3 Blind Men, An Elephant and “Big Theology”

ElephantPerhaps one of the biggest reoccurring blind spots we Christians deal with is the certainty we have about the part of God that we do understand. We sometimes insist on forcing the Scriptures to fit the worldview given to us by our “first” teachers. We end up reading what we believe instead of believing what we read in the Bible.

In my book “Roadkill Seminary” I state that we ironically have to be delivered from our commitment to our brand of the Christian religion in order to more fully discover the person of Jesus Christ. This realization often only comes through prolonged and difficult trials of the soul.

In my book “Working Together For Jesus” I have a chapter called “Anointed Self-Deception” where I detail this blindness to see things as they really are. Several biblical characters were infected with this short-sightedness. They were so sure the part they had from God was “THE” part that they ended up in “anointed self-deception”. The obvious ones were Elijah in 1 Kings 19:18; Peter in Matthew 17:4; and John in the book of Revelation 19:10 and 22:9. These all made incorrect statements and assumptions in the midst of awesome anointed events as they were serving the Lord.

Let’s look at some of the common areas where we get hung up.

Eschatology – Preterists, Amillennialists, Futurists and Dispensationalists work very hard to fit their view of the End-times into a systematic grid, but fair-minded observers note they can’t fit everything they believe into an error free narrative. I’m sorry if I am popping your theological bubble here but each point of view has to fill in certain passages of scripture with speculation, conjecture and hypothesis. Of course they are fine with doing that but they often won’t allow the other guys the same latitude with their narrative. See “Who’s Right About The End Times”.

Freewill – Calvinism and Arminianism represent the age-old Church debate about whether man truly has freewill or does God’s providence override it. Both points of view can be found in Scripture so what is a person to do? Well some people choose a camp and will mercilessly squash anybody who tries to tell them differently. Frank Viola brings some clarity to the debate with his article “Why Calvinists Live Like Arminians & Arminians Pray Like Calvinists” http://frankviola.org/2012/05/24/calvinismarminianism/

Law and Grace – Perhaps nothing has Christians arguing more today than how we should decide the correct application of God’s Law -judgment and His Grace-mercy. In my book “The Inner Journey” I attempt to remind us all of the Biblical illustration the Lord gives us in His Tabernacle. His Law is written in stone so no theologian can erase His holy standard; yet He keeps the stone tablets in a box covered with His own blood so no theologian can suggest any of us are unredeemable. I still see both Law and Grace alive and active in our day. Its in these in-between places where God speaks with us about everything. Sadly the old adage; “the devil is in the details” may never be more true than here. My article “In the Year 2023” may help the discussion between those who emphasize Law and those who emphasize Grace.

Politics – Conservatives and Liberals approach to the Scriptures from the opposite emphasis of righteousness and justice, see Psalm 89:14. One focuses on our vertical relationship with God and His righteousness, the other focuses on our horizontal relationship within society and His justice. In my book “A Better Way To Govern” I discuss how seeing the bigger picture here gives us the grace to overcome the caustic rhetoric that eats away at the solutions we all so desperately need. This doesn’t help television or talk radio ratings but it will change our world for the better.

The News – The George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin story that we here in Sanford were so involved with presents another illustration. Some of my liberal friends post only the articles that make George Zimmerman look like an untrustworthy racist and some of my conservative friends will only post articles that make Trayvon Martin look like a no good thug. They each seem incapable or unwilling to acknowledge the other point of view. Are we capable of a better way? My articles on “Choosing Between Jesus or Barabbas” helps us recognize what spirit we are operating in when trying to address entrenched problems in our communities.

I’m not faulting anybody with a belief system they support. They are doing the best they know how from their point of view. However we forget that a point of view is just that, a view from a point. I do think we need to aware that when we are hell-bent on making things fit our point of view we can contort the heart of the Scriptures to make them fit our presuppositions. Some of us do so much Scripture twisting we make an Olympic Gymnast look arthritic.

In the end I keep noticing that each point of view falls short if left in isolation to the others. I like Psalm 119:160 where it says; the sum or the entirety of Your Word is truth. It’s when all the pieces are considered together, do we begin to see the big picture more accurately. Its not your way or my way, its Yahweh Who needs to be our focus.

Three Blind Men and An Elephant

I think many of us have heard some version of the story of the blind men and the elephant. One was holding his tail and described it as a rope. The other held its trunk and described it as a tree. The other held its ear said it was like a leaf. They were all partly right but totally wrong. Sometimes we do the same describing God. Our initial observations are correct but our conclusions often misrepresent the bigness of God and His purposes.

When people ask me what theological camp I embrace, I tell them I embrace a belief system that I call “Big Theology”.

What is Big Theology?

Big GodB – God is Big – This should go without saying but as we try to define God or a particular aspect of God we may inadvertently make God small. In an effort to be exact, we can become myopic. We exchange the micro for the macro. We miss the forest because of the trees. We end up making God smaller and easier to handle for our convenience. We forget He exists and works from several extra-dimensions and to make Him fit into our worldview is like explaining the internet to the ants in your back yard. A little perspective here may be just the dose of humility we all need.

I – God is Inviting – The apparent Biblical contradictions (called the principle of antinomy) between doctrines and groups within the Body of Christ are put there by divine providence. Dr Stephen Crosby points out in “Authority, Accountability and the Apostolic Movement” that it is the very polar opposite positions we spoke of earlier that creates a magnetic field that draws objects into its space. They make us look into the mystery. Neither the Scriptural contradictions nor the skeptics should discourage us from pressing in. The dichotomies and contradictions in Scripture and in our society should draw us in to find where God is in the mix. There should be a magnetic attraction moving our hearts to look deeper into the mystery before us. Jesus didn’t speak parables and mysteries to keep truth “from” us but to keep truth “for” us. It is only those who have a royal seekers heart that are deemed worthy of receiving these precious kingdom truths in the first place.

