by Al Maxey

Issue #101 ------- January 27, 2004
It is in our lives, and not from our words,
that our religion must be read.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)

Theology Ex Nihilo
The Problem of Exegetical Blindness
and Doctrinal Calcification

Dr. Jack Cottrell has produced a fascinating study of the history, development, and philosophy of the feminist movement. This eye-opening study, which is entitled Feminism and the Bible: An Introduction to Feminism for Christians (College Press, 1992), provides a much needed insight into the reasoning processes of this movement, especially with respect to the biblical hermeneutic of its adherents.

It is not the intent of this issue of Reflections to seek to pass judgment, either pro or con, upon either Dr. Cottrell's work or the feminist movement. That responsibility I readily leave to each individual reader. Rather, my focus will be upon an extremely significant point that the author made near the end of his book with regard to the interpretation of the Scriptures. Commenting upon the feminist movement's use of God's inspired Word, Dr. Cottrell contends much of their hermeneutic "is a case of theology ex nihilo." This is a Latin phrase which simply signifies "out of nothing." The author continues, "My point is that their finding this view in the Bible is a sheer act of will: They want to find it so badly that they unconsciously call into existence that which does not exist" (p. 298). "It is a case of theology ex nihilo;" a theology which has been "willed into existence in order to support" their previously established system of beliefs and practices (p. 313). Dr. Cottrell delves even deeper into their psyche by stating this is all "symptomatic of exegetical blindness caused by doctrinal calcification" (p. 312).

Just how accurately these statements by Dr. Cottrell characterize the various segments of the movement being scrutinized in his work is, of course, open to debate. However, there is little doubt that the above quotes do reflect a tremendous truth which is applicable to us all: unless extreme caution is exercised in our interpretation of the sacred writings, we may well find ourselves embracing a theology ex nihilo. What a sobering thought: that some of our practices and beliefs may not be firmly established upon a foundation of ultimate, objective Truth, but rather upon little more than willful, even wishful, expressions of a self-made religion.

Tragically, all of this is merely symptomatic of a much deeper problem: a basic blindness to the great principles of Truth, as conveyed by God in His inspired Word, due to the fact that one has become calcified over the years in one's own religious biases. Jesus soundly rebuked the scribes and Pharisees for invalidating the Word of God for the sake of their traditions, stating that their worship was in vain because they were elevating the doctrines of men rather than esteeming those of God (Matthew 15:6, 9).

One of the reasons for so much division within the Body of Christ is that far too many persons seek to impose their own theology upon the Scriptures, instead of extracting our Lord's teaching from out of those inspired writings. This tendency is an example of theology ex nihilo. If the only basis for our religious preferences and practices is an appeal to what God didn't say, or the creative manipulation of what He did, we have formulated a theological system "out of nothing!"

By failing to perceive the Truths God has revealed to us in His inspired Word, we often feel compelled to formulate our own "truths" out of what He has not revealed -- theology ex nihilo. We elevate to the status of divine LAW our own notions about which God has declared nothing. We then seek to impose these doctrines, dogmas, and decrees upon others, and will restrict our fellowship to those who meekly accept our self-made theology. In so doing, we have embraced the shadows and rejected the substance! We have prostrated ourselves before a system rather than a Savior! We have entered into a religion rather than a relationship!

The apostle Paul warned the young evangelist Timothy that a time was fast approaching when men would no longer desire the substantive Truths clearly revealed by God. Instead, "they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths" (2 Timothy 4:3-4). Demonic doctrines and deceitful spirits would be the companions of their new-found theology, and blessings which "God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth" would be forbidden (1 Timothy 4:1-3).

There is ultimately only one source to which man can turn for his theology when he rejects God's wisdom from above: the vast empty void of earthly wisdom (James 3:15). When our preferences, practices, and perceptions become our "pattern" ... when our earthbound traditions are elevated to eternal Truth ... we truly have nothing! We have severed ourselves from our Savior in our futile quest to become self-justified, and have only succeeded in becoming self-righteous!

Our Lord's most scathing rebukes were leveled against the rigid religionists of His day who had become so calcified in their own system of theological biases that they were no longer willing to openly and honestly reflect upon God's revealed Truth. They traveled far and wide to make converts to their system, but in so doing were in actuality making them "twice as much a son of hell" as they themselves (Matthew 23:15). By proclaiming a theology formulated out of nothing other than their own traditional teachings and personal perceptions and preferences, they were delivering their disciples unto destruction.

