When we answer theological questions, we often find ourselves confronted with a variety of evidence. Some of the evidence will point in one direction while some of the evidence may seem to point in one or more other directions. Because the evidence is of different sorts, it carries different weights.
Weighing the evidence to discover an answer is one of the more difficult challenges in theological method. It is more of an art than a science. It usually involves an element of judgment. When the evidence appears to point in more than one direction, we must allow some of the evidence to explain the rest. In other words, part of the evidence will explain not only our answer, but also the remainder of the evidence.
Previously, I have suggested three methodological principles that should guide us in making these judgments. First, didactic (teaching) passages must explain historical references. Second, clear passages (texts that have only one likely interpretation) must explain obscure passages (texts that have more than one plausible interpretation, but in which no single interpretation is significantly more likely than another). Third, deliberate passages (texts that aim to address the theologian’s question) must explain incidental passages (texts that touch on the question only tangentially).
These principles need to be illustrated in practice. Therefore, in the present essay I wish to bring them to bear upon a theological question. In doing so, I shall deliberately avoid the issues that have more obvious answers (e.g., the fundamental doctrines). Of course, by selecting a question with a less clear answer I shall open myself to disagreement. That kind of interaction, however, is useful and necessary. Theologians learn through conversation, which is one reason that the best theology is done in community. read more