This is convicting. Maintaining the kind of theological humility that Moo describes below is no easy task. It’s like walking on an extremely narrow path with steep drop-offs on both sides.
- On the one hand, theologians can be overly confident about their positions. They can even become pugnacious and arrogantly close-minded.
- On the other hand, they can be insufficiently confident about their positions (e.g., epistemological pseudo-humility). They can be noncommittal and even become compromisingly ecumenical.
What follows is from the “contemporary significance” section of Doug Moo’s comments on Romans 11:33–36 in Romans (NIVAC; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), pp. 391–92:
Theological humility. To my mortification and my family’s delight, I received in the mail just this week an invitation to join the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). [Moo was born in 1950.] I have reached a point of life in which I find myself prefacing many things I say with “at my age.” Undoubtedly, as my children insist, some of the sentences that follow reflect hardening of the arteries or irrational fear of anything new. But a few of these statements, I trust, reflect some wisdom that the perspective of age has inculcated.
One of the most common sentiments I express these days is a greater humility about certain theological positions I hold. Like many young people, I felt confident of my positions in the first years of my career. I sometimes propagated views orally or in print that I had not thought through as thoroughly as I should have. While I have not changed many of these views, I am much more inclined now to notice evidence that might not fit my view. Therefore, I feel much more keenly the need to nuance what I teach by calling attention to this evidence and by admitting that my own view may not be correct. Increasing age should certainly not turn us into theological milquetoasts—uncertain about what we believe and swayed by the latest wind of doctrine. And I am as passionately committed to the essence of the Christian faith as I have ever been. But I would describe my current approach in theological study and teaching as “humble.”
What does all this have to do with Romans 11:33–36? Just this: Paul’s reminder that God’s thoughts are far beyond anything we could ever approximate and his plan more intricate and marvelous than we could even imagine certainly calls on each of us to exercise great humility in seeking to understand God and his Word. On this side of glory, all our theologizing is uncertain and tentative. Humility, willingness to listen, and respect for others are the appropriate attitudes for us finite creatures as we seek to plumb the depths of God’s character and truth.
To be sure, God has graciously given us in his Word a revelation of himself and his plan that everyone can understand. The essence of what that Word says is clear and undebatable. But the details are not always as clear as our theological traditions or denominational loyalties suggest. People holding views with more tenacity than Scripture justifies have done untold damage to the church and to the cause of Christ in the world. So even as we praise God for his amazing and gracious plan of redemption, we must also bow our knees in humility before him and keep a good perspective on our own limitations in understanding the specifics of that plan.