:10 and then God’s twice judgment of the three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar in 42:7-8. This textual parallel seems to me more than a mere coincidence especially in that both of them are located in the prologue and epilogue functioning as bookends to a massive amount of verbal communication and dialogue where much is said and needing to be weighed.

After the first wave of turmoil and destruction in chapter one, Job responds with his famous reply, “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD (1:21).” And then, Job’s quote is followed by an authorial comment stating, “In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong (1:22).”

Once again, in chapter 2, we see a similar scenario. Job himself is stricken, and is pressured by his wife to “Curse God and die.” Likewise as before, he responds, “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil (2:10)?” In similar fashion, the author leaves us a textual note, “In all this Job did not sin with his lips (2:10).” In both occurences, when Job was assailed by unfavorable circumstances in the face of his godly character, which was also attested to by not only the author, but also God (Job 1:1,8), he responded with an overtly theological statement that was affirmed by the author both times as right, true, and sinless.

Bypassing the bulk of the book, we arrive at the epilogue just after God has spoken and silenced Job’s fretting. In 42:7-8, God personally addresses Eliphaz and the other two friends with his holy accusation. They have not spoken rightly of him. First, God answers that his anger burns against them, “for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has (42:7).” Then, 8a consists of an unexpected portrayal of events. God demands that the three friends request Job’s sacrificial intercession. This point is interesting because God rounds off his stipulations for the three friends with, “For you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has (42:8).”

In essence, due to their “bad theology” concerning God as they attempted to comfort and resolve Job and his divinely ordained situation, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar are now at the mercy of God and are in need of repentance. God’s command for them to have a sacrifice offered up to him because of their folly evidences that their speaking wrongly of God was in fact sinful. Why would the three friends need to have the intercession of Job and his sacrifice, if personal sin was not needing to be atoned for? Only on the basis of Job’s petition did God state that he would pass over and forgive their sin and not deal with them according to their “folly”. Therefore, if speaking wrongly of God or promoting bad theology or inaccurate doctrine is sinful and warrants an atoning sacrifice, then how much more careful ought we to be in our preaching, teaching, and even more so, daily conversations?

In a book that I am slowly reading through called Emerging Churches, Brian McLaren is quoted saying, “During this time I needed to trust God more than my theology about God. I tried to imagine a faith that was not so mechanistic, simplistic, and systematic.” (How do you trust God devoid of theology? Isn’t trusting God a theological premise? How does one go about even knowing he or she can trust God, that is, why is he trustworthy?) This was his statement describing the time in his life when he was questioning traditional Christianity (1994). Another Emergent Church leader, Peter Rollins has written a book entitled, How (Not) to Speak of God, in which he applies deconstructionism to orthodox theology and applauds doubt, silence, and questioning of theological/biblical objective epistemology.

I am fearful that one influence of the Emergent Church on traditional churches is their laid-back approach to theology and not being afraid to speak of God wrongly. In Job’s instance, God was angry and ready to punish the three friends for their loose words and inaccurate portryal of him. The author of Job seems to be telling us something with his parallel commentary in chapters 1 & 2 where Job is affirmed for being sinless in his theological response to the sovereign work of God contrasted to the incorrect explanation of the three friends which resulted in their need to offer up sacrifices to appease the wrath of God.

What does this episode teach us about how we treat our knowledge of God and the Lord Jesus Christ? How does this affect our response and accountability to the inspired word of God? Are we not expected to do justice to the written Word of God for the sake of our souls and not just in the pursuit of truth? A flippant approach to the interpretation of the Bible can only lead to a lessening of the authority of Scripture in a believer’s life and to a downplay of the exclusiveness of Christ for salvation and the necessity of specific obedience for holiness as dictated in the Word. I want to speak rightly of God as his servant Job has. I want to promote and proclaim right theology of God in the spirit and mandate of 1 Tim 4:16, “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.”

(P.S. If I have spoken wrongly in my assessment of this concept in Job, please hold me accountable to a sound interpretation of Scripture. This is something that I have been looking at for a while and was wanting to put it out there to see if others would agree or disagree. Help sharpen me in the Word as I am hoping that I this blog is doing for you. You can find a more techincal treatment of this idea in my paper “The Importance of Theology for Preaching” located in my Paper page under the Theology subheading.)

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Responses

  1. Billy,

    So what theology is correct? The one that we discern as individuals studying God’s word or the one our Pastors and teachers are teaching us? I have studied with people who disagree over what they believe concerning “asking for forgiveness” when we sin. Some believe that you must ask forgiveness or your sin or it is not forgiven whereas I believe that God forgave us on the cross and that we ask for forgiveness for two reasons; one, it is a command and two is that we turn our heads away from God when we sin and the relationship is strained. God never turns away from us but in order to get back on track, we ask and know that we are forgiven in order to face God once again and move on.
    Now the crux of the issue. The person who taught what I believe is inaccurate theology is a true believer who desires to be teaching the truth. Then again, maybe what I teach others is incorrect in some areas.
    Or….how do we discern the differences between what Spurgeon believed and maybe some areas of Calvin where they disagreed.

