/ Nathan Eshelman

The Overgrown Tree of False Theology

Imagine a tree “run riot into three very large and overgrown branches.” The tree is ancient and gnarly with a large trunk and a canopy that fills the sky. It is impressive to behold, much more revered than the tall trees of California or the ancient oaks that sparsely populate the eastern seaboard. Men and women from all over the world come--and have come--to this tree to learn of perceived-wisdom; to hear answers to questions as old as time itself. The tree dispenses knowledge and perceived-wisdom and men and women in turn share that wisdom with the world around around them.

People bring their big questions to the ancient tree seeking answers:

Who is God?
What is man?
What is man’s problem?
How can man be made right?
What is the purpose of life?
How will it all end?

The old tree, with its three overgrown branches, dispenses its wisdom day and night.

As magical as it sounds, the tree that dispenses wisdom to the world appropriates falsehood and lies.

The tree is the tree of false theology.

Franciscus Junius (1545-1595) describes false theology as a tree, appreciated by the world, providing both philosophical and popular theology to the masses. Junius was a professor of theology at Leiden and today may be best know as the “respondent in a debate over predestination” with Arminius (yes, that Arminius). Richard Muller said that in his day, Junius was “one of the most highly regarded reformed theologians in all of Europe.” Junius wrote an important book on True Theology and in the book, he warns his readers against false theology by using the image of the old tree.

The trunk of this old tree is false philosophical theology “that which through an error in reasoning has dissipated into false conclusions.” Colossians 2:8 says, “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.”

Many people’s theology is not built on the foundation of the Bible, but instead is built on human tradition, empty deceit, and the philosophies and worldviews of this world. Much of the technical aspects of this false theology remain within the confines of the unbelieving academy, but Junius notes that this false philosophical theology makes it way into the world through the branches that grow from the trunk.

All behold the canopy with awe—wanting to learn under its branches.

The world looks to this tree and sees a green canopy that is upheld by three large branches. The branches are:

Superstition
Natural theology (what we might call science)
Civil theology (theology to advance personal power)

All three of these categories Junius says make up “popular theology.” As men look to this tree for wisdom, they receive superstition rather than revelation. They receive answers such as “science says” which build upon presuppositions opposed to the Word of God. And they receive theological training from “powerful men… that they might establish certain laws... by the authority of religion.”

Popular theology is intended to satisfy the masses without actually informing them from the Word of God. And without a change of heart, men are unable or unwilling to think beyond the answers coming from this "wisdom" tree.

Junius says what “we call popular theology [is]… commonly sketched out in our minds. And it is neither disciplined by the cultivation of reasoning nor grows when support is added from another source. But it remains active in its own state and in its incomplete ideas, and as though in the mire of its own imperfection and natural corruption it settles down.”

How can we oppose this tree at which the world receives perceived-wisdom and false theology, whether philosophical or popular? Clearly most are "settled down." The only way that we can turn away from this tree is through the Word of God and the means of grace that the Lord Jesus Christ provides for growth in true theology.

The Word of God must fill our minds and our hearts, and that must be with more awe and more reverence than that which the tree captures the imagination.

Reader, what is the value of God’s Word in your theology? What is the value of knowing the Scriptures and drawing your system of belief from the Word of God which has been breathed out for your benefit and your eternal happiness?

Our Westminster Larger Catechism asks in question five, "What do the Scriptures principally teach?” The answer is that “The Scriptures principally teach, what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.”

Is the Word of God sufficient?

Yes.

But, is the Word of God captivating you more than the tree at which the world receives her wisdom?

Only you can answer that.

Nathan Eshelman

Nathan Eshelman

Pastor in LA, studied at Puritan Reformed Theological & Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminaries. One of the chambermen on the podcast The Jerusalem Chamber. Married to Lydia with 5 children.

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