Domino Theology

Is your theology built on a difficult to maintain stack of dominos?

Is your theology built on a difficult to maintain stack of dominos?

As a kid, I liked to play with dominos. I would try to arrange them in neat patterns, and even try to stack them in certain ways to build a toy house or a bridge. But the problem with building any structure with dominos is that if you make one slight mess up with any one domino, the whole project would come crashing down.

Some years ago, I put an addition with an extra bedroom on the small house I was living in. But I learned that the most important part was the foundation. Footers supporting the new structure had to be strengthened prior to any further work being done, and I was glad for it! For within a few months after completing the project, a terrible storm came and ripped part of the siding off of the brand new addition. That was a bummer! But the siding was not fundamental to the foundation, so I was able to live in the addition while it was getting repaired. But if something had gone wrong with the foundation, I would have had to abandon the entire structure.

You would never build a real house with dominos.

Dallas Seminary New Testament scholar Daniel B. Wallace recently was reviewing a book and mentioned the problem of domino theology in evangelical Christianity. I think Wallace is sadly correct. It is a real problem in the church.

I have had numerous disturbing conversations with well meaning Christians as to how they view the Bible. Some subscribe to the notion that they believe Christianity is an all-or-nothing proposition regarding the Scriptural text. If they were to find but one error in the Bible, even if it is a small, minor or obscure one, then it threatens the whole substance of their faith. They could never trust any of the Bible or anything in Christianity at all if there was yet but just one small minor problem or discrepancy that they could not solve.

This is domino theology in action. All it takes is one slight move of doubt and the whole thing comes crashing down. Watching all of the dominos fall is great fun for a kid playing a game, but it is a disaster when it comes to trying to build your faith.

Where is the Foundation for Your Faith?

Domino theology can be very, very persuasive. I myself bought into it for several years as a fairly young believer in Christ. The Bible has 66 books in it, covering 1,189 chapters with about 774,746 words.  That is a lot ground to cover! There are a lot of nooks and crannies where one of those potential “errors” might be hiding. It got so bad at one point that I stopped reading parts of the Bible that were too difficult for me the deal with, for fear that I might find that one, microscopic error in the text that would blow my faith completely apart.

Thankfully, I have since learned how foolish such a mindset truly is. The Lord rescued me from that theology, but it has not been easy. Every now and then, someone will try to bring out their theological pack of dominos and I eventually have to stop and say, “Sorry, I do not play that game anymore.”

Now, just to be clear, I have never been convinced that there are any definitively demonstrative errors within the Scriptures that would prove that God has lied to us in the Bible. Indeed, there are problems, difficulties and challenges in learning how to properly and faithfully interpret different parts of Holy Scripture.  Yet a Christian can be confident that God sufficiently reveals His truth in the Bible for what we need to have salvation in Him and to live a godly life. But we should not confuse the sufficiency of God’s truth with the exhaustive nature of God’s truth as revealed in Scripture. There is so much great wealth in God’s Word that it would take more than a thousand lifetimes to fully grasp the depth of the riches we find there. Scholars and simple-minded believers alike have poured over the sacred text for centuries to try to best understand the full extent of God’s truth. Skeptics have hammered away at it, too, seeking to tear down the claim of revelation. And yet, still, our human understanding of what we see in the Bible is far from complete. As Darrell Bock, Andreas Köstenberger, and Josh Chatraw state in Truth Matters, “No one–conservative or liberal, Christian or agnostic–can prove the Bible is true (or not true) with 100 percent certainty. To say otherwise is to raise a false standard on both sides. The processing of tracing a historical path that stretches back more than two thousand years is far too ancient and complex to turn every question into an open-and-shut case . . . not just on the Bible but on anything with such an advanced age attached to it” (p. 15).

But I can go one step further for the sake of the argument: Even if there were “errors” in the Bible, which in my mind, are really matters of interpretation anyway (see this earlier Veracity post on “Contradiction or Difference”), and even if the existence of such “errors” could be proved, which is a speculative proposition that I would hope any honest skeptic would readily admit, such “errors” still would not shake my faith in Jesus Christ. Why can I say that?

