Theological Mapping and Contradiction Free Systems – Don’t Be Afraid!

Part 1

Many theologically minded people dream of a theological system which is free of contradictions. In fact much effort in systematic theology and apologetics is made in explaining, resolving and circumventing contradictory theological statements. If one could only achieve a system that had no contradiction one would have the truth.

For many years, this too was my hope. My continuing theological studies in the area of theological hermeneutics have caused me to rethink this position. I’ve not relegated this aspect of theological interpretation to meaninglessness but for me it has to a degree been reduced in importance. Two reasons come to mind, which have shaped my opinion. Both are related to modernistic thinking and propositionalism[1].

  • In my understanding propositionalism reduces theology to a set of assertions. A true theology is one which contains only true statements. In recent years I have come to appreciate the view that theology and Christian living encompasses more than a simple reiteration of truthful propositions. There are other aspects to our existence and especially our relationship to God, which go beyond the proposition: Prayer, aesthetics, love and mystery just to name a few.[2] Surely we understand the biblical message that a truly Godly person is not one who knows things about God but one who has integrated faith in God into his/her life. Obedience, selflessness, thought life and wisdom are a few keywords indicating that there is more the Christianity than a set of propositions. Yet even this example shows my position. Propositions are not unnecessary. We need need them. How else would we understand the teaching I just mentioned in part “be doers and not hearers of the Word”[3], if not via propositions. Yet at the same time the very propositions that inform us also point to a realm of existence which goes beyond the proposition. Thus, I believe that the realm of the proposition is only a part of the theological enterprise not its entirety.

  • As can be seen in other posts on this blog[4], I hold that theological systems can be viewed as being comprised of two categories of statements. Those which which say something about theological reality in general and those which guide us in the interpretation of these statements. In my view the principle of non-contradiction belongs to the latter category. It is not necessarily a indisputable theological truth but a principle of interpretation. Thus, it should be open to question. Think for a moment about the doctrines of free will vs. the sovereignty of God and the trinity. From our human perspective both of these doctrines hint at contradiction. Yet, many theologies hold these seemingly contradictory statements to be true. How can this be if non-contradiction is to be a hermeneutical key guiding us toward the truth. I’m not advocating a eastern type of thinking, which in my understanding has little problem with contradiction, rather I suggest that some aspects of God’s revelation to us goes beyond the categories from which we are able to rationally grasp things. Some of these contradictions must simply be allowed to exist. Someday we may become enlightened and understand them more clearly but perhaps not. Thus, non-contradiction can play a role but we should be aware that this is an interpretive principle that we employ and not an absolute truth.

Part 2

So, how does this relate to the Orthotomeo Project? I anticipate that many theologians, who like myself practice a theology beyond propositionalism and rigid non-contradictionalsim, may shudder at the concept behind the Orthotomeo Project. They may fear that it is simply an attempt at creating a contradiction free system of propositions, which violates some of their primary theological convictions. If you share these concerns, I can say to you DO NOT FEAR! This is not the goal of the Orthotomeo Project.
In fact I would suggest that the Orthotomeo Project is neutral in this regard.[5] The premise behind the Orthotomeo Project is that theological systems are reasoned systems. That is, there are reasons for interpreting statements one way or another. If one chooses to employ the interpretive principle of non-contradiction, one is free to do so. The Orthotomeo Project will be an excellent tool for determining the feasibility of such an attempt. However, if one does not rigidly hold to this principle, one is also free to document their interpretations this way. All that is required is that one give a reason for an interpretation. Once submitted to the public domain these interpretations are then open to debate and questions of plausibility. And this is what we desire is it not, a public dialog about theological interpretation?

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  1. [1] see Propositions and Statements
  2. [2] For example, what is happening in Romans 8:26? In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words
  3. [3] James 1:22
  4. [4] Among others: The Black Box, Propositions and Statements, Terminology and Structural Guidelines for Nodal Relations
  5. [5] I realize that nothing is truly neutral. One of my ongoing efforts concerning the structure of the Orthotomeo DB will be at reducing assumptions which favor particular theologies. This goal will probably never be achieved but I do think that it can become a useful tool for practitioners of a wide variety of theological perspectives.

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