Folk theology describes beliefs, generally shared by a large group of people, which said adherents have rarely thought through in a critical way. These beliefs are normally inherited (passed on through rote teaching and tradition).

I present to you my list of the top 20 examples of folk theology. There are many more, but I narrowed the list, believing these present a good sample with which to begin. Some examples have very serious consequences; others are somewhat benign. I started with the least consequential, then progressed to the ones which carry the weightiest theological consequences. As you read through the list, be careful not to become too discouraged. Folk theology is a phenomenon affecting many, if not most of us, and leads us to myriad misunderstandings.

Let the countdown begin:

20. People become angels

This is a common misconception in popular culture, though it appears less frequently among Evangelical Christians. However, this niche of folk theology influences many through its presentation in popular songs and movies.  Many older cartoons’ narratives are liberally sprinkled with this folk theology (Think of what would happen to Tom every time he died in Tom and Jerry!).

19. Satan is red with horns and a tail

In a similar vein, this idea is not so much found among Bible-believing Christians as it is in pop culture. However, like other examples of folk theology, it frequently finds an extended audience in the secular populace. While Christians may not believe Satan actually looks this way, many subscribe to the point of view that his very appearance reflects his evil nature. In other words, most people believe Satan and demons to be hideous and foul looking creatures. However, this belief is not supported in Scripture.  Rather, Satan and his demons are depicted as appearing as stunningly beautiful creations of God, deceiving and distracting mankind from realizing their nature as agents of evil intent by using the guise of physical attractiveness. (2 Cor. 11:14).

18. Angels have wings

While it is true that Isaiah 6:6, Ezekiel 1:11, and Revelation 4:8 describe creatures worshiping God and having wings, this does not mean that every type of angel has wings. In no case do we find that their physical appearance resembles the depictions (looking like a man or woman with wings coming out of their backs) so commonly portrayed in our modern culture.

17. Hell is Satan’s domain

There are many synonyms for Hell used in the Bible. Some of these are more descriptive and intentional than others. However, when we think of Hell, we normally are speaking of the place of eternal punishment mentioned in the New Testament, described as the “lake of fire” in Revelation 20:15 (cf Rev. 19:20; 20:10, 14). In reality, not only is Hell not Satan’s domain, residence, or home, he has yet to even be there! In this sense, Hell is not presently “open for business,” since it is a place which exists explicitly for the execution of  divine judgement – and this greatest of all judgements has not yet taken place. So, all of those images of Satan being the king of Hell . . . forget them. Once he gets there, he will have no more authority than any other human or demon who calls the place home.

16. Satan’s name is Lucifer

Many people believe that “Lucifer” is Satan’s actual name. This is wrong for many reasons. First, the word from which we get “Lucifer” is the Hebrew helel. It occurs only once in Isaiah 14:12 and is not speaking of Satan, but of the king of Babylon. Later tradition saw a double reference here and believed that Satan was also in view. The Latin Vulgate translated “morning star” as “Lucifer.” The King James Version used this word in its translation. Hence, without justification, this name found its way into our tradition as the formal name of Satan.

15. Our resurrection bodies will be able to go through walls

People often think this because they believe Christ’s body went through walls (John 20:19). However, the passage does not speak to the nature of his resurrected body, but rather to his power. There is no reason to believe the physiology of our resurrected bodies will be any different than what it currently is. Remember, God is redeeming Plan A, not falling back to Plan B. Generally speaking, whatever Adam and Eve’s physiology was like before the fall will be what ours will be like after the resurrection. We will not be able to walk through walls, fly, or run as fast as Flash. And you know what? This is very good.

14. Revelation 22:19 teaches that the canon closed after the completion of Revelation

Many believe that Rev. 22:19 closes the canon of Scripture. But this is simply speaking about the book of Revelation and repeating a common biblical command protecting the sacredness of God’s word (see Deut. 4:2 and 12:32, or Prov. 30:6 – obviously the canon did not close after these books). I believe the canon of Scripture is complete, but not because of these verses.

(See here for more about this.)

