Theology and Palmolive Dish Soap

“I Invented the wheel!”

soap copyWhen I was eight years old, my mother asked me to clean the patio furniture. Being an imaginative child, I decided that I would concoct my own cleaning solution to effectively scrub off the grime. I grabbed the Palmolive from the kitchen sink, a bottle of lemon juice, and the salt shaker. I stirred the ingredients together in a large bowl, picturing myself the mad scientist with curly wild hair who, despite all odds and against all norms, creates a masterpiece that changes the world. I ceremoniously dipped the rag into my mixing bowl, and proudly began to wipe down the chairs. To my joy, it worked beautifully, restoring the chairs to a gleaming white. (I chose to ignore the residue of sticky salt covering the furniture.)

I decided more people needed to hear about my invention. After examining the bottle of Palmolive dish soap, I saw an 800 number listed in small print near the bottom. Naturally, I grabbed our olive-green rotary phone and gave them a call.

“Hello, thank you for calling Palmolive. How may I help you?”

“Yes, hi, I have invented a new soap that cleans patio furniture. I wanted to sell you the recipe.”

“. . . how old are you?”

Antique Theology

As a young pastor and student, I have felt pressure to reinvent the theological wheel. Looking at problems around me, I have turned to Scripture looking for fresh, new ideas to address the problems, and scrub the grime away from my church, community, and culture. Yet just as I was gently let down by the gracious lady from Palmolive, so too the authors and theologians to whom I frequently turn gently let my down when they inform me that either my idea is an old one, or that it’s been proven to not be true to Scripture. Often, by adding our own fresh spins or applications to the ancient doctrine of the Church, we merely muddy the waters unnecessarily.

How often do academics feel the need for something entirely new? How frequently do pastors scour the recesses of their brains for a new application, illustration, or metaphor? Do not be in too much of a hurry to be fresh, to be new. This is a call to look to Scripture, and to its interpretive history laid down before us. Do you have a new reading of John 3:16? It’s probably not new. Do you see connections between the New Testament canonical order and the Pentateuch? Someone else probably has seen it as well. This is not to say that new ideas don’t happen, but rather that before championing our concepts, it would be best to do our research, and humbly listen to what others have to say who have gone before us. I am thankful for modern tools that help me do exactly that!

Our faith is not a novel new idea, but something that has been practiced for ages. Our Scriptures are ancient documents, perfected thousands of years ago. This is in fact a testament to the faithfulness, power, and grace of God! He inspired a mighty Word to us, his final revelation in Jesus Christ, and it was perfect. It doesn’t need building upon. It doesn’t need my help.


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