Of the Four components identified by Systematic Theology that must be considered in any theology: Scripture, Tradition, Sources and Experience— Sources is the starting point for me. Who and what we are informed by plays a major role in how we view the world. One’s ‘Sources’ is critical in our times.
Source Criticism as a field of Biblical Studies, developed as a methodology of looking for and at the sources used by the separate and individual writers of scripture. A monumental task for the earliest source scholars, but made easier today by laws of plagiarism— it is illegal to write in our times without crediting one’s sources. I recall being addressed by a Bishop in the United Methodist Church on the steps of my alma mater, Gammon Theological Seminary.
He inquired of something that someone had told him I said about him. I simply said to him that he should “consider the source!” As the childhood game goes of whispering in the first persons ear and following the information from ear to ear as it reaches the end, the last person’s information is completely different from the first. What is not considered in the human process is how information takes on ‘motive’. How difficult it is to get ‘the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth!’
Perhaps the most difficult problem with sources for us is the massive expansion of media technology, namely— television, radio, newspaper and the most recent phenomenon of internet. Many TV and radio personalities disseminate information orally on a daily basis, often without the process of research for credibility and authenticity. Persons listen attentively and yet, again without the process of research for credibility, begin to pass the information on as truth. ‘Considering sources’ also includes ‘context’ of information. Identifying a source can be just as damaging if the source’s ‘word’ is taken ‘out of context’. The ‘sin of omission’ goes to work.
Written sources—books, newspapers, etc., too, must be processed for credibility. So many persons believe anything that is read simply because it is in print. My Old Testament Literature professor, Dr. G.Murray Branch, required each student to write and do a class presentation on the literary background of an assigned book of OT. Most often than not, upon completion of the presentation his comment was the same “I am tired of you coming in here with these Sunday school sources!” I suspect that we are ‘like Mikey— we’ll eat anything’ when it comes to the apathetic and haphazard way in which we handle sources.
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