13. Ninety-nine percent right theology and one percent wrong theology equals one hundred percent wrong 

I was taught this when I was very young and believed it for quite some time. But if this is true, we are all in trouble. First, any glance through church history reveals that no two Christians ever fully agreed about everything. Someone was right and someone was wrong. However, this folk theology would lead to the rather odd situation where there was only one person in all of history that was saved, since everyone else was one hundred percent wrong.

Moreover, this would mean that you and I are one hundred percent wrong, since we all have many issues with our theology. This is evidenced by periodic changes in perceptions and learning that lead believers to relinquish one viewpoint in favor of another.  Certainly, God could make us all united and right about everything.  However, apparently, this does not serve his purpose.

(See here for my theories why.)

12. God cannot exist in the presence of sin

This is not true. Yes, the Bible says that God’s holiness will not allow Him to approve of evil (Hab. 1:13).  However, God can most certainly exist in the presence of sin. After all, the Holy Spirit dwells in us, doesn’t he? Satan presented himself to God, didn’t he (Job 1:6)? Furthermore, and most importantly, the Second member of the Trinity lived among us, didn’t he (John 1:14)?

11. “Abraham’s Bosom” was a place between heaven and hell that Old Testament saints went to until Christ paid for their sins

This one is often related to the previous folk theology example. The idea is that since God cannot be in the presence of sin, he had to wait until after the cross to bring anyone to heaven. This is often thought to be evidenced in the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. However, the reason why Christ speaks of Lazarus going to “Abraham’s Bosom” is not to teach us of some Old Testament “pit stop” between earth and heaven, but for rhetorical purposes. The Pharisees and religious leaders were convinced that there was no greater child of Abraham than a rich person, while poor people were the furthest away from him. Conversely, the poor man, in an ironic twist, was the one who was in deepest fellowship with Abraham, being at his bosom.

See here as I argue against the myth of Abraham’s Bosom

10. Heaven will be timeless

Many people believe that once we get to heaven, time will cease to exist. But there is no justification for such a belief, as it is theologically unnecessary and philosophically impossible. God’s creation will always experience a past, presence, and future. There will always be a succession of events and, therefore, a passing of time. Only God, in his essence, is timeless.

For more on this, see here.

9. Jesus suffered more than the cumulative sufferings of all of mankind

I am not certain as to the source of this position.  That said, I know I have heard this viewpoint in a lot of Christian theology. However, there is no reason to believe that Christ’s physical sufferings were worse than those which anyone has ever experienced, either in intensity or duration. While Christ’s physical suffering was beyond imagination, the Atonement did not require it to be worse than the cumulative sufferings of all mankind.

8. One sin will send you to hell for all eternity

This comes as an answer to the question, “Why is hell eternal?”  The answer people frequently give is that even the smallest of sins deserves eternal punishment. This is why everyone who goes to hell is there for all eternity. But there is no evidence for this in the Bible. Hell does seem to be eternal for everyone who goes there. However, its duration is not due to the commission of one sin. It is due to the eternal rebellion in which people participate, even while in hell. As C.S. Lewis once said, “The doors of hell are locked from the inside.” People are in hell forever because they eternally hate God.

For more on this, see here.

7. All we will do in heaven is bow down to God 24/7

This little gem of folk theology used to scare me to death. Though I gave it lip service by acting excited, I really did not want to go to a heaven where all I would do is sing and bow down. Later, I came to discover that this view (called Gnosticism) presented a distorted view of evil, its relation to the present world, and what it really means to worship God. Everything in Scripture says that we are going to be busy with many activities on the New Earth, just as it was intended from the beginning.

I cover this fairly extensively here.

6. Jesus turned water into grape juice

Many people have grown up in a culture so fearful of alcohol that they have changed the meaning of Scripture to facilitate a legalistic structure that justifies their teachings of total abstinence from alcohol. As well-meaning as this may be, it is not true. Jesus not only turned the water into alcoholic wine in Cana, but “the best” alcoholic wine (John 2:10). How do we know it was alcoholic? Because in praising Jesus, the waiter explicitly described the usual custom of serving the good wine first, thus reserving the  bad wine for later in the evening, when everyone was drunk. Instead, Jesus performed the miracle at a time during the ceremony which allowed the wedding guests to be served the good wine last.

