Where Does Bad Theology Come From?

Bible, study (2)Yesterday, I listened to a video broadcast from a former pastor apologizing to gay and transgendered people on behalf of evangelicals because of the “Nashville Statement.” He went on to chastise the authors of the statement for building walls instead of bridges to lost people and even went as far as to register disagreement with the “statement” itself. He went as far as to say that these leaders had no right to cast judgment on the sexual sins they spoke to. How does a pastor get to that place?

Where does bad theology come from?

I wish this was the only occasion I had heard such foolishness. Unfortunately, it is pretty prevalent in a world where a person has the ability to publish every weird thought they have ever had on a wall or blog site. In fact, if they have a graphics design or marketing background, they’ll even look credible in their presentation. It does lead one to ask, “How can people believe that?” and further, “Where does this crazy thinking come from?”

Lack of training:

For some, the error is in a lack of training. They are self-educated and have never sat under formal teaching or worse, they have limited training…enough exposure to be “dangerous.” While formal teaching is not always required, it is helpful. If you don’t know the difference between genres, you might attribute the authority of the ten commandments to a parable taught by Jesus or the poetry of the Old Testament. Doing so can lead one down a scary path. If you can’t understand biblical languages, you are at the mercy of the translators of your version of the Bible. If you’ve never been guided to think on things like biblical theology, systematic theology, and their role in theological understanding, you are as equipped to interpret Scripture as a man navigating the woods without a compass. If you get where you needed to be, its only by luck.

Lack of humility:

This may be related to the training but it doesn’t have to be. You can be WELL TRAINED and choose to ignore every rational thought your teachers ever offered. Further, self-directed studies are not bad. I encourage them. I also caution people to read a good diet of scholars. If you are the first person to think the thoughts you have, be careful. It may be that someone thought them before and they were wrong then too, so they were abandoned. If getting to your position means ignoring or abandoning sound exegetical principles, you’re likely headed the way of charlatans and heretics. This doesn’t mean that if the majority of scholars disagree with your views, that you’re wrong, but a humble man will pause and ask why others disagree and seek to understand their position.

Lack of peace:

Unfortunately, this is a major source. A man’s son declares he is gay, so the man’s theology shifts toward inclusivity because his heart is wrenched over the son’s eternal prospects, and cannot bear the thoughts of the judgment of his son. A Christian’s child professes Christ as a small child but has no fruit of a repentant life, and dies. The Christian cannot bear the thought that their child may be lost, so they create a theology to give their child another chance in hopes that it gives them peace in the dark hours of life. False peace never begets genuine godly peace.

Lack of holiness:

Sometimes our own sins reign in our hearts and we develop a theological viewpoint where we are “ok” and traditional understandings of theology must be wrong. The examples of this are too plentiful to mention.

Spiritual opposition:

Let’s not forget that the enemy is alive, active, prowling about, and looking for people to destroy. Genesis 3 records the first temptation of man where the enemy introduced a false understanding of God and man “bought it.” Yes…the first book and the first section following the Creation Account. Yep! The enemy’s planting of false theological understandings leads us off as the source of all sin!

Are there protections?

Of course! God gives us Scripture which is our most reliable source of revelation. God gives us the Holy Spirit to bring truth to mind. He gives us accountability through the local church community that serves to keep us in check while we also help others keep from straying into error. God gives us wisdom…to think about the motives of our own wicked hearts and grace to run to Him for help and hope.

Will these protections always guard us? No. We are industrious and resourceful people that can blow it even with a thousand protections in place. But, a life of humility before God and constant pursuit of Him as He reveals Himself to be in His Word and within the community of faith, we will find a pathway to truth and a gracious Guide for the journey.

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Why I will not see “The Shack.”

the-shack-182x300Many will invest fifteen or twenty dollars this weekend and over the weeks to come to go see Hollywood’s rendition of the best-selling novel, “The Shack.” Most things that happen in the culture at large pass by me without comment but the nature of this offering on the big screen has forced me into the discussion. My interest is “pastoral.” I do not hate books, movies, or believe that Christians should boycott everything not affirmed by some denominational headquarters. In fact, I generally recommend “critical exposure” to cultural phenomenon like “The Shack” so that believers can have an honest and meaningful dialogue with seekers who have questions.

Many in Christian circles have sought to position evangelistic campaigns around this movie. They see it as a conversation starter. For these, the movie will surface the problem with human pain and the benevolent nature of God who brings healing to human pain. So…what’s my “resistance” to such a benign offering?

A few people have asked me if I planned to see the movie. I do not. When the book was first published, I purchased a copy and read it critically, which is to say that I looked for the theological landmines to see if they outweighed the potential good in such a fictional work as this book. In my estimation, the latent theological assertions render this book (and I suspect, the movie) “dangerous” for the average reader or moviegoer.

WHAT? How can I make such a sweeping assertion? Three reasons:

  • Most readers lack theological discernment when it comes to such works. A 2010 article by the President of Southern Seminary, Dr. Al Mohler addresses this concern.
  • Many readers lack the theological foundation to even begin discerning truth from error. I am not speaking of a “Sunday School” knowledge here but am suggesting that if you have not taken time to understand Orthodox Christian Doctrines and why the church has consistently and overwhelmingly affirmed them, then you are highly susceptible to accepting the unorthodox suggestions in this book as foundational.
  • Many readers open the gateway of their minds by assuming the harmless nature of “fiction.” They do so, often times, to their detriment. There is an entire subculture of conspiracy theorists in our world. These are the folks who are convinced of the government’s involvement with Kennedy’s assassination, argue that helicopters and satellites observe and record everything, and have seen Nicolas Cage in”National Treasure” a dozen times and now believe in a secret society of knights that run the government as a shadow team working for the President. Though the suggestions in this movie, for instance, are baseless…they are accepted by those who like to say…”Well, maybe…who knows.”

For the viewer or reader with theological discernment…I find no real harm in the book. Just be critical. If you hear something that sounds foreign to your doctrinal foundation…find out WHY before you simply accept the proposition that “maybe” the Trinity is eternally submissive to One Another and to humanity. Listen carefully before merely accepting that God does not punish sin and merely allows sin to be its own punishment. Ask yourself, “Where is the author coming from? Why even undertake such a work? (This information is well-documented if you look for it.)

As for me, I’ll save my nickels for a movie with more substance and content…like the next release of the StarWars saga :). If you go and hear something that stretches your mind and want to know how it fits with Orthodox Christianity…give a shout. I’d enjoy the conversation and the opportunity to offer a perspective that may help bring clarity.