The Corruptibility of Systems

I just described Christianity as a system of faith, and indeed it is.  So, how does that work with the corruptibility of systems?

The central tenets of our faith are identified as systematic theology. This means there is a logical and sequential way to understand what we believe, which is not necessarily the order in which the Bible presents the narrative of what we hold true.

But this brings us back to our undiagnosed problem. Systems are necessary and indispensable, but any system is also corruptible. That means we are constantly caught between the expediency of developing and using systems and the certainty that they will go awry and cause harm as well as good.

The systematic theology of the Christian faith is an example of this. I have loved and taught systematic theology in nearly every church I’ve served over 20 years of ministry. However, I have also seen the problems that the misapplication of systematic theology can cause.

This harm is often the result of the enthusiasm one feels when certain aspects of what you believe suddenly fit together into a more cohesive whole. But that same enthusiasm presents you with the temptation to begin to extend that logic to things that are outside of what the Bible clearly teaches. While that may not be wrong in itself, it is only one or two steps further until you are espousing something that clearly contradicts Scripture.

And this is the nub of the problem: How do we know when we are getting off track? Here again, we rely on systems to protect us. These protections are built in to safeguard the integrity of the system itself. But if the flaws in the system are deep enough, they corrupt the safeguards themselves. In such a case, the whole structure is likely to collapse.

We see an example of this in the growing area of cyber security. There’s not an aspect of our modern lives that are not in some way touched by technology, and many areas can no longer function without it. (Just look at how cashless payment and online shopping have increased during the pandemic.)

But along with this greater dependency is the awareness that our systems are inherently vulnerable. Hardly a week goes by without news of some kind of cyber attack that exploited one of these vulnerabilities. More and more, these vulnerabilities and the expense of counteracting them have simply become part of the cost of doing business in a digital age.

Ransomware and identity theft are big problems, and we are collectively spending billions of dollars to try to manage them. But they pale in comparison to the other problems we face: How will we govern ourselves? How will we face global threats? How will we ensure the future of our children?

Each one of these problems has countless proposed solutions. And each one of those solutions relies upon some form of system. But this only brings us back to our central question. How do we know when our systems have gone off track?

How do we know when the solution has become the problem? How do we maintain any hope of a solution that doesn’t simply create more and greater problems down the road?