In view of the grave consequences of doing the opposite, it is essential that each of us "preach the Word!" (2 Timothy 4:2), for only therein lies Truth (John 17:17). All else is theology ex nihilo, and such theology will lead those who embrace it into the great eternal void away from the presence of God, rather than into the substantive joys of life everlasting.

Reflections from Readers

From a Minister in Hawaii:

Thanks for your thoughts on The Only True God (Issue #97). They've been a welcomed addition to my study and conversations related to a preaching series that includes the topics of God's existence & Jesus' deity.

From a Reader in Mississippi:

Acts 2:45 -- "They sold whatever they owned and pooled their resources so that each person's need was met." I can see some bake sales in this verse (grin). Still enjoy reading your articles.

From a Reader in Louisiana:

Why is it, when I think of biblical New Testament examples of how groups of Christians handle money, the example of Judas being the disciples' treasurer comes to mind? And why does my fellowship always make it a point to say something about the collection being "separate and apart," but yet it never ever is ... never, not once ever ... separate and apart from the Lord's Supper?

From a Reader in Florida:

Romans 2:1 states, "Therefore you are without excuse, every man (of you) who passes judgment, for in that you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things." I have heard many sermons from "conservative" brethren about how the ONLY authorized way to raise money is through the Sunday contribution. Yet, some of these same brethren see nothing wrong with adding to the treasury by placing contribution money into an interest bearing CD or by the sale of church property.

From a Reader in Michigan:

Dear Al, Another excellent article sure to stir up a hornet's nest. In regards to Mike Benson's contention that bake sales, rummage sales, car washes, etc., are unscriptural, I wrote an article I think proves otherwise, using Acts 4:32-37 as my basis. It's on my website at:

From a Reader in Texas:

I would like to toss a few "horseshoes" and see if I can get a couple of points near the stake. First horseshoe: If we are to follow Paul's example with the collection, why aren't we sending all the collection to the church in Jerusalem? That was Paul's mission -- collect for the saints in that church. So we should do the same. You say that's "dumb." Well, yes it is, and so are the arguments about the "when, where, how, etc." Another example: Go sell all your goods and pool it for the church, using it as the need arises ... that's Communism. A lot of eyebrows will pop up with that statement, I'll bet. God gave us a mind to use ... LET'S USE IT.

Second horseshoe: How about we ALL develop a godly attitude of love for each other. The lack of love in the church is so evident it hurts. Let God into your life, open the door of your soul wide open. He will come in if you let Him. No more fighting. No more "I am right ... you are wrong." I love you and you love me, and we all praise God together as His family should do. Also, a note about the Alabama person deriding your writings, Al -- That is the type of person that tears the church down. 'Tis a shame there are so many out there like that. Al, keep on keeping on ... your work is so important to all of us. It just can't be said enough ... thank you!

From a Reader in New Mexico:

Great job on The Collection for the Saints. It reminded me of a little exercise I went through some years ago. There was a fund established as the "Akin Foundation." The same "super conservatives" who demand that we follow 1 Cor. 16:2 to the letter, just looked the other way on the involvement of churches with the foundation. It was the old "whose ox is being gored" routine. When I wrote an Akin Foundation board member, who was also connected with a college operated by the "Non-Institutional" brethren, he advised me to mind my own business. So much for "book, chapter and verse!" It is sad, but also sort of funny, to watch these fellows squirm around today. One of the heroes of the "Non-Institutional" brethren wrote an appeal in one of the papers when the Akin Foundation got into legal trouble. He said that the foundation had done so much to spread the gospel, and that churches and individuals should establish a fund to save the foundation. These folks need a spiritual GPS (global positioning system), which would help them find out where they are.

They sort of remind me of the Christopher Columbus Award that I handed out on a yearly basis down at NASA. It was awarded to the person in my Division who best exhibited the characteristics of Columbus, who, when he started out, didn't know where he was going, when he got there, didn't know where he was, and when he got back home, didn't know where he had been. I know these brethren are, for the most part, sincere. I just wish their mothers hadn't dressed them so funny when they were growing up! I appreciate you and believe that quite a few folks believe that it is time to hold the patternists' collective feet to the fire. Not only is their teaching taking the joy out of salvation for many, but it does not square with Scripture.