G – God is Glorious – If we study the Scriptures with an open and humble heart the fruit will be wonderment and amazement. God is like the ocean; you can play in the water ankle-deep but if you are willing to relinquish control you can go deep! When we see Emmanuel in the manual we are swept away in awe and beauty. The glorious revelation of Him causes us to worship. That is why Jesus said we worship God in Spirit and in Truth. Theology is the child of worship. Revelation of Him should transform us into His image, not into the image of our particular denomination outlet or network. God is dynamic. He never changes but He is always moving. Beware of religious rigor mortis. That which is static is often dead. He is not the scaffolding used to build the building. He is more than our doctrines and opinions. He is not the wrapping paper or the box the gift comes in. He is so much more than that. He is “BIG”.


  1. Hello Jeff! Good, thoughtful article. After reading, I am wondering how would we discern what is accurate, authentic and true revelation of God apart from any particular point of view? When Peter proclaimed Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of the Living God we are told by Jesus that is revelation. When/how does it develop into Peter’s point of view? That is, what he ended up doing (wanting to build tents for the three) on the mountain in Matthew 17.

  2. Bless you Jim,

    Peter fell prey to anointed self-deception on two fronts. One was he had an un-crucified personal agenda tied into his idea of what following Jesus should look like for him; thus Satan had entrance into him to try to get Jesus not to obey God’s mandate on His life. Peter also wanted to start a building program to the revelation he received. Jesus’ response to His staff member was to tell him the rest of His team about denying themselves, taking up their cross (RKS) and follow Him.

    Your question challenges me to want to spend some time contemplating a list. Yet without creating a box to put Christ in. He likes sitting on the box (the ark) not being shut inside of them.

    For now however I would start with the Eph. 4:1-16 mandate where God’s ministers should join and knit the parts of the Body together under the Head who is Christ. Separation from the world-yes, but separation from the brethren-no. When we say we are of Paul, Cephas or even Christ, the Scriptures identify us as immature.

    I am reminded of a supreme court justice who was asked to define pornography. He said he couldn’t but he knows it when he sees it. I think it is also true with those who are true Kingdom builders – there is an inner witness, a “it seemed good to us and the Holy Spirit” phenomenon that has carried the Church for 2000 years. Yes the word “seemed” makes some teachers nervous but the interface between Spirit and Natural worlds is like the ocean meeting the land. But it is also the prettiest and most expensive real estate.

    But your question begs accuracy from our teachers working with the other equipping gifts, our friend called Church history and Holy Spirit.

    We aren’t talking about creating unity but discerning and keeping the Spirit of unity that already exists in the realm of Christ’s kingdom just beyond our natural senses.

    Perhaps some guidelines is necessary to advance the Kingdom in our generation using the language of our day. You’ve got me thinking. Thanks – Jeff

  3. Charles – Excellent analysis. I like your spiritual filters analogy. Yes law and grace are the main tension between so many in the Church today,
    deserving of their own article. I pray we continue to embrace them both today. Jeff

  4. You are welcome. Thank you! It is interesting to follow the development of Peter as an Apostle, both by the 3 and 1/2 the Jesus poured into him and the other Apostles, the 40 days after the resurrection, and then the work of the Holy Spirit in teaching, guiding and directing. Certainly, the Holy Spirit spoke through Peter in the sermon in Acts 2. Yet, we see some relational growing edges in the Peter-Paul confrontation in Galatians 2:11, and also Paul with Barnabus at the end of Acts 15. While our spirit man is indeed made brand new at conversion by Holy Spirit, the soul-mind-feelings-will of man/woman is certainly a work in progress… working out our salvation in fear and trembling.

    I believe all of us must deal with our blind spots and anointed self-deception… and certainly spiritual maturity will bear witness to that. Also, I believe strongly that there is foundation, “the faith once delivered to the saints” as said by Jude, built upon apostles and prophets, who have the same “revelation.” I want the church to re-discover what that foundation is by revelation of the Spirit and let Jesus build what He wants on it. Unfortunately, even a minimal anointed self-deception can prevent that. Humility is indeed a necessary virtue.

    Finally, towards this ends I believe it is good to think and speak well of others… because usually we are more alike than different when it comes to our humanity. Apostle Dave has modeled thinking and speaking well of others (or keeping silent) more than anyone I know.

    With that said, when is the next time I get to sit with you and help you to see my self-anointed deception? 🙂

  5. Hi only happened upon your site via Yahoo once i typed wtiihn, Khmer Audio Somnangblogs or something related (are unable to quite remember exactly). Anyhow, I’m happy I found it because your articles is exactly what I’m trying to find (creating a university paper) and I am hoping you never mind if i gather several material via here and I am going to of program credit you as the reference. Thank you a lot.

  6. Hi,

    The only issue with the illustration of the elephant and the three blind men, is that the story depicts the narrator to see the whole elephant and thereby the person telling the story to have the same enlightenment. If we are all blind men reaching and just holding to different parts of a big creature, then who is to say that creature is an elephant or if we are even holding onto that creature except God himself. We could be holding a tree for all we know. This illustration is a very proud and weak argument, that almost says everyone else is wrong because, I the narrator can see the whole elephant.

    Therefore lets not be all too inclusive nor all too exclusive, let us hold onto our confession of faith and be convinced in our minds. May the Lord of truth and the Spirit of truth preserve the elect for that great day (both arminians and calvinists).

    Sri Lanka

  7. Nathan, I agree analogies like this can fall short of communicating a balanced point of view. My hope is that it open our eyes to the possiblity of recieving from other camps and tribes in the Church thus limiting our capacity to behold the bigness of God.

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