  2. Mitch,
    These are great questions. You’ve brought up some big-time issues that require much more analysis than a blog comment can hold, but we do know that Jesus teaches the woman at the well that true worshippers worship God in spirit and truth (Jn 4). Looking at this situation in Job and John 4, we know that there is an objective truth out there which is discernable, if it wasn’t, then I doubt God would expect us to come to a point where we are able to speak rightly of him and worship him in spirit and truth. Everyone can’t be right. There has to be bad and right theology out there. Thus, there should also be wrong and right ways to read the Bible if God has revealed himself objectively and truthfully in the Scriptures. I believe the first step to deciding which theology is right is recovering a sound biblical theology, accurate hermeneutic, and a recovery of the Church Fathers. As far as the matter of forgiveness goes, this boils down to interpretation. What does the Bible teach? This is where being a sound Bible student enables you to do more than simply proof-text, but instead, take someone to a passage of scripture and walk them through it, demonstrating to them how to read the Bible and how to interpret it correctly and then how to apply appropriately. Voddie Baucham calls this approach, “Expository Apologetics.” Hope this helps. Billy

  3. I believe that when we start talking about having a belief system that has no theological framework or one steps outside of the framework (this is not to say that the framework that you believe in is right, you may be very limited in your views, however Jesus never stepped outside of His theological framework to accommodate a person/situation or an event, so as to further His ministry).
    Devoid of framework, Christianity becomes nothing more than fairytales and a religion that propagates it self as its own truth and righteousness. Christ, Himself taught a theological framework of truth and righteousness, not that of the scribes and Pharisees of His day. Read Mt 23, they had a religious concept that went the other way and it was condemned.
    One needs to hold onto truth, test truth again and again and make sure that what you believe is truly truth and not something you’ve been taught and hold onto. I’ve been there and my ‘truth’ has changed over the years, despite having had 3 yrs of Bible education in a great Bible college. Many of our views stem from culture and unless you see life from many different cultures, you don’t even have a clue as to how culture dictates your ‘truth’ consciousness.
    Seek TRUTH from GOD, He is the originator of it and the only one that has all the answers.
    Thanks.

  4. I know this is one of your older posts, but my blog linked to your blog, so here I am.

    I would like to say right off that I like the way you think and I will have to make my way through everything you have here as time allows, but for now, be forewarned that anything in this comment is based purely on what I have read on this one page.

    Further, although I find fascinating the many points of view that are presented by various theological and philosophical minds throughout the years, I do not put very much weight behind any of them. That is to say, I would recommend that you not try to classify me as having a purely “_________” point of view, or that I only think ‘this’ or ‘that’ because of “_________’s” influence. You are certainly more than welcome to try and I don’t for a minute suggest that I am not influenced by the things that I have read and heard, quite the opposite in fact, but I try to (as you also seem to) consider God’s truth over any one or another particular view of God presented by another man.

    Consequently, my view of God will also be, and should be treated as, inherently flawed.

    Which, conveniently, brings me to my thought on what you discuss in this post.

    Is it not possible that what God honored in Job’s declaration (and conversely was displeased with in his friend’s), was not so much the particulars of what was and was not said (you and I agree that the voluminous conversation between the bookends takes a backseat of sorts to the ‘main’ point) but that Job acknowledged that he ‘had God figured all wrong’ while his friends seemed quite content to tell Job ‘this absolutely and definitely is how God is’?

    As I mentioned, I am not sure if this would be considered ’emergent church’ thinking or something else. I am familiar with that terminology, but only in name.

    What if God is more interested in us confessing that we don’t know Him than He is in us having all our T’s crossed and I’s dotted?

    Of course, without studying and understanding God’s word to us, how would/will we know that we are off base in the first place?

    Certainly not claiming to have it figured out, but I do love having someone to bounce things off of and I do believe that I may have found that here!

    Thanks and as promised, I will be poking around a bit more in the days to come.

    jb

  5. Jonathan,

    Thanks for stopping by and all of the encouragement. I’m glad to see that we are like-minded in ways. I hope that we can have some fruitful dialogue for the sake of the gospel.

    As to your reflections on Job, I think I would respond in a couple of ways. First, I do not think that the issue is God rebuking people for thinking that they know him because the depiction of Job in the prologue was of a man who did in fact know God, and knew him very well. The fourfold characteristic applied to Job both by the author and by God in chapter 1 reflects his spirituality, not only his morality. Thus, for one to be upright, blameless, shunning evil, and fearing God, he or she must know who God is in a personal way in order to carry out these dispositions. There are other examples, but all in all, the book of Job in general communicates that there was a personal relationship between Job and God which had to include personal and true knowledge of God.

    Second, when the text says in chps. 1 & 2 that Job did not sin against God with respect to his verbal and theological responses to his suffering, it was based upon what he knew of God, not what he didn’t know. In other words, Job made theological statements that were products of his knowlege of who God is. He never said, “Well wife, I thought I knew who God was, but now I have no idea, however, we should still trust him.” There is never that kind of connotation in the text. Because he knew God, he was able to make the claims that he did.