Keep up your good work. I just mentioned to my wife that there appears to be a greater number of people coming out of the theological closet and that perhaps we are seeing the bow wave of a great movement wherein Christ is elevated above patterns. I appreciate your work toward that end.

From a Reader in West Virginia:

I enjoyed your Reflections article on "The Collection for the Saints." You are not only correct on this one, but on all of your other articles that contend that such passages were never intended to be a matter of law. The most direct statement to this effect was recorded by Paul in 2 Cor. 3:6 -- "The new testament is not of the letter, but of the Spirit." You should also have pointed out that the Corinthians had gone a full year without doing what Paul had requested of them. This, along with Paul's statement in 2 Cor. 8:8, as you pointed out, that he gave these instructions not as a matter of commandment, but to show the sincerity of their love. This should lay to rest any claim of the legalists. Keep up the good work and keep the Reflections rolling!

From a Reader in Arizona:

Bravo, brother! Now if churches can just learn to give up the practice of passing a collection plate and use a collection box located in a permanent location, that would be even better. You are surely right that giving is a heart thing and a love thing, but the intent I think behind "passing the plate" is more of a guilt thing. Thanks also for the Yancey book recommendation that you mentioned in one of your replies to a reader. I've read three other Yancey books -- Disappointment With God, The Jesus I Never Knew, and What's So Amazing About Grace? -- and have enjoyed them all. I am going to add the one you recommended to my Amazon wish list right now! Grace to you!

From a Reader in Washington:

I enjoy your very clear way of putting the subject matter across. In my humble opinion too many Christian writers forget that most of their readers are not going to be theologians. I have already got my mother, and a friend in India, to subscribe to Reflections, and am sending across your URL to a pastor friend in Wales.

From a Reader in Oregon:

Great article on one of our Sacred Cows (the collection). It amazes me continuously how the very ones who declare "Speak where the Bible speaks, and be silent where it is silent," spend so much time, energy, and speaking where the Scriptures are silent. To suppose that Paul's intent in 1 Corinthians 16:2 was to establish a permanent procedure for collecting money for all churches for all time is disturbing for a number of reasons:

  1. It takes the emphasis away from the reason for the writing, which was to instruct these Corinthians on how to best express their love to fellow brethren in an unselfish act.
  2. It is just one more man-made device that drives a wedge between brethren.
  3. It is another example of utilizing the art of proof-texting, while sending the context packing, in order to try and justify this "act of worship."

I can't be too harsh with these neopharisees because I have held this erroneous view in the past. I would assume that many simply have not closely examined the context of this passage to discover that grammatically, contextually, and practically this passage does not in any way authorize an ongoing collection into a "church treasury" of the "Lord's money." It seems almost every area of division fostered by my conservative brethren revolves around this unspoken of "treasury." We've complicated something very simple and turned a blessing into a burden! We continue to enjoy your Reflections. Keep up the good work.

From a Reader in Texas:

Your article The Collection for the Saints is right on the money (no pun intended). I have written so many times in my works that money is indeed a root of all kinds of evil. So many of the splits I have seen or experienced since 1950 have been over the use, or the raising of, money. Keep up the good work. By the way, when do you plan on putting your Reflections in book form? My money to help accomplish this is "burning a hole in my pocket."

From a Reader in Tennessee:

Brother Al, You referenced an article by Mike Benson in Forthright Magazine in your latest Reflections. I am also a column writer for Forthright. For the most part the articles in that publication are good. Mike has a good heart and he is also a great encourager, but I agree with your assessment of his article. He tries hard, but often gets himself caught not thinking for himself. He is young, so maybe we can chalk it up to youthful zeal? Keep up the good work, brother!

From a Reader in Oklahoma:

It seems to me the bottom line on 1 Cor. 16:2 (the collection) is --- it is a specific command given to a specific group (the church at Corinth & Galatia) for a specific project (to help the starving saints in Judea). To make this a law for Christians in general is a misinterpretation.

From a Reader in Nevada:

The Collection for the Saints should be an eye opener to those who have chastised, beaten and otherwise discouraged the children of God in the beauty and grace of giving and sharing. All grace(s) of God applies to us seven days a week, not just Sunday. This means that we should be willing to give during any and every day. By the way, do you have video tapes of your preaching? Or is that still too wild and liberal for you? Ha. I would like to watch a video if you have any.

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