As I commonly state on these pages, there is only one theology for which you will answer: your own. I will answer for what I teach, but you are ultimately responsible (as we all are) for what you believe. To that end, there are a number of doctrines I will say are "in pencil." That is, I am still not fully convinced and may erase and start again. Other doctrines are in indelible ink and form the foundation of my faith.
Our God is merciful and patient God. He welcomes and encourages the study of his revelation to man. He knows we are but dust. He knows our frailty and limitations. We must learn to present any of our convictions as humbly as possible. There are millions of believers, each at a different place. That does not mean that all beliefs are equally valid, and it certainly does not mean that none is above question. Quite the opposite, we need to be prepared to defend why we believe what we believe.
With that in mind, I present three primary hindrances to an honest study of God's revelation. They're really three sides of the same problem, but subtly different.
Submission to an earthly authority
Readers of this blog will know, I come from a devout and conservative Catholic background. One of the most fascinating things about coming out of from under that authority is my ability to now understand how much I surrendered uncritically to its teaching.
I've seen it so often since I've left the RCC as I reach back to try and reach Catholics with the truths of scripture. The pattern has been so consistent that I now just tell them where the conversation will go, and despite the warning, we somehow end up there. That is, I know how their traditions will negate truth. They have submitted their responsibility before God to an earthly authority. The more clever ones will see the path they're on and try to avoid it (as a I was able to do in my last days a Catholic apologist), but there is no escaping it. For examples, see my post on this topic.
I was fortunate to be teaching a high school Religious Education class in my parish at a time when I was suddenly eager to understand my Bible. I had my textbooks. I had my training. I had my arguments. I had my reference books. I was forced to try and bring all the truths in the Bible under the authority of my church. But my church's authorities could not agree. Popes contradicted popes. Councils contradicted councils. Church fathers contradicted Church fathers.
But it is not only the Catholics who are victims of this submission. Find and ism is Christendom and it usually demands some degree of submission. From staunch Calvinism to Classical Dispensationalism. When someone lies down in comfort on the continuum, no matter what they read, see, or hear, they slide back to their starting point.
Isolating a verse
The title of this blog is "Context or Confusion." The most important factor in a proper interpretation of any word, verse, chapter, or book of the Bible is its context. While many would agree with this in spirit, they deny it in practice.
A verse is chosen because it seems to fit the already decided upon conclusion regarding a particular doctrine. No care is give to audience or conditions or purpose of a verse unless it lands the adherent safely in his place on the continuum.
There are even instances where I have heard a preacher only read half a verse lest he introduce a possible difficulty. Such is the case with Matthew 8:12.
the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth
I heard a well-known preacher preach 45 minutes on half this verse. He scared his listeners into thinking either they or their loved ones would end up being tortured by fire based on this verse. Well, not on this verse, but on half this verse, "[They] will be cast out into outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."
Checking a theological answer key
I started to joke about this form of teaching:
"Open your Bibles to Ephesians chapter 8."
"There is no Ephesians 8."
"OK, Ephesians 7."
"There is no Ephesians 7."
"Ugh. Just give me a verse, I'm going to preach the same thing anyway."