Good Cop, Bad Cop – Theologically Speaking

Great care is needed as we affirm sound teaching:

There are certain things that must be said over and over. No matter how often you speak about such matters, you find that you must keep repeating yourself. Either folks are just not listening, or there are some perennial problems that must constantly be addressed.

The topic of this post is an example of this. I have often written about it in the past, but the need is always there to keep revisiting the theme. And that theme is this: yes, theology matters – massively. Sound doctrine is vitally important, and I have made that case hundreds of times over the years, both here and on the social media.

However… We all know of those who always want to be theologically correct but who are far too often spiritually incorrect. That is, so often they are running in the flesh, and not in the Spirit, as they act as the world’s policeman to make sure everyone is believing the “correct” thing.

I find this constantly on the social media. Indeed, just this morning I opened up one of my pages to find this happening yet again. It does my head and heart in, and I wonder if it will ever stop. As I just posted online:

It is one thing to be concerned about sound theology, but another thing to obsessively act as a theology cop, going around and “correcting” everyone when they dare to have a different view on things – especially when you were just trying to offer some spiritual edification, and NOT start yet another theological war. Such folks end up being little more than Pharisees, and as I have said so often, they will not get a free run on my page.

This happens so often and it bothers me no end. When my aim is NOT to make some theological point, but simply to encourage others, bless others, seek to have them love God more, it really is disturbing that some believers do not get it. The spiritual aim that I intended goes completely over their head, and they see this as yet another opportunity to push their pet theology.

Their head may be full of theology, but it seems that their heart is empty. They miss what the Spirit of God is trying to do as they go on their little theological crusade. Those folks who are such repeat offenders when it comes to this really demonstrate how little of the heart of God they have and how carnal they in fact can be. It is always so sad to come across this.

But let me spell this out with some examples just in case some Christians are still not getting it:

When I share some great spiritual encouragement or biblical truth from John Wesley, I really do not need some angry Calvinist attacking me and missing entirely the helpful truth I was seeking to offer to others.

When I share some great spiritual encouragement or biblical truth from John Calvin, I really do not need some angry Arminian attacking me and missing entirely the helpful truth I was seeking to offer to others.

When I share some great spiritual encouragement or biblical truth from a Catholic, I really do not need some angry Protestant attacking me and missing entirely the helpful truth I was seeking to offer to others.

When I share some great spiritual encouragement or biblical truth from a Protestant, I really do not need some angry Catholic attacking me and missing entirely the helpful truth I was seeking to offer to others.

When I share some great spiritual encouragement or biblical truth from someone who may not even be a Christian, I really do not need some angry fightin’ fundie attacking me and missing entirely the helpful truth I was seeking to offer to others.

When I share some great spiritual encouragement or biblical truth from someone who is mostly quite reliable but might have a few areas that I differ with, I really do not need some theological purist attacking me and missing entirely the helpful truth I was seeking to offer to others.

An example

I just posted this on the social media, having found it in my daily reading:

“You have said, ‘Seek my face.’

My heart says to you,

‘Your face, Lord, do I seek’.”

-Psalm 27:8

I am aware of one possible response to this: someone might come along and say, ‘Hey Bill, don’t you know that the Bible says that no one seeks God?’ Um, sure, that is what Psalm 53:1-3 says, and Paul picks it up in Romans 3:10-11. But plenty of other texts come to mind. For example, Isaiah 55:6 says, “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near.” But that sort of debate was NOT what I intended! I simply shared a truth from God’s word, hoping it would be of help to others. I was NOT trying to start another theological war!

Do you see where I am coming from? If some quote or book or passage or whatever has really blessed me and been used of God to help me grow as a Christian, and I am keen to share that with others in the hopes of them also being blessed and growing in grace, I do NOT need the theology police out in force, telling me how wrong I am.

Let me repeat: good theology is vitally important as I repeatedly state. No one can accuse me of denigrating sound doctrine or being lax about good theology. But a few more things must be said. First, not every doctrinal item is a core item which must be affirmed. The deity of Christ is NOT a negotiable extra, for example. Dump the deity of Christ and you forfeit the right to call yourself a biblical Christian.

