On Feisty and Fearsome Theology Buffs – And a Better Way Forward

Sadly, there are some Christians who are not always very pleasant to be around. We all have encountered such folks from time to time. They can be quite abusive, abrasive, ungracious and rather arrogant. And this can often especially be the case when it comes to those holding various theological views.

Some Christians are so proud of their theology and so determined to force-feed it onto everyone else that they simply turn everyone off. And too many of these theological ram-rods are also heresy hunters: they see anyone who has a different theological viewpoint on various issues as some arch-heretic. They too can be so very off-putting.

But a proper study of theology should make us all like the one we are studying. Theology is the study of God, so the more we study theology, the more we should become like God. And that includes becoming more and more loving, gracious, patient, merciful and forgiving.

If your study of theology is resulting in you becoming just the opposite – cantankerous, argumentative, arrogant, spiteful and short-tempered – then something is clearly wrong. We have all encountered these touchy theologians. They are so very quick to go on the warpath, and so very quick to spot “error” under every rock.

Indeed, some of the most obnoxious, disagreeable, angry and unloving Christians I have known are these gung-ho theology buffs. They think they know everything there is to know about theology, and they are always ready to come out swinging when they find some poor believer who does not measure up to their pure and pristine theology.

And the results of this have been disastrous. It has turned off so many Christians from even thinking about theology. There have been so many proud and self-righteous and pugilistic Christians using their theology like a club to beat people over the head with, that they do not want to go anywhere near theology.

Indeed, over the years I have often wondered why there seems to be so little interest in theology among Christians. In particular, why is it that whenever I write a piece on some theological topic and post it on my site and on the social media, it gets so little response?

Sure, a handful of theology fans may come along and make a comment. For the most part however, most Christians seem to avoid these articles like the plague. They neither comment nor share nor like these pieces. But just recently I have come to this sad realisation:

Just as many folks think twice before saying or posting anything about political issues, realising that some angry leftists will come down on them like a ton of bricks, some Christians feel the same about theological issues. That is because certain theologically-minded folks will quickly blast anyone who dares to differ with them.

They will treat disrespectfully anyone who is not as theologically aware as they are, or anyone who might have a different take on various theological issues. Thus the result is that most Christians will not say anything about theology, or get into any theological debates.

They do not want to be treated like dirt by some of these overzealous theology buffs. They would rather just remain silent – that sure beats getting a beating from these theological hotheads. Sure, some of these folks who are always on the theological offensive may be somewhat ‘theologically correct,’ but too often their Christian life and witness stinks.

So am I saying we should not worry about being theologically correct? Not at all. We should always strive to accurately and faithfully present and represent the biblical data. But sadly some believers who may even have fairly sound theology can have a fairly lousy way of presenting it.

And I am not picking on any one group here – these theological jihadists can be found in all theological camps. Let’s take just two of them: I have known some rather ugly and repugnant Arminians pushing their theological wheelbarrows over the years. And I have known some rather ugly and repugnant Calvinists pushing their theological wheelbarrows over the years.

They give their own theological tradition a bad name. And worse yet, they give Christ and Christianity a bad name. That is especially heinous. Shame on them. They really should know better. And if they are guilty of this, they need to get on their knees and repent.

Let me close with two more things. One, I have said a zillion times now that theology really does matter. So please do not get me wrong here. Theology is vitally important, and good theology is necessary to deal with bad theology. But we need to distinguish core doctrinal truths from secondary doctrinal truths.

Nonetheless there are various theological boundaries – when we cross over them we move from orthodoxy into heterodoxy, even heresy. So there is only so much room to move here. And in all of this we need to demonstrate real Christian grace and humility. We can strongly promote biblical truth, yet still do so in a loving and humble manner.

Second, since I mentioned Calvinists, let me finish with one very well-known and beloved Calvinist, B. B. Warfield (1851-1921) of Princeton Theological Seminary. On October 4, 1911 he delivered a lecture at Princeton entitled, “The Religious Life of Theological Students”. I quoted from it six years ago in an article: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2013/12/02/putting-god-back-into-theology/

But some of it is worth sharing here once again. He said this:

A minister must be learned, on pain of being utterly incompetent for his work. But before and above being learned, a minister must be godly. Nothing could be more fatal, however, than to set these two things over against one another. Recruiting officers do not dispute whether it is better for soldiers to have a right leg or a left leg: soldiers should have both legs. Sometimes we hear it said that ten minutes on your knees will give you a truer, deeper, more operative knowledge of God than ten hours over your books. “What!” is the appropriate response, “than ten hours over your books, on your knees?” Why should you turn from God when you turn to your books, or feel that you must turn from your books in order to turn to God?…

There is certainly something wrong with the religious life of a theological student who does not study. But it does not quite follow that therefore everything is right with his religious life if he does study. It is possible to study—even to study theology—in an entirely secular spirit….

