So far in this series on the Doctrine of Annihilationism (Conditional Immortality) I have shown that by virtue of the biblical text, I disagree with Edward Fudge and annihilationism. Nevertheless, I would like to spend time in this post commending him for writing about tradition and how tradition can often block biblical truth. One can often miss the truth of Scripture because he or she clings to tradition. Tradition is not bad...but when it is elevated above the Word of God, it becomes useless.
This post, then, will not critique the work of Edward Fudge (there will be plenty of time for critique). Instead, this post will discuss the place of tradition in the Christian life and how tradition must be subjected to Scripture in all aspects of Christian living.
Fudge quotes Anabaptist Gerald D. Studer:
“Many Christians, perhaps most of us, are simply content to follow the party line...if this leaves some biblical data unaccounted for, we protect ourselves either by saying that not all of us can be theologians or we take comfort in the fact that ‘this is the way we have been taught!’” (Edward Fudge, The Fire That Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of the Doctrine of Final Punishment, Third Edition. Eugene: Cascade Books, 2011, page 24).
I agree with Studer. Many Christians believe the things they do because they are guilty of “following the party line”: going along with the tradition in which they were raised with no thought to criticize their long-held views. This happened with a friend of a friend of mine. My friend talked with a woman about women and their place in church (whether or not they should be in leadership). To his dissatisfaction, the woman responded, “I don’t think women should lead in the church.” Upon finding out that the woman disagreed with his own position, he asked her, “Why? What compelling evidence do you have for your belief?” She responded, “Well, there’s this verse.”
“What is the verse?” My friend asked.
“I don’t know,” she said flatly, “but there’s this verse my dad taught me.”
And for this friend of mine, this was probably the most tragic conversation that he’s had with a fellow friend of his in all of his years of education.
Regardless of where one stands on issues such as Men and Women in the Church, The Eternal/Temporary Subordination of the Son, Calvinism/Arminianism, Inerrancy vs. Infallibility, etc., this seems to be the growing trend of responses. When believers are asked about why they espouse the theology they do, they respond, “Well, Pastor so-and-so said this is right. An elder in the church agrees with me, so...”, and this is supposed to be the answer that ends all questions. Or, if the believer is a little more sophisticated than most, he or she will respond with, “Well, D.A. Carson...or John Piper...or Wayne Grudem...or William Lane Craig...or the majority of Baptists...or my denomination agrees with me, so...”. Usually, this is given to stop any further discussion of the subject matter itself. And if these aren’t given as sufficient answers, most respond in the way Gerald Studer says: “we protect ourselves either by saying that not all of us can be theologians or we take comfort in the fact that ‘this is the way we have been taught!’” (Fudge, The Fire That Consumes, 24)
Studer’s two responses he provided are the last two classic answers given in such discussions: either “not all of us can be theologians” or “this is how I was taught,” etc. But why is it that not all of us are theologians? What does it mean to be a theologian? It means to study theology. And who studies theology: is it just those who get paid for it, or ordinary believers as well? The answer? Every Christian who names the name of Christ and studies the Word of God is a theologian (Ephesians 6:17)! If every believer is a theologian (and every believer reads the Word of God, which is theology), then all of us are theologians! It is not an issue of, “we can’t be theologians,” but instead, “We are all theologians.” As theologians, students of Scripture, we should have a stake in theological discussions such as Men and Women in the Church, Calvinism/Arminianism (for some, Molinism), etc. These theological debates ought to matter to us---for, whatever we agree on regarding the Scriptures will affect church, home, school, job, etc. It’s simply not enough to say, “I’ll let the pastors, elders, teachers, preachers, and PhD folks sort through all that,” and leave stones unturned.
I will conclude with this: studying the Scriptures is part of our God-given responsibility as believers. We have a duty to know the Scriptures that we proclaim to lost and dying sinners. We have a responsibility to know the Word of God so as to combat and destroy error in our local churches. It is not optional to study it; studying the Scriptures is mandatory. Those who fail to study the Scriptures are as much a danger to the church as those who teach falsely. God bless.