Yesterday I was pondering about how easily people can have a lot of Biblical information, but not have it organized well. And, because it is not organized well, they don’t know as much as they think they know.
While pondering this, I recalled my early fascination with astronomical maps. The Ptolemaic system (Ptolemy lived in the second century AD) had the earth as the center; the Copernican system (Copernicus lived 16th century AD) had the sun as the center. As the dates indicate, for centuries some people posited that all the heavenly bodies in the universe revolved around the earth. Scholars of this school made fascinating and complex charts of the movements of the planets. These diagrams reflected their observations, required a high level of intelligence, and also had the wrong integrating principle.
When Copernicus proposed his heliocentric cosmological system, he didn’t reject all the many details of the geocentric system of Ptolemy. Rather, he introduced a simpler scheme that put the sun at the center of our immediate system. He said that we exist in a “solar” system, not a “geo” system. In the new Copernican cosmology, the same sensory observations of the planets were still being made, but they were interpreted in a new way. Rather than describing their sensory derived data as the planets stopping, starting and reversing their movements in relation to the earth, Copernicus described this data as the planets’ movement around the sun, with the earth as one of those planets. The same data could fit into more than one system, although more easily into one than into the other.
Why was I pondering this while in church yesterday? It is because students of the Scriptures, even some very intelligent ones, can have a huge amount of Biblical data at their mental fingertips. At the same time, they can be trying to tie this data into a misguided theological system. The system gets more and more complicated with each increase of data. Before long, the reader of these misguided theological systems starts wondering if there is some kind of theological conspiracy at play. All the data is explicable, but not reasonably!!!
Is a theological system inevitable? Probably. Are all theological systems equally adequate to tie together all the Scriptural and existential data of human life? No. Will people easily replace one theological system for another? Probably not. Does this mean that it is a matter of being right or wrong? Not necessarily. Then, what is it? It is a case of knowing all kinds of Biblical detail but organizing it improperly, and thus being both right and wrong!!