In all its branches alike, theology has as its unique end to make God known: the student of theology is brought by his daily task into the presence of God, and is kept there. Can a religious man stand in the presence of God, and not worship?…

It is surely not all right with the spiritual condition of that man who can busy himself daily with divine things, with a cold and impassive heart….

Put your heart into your studies; do not merely occupy your mind with them, but put your heart into them. They bring you daily and hourly into the very presence of God; his ways, his dealing with men, the infinite majesty of his Being form their very subject matter. Put the shoes from off your feet in this holy presence!…

Keep always before your mind the greatness of your calling, that is to say, these two things: the immensity of the task before you, the infinitude of the resources at your disposal.

Amen and amen. If more lovers of theology spent more time on their knees, they would likely be less cantankerous, less unpleasant to deal with, and less off-putting. They would be much-more Christlike in other words. And we all need to learn this lesson, beginning with myself.

One last quote to finish with – one that I just read in the new Ravi Zacharias book, The Logic of God. Although the context is about dealing with non-Christians, especially those of other faiths, it is relevant here:

What I believe, I believe very seriously. Indeed, the foundation of my entire life’s work is the conviction that Jesus Christ alone is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Being myself persuaded of this, I am compelled to share that message with others. Yet far more than merely discussing tenets or dogma, I hope to live a life of gentleness and respect, undergirded with love for all people so that the light of the gospel can shine through our differences.

[1421 words]

11 Replies to “On Feisty and Fearsome Theology Buffs – And a Better Way Forward”

  1. Do not be deterred as the Christ did say that he came to bring the sword. Let your own guide/conscience be your road map – it never fails. In my view, you are indispensable – I may not always agree with you but you are indispensable
    John Abbott

  2. Thanks John. But sin has impacted everything, including our conscience. Let me cite just one relevant biblical passage on this: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). So relying on your conscience alone is NOT the way forward for biblical Christians. Depending on the Word of God, with the help of the indwelling Holy Spirit, is what Christians must instead rely on. So this is one of those areas you mentioned that we differ on!

  3. Amen, we indeed need both of those essentials.

    I think I have brought this before, but it is a bit of inspiration from Ern Baxter.
    It goes something like:
    “Give me a man who is correct in his doctrine but not hungry for God; I cannot help him.
    “Give me a man who is hungry for God but incorrect in his doctrine; that man I can help.”

    Those who hold to a “fully developed” doctrine with inflexibility and vociferous pride, have probably forgotten that they have themselves changed their theology over the years.

    Those who hold to a “fully developed” doctrine with inflexibility and vociferous pride, have hugely over-estimated their own capacity to understand the glory of God and his salvation plan.

    Two scriptures come to mind.
    The old wow passage that some theology is beyond even angels. 1 Pet 1.12
    And today I read of Manoah asking the angle’s name, Jud 13,17-19. “it is a mystery”.

    As Ravi is want to remind us; God without mystery is not God but just a product of man’s desires.

  4. “conscience… it never fails”.

    It is true that we should always follow our conscience.
    It is true that we should never cause anyone else to violate their conscience.
    Rom 14.1-15.6 is the classic teaching on this, and the key is 14.23.
    “…. every act done in bad faith is sin”. TJB

    Conscience fails us if it is not informed properly by the revelation of God.

    Conscience, then, must sometimes wait for, and always make room for, and indeed always welcome what the scriptures say.

  5. For some reason Bill , this text comes to mind….Philippians 4:9…”whatever you have learned or heard from me, or seen in me- put it into practice, and the God of peace will be with you “.

  6. Theology is taking a real hammering. I’ve just finished reading Romans Disarmed by Sylvia Keesmaat; a print copy I imported as Koorong does not have it yet. In Chapter 9 she takes a worldly view of homosexuality & twists the word of God. Sad but not unexpected.

  7. Following on from Bruce Knowling’s comment, Paul says this to believers:

    “Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters…
    Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.” (Rom 14:1,4)

    “We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up.” (1 Cor 8:1)
    “If I have … all knowledge … but do not have love, I am nothing” (1 Cor 13:2)

  8. An old adage comes to mind “you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar”.

    In my experience these people will respond about how ‘you must not like how Jesus treated the pharisees’. they seem to think because he was not nice and sweet to the pharisees who disagreed with him they do not have to be nice and sweet to those who disagree with them.

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