Responding To Theological Critics
Some words in reply to those who disagree with me:
I write about theology all the time, so it is no surprise that I get plenty of critics, often letting me know how wrong I am and how right they are! But there is in fact a mixed set of responses. Some folks come to this site, or to the social media, just to ask questions or to seek clarification. Others come to argue. Others come to let me know I am a complete idiot!
How one responds to them depends on the comment – and commentator. Those who have shown themselves just to be trolls – and yes there are many Christian trolls – are best dealt with by ignoring them and binning their comments. Others can be answered briefly on the spot. So when and where possible, I do try to interact with them – at least in the comments section of my website.
But often a comment or a remark sent my way will raise quite a few points, and a short comment in response will not properly do the trick. So I end up penning a whole new article instead (the benefit – if you can call it that – of having your own blogsite).
This article is another case in point. I recently penned a theological piece which generated some interest – and controversy. It seems I stepped on some theological toes, and/or upset folks who had some of their fave teachers and preachers questioned. The piece is here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2021/12/28/stick-with-god-and-ignore-the-unbiblical-preachers/
I did post some of the comments that came in, but not all of them. Some of those comments required a longer response, and some of the folks who wrote in shared similar concerns. So this article will try to answer these folks a bit further, and deal with at least some of their objections.
In that article I shared a few unhelpful and unbiblical memes, including one that said: “‘I hate’ – words that Jesus never said.” I noted that this is obviously untrue, because Revelation 2:6 DOES say that Jesus hates. A few folks wrote in and said: ‘Yeah, but he hates the behaviour, not the person.’
There are at least three problems with this objection. One, the meme in question simply said that Jesus never said “I hate” when in the Revelation passage he does in fact say it. It does not matter how he said it or who he said it to. Two, as I pointed out in the article, Jesus is of course God, and we have many dozens of passages in which God is said to hate not just certain things but certain people.
I even linked to an article I had penned on this with many of these texts. Yet some folks are so into the ‘God is love-only’ mindset, that they will even deny what Scripture clearly teaches, because it does not fit in with their theological narrative.
A third problem is this is the usual ‘God hates the sin but not the sinner’ view which in fact is not biblically accurate. As D. A. Carson has put it, the cliché “is false on the face of it and should be abandoned. Fourteen times in the first fifty psalms alone, we are told that God hates the sinner, his wrath is on the liar, and so forth. In the Bible, the wrath of God rests both on the sin (Rom. 1:18ff.) and on the sinner (John 3:36).”
This tight distinction between sin and the sinner may sound good to contemporary ears, but it is rather alien to the Bible. Simply consider some New Testament texts which speak of God’s condemnation of sinners. These include liars, thieves, drunkards, and so on.
Um, a person who lies a lot is a liar. A person who steals is a thief. The act and the person doing the act are one and the same, and both are condemned. So yes, we seek to love others and get them to turn from their sin, but we should stick with Scripture here, and not with cliches that appeal to modern sentimental sensibilities. But I have already penned whole articles on this matter – for example: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2020/06/01/hate-the-sin-love-the-sinner/
Another meme I discussed had to do with God, sickness, healing and the like. One person appealed to Mark 9:38-40 in regard to miracles: “John said to him, ‘Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.’ But Jesus said, ‘Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. For the one who is not against us is for us’.”
This is actually another one of those texts I will need to devote an entire article to since it so easily can be misunderstood and misapplied. I will add it to the 133 other texts I have already covered in this series: https://billmuehlenberg.com/category/theology/difficult-bible-passages/
So stay tuned for a full article on this, but a short answer can here be given. Jesus clearly was NOT saying that anyone doing a miracle – whether or not in his name – was always truly one of his. This is a general rule being made, but not an absolute certainty. Indeed, the same Jesus strongly warned about false miracles and false signs and wonders.
Consider just one such passage – Matthew 7:21-23: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’.”
Or as Paul put it in 2 Thessalonians 2:9: “The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders.” There are of course counterfeit miracles. So we must test all things. But as I say, I hope to soon write a whole piece on this.
And then another person was unhappy that I seemed to be belittling faith – at least in relation to healing. Of course I did no such thing in my article. I simply pointed out that there is plenty of harmful and unbiblical teaching to be found in the health and wealth gospel.
While faith is important, too often it is treated like a magic charm in these circles. The truth is, it is not our great faith in God that matters so much as faith in a great God. And it is clearly NOT always God’s will that we be healed. That too I have discussed often.
