Theology Ex Nihilo (May-Jun 2002)

By Matt Dabbs

By Al Maxey
May-June 2002

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 article, or this author, to pass any judgments, either pro or con, upon Dr. Cottrell’s work or the feminist movement. That responsibility is left most readily to the individual reader. Instead, the focus will be upon an extremely significant point that the author makes near the end of his book with regard to interpretation of the Scriptures. Commenting upon the movement’s use of God’s 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.” “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).

How accurately these statements characterize the various segments of the movement being scrutinized in his work is, of course, open to debate. However, there is little question but what the above quotes 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 Truth, but rather might be little more than willful expressions of a self-made religion polished with the veneer of human wisdom.

Tragically, all of this is merely symptomatic of a much deeper problem: A basic blindness to the great principles of Truth conveyed by God in His Word due to the fact that one has become calcified over the years in one’s own religious biases. Jesus 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 (Matt. 15:6, 9).

One of the reasons for so much division within the Body of Christ is that far too many impose their theology upon the Scriptures, instead of extracting it from out of them. 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!”

The Sadducees had constructed an intricate theology of nonexistence beyond the grave. They denied the existence of angels, spirits, and even of a resurrection from the dead (Acts 23:8). However, their theology of “nothingness” had no basis whatsoever in Truth; it was a theology ex nihilo. On one occasion, when Jesus was confronted by several followers of this Judaic faction, He bluntly informed them, “You are greatly mistaken” (Mark 12:27). The reason for this was they had absolutely no understanding of the Scriptures (Matt. 22:29).

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. In so doing, we, like the Sadducees, have embraced the shadows and rejected the substance! We have prostrated ourselves before a system rather than a Savior! We have entered 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” (II Tim. 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 (I Tim. 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 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 (Matt. 23:15). By proclaiming a theology formulated out of nothing other than their own traditional teachings, they were delivering their disciples unto destruction.

In view of the consequences of doing the opposite, it is essential that each of us “preach the Word!” (II Tim. 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.

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This author published 1598 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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