Open Questions or Theological Problems

C. OPEN QUESTIONS, OR THEOLOGICAL PROBLEMS. 

Open questions must not be defined as points of doctrine “on which men cannot agree” or “which the Church has left undecided in its Confessions,” but as questions which Holy Scripture itself bas left open, or unanswered, or has not answered clearly. This definition of open questions is very important; for not human, but only Scriptural authority determines what must be taught in the Christian Church, namely, the entire content of Holy Scripture, Matt. 28, 20; not a definite doctrinal platform which certain theologians or churches have drawn up. In other words, Holy Scripture alone is the spiritual teacher of men, not the Church or the theologian in the Church. The spirit of indifferentism and unionism has always set up false standards regarding the issue of open questions. Guided by a vicious principle of religious toleration, theologians again and again have erred on this point by exalting their limited human reason above the inspired Word of God and “opening” or “closing” questions at their own will. Over against this unscriptural practice it must be maintained that open questions owe their existence alone to the silence of Scripture and not to any fixation of doctrine by the Church or to any policy of expediency advocated by parties in controversy. Since the doctrine of Holy Scripture is God’s Word, men have no right whatever to decide what to teach and what not to teach or to determine which should be closed and which should be open questions. That is a matter outside their jurisdiction. 

As we study Holy Scripture, we find that, in agreement with its scope and purpose, it does not answer every question which men may desire to have answered. For instance, it does not explain how sin originated or could originate since all creatures were originally created “very good.” Nor does Holy Scripture answer the question whether the soul of a child comes into being either by creation or traduction (creationism; traducianism). Questions on which the Word of God is silent we call theological problems, or open questions. To these questions we may add also the crux theologorum, which has always puzzled the minds of inquisitive theologians: Why are some converted and others not, though by nature all men are in the same guilt (eadem culpa) and are saved by grace alone (sola gratia). Since God’s Word does not answer these questions, the theologian should not endeavor to do so. All attempts to do so are both anti-Scriptural, because the theologian is to speak only as the oracles of God, 1 Pet. 4, 11, and unscientific, since he who takes it upon himself to answer such questions presumes to know what he cannot know. Divine truth is apprehended only through faith, or by simply believing what Holy Scripture teaches. John 8, 31. 32. Hence, whatever doctrine is drawn from any other source than Christ’s Word is not theology, but mere speculation or downright ignorance, 1 Tim. 6, 4. 

The proper attitude of the Christian theologian toward open questions, or theological problems, is therefore that of confessing that he is incapable of solving them since the source of his faith, Holy Scripture, furnishes him no data. Reusch very pertinently says: “Inutilis est eorum cognitio, et vanae sunt de eisdem disputationes.”. (Annotationes in Baieri Comp., 1757, p. 52.) However, such disputations are not only useless, but directly dangerous. Of this Luther reminds us when he says that the Gospel is hindered mainly by two things, namely, first, if sinners are taught to trust in their good works, and secondly, if useless questions are propounded the answering of which causes the chief parts of the Christian doctrine to be neglected. (St. L., IX, 863 ff.) Open questions are certainly not “open” in the sense that the Christian theologian may allow his imagination to run wild on matters which God has wisely refused to reveal. If he indulges in speculations, these must always be kept within the bounds of the analogy of faith, or the clear revelation of God’s Word. But it is safer and better for a theologian not to speculate at all, since his own views may easily lodge in his theological system and be taught as a part of divinely revealed truth. Let the Christian theologian learn to say nescio wherever Holy Scripture does not speak with clearness and definiteness, remembering that both in revealing truths and in withholding facts which we should like to know God had in mind our salvation, 2 Tim. 3, 15-17. 

In this connection we may discuss also the important question, “What are articles of faith?” Articles of faith, as our dogmaticians have always affirmed, have their origin solely in Holy Scripture. That means that the Christian Church accepts and believes only such doctrines as are unmistakably taught in Holy Scripture. Hollaz describes an article of faith as “a part of the doctrine revealed in the written Word of God concerning God and divine things and proposed to the sinner to be believed for his salvation.” However, since it is true that some articles of faith contain truths which man’s natural knowledge of God and the contemplation of God’s works in nature disclose to him, for example, those concerning the existence of God, the articles of faith have been divided into mixed articles, that is, such as are manifest also from the light of nature, and pure articles, or such as are known only from the study of Holy Scripture. (Baier.) But also the former, the mixed articles, are articles of faith only inasmuch as they are directly taught in God’s Word. The true Christian theologian recognizes no source of divine truth other than the Bible.

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