Dr. Carl Ellis has posted this insightful article over on the Reformed African-American Network about how to apply the biblical paradigm to our life today. I think he makes a good case for looking at the overall picture of how God moved on behalf of his people and specifically in various situations with the goal of applying theology with wisdom.
One thing I love about the biblical characters is that they are not so far removed from us. Even for the faithful folks, all kinds of crazy behavior breaks out when people get into hot spots of uncertainty and waiting: poor decisions, selfishness, accusations, lying, cheating, unfaithfulness, etc. Uncertainty and waiting are hard. It makes us squirm and ask questions. We want details and the knowledge of what to do about our current situations or what is ahead. But something Dr. Ellis writes about details I found kind of striking;
Often, the biblical narratives omit many of the details on purpose because they are designed for us to supply details from our own life situations. However, bear in mind that your story may not end the same as the corresponding biblical narrative.
The Bible can provide a basic framework for understanding our current situation. The main purpose of the theological process is to teach us to see things from God’s point of view. This empowers us to wisely fill in the details.
The Bible is meant to be applied and theology is meant to be done. Scripture should never be disconnected from application. God wants us to get into his word to govern our actions according to His principles. This is how we will gain wisdom. If we wisely do theology this way, it will make a difference in us and in our community.
The goal of biblical knowledge is wisdom. I believer there are a few errors we can make when wanting to apply biblical truths to our situation that I think short-circuit wisdom. One is apply the prescriptions and outcome of situations that occur in the biblical narrative to our own. In other words, thinking that if we follow a characters steps exactly then we will have that same outcome.
Another error that I find very common today is thinking that if we speak something into the atmosphere that will change it. That is not wisdom but an unfortunate regurgitation of a false formula with no Scriptural support. Besides, we really don’t see the biblical characters do that anyways.
Another error, is wanting to hear God tell us all the details. Now that does not negate being led by the Spirit. But As I wrote about here in The Voice That Binds, I suggest that when we look for God to speak outside of Scripture and if we believe it is God speaking, then we are obligated to obey. It can become a legalistic bind in attempts to follow each prescription to a tee.
A common thread in all these methods is to ease the tension with simple solutions. But how do we learn to apply wisdom to our situations this way?
I can’t help but consider Paul’s letter to the Colossians, where he writes;
And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. (Colossians 1:9-10)
It is not the knowledge itself that is important but how to apply that knowledge in consideration of the Christ-centered, gospel oriented picture. And guess what? That will most certainly involve times of uncertainty, waiting and squirming. But it should cause us to consult the text, prayerfully and openly, looking for insight of application and also wisdom from the Christian community, specifically trusted counselors. That takes time and patience. I believe God intentionally puts us in those times so that we learn to apply wisdom and trust him. It will not look the same way as someone else and may have a different outcome.
Places of testing and contradictions are no stranger to the people of God. During these times, there is a temptation to ease the uneasiness and provide smooth paths for ourselves as quickly as possible. But that is the place where we learn to apply theology, God’s wisdom that builds character and examples for others.