    We must not mistake the fact that just because the purpose for Job’s suffering is hard to discern that the message of this book becomes a story of God throwing everybody a curve ball as soon as they think they’ve got him pinned down. That is far from the point of the text. Conversely, I’d say the book is one huge instance of God simply revealing more knowledge of himself rather than an attempt to confirm his unknowability. This is why one servant spoke rightly and three others spoke wrongly. In addition, we also have the great Yahweh speeches in chapters 38-41 where God at length discourses on his own revealed nature. There is much knowledge of God provided in these 42 chapters that can be known, and must be upheld correctly.

    Although Job maybe had trouble along the way understanding his suffering, he clung to God’s sovereignty in his trials. He trusted in a God he personally knew, not one that was untouchable and unknowable. As Francis Schaeffer always emphasized, we can know God truly without knowing him exhaustively.

    What are your thoughts? Does this help?

  6. Billy,

    Thanks for the warm welcome.

    I think that perhaps I misspoke.

    Not in the sense that I said the wrong thing (necessarily), but that I used a word that can be understood two ways and should have clarified my meaning more carefully.

    The word in question is “know”.

    In particular, I said:

    “What if God is more interested in us confessing that we don’t know Him than He is in us having all our T’s crossed and I’s dotted?”

    I did not, by any means, intend to suggest that we should confess that we don’t “know” God, in the sense of having a relationship with Him… but rather, that we need to be constantly in a state of tearing down our impressions of Him that may or may not be true.

    I am not sure if you are familiar with A. W. Tozer or not, but I think a lot of the way that I have been thinking lately is shaped by some of the concepts he lays out, particularly in “Knowledge of the Holy”. (a great read if you have not already discovered it)

    One of his central points is that anytime we define God in terms that can only be used to describe “that which is created”, we are describing something that cannot (by definition) be God (Since He is the only one that falls into the category of “that which is not created”)

    So when we claim (to ourselves or to others), as Job’s friends did, that God is “________” (and we fill that blank in with words used to describe created things, no matter how lofty those words may be)… and we worship that god (note the capitalization change), we are actually committing idolatry.

    Tozer used a considerably better grasp of words and an entire book, so please forgive me if I am not making sense. I will try to illustrate.

    If I picture God to be punishing my friend, when, in fact, He is actually allowing him to go through a trial… and as a result of believing that he is being punished, begin to worship the ‘god’ that I believe is punishing my friend (and by the obvious lack of punishment in my life “rewarding” me for my good behavior) by thanking ‘god’ that ‘he’ did not make me like my friend… who than am I really worshiping? Almighty God? or a ‘god’ that I created to fit my theology.

    You see, I agree that we must think rightly about God. In fact, that is the title of the first chapter of the aforementioned “Knowledge of the Holy” book. I also agree that if we ‘must’, we must also be able to.

    But I think that the problem we encounter, in our own lives and in the lives of others (including many who would presume to teach…), is that we/they exalt ‘knowledge’ above ‘knowing’.

    I submit (and here again, as always, I could be wrong and welcome a different perspective/correction) that knowledge (which puffs up) can, and often does, get in the way of us knowing the one that created us.

    I know that I am smart. I don’t say that to be arrogant, though I know it sounds like I am. I have simply always found that I have an easier time than others grasping complex things and digesting them. I bring this up because I find that my intelligence can, if I let it, get in the way of my spirit’s ability to know God.

    I perceive that you also are intelligent. I don’t say that to puff you up anymore than I said the other to be arrogant. I don’t doubt that you will agree with me that sometimes ‘knowledge’ makes it difficult to simply ‘know’.

    Now, as I mentioned the first time, I am not suggesting that ‘knowledge’ has no place. As I am sure you have also often enjoyed the considerable enhancement that knowledge provides to knowing God. That we are commanded to diligently study the Word is absolutely undeniable.

    As this comment was getting long, I decided to review a little bit about what we have both said and I think that we are both saying, approximately, the same thing. Namely, that what we say about God and how we say it is, in point of fact, quite important and should not be treated carelessly.

    However, the simple believer that has just come to Christ and knows nothing more than, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so” is at no deficit to the learned scholar who can break down the hermeneutics of every book in the same Bible. In fact, it seems likely that the scholar is at a greater risk of misrepresenting the Almighty than the intellectually inept newcomer.

    As you so well pointed out from Francis Schaeffer, we can know God truly without knowing Him exhaustively.

    And thank God for that, no?

    This is a concept that, as you can probably see, I feel a great deal of passion about and am trying to get a handle on for the purpose of sharing. I believe that at the heart of this ‘knowing’ vs. ‘knowing’ issue is a solution to some (or perhaps many) of the issues that have kept people (and by ‘people’ I mean me too) from walking in the full power, anointing and authority of the One that created us for a purpose. To that end, please help me sharpen it. Did all of this make any sense at all? Or did it come across as a mindless, stream of consciousness with no benefit to the hearer?

    Your thoughts would be greatly appreciated.

    jb


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