A Decision Tree of Theology

It could be because of where I’ve been pastoring, but I don’t think so. It’s only been in the last 7-10 years that I have encountered people who have absolutely no religious background.  They don’t know Gideon’s fleecing has nothing to do with stealing, or Aaron’s almond rod budding has nothing to do with gardening.  A “Holy Moses” is no more real to them than “holy mackerel.” They’re just expressions.  For them, and I’m not talking only about those from other countries, but red, white, and blue Americans, Christmas is about Santa and Easter is about bunnies.  How does one approach them? Take them down the “decision” tree of theology:  I & D or T & C, G or F, B or Q, V, T, C or L.

I know “decision” is verboten for Lutherans, but trees aren’t.  From the tree of the cross to Luther’s likening reading your Bible correctly to correctly harvesting an apple tree, we like our trees.  Decision trees do help sort apples from oranges; they make it clear that there are different branches. You can’t follow branches going different directions.

First ask them, “As you look about you does the world give evidence of Intelligence and Design or Time and Chance?”  Once you’ve branched to I & D ask, “Does this Intelligence and Design point to a personal God or an impersonal Force?”  Once you’ve branched to G ask, “What books claim to give information about God?” We can go to the Bible, the Quran, the Vedas, or the Tipitaka.  You can dismiss the Tipitaka because it claims to have information about lots of gods and being 40 volumes in English it is too long to study.  The Vedas too are 5 volumes in length, and Hinduism has hundreds of gods.  Of course the Quran is manageable and monotheistic, but Islam teaches it’s only authoritative in the Arabic.  The Bible on the other hand is available in an array of English translations and now even the Catholics recognize an authoritative English translation.  Once you branched to B ask, “Will it be a Conservative or a Liberal approach to the Bible?”  Will you take God at His Word or under advisement?  Will you accept that the Bible is the Word of God or only admit that it contains the Word of God (classical liberalism) or becomes the Word of God for you once you believe it (neo-orthodoxy)?

Don’t misunderstand.  I am not recommending we return to first getting a confession that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God (which it is) and then moving on to the inerrant Son of God who saves.  I am suggesting a way to explain why we are studying the Bible as opposed to the other “holy” books out there.  Meet them where they are coming from.  There is a rational, not just a faith, behind studying this book as opposed to others.

While I only use Luther’s Small Catechism with the current enchiridion to teach adult catechumens, I can see that with some it might take sitting down with nothing but the Bible.  It would be slower, but in the end it wouldn’t be any less systematic.  If Phillip could preach the Gospel sufficiently to lead an Ethiopian to the equivalent of adult confirmation from just Isaiah 53, I think we could do the same with the whole Bible.  But first we have to give them a reason to start there.

The above is adapted from an article written by Marvin Olasky in World magazine.  It was entitled “Religions of pieces” and appeared on page 44 of the April 28, 2007 issue.


About Paul Harris

Pastor Harris retired from congregational ministry after 40 years in office on 31 December 2023. He is now devoting himself to being a husband, father, and grandfather. He still thinks cenobitic monasticism is overrated and cave dwelling under.
This entry was posted in General. Bookmark the permalink.