Faith

The Benefits and Dangers of Trajectory Theology

Trajectory Theology is starting to become more prevalent in Christian circles today, but it is not a term everybody is necessarily familiar with. Therefore, I will begin with a definition. Trajectory theology looks for the underlying principles of the biblical texts rather than making a literal interpretation of the words on the page. It “seeks to locate a topic within the text and follow its ‘trajectory’ through Scripture to see how God is working to ‘redeem’ that topic…” It requires “a strong understanding of the culture in which the scripture was written” (GotQuestions.org).

To better understand trajectory theology, it is helpful to see how it has already been applied to a scriptural issue. For example, in Leviticus God gives the Israelites a list of animals they can and cannot eat (Leviticus 11). While scholars debate the purpose of these food laws, they do not debate their existence. By the time we get into the New Testament, we hear our Savior say, “A man is not defiled by what enters his mouth, but by what comes out of it” (Matthew 15:11). After Christ’s death, resurrection, and subsequent ascension, we read in Paul’s letter to the Romans that Christians should not pass judgment on either the brother who eats all things or the one who abstains, as they both act to the glory of God (Romans 14:1-6).

Summarizing, then, the trajectory of food laws, we see that many foods are banned in the Old Testament. By the New Testament, Jesus hints that the food laws are no longer binding, and by the time our Savior rose and ascended, the laws had been fulfilled in the New Covenant.

One may wonder why Christ, who said that neither “one jot or one title shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled” (Matthew 5:18 [KJV]) should revoke the dietary laws, and it is a reasonable question. Scholars who hold to trajectory theology have no issue with this. Nathan Busenitz, professor of Historical Theology at The Master’s University since 2000, argues that when approaching the food laws, we must consider three thongs. First, we need to understand the original cultural context. Secondly, we need to consider the theology; what was God’s purpose in issuing these laws? Finally, we should ask how the issue will affect our lives today (Busenitz).

As Professor Busenitz argues, the dietary laws were established for cultural reasons. The nation of Israel was to be separate from the cultures around them. They were to “make a distinction between the clean and the unclean” (Leviticus 11:47) so that they could approach the Holy God (Busenitz).

Turning to God’s purpose in the laws, Professor Busenitz points out that the theme throughout the book of Leviticus was for the people of Israel to become holy, even as God was holy (Busenitz) (Leviticus 11:44-45, Leviticus 19:2, Leviticus 20:26). These dietary laws were only in place to facilitate the sanctification of the Israelites.

We turn now to the final question of how this affects the lives of Christians today. For Christians, we are to be holy as God is holy (1 Peter 1:16), but this no longer entails following the strict food laws (Busenitz).

Now we have a massive set of laws in the Pentateuch that no longer seem to apply to us today. However, we know that “All scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Trajectory theology provides us with a framework for using those old laws for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in light of the blood of Christ.

While trajectory theology does have its benefits, and may even be a useful approach to the reading of the Old Testament, we have to be very careful when using it. Trajectory theology may help us see the foundations behind the commands in scripture, but overuse may also lead to moral relativism. There is a danger that we will no longer see any of the Biblical commands as firm, but instead interpret them as culturally specific. Lists of vices given in Romans chapter one, Galatians chapter five, 1 Corinthians chapters five and six, and other numerous lists become merely suggestive. We begin to see these sins as evil only in specific cultural contexts. They begin to seem hardly applicable to twenty-first-century America, even though the Bible clearly condemns such practices, beliefs, or indulgences regardless of cultural norms.

Trajectory theology provides us with a framework for interpreting the theological underpinnings of the laws of God, but should not be used to make a case for moral relativism. Theological underpinnings do remain fixed, but this does not mean we neglect specific scriptural commands merely because we think they were given only for a certain culture, time, or place.

How then, do we differentiate between those biblical commands that are culturally specific, and those commands that are built upon the same foundations but transcend culture? If we examine the scriptures, we see certain practices or beliefs condemned repeatedly throughout the Old Testament, and then again in the New Testament. Divorce is one of these issues. In Genesis, it is established that a man is to leave his parents and become one flesh with his wife (Genesis 2:24-25). In Malachi, God says blatantly “I hate divorce” (Malachi 2:16). And by the time we reach the New Testament, we find Jesus condemning the practice in Matthew (Matthew 19:1-12). While there may be cases in this fallen world where divorce proves to be the lesser of two evils, the Bible plainly affirms that it is evil and no cultural differences can change that.

In sum, trajectory theology can be a useful tool for working through parts of the Mosaic law. It can help us find the underlying principles by which God wants us to live without becoming lost in a different culture. It is, however, not a moral tool and should not be used to call good that which Scripture calls evil, or vice-versa.


The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Gordon Review, editorial staff, or its members.

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