Over the years, those who visited message boards have had opportunities to discover for themselves the importance of exercising discernment when examining theological tidbits offered by strangers as well as those known to them.
Those who work at the intelligence craft, as I did during most of my military career, use two scales to evaluate information that comes into their possession. The first scale has to do with the source. Is the source known to be always reliable? Is the source untested? Or does the source's reliability fall somewhere between these two poles?
The second scale has to do with the information itself. Was it obtained firsthand by a reliable source? Has it been tampered with? Is it verifiable? Or have we no way of ascertaining its accuracy? The reliability of the information is reported using a sliding scale, as is that of the source.
It is not uncommon for us, Christians and heathens alike, to encounter strangers eager to tell us what the Lord thinks and wants. Sometimes the stranger claims to be an evangelist, taking the Gospel to the nations according to the Great Commission. Other times, he may be an apologist seeking to provide a defense of his faith. And then there are those whose concern seems to be to validate some worldly system to which they have pledged allegiance.
Some of those we meet online are true believers, serving God to the best of their abilities. Others may be defending a heathen religious system that stands in opposition to the Lord God Almighty. Some seem to be concerned only with parroting a flawed theology they learned by rote but do not really understand. And some appear to have no idea what they are doing.
Those of us who have have been reading and posting on the Internet and its predecessors for a while have seen internationally known theologians and apologists, on both sides of the line that divides true believers from heretics. We have been presented credentials and titles, some of them truly impressive. Things are not always what they appear to be, however. Not every "doctor" who posted theological opinions or apologetic arguments here had the education, training and/or experience to adequately prepare them for such work.
Is being a "doctor" of itself an indication that one's theological pronouncements are to be considered authoritative? One of the doctors I saw tossing his title around here a while back was not a Doctor of Theology or Divinity. His doctorate was in the field of dentistry. I also saw apologetic arguments from a Doctor of Education and even a few Doctors of Philosophy, experts in some humanist field such as social work. Think about it. If you were looking for information concerning the best treatment for tennis elbow, would you consult a proctologist?
I do not doubt that these dentists, educators and social workers might be quite proficient in their fields of expertise. However, being good at doing root canals or counseling a battered spouse is no basis for considering a person to be adept at exegesis. For that matter, having a Th.D. or D.D. is no guarantee the possessor will provide sound instruction in the meaning of Scripture. Something more is needed.
In the two decades I have been active on the Internet as it is today or earlier forms of electronic interaction, I have encountered a few committed atheists who had a better working knowledge of Scripture than the great majority of professing Christians I have met. These atheists could argue scriptures with gifted theologians and apologists, and argue well -- at either an intellectual or superficial level.
The Bible-believing Christian does not examine Scripture as an intellectual exercise, but as a search for God's truth. This search can only have a successful conclusion if the study is guided and illuminated by the Holy Spirit who indwells the truly saved.
It is no big thing to be able to parrot the words of the Scriptures. One can buy compact disks or cassettes from which he might listen to the words of Scripture spoken by gifted speakers. But hearing is not the same as understanding any more than reading the list of ingredients on the label of a package of frozen chicken Kiev is the same as knowing just how they were combined and in what proportions.
What does all this boil down to? It is simple. Stone ax simple. When someone, anyone, presents an argument and claims biblical support, listen or read quietly and then do as the Bereans did after listening to Paul's preaching. Open YOUR Bible and prayerfully check out what you have been taught. If, after prayerful consideration, you see no conflicts with God's Word, then make the teaching your own. On the other hand, if what you have been given conflicts with anything anywhere in the Bible, reject it as false teaching, for the Bible never contradicts itself. Never.
BTW, the Scriptures are THE authoritative standard against which all doctrine and theological teaching must be measured. The source of Scripture, God Himself, is utterly reliable and the information He has given us is of unquestionable accuracy.
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