What is Worthless speculation (Institutes 1.14.4)

Moses tells us that the earth was finished and that the heavens with all their host were finished [Gen 2:1]. What point, then, is there in anxiously investigating on what day, apart from the stars and planets, the other more remote heavenly hosts began also to exist?  No to take too long, let us remember here, as in all religious doctrine, that we ought to hold to one rule of modesty and sobriety: not to speak, or guess, or even to seek to know, concerning obscure matters anything except what has been imparted to us by God’s Word. (John Calvin)

In a world imbued with science and the scientific enterprise, Calvin’s words serve to challenge our inquisitive minds.  Is there such a thing as worthless speculation?  It would appear that Calvin believed so, or at least that he viewed some items as unproductive within the Church.  Calvin’s main point in this section of the Institutes is that the church and the believer ought to be most concerned with teaching, preaching and understanding the Scriptures as they relate to the edification of the faithful.  He goes on to state:

The theologian’s task is not to divert the ears with chatter, but to strengthen consciences by teaching things true, sure, and profitable.

The church, and the Christian, ought to distance herself or himself from speculative inquiries about the nature of the world when it directly challenges or violates the revealed word of God.  Does this mean that Christians should refrain from careers in the sciences?  Absolutely not, but to expect the church to adopt positions, or teach on the speculative nature of science is for the church to leave her first love – the proclamation of the gospel.  The church must always adhere to sound doctrine concerning Christ, sin, salvation, and living as a disciple while on other issues she must refrain until such scientific theories impinge upon her calling and proclamation.

In a postmodern church and world increasingly engaging in speculative theology, let us heed the call to guard what has been entrusted to our care as christians and as pastors.  the message we proclaim is simple, but it is true in all times, all places and for all people, the scientist included:

Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again!

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About Scott Roberts

pastor of Hope in Christ Church, Bellingham, WA
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