Here are some extensive arguments that I make concerning this.

5. Money is the root of all evil

This is a fairly significant error. Most people quote 1 Timothy 6:10 just like this: “Money is the root of all evil.” But this is not what the verse says. It says, “For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil.” That changes the meaning quite a bit.

4. Asking Jesus into your heart

Many people use this phrase to talk about how they were saved. Asking Jesus into one’s heart is the primary means by which people are told to convert to Christianity. However, this presents a few significant problems. First, nowhere in Scripture are we told to ask Jesus into our hearts. Second, this implies that salvation can be said and done with no further implications concerning trust and devotion. The Bible tells us we are to trust in Christ. This has implications of repentance and belief that the simple request for Jesus to live in our hearts does not carry.

3. The most significant way to break the third commandment (“Do not take the Lord’s name in vain”) is by saying G*d D%*n

I am convinced that many people think they are going to heaven because they have never said G*d D%*n. For some, saying these words is the greatest sin one could ever commit. But, in reality, the third commandment has nothing to do with cursing, much less saying G*d D%*n. It is about protecting God’s reputation (i.e., name). It is about not trying to take away his reputation by smearing it with lies and self-gain. The most explicit way that I might be able to take his name in vain would be to say that God told me to tell you something when he really had not done so.

Find out more here.

2. Where two or three are gathered in prayer, Christ is in their presence

In my view, this folk theology causes serious misunderstanding among professing Christians. Many people believe that the presence of two or three other believers in a prayer meeting invokes Christ’s real presence, in a way that praying alone does not. This passage is taken from Matthew 18:20. But the passage does not speak of some special physical or spiritual presence of Christ that only comes during group prayer; rather, it speaks of Christ’s presence in judgement or approval of judgement. You see, the full context of the verse is Matthew 18:15-20. The subject is church discipline. When someone has sinned against you, you are to take “two or three” people with you to confront that person. If the process proceeds without the person’s repentance, judgment is to be decreed. So long as these instructions are followed, Christ is “with you” in judgment.

Think of what it would mean otherwise. If the presence of Christ is only there when we have many people praying, what does this mean when you pray alone? He is not there. Be careful with this one. It could easily send the wrong message.

I write about this more here.

1. All sins are equal in the sight of God

I believe this is the most incorrect and destructive folk theology we have in evangelical circles. I hear it all the time. However, it does not take long to deconstruct this view. All sins are not equal in the sight of God. All people are equally depraved, but not all sins are equal. After all, some things in the Bible are said to be an abomination to God. If all sins are equal, such a designation is meaningless. Christ tells the Pharisees that they strain out gnats and swallow camels (Matt. 23:24). If all sins are equal, they are either all gnats or all camels. And we could not get any more explicit than Christ’s words to Pilate, “He who handed me over to you is guilty of the greater sin.” (John 19:11)

The implications are severe. If all sins are equal to God, then you are asserting that God becomes just as angry with you for breaking the speed limit as he would with someone who rapes a six-year-old girl. If this is true, fine. We don’t make the rules. However, if one is going to teach this as fact, he better be very sure. That said, in my estimation, this is the worst example of  folk theology I have presented thus far.

I have written on this here.

Honorable mention:

There will not be sex in heaven (we can all dream!)

I hope you have benefited from this discussion.  Realizing that there are many other extant folk theologies, please, give me your feedback as to examples of folk theology which should have received attention here.

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    81 replies to "Folk Theology: Twenty Urban Legends in Theology"

    • Marv

      Generally sound. But you should seriously rethink and retract number 15. Man’s glorified bodies are not restoration of Adam’s state but exceed it.Anyway you affirm something the Scriptures do not.