And faith is not always connected to healing. Lazarus had zero faith – he was dead when he was miraculously dealt with. But again, all this I have looked at in some detail elsewhere, as in this piece: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2018/11/06/faith-or-presumption-prayer-or-magic/
And then some critics did not like the fact that I dared to question some of the teachings of the Copelands. One gal said they are praying for Australia. Well, I am glad when folks pray for us, but that in itself does not get them off the hook.
When they teach clearly harmful or heretical things then they need to be called out. I actually wrote an 186,000 word unpublished thesis on these folks. When their leaders like Kenneth and Gloria Copeland say patently false things, they must be held to account.
When they make foolish claims such as: “God’s will is prosperity;” “God’s will for His people today is abundance;” and “Prosperity is a major requirement in the establishment of God’s will,” then they must be challenged. I have shown how these sort of claims run against the clear teachings of Scripture: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2012/04/17/the-prosperity-gospel/
As I said in the piece under question, I have an entire section of this website devoted to the unsound and often cultic teachings of the Word of Faith movement, the name it and claim it crowd, the positive confessionists, and the health and wealth theology. Those wanting much more information on this are urged to check out some of these articles: https://billmuehlenberg.com/category/theology/the-health-and-wealth-gospel/
One general word of advice can be given here in closing. Some folks seem to have it as their mission in life to go around to other websites and ‘correct’ everything they don’t like. They are full-time armchair critics who seem ever on the prowl to find those who dare to take a different theological take on things. It seems some Christians just LOVE to argue. Worse yet, some of them will only come your way to attack you or criticise something, and not come to praise you or thank you for something.
My advice to these folks is quite simple: instead of spending all your time attacking me and others, why don’t you just set up your own website? Then you can pontificate to your heart’s content. Whether you will get much traffic is a moot point (which is perhaps why they tend to go to sites that do generate a lot of traffic).
No, I am not saying that everyone who sent in a critical comment to the article I discuss here – or to my other articles – is in this camp, but some folks clearly are. Some folks certainly have a theological bee in their bonnet, and I would much prefer that they set up their own site and keep themselves happy there, instead of going on interminable search and destroy missions elsewhere.
But for all the rest of you, thanks for your comments and responses. I do try to reply when and where possible, and I do appreciate your thoughts and commentary. Life is much busier with an interactive blogsite, but hopefully it does some good along the way.
10 Replies to “Responding To Theological Critics”
Bill, thanks for the clarification.
I’ve often used the argument that God hates the sin but loves the sinner – usually in the context of LGBTs who say that Christians hate them.
But a more nuanced statement is better:
God hates the sin and hates the unrepentant sinner, but loves repentant sinners.
Christians should love sinners by encouraging them to repent – to turn away from the hate their sin earns from a righteous God, and so turn to the love of God.
Great article – as usual – Bill!
You also reminded me: Some people call the WOF crowd the “blab it and grab it” crowd. (LOL) Blessings in the new year, and many thanks for all you do!
Many thanks Pamela.
In my view the ‘God is love-only’ mindset is a by-product of the postmodern worldview. And if there’s ONE thing postmoderns hate with a vengeance it’s Biblical concept of Judgement, that there’s an omnipotent Party-Pooper who dares tell them how to live their life. So as a result of interacting with postmodern pagans, these Christians rooted in a superficial, maimed Gospel, rather than face postmoderns wrath (How DARE you judge me??!!) will cave on this issue and adopt a fear-of-man Gospel, which leads straight to the ‘God is love-only’ mindset… And going down that road produces only accultured pagans warming church benches who know how to go through the motions, but have never gone through the Narrow Gate… And, inevitably, they bring worldly influence into the church.
Yes quite right Paul.
Good! We really need more common sense and informed commentary in order to separate the wheat from the chaff in public discourse…that is why I like to read your thoughtful pieces…I think you will probably doing more of these “teaching moments” as the year goes on…I look forward to these and your other missives during 2022…Happy New Year!
Thanks for your continuing inspirational thoughts!
Unrelated comment – Here is an article by a psychiatrist FYI, in case you had not seen it, about “fear addiction”:
“Although there have always been corrupt individuals, the fact that humans as a group have allowed them, in the last couple of years, to gain such a foothold through their own voluntary compliance says to me that humanity does not have, at least not now, the inherent capacity to resist true evil to the degree that I believed it had. So, I was mistaken.”
Use as you see fit.
God bless, Eddie
Thanks guys. As mentioned in my article, I have now penned an entire piece looking at Mark 9:38-41 in some more detail:
Thanks again Bill, I have to confess having fallen into the trap mentioned by Peter Newland above. Great quote from Don Carson. Every good wish to you and yours for the New Year.