Theological Tailgating

You’ve seen them. They are the bumper bullies of the highway. Any day of the week, on any highway, and most any time of the day they are out there driving too fast, weaving in and out of lanes, and aggressively driving too close to the bumper of the car in front of them. Frankly, if you are close enough to read the fine print of the Southwestern Seminary sticker on the back of my car, you are driving too close!

Some tailgaters are legitimately in a hurry. Most are just impatient. Some drivers tailgate in an effort to intimidate others to move over to allow them to pass; some do it for the thrill; while still others just have bad driving habits (though no one would admit that).

Tailgating is technically illegal, but drivers know that the chances of someone getting pulled over by the police for doing it are slim. After all, what’s too close? Who decides?

In a similar way, it’s easy to rationalize questionable habits in our character, too. In our fast-paced society, obstacles are often much closer than they appear in the mirror. And the dangers of high-speed collisions intensify as we tiptoe ever closer to the edges of right and wrong; blurring lines that used to be clear and flirting with danger for the thrill of the experience. How easy it is to be enticed by things that are ethically questionable, but in our minds rationally defensible.

Frankly, many of the issues that we face today are specifically addressed in Scripture and we have an obligation to be good students who are obedient to His Word. This requires faithful and careful exegesis of the text as well as intentional application of it. Where the Bible speaks clearly, we have no license to affirm otherwise. God’s decrees require no second. Tim Keller makes a great point when he says, “Either the Bible has authority and determines what is acceptable in culture or culture has authority and determines what is acceptable in the Bible” (Center Church, 105).

But what about those areas not specifically covered in the text? Are we left without Biblical instruction? The danger is that we allow our preferences to influence our interpretation of Scripture, and find ourselves mining the text to extract justification for what we have already decided we want to do. But, if you’re looking for a loophole in your theology to rationalize an action, you are driving too close to danger.

The Bible still speaks truth to our time. It’s not outdated, and is useful in guiding us to truth and faithfulness.

When we’re faced with the ethical dilemmas and temptations, here are some relevant questions to consider that will help us determine if we are driving too close to danger:

  1. Is the action in question glorifying to the Lord? Would God be honored by my action or dishonored?
  2. Is the action in question edifying to the Body? Would the Church be blessed and edified by my participation in this action?
  3. Does the Bible give related principles that inform our understanding of the action in question? For example, the Bible talks about: sanctity of life; faithfulness with one’s resources, precautions against the dangers of certain actions such as drinking alcohol, as well as character attributes such as holiness and kindness. Studying passages where the Bible has clearly spoken may serve as safeguards to help us avoid the heartache and damage that theological accidents can cause.
  4. Does the Bible include narratives that inform our understanding of the action in question? In what ways do the stories of men and women in Scripture inform the action in question?
  5. How has the history of the church addressed that issue? While not being on the same level as Scripture, seeing how faithful believers throughout history have addressed a particular issue can be a useful guide for our understanding of an action in question.
  6. Would the action in question cause someone to stumble? Paul addressed this issue in Rom 14:15, 21; 1 Cor. 8:13. In addition, Jesus offers a related warning for those who cause “little children” to stumble in Mark 9:42. Believers should ask themselves if an action would negatively affect our witness or if I would be embarrassed if someone saw me doing the action in question?
  7. A final question one should ask regarding an action in question is, “Am I convicted by it?” Paul stated in Rom. 14:14 that to him who believes something is unclean, to him it is unclean. That suggests that if I have a conviction about a particular issue and I do it, for me it was sinful.

Following Jesus is more than just following rules. Jesus didn’t die for our sins just so we could be good people. Moreover, we must avoid the hypocritical temptation to accentuate certain “sins,” while minimizing others. On the other hand, those who have experienced the grace of God in Christ should strive to live our lives in a way that honors Him and His Word. God does have high expectations of His people. And He doesn’t lower His expectations simply because we fail to reach them. People ought to be able to see a difference in us if we claim to be different.