But there are plenty of issues that are NOT core doctrines. They are secondary matters and we can agree to disagree on them. One is NOT a heretic simply because he or she has a different take on some eschatological matter for example. If you really think that believing or not believing in the rapture is going to send you to hell, or put you outside of the company of real believers, you really need to rethink things.

Plenty of doctrines are not essential doctrines, and we should all be free to show some theological latitude here. But some theological jihadists will go to war over anything and everything that does not fully line up with their spin on things.

And let me say that I was this way for a long time (and perhaps still am to a lesser degree!). I used to not want to extend the right hand of fellowship to anyone who did not fully line up with me and my theological beliefs. Thankfully God has been patient with me and gracious, and he has taught me to chill a bit over the years.

Not that I no longer think theology is important. It IS very important indeed. See these two pieces for example: billmuehlenberg.com/2017/06/22/ten-theses-theology/

And here: billmuehlenberg.com/2006/09/26/in-defence-of-theology/

But I have learned that I do not need to step in as a theological cop every time I find someone saying something I happen to disagree with. Over the years I have learned to keep my mouth shut, and only open it when real theological error or heresy is sprouting up.

So God is slowly teaching me and helping me to be a good cop, theologically speaking, and not a bad cop. Sure, I still have a long way to go, but I am better than I once was in this regard. And if you want a few more articles which discuss similar things to this one, see these pieces:

billmuehlenberg.com/2019/07/17/on-theological-pugilism-christian-maturity-and-humility/

billmuehlenberg.com/2019/07/19/on-feisty-and-fearsome-theology-buffs-and-a-better-way-forward/

billmuehlenberg.com/2020/11/17/on-theological-head-hunters/

billmuehlenberg.com/2020/12/09/on-getting-hijacked/

Let me finish by sharing something I have featured before – something both serious yet humorous concerning theological police and heresy hunters:

Walking across a bridge, I saw a man on the edge, about to jump. I ran over and said: “Stop. Don’t do it.”
“Why not?” he asked.
“Well, there’s so much to live for!”
“Like what?”
“Are you religious?”
He said: “Yes.”
I said: “Me too. Are you Christian or Buddhist?”
“Christian.”
“Me, too. Are you Catholic or Protestant?”
“Protestant.”
“Me, too. Are you Episcopalian or Baptist?”
“Baptist.”
“Me, too. Are you Baptist Church of God or Church of the Lord?”
“Baptist Church of God.”
“Me, too. Are you original Baptist Church of God, or Reformed Baptist Church of God?”
“Reformed Baptist Church of God.”
“Me, too! Are you Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1879, or Reformed Baptist
Church of God, Reformation of 1915?”
He said: “Reformation of 1915.”
I said: “Die, heretic scum,” and pushed him off.

[1460 words]

6 Replies to “Good Cop, Bad Cop – Theologically Speaking”

  1. You would have pushed me off much sooner. I get your point. Those you are emulating must have never been in a country where Christians are persecuted or even a tiny minority. Actually they may have been there but if they were permanently resident there and poor they would be looking for fellowship from anyone who loved the Lord.

  2. I like the little story which goes like this:
    It’s possible to be a Presbyterian but not be a Christian;
    it’s possible to be a Christian but not be a Presbyterian…
    but it’s far better to be both!

  3. I so agree we haven’t time to get off track on minor details. (the Book of James warns about getting caught up in ;fleshly; arguments or the spirit of strife)
    Your points are pointing at sound doctrine – which is what Paul said to guard, lest we get caught up in false teaching.
    Your sharing and research, and Biblically based information helps sharpen us as readers since the emphasizes on showing where some may be erring.
    Thanks for sharing your insights and also for waving the red flags when things may need examining.

  4. So true.

    Mat 11:15 He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

    16 But to what shall I compare to this generation? It is like little children sitting in [the] markets and calling to their playmates,

    17 saying, We played the flute to you, and you did not dance! We mourned to you, but you did not wail!

    18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, He has a demon.

    19 The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a man who is a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners. But wisdom was justified by her children.

  5. Challenging….. Lord help us…struggling with “gay” Christians atm… judge not?, greatest of these is love? Oh my. Jesus, Jesus…

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