Because, you see, despite the unfathomable depth and breadth of the precious Biblical text, the central foundation of the Christian’s faith is in Jesus Christ, and Him alone. Our faith in the final analysis is built on a person, Jesus Christ, and not a book.

For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 3:11 ESV).

Some might object that we get our information about Jesus Christ from the Bible. Those who adhere to a domino theology ask questions like these: If we are not sure if the Bible we have in our hands is 100% trusted, then how would we know anything about Jesus for 100% for sure? To say that we must first start with Jesus and not the Bible is circular reasoning, is it not?

No, not at all. Yes, we do know about Jesus Christ from the Bible. Of course! But we also have multiple other sources:  Consider the testimony of other Christians (both current and down through the ages), the existential witness of the Holy Spirit in our hearts,  and plenty of scientific and historical evidence that supports the general, overall reliability of the Bible and the entire contour of the Christian message. We may not be able to prove the Bible is without error, but we can demonstrate in a profoundly real way that the Bible that points to the Savior is essentially, sufficiently, and historically reliable from numerous sources.

We do not have all of the answers currently for the questions that we bring to Scripture, but we have enough already of what we really need to know God. Now, we may have to revise our interpretation of some parts of the Bible in light of new evidence, but that does not necessarily require conceding that God is intentionally misleading or deceiving us in Holy Scripture. If the foundation of our faith rests on Christ, why would we dare draw such a conclusion? On the contrary, there are reasonable answers to difficulties in the Bible consistent with the revealed character of Jesus Christ. It is just that we may have to be tentative in knowing the answers to some of these difficulties for the time being.

In saying this, we must also remember that our faith need not rest on simply a bare foundation. To trust in Jesus Christ alone does not require us to jettison the doctrinal structure and narrative of the Bible, as many well-intentioned reductionistic reactionaries would mislead us on the other side of “domino theology.” There are those who come to it from the angle of saying that we should have Jesus Christ alone as our foundation and then leave the Bible aside since we are not 100% sure about it. But this is like building a foundation for a house and then only placing a flimsy tent on top, for fear that using really lumber, mortar and brick work for the framing would be too risky. To the contrary, the Bible gives us that framework extending from the foundation of Jesus Christ to form the content of our faith.

Here is the bottom line regarding a Christian view of the Bible: Ultimately, we have confidence in the Bible because Jesus had confidence in the Bible. We gain our 100% confidence in the trustworthiness of Scripture because He is trustworthy. He clearly affirmed that the Old Testament is authoritative and inspired, and He also inspired those early followers of Christ and those within that immediate circle that penned the pages of the New Testament. So studying the Bible acts as the way that we can verify that what we believe about Jesus some two thousand years away is in fact on the mark (That is partly why John Paine named this blog “Veracity” to begin with). A trustworthy and reliable Bible keeps us from making up things about Jesus ourselves and thinking we can get away with distorting the truth!

But it all starts with Jesus. We should not forget that.

The moment we start to bring out that theological pack of dominos and insist on an all-or-nothing proposition of Christian faith that requires every minute detail of the Bible to be without error before we can trust in Jesus, then that will clearly indicate a structure with a shaky foundation. Christianity is built on a strong foundation as the Bible itself teaches: Jesus Christ. Christianity is not a practically endless and complex chain of interlocking textual components that is only as strong as its weakest link. A more orthodox approach is to believe that the vast breadth and depth of the Scriptures are without error as an article of faith because we believe in Jesus, not the other way around.

Is your faith built on the sure foundation of Jesus Christ, or do you have a stack of dominos stashed somewhere that you are trying to build upon?

About Clarke Morledge

Clarke Morledge -- Computer Network Engineer, College of William and Mary... I hiked the Mount of the Holy Cross, one of the famous Colorado Fourteeners, with some friends in July, 2012. My buddy, Mike Scott, snapped this photo of me on the summit. View all posts by Clarke Morledge

One response to “Domino Theology

  • John Paine

    Clarek:

    Thanks for a great lead-in to what promises to be a very interesting and critically important series of posts. There’s an awful lot of wind blowing around about inerrancy, so we should chase that rabbit a bit. I’m looking forward to your forthcoming posts! (And hoping some of our friends engaged in lively offline discussions will share their valuable and helpful insights as well. 🙂 )

    John

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