The Best Theological Label Is “Berean”

Today’s blog is an excerpt from my new book hand in Hand: The Beauty of God’s Sovereignty and Meaningful Human Choice.

When Emerson wrote “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds,”[1] he was challenging us to accept truth even when it requires us expanding our minds and breaking from our tidy little systems. Good words for Bible students.

William Symington wrote, “Our object should not be to have Scripture on our side but to be on the side of Scripture; and however dear any sentiment may have become by being long entertained, so soon as it is seen to be contrary to the Bible, we must be prepared to abandon it without hesitation.” [2] Our allegiance to a particular theological system can hinder this process.

The Berean Christians were commended for carefully examining, in light of the Scriptures, the teachings of the apostle Paul (see Acts 17:11). This is a man who eventually wrote thirteen inspired biblical books. How much more should we evaluate the teachings of everyone else we read or listen to!

We can benefit greatly from the work of Bible scholars and authors. I certainly have. But we shouldn’t search the writings of Calvin or Wesley to examine whether a teaching is true; we should search the Scriptures.

It was in an Arminian church where I, as a teenager, found God (though now I think of it more as him finding me). Imagine a one-to-ten continuum in which one represents pure Arminianism and ten is pure Calvinism. (I’m speaking now only of the orthodox versions of each.) On that scale, I began at around two and have since settled at around eight.

I attended Multnomah Bible College and Western Seminary. Each had faculty members from across the Arminian-Calvinist spectrum. The professor who influenced my approach to reading Scripture more than any other was not a Bible or theology teacher. It was Ed Goodrich, my Greek prof at Multnomah, who often told us, as we translated the entire New Testament over the course of three years, “Better to be at home with your Bible and not your theology, than to be at home with your theology and not your Bible.” Time and again we would grapple with the proper translation and meaning of texts—the temptation was always to see the text in light of the doctrine we’d been taught rather than letting the text change our doctrinal views.

I love studying theology. But if the Bible never challenges us to rethink our theology, it’s because our theology, not our Bible, is our authority. We should seek to change that.

From Eternal Perspective Ministries

hand in Hand by Randy AlcornOne of the most perplexing theological questions—Is it possible to reconcile God’s sovereignty with human choice?—is also one of the most personal. A careful guide through Scripture, hand in Hand shows us why God’s sovereignty and our choices were meant to go together.


[1] Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Essay on Self-Reliance  (East Aurora, NY: Roycrofters, 1908), 23. 

William Symington: Penman of the Scottish Covenanters(Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2009), n. p. 

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over sixty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries