The Dark side of theology

I have come to have a love-hate relationship with theology. I love it because it can deepen one’s faith, helping people to rejoice more because they understand and know God better (Jer. 9:24). There is nothing more exciting than the look on peoples’ faces when they are being theologically transformed. It is the “wow, this is really true” look. I live for that both in myself and in others.

However, there is a dark side to theology. I see it everyday. I pray that this does not infect my students, but inevitably, there are always one or two who take their theological knowledge and create a recipe of sin and shame. These are people I call “theologically dangerous.”

The theologically dangerous have no grace. They get some right answers and then become the judge, jury and executioner of people. What should have been the path toward humility turns into the path of arrogance. Their self-justification for their graceless belligerence is this: “I am not arrogant, I am discerning.” Correct theology becomes a virtue that swallows up virtues of tenderness, grace, respect, and kindness, offering only a black hole of hopelessness unless people conform. Those who come in contact with them are judged only by their statement of faith. Their fellowship circle is small and friends few. The distinction between essentials and non-essentials does not find a place in their diary. They hunt and hunt for bad theology until they find it. They correct others with pride. When they are not invited to the parties, they interpret this as a mark of persecution for a theology well-played.

These are the type of people who are on the dark side of theology. Unfortunately, those who are theologically dangerous are the most vocal (and possibly, the most numerous). Since they have yet to be theologically humiliated, they can’t stop talking. The fear of God, they have yet to learn. They set themselves up as the watchdogs of Christian orthodoxy. They are the first to comment and correct on the blogs. They are the first to raise their hand in Sunday School when you say, “Does anyone have any questions?” Yet after ten minutes of talking, you ask yourself ”what part of the word ‘question’ do they not understand?” They question people’s salvation based on minor theological points of disagreement.

Fortunately, many eventually increase in their theological knowledge to a point where they become theologically transformed. This happens when one becomes theologically humiliated. It is like the transition from uninformed adolescence, to a know-it-all teenager, to a mature adult. The mature adult has wisdom and grace due to their coming of age theologically. All the things they thought they knew as a teenager goes through the trials of life. Doctrinal battle scars evidence a ripening of the fruit of belief. Their categories become more diverse. They realize that while there are some black and whites to our faith, there is also a lot of grey. In other words, they recognize that there is a lot we don’t know. They tighten their grip on the main things and losen it on others. They choose their battles very carefully. It is a transition from ignorance to arrogance back to some degree of informed ignorance.

At this point, fellowship can resume. The lynch mob is sent home. The invitations to parties trickle in. The lantern of the hope of the gospel is shinning bright. At this point, the dark side of theology is over.

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  • Well said brother Denis!

    That, by the way, was and still continues to be one of my great fears.  I think about this frequently and ask myself if I am one of the dangerous.  There were times when the answer was yes, and times when the answer was held back.  But I think that trough the many positive, loving, sharing, and molding folks i have been priveledged to be around I can answer no to that question - at least the vast majority of the time.  Indeed, it was one trap that I consciously tried to avoid.  There are iothers such as the Philosophical and Psychological aspects of studyint Theology.  These to "tools" can be very dangerous in the wrong hands and I think is mostly the root of the problem behind impious criticism of the Bible as a whole and the New testament in particular.  I think it is behind the versions of the NT that change, delete, and add to the word of God.  It is also at the root of many counter-Christian sects and groups.  Anyway, you surely hit the nail on the head with this post. 

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  • I have the innate ability to draw these people to me like a magnet. The internet and anonymity seem to be a breeding ground for those you speak of. The result is that I rarely post, I don't attend a church and only hold discussions with a very small group of friends and no, they/we don't always agree.
     

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  • I have been toiling of late with reading and writing book reviews. It always happens this time of year.  I also have to struggle with the misinformation and even harmful things that are revealed in some of the books.  Although I don't agree with everything an author writes, I try very hard to not let that influence my overall assessment of their work.  There was one time, one book, that I could not hold back how miserably it disappointed me and how careless the writer was with the word of God. Anyway, part of my review stated that basically the parer was wasted in printing the book.  I struggled with writing that review, even continually placing it at the bottom of the list.  I did this until I had no choice but submit my review.  I did give credit for as much as possible, but the truth was I could not condone the books terrible views.  I regretted it then and still to this day.  I tried to make it about its Biblical accuracy and clear doctrine as presented in the Bible, but my personal understandings also played a part.  It was the only "bad" review I have every written...There was fallout from that review, but to my surprise the other reviewers wrote similar or even worse comments.  However, I still regret some of the things i wrote.  Even now, at times, it is very hard to keep my personal opinions to myself - especially since the line between professional views and personal ones become blurred at times.  

    I was recently reading portions of Romans and once again the message glared at me, the message that I must not judge others but be uplifting to the body of Christ as much as possible. I also got that if I try to see through the eyes of the writer, take into account their possible background and learning experiences, that many times the author's meaning or intent is revealed.  I know folks understand the point i'm trying to make.  It is hard for me to make those calls when commenting on the different books that I am privileged to read.  I took chances on many occasions by writing what i thought about topics and issues. I took chances that folks would learn too much about me or what i believed. I took chances that what i write was so far off base, so ridiculous, and so absurd that the replies would never stop coming in.  I possessed the seeds of some bad theology sewn through the exposure to wrong teachings and fertilized by wrong conclusions on my part.  I am so glad that my friends and family in Christ were patient, understanding, and lovingly corrective.  It taught me much more than i could have imagined and was the very best thing that could have happened.  How do I do that and help some authors without being judgmental or assuming superior understanding in some way? How do I condescend to a lower estate honestly, without being superficial and pretentious?  Mostly, I guess, how can I know that my ego or pride are not the ink that fills my pen?

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  • Hey Doc,

    "Mostly, I guess, how can I know that my ego or pride are not the ink that fills my pen?" Asking the question is the answer. The simple fact that you have taken the time to think about such things and actually be concerned shows Christ at work within you. Your struggle to submit that negative review is further proof.

     

    'How do I do that and help some authors without being judgmental or assuming superior understanding in some way? How do I condescend to a lower estate honestly, without being superficial and pretentious?"

    Book reviews tend to be rather short which makes your job difficult. Maybe you could ask some questions that would get your point across.

    I'll write you on the side tonight.

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