      • C Michael Patton

        Marv, I’ll retract when given reason. Otherwise I can’t make any claims other than that implied in redemption. This is a very widely accepted position. Randy Alcorn gives the standard defense of this in his book Heaven. NT Wright has also help correct what I believe to be, in pop Christian culture, a very gnostic view of heaven and our new bodies.

        And when Paul speaks about it as a “spiritual” body he is not speaking of anything but our aimlessness and restored relationship with God that includes glorification. Ironically it is the apologists who have done much here as they fight against some of the liberals belief that spiritual body is not physical.

    • Daniel S.

      Also I wanted to ask, if You think Abrahams bosom is a myth, where do You think people will go after death, since as I understand it, we will get our resurrection bodies much later, at one specific Point in time for everyone? Or do You think everyone who dies gets to Heaven and gets his resurrection body?

      • C Michael Patton

        We go to an intermediate state of existence without a bossy. Believers will be with Christ but I don’t know about unbelievers.

        • Stephen Jones

          I am a bit confused about your response because you answered about a state of existence instead of a place of existence, hence the question “WHERE do you think people will go after death?”. So even though we are in an intermediate “state” where will that state exist? My personal belief is that we go to Heaven. If we are absent from the body and present with the Lord, the Lord is in Heaven right now. In the future, however, there will be a NEW Heaven and NEW earth. And our abode for the bride will be the New Heaven in our spiritual bodies.

    • BigNorsk

      The angels having wings really shows the power of art to influence people, they get their beliefs from the paintings that depicted angels with wings.

      The modern equivalent is the number of people of get their end times beliefs from popular books and movies.

      I’m a bit surprised that didn’t make the list.

    • Paul Hosking

      My understanding of death is a period of unconsciousness which, for believers, the Bible calls “sleep” (Dan 12:2; John 11:11; 1 Thess 4:14) and implies a state of unconsciousness. I think the idea of souls going to heaven has more to do with pagan philosophy than with Bible teaching (see John 3:13). Although the Christian’s “reward” is “in heaven” (Matt 5:12) it seems evident that we have to wait for the return of Christ before we can receive it (Rev 22:12) – no doubt all at the same time (Heb 11:39,40) – at the Resurrection!

    • Daniel S.

      Here Are a few more:
      – Rock/Metal music is inherently evil
      – Watch what words You speak over your Life, because words have power (from my charismatic upbringing)
      – not paying your tithe is stealing from God (?)
      – Theology isnt that important, God looks at The heart

    • Jay Altieri

      Comment to #15 was basically -No walking through walls because Adam and Eve could not do that and our resurrection bodies will be a return to paradise. As CMP pointed out, I too fully agree with Alcorn (great book) and Wright (great many books), our resurrection is physical and earthly not dwelling on a pink fluffy cloud. We will eat (Lk 24:42-43), breath (John 20:22), definitely work (Lk 19:17-19), and live life in the body upon a restored earth. However, we are not promised to be just like innocent Adam, although he shared these traits. We are promised to be just like the risen Christ (Phil 3:21). Being redeemed is better than being innocent. Yes it buys us back to the original state, but the gift is much more. We become like God, partaking of His nature (2Pet 1:4). We will have full control over the spiritual dimension (1Cor 15:42-45). I liken the ability to teleporting. Christ could pop in and pop out at will. Phillip zapped into the Gaza road and then disappeared by power of the Spirit which will be ours in the Res. Angels appear out of nowhere. This ability over space appears to be a spiritual power. So unless someone can display that the risen body of Jesus was still subject to the temporal dimensions of space, I think I disagree with this one. For more coverage, this is discussed in chapter 10 of my book Dead Soul Syndrome.

    • Jay Altieri

      I would add to the list of theological myths: Hell is a place of eternal conscious torment. Although this may be contested here, and CMP buys into it with #8. The bible repeatedly says that the wages of sin is death. The lake of fire is the place of the second death. The only way to have eternal life (of any caliber or quality) is by Jesus. All others die. Death does not mean life in a bad place. Death means cessation of being. This death is eternal, there will be no resurrection from the 2nd death. This may require a string of its own as the nature of punishment requires more than 2000 characters. My book covers Conditional Immortality, another comprehensive book for the topic is Edward Fudge The Fire that Consumes.

    • C Michael Patton

      Jay, that is a significantly debated theological issue and would not, therefore, qualify as folk theology where the primary reason it is held is through unchallenged tradition.

    • Jay Altieri

      Paul, 1Thes 4:14 is actually good evidence that bodily dead believers are alive spiritually with Jesus in heaven before the resurrection.
      The verse says that when Jesus returns (He currently is in heaven at the right hand of Father), he will bring WITH him (Gk ‘syn’=beside, accompanying, with) those bodily dead people. Does Jesus travel with corpses? Will coffins descend from the sky at the Parousia? They are bodily dead in the grave down here on earth, but the Spirit makes us alive spiritually (Eph 2:5). The spirit of believers is conscious and vibrant during the intermediate period. The spirit part of man’s nature is that which is reborn at salvation. The living spirit transcends bodily death, but the ultimate hope is for the resurrection when body and spirit are synthetically joined.

    • T

      What about the myth that Jesus knew everything through his life and ministry? That’s a big one in my experience.

    • […] on theological issues, I do appreciate him and his willingness to think about things. His article Folk Theology: Twenty Urban Legends in Theology is well worth reading.  Here’s one example that will have great importance for some people […]

    • Marv

      Michael, I generally would echo Jay’s number 11 comment. But I do not need to cite evidence for what WILL BE. I’m not saying X is so. YOU are saying X is NOT SO. You affirm a negative without justification. Certainly the spiritual body is physical, but how do you know what it can’t do? Jesus walked on water before the resurrection. He ascended from the earth after his resurrection. In some way He appeared to Paul and also to John. Phil. 3:21 is not “folk theology.”

      How do you even know what Adam’s pre-fallen body couldn’t do? What’s your data? Not even a chapter and a half. Plus your imagination?

      And yet not even with enough Scriptural data to assert a negative about pre-fallen A&E, you have no problem asserting what Jesus’ glorified body is NOT designed to do, which is what you do when you assert what OUR glorified bodies are not designed to do (Phil. 3:21 again).

      So not only do you assert what you have no basis for asserting, you label those who think we can hardly begin to imagine what our glorified bodies will be like as thereby having “folk” theology on the subject.

      That’s all folks…

    • Jay Altieri

      Greg, no I am not a universalist. I’m a conditionalist. Universalism proposes that ultimately all humans will be saved perhaps purged in hell but ultimately saved. This was Origen’s idea in AD275. Conditionalism proposes that an eternal life of immortality is available to man but only on God’s condition: faith in Jesus Christ. All others that do not receive the gift will perish (John 3:16), be rooted out (Prov 2:22), die (Rom 6:23), be silenced (1Sam 2:9), cut down (Mat 3:10), be consumed (Ps 59:13), slayed (Ps 139:149), and utterly destroyed (Mat 10:28). They will be broken to pieces (Ps 2:9), extinct (Isa 43:17), snuffed out (Prov 13:9), and burned to ash (Mal 4:3). Their names shall be blotted out forever (Job 18:17). They shall not be anymore-note Hebrew word for ‘existence’ (Ps 104:35). It will be as if they had never been (Obad 1:16). Like a bad dream-gone on the morning (Ps 73:18-20). The wicked will be devoured as stubble fully dry (Nahum 1:10). When you burn stubble-what is left? Not much, it is irrevocably gone. How clear can God make it? The Bible exhausts the vocabulary of death when explaining the fate of the wicked. This is not universalism, but it is also not an eternal existence in damnation either.

      CMP has a point about this not qualifying as “folksy.” Perhaps the discussion about the intermediate state would be equally not folksy.

    • Austin

      So #8 got me thinking (coupled with #12), why is the penalty for sin death? Doesn’t that seem a little extreme, that I could, in theory, only commit one very tiny sin my whole life and still be sentenced to die? Why did Christ have to *die* for our sins? Why is the penalty for sin death? Doesn’t that seem a little extreme?

      So I was thinking about why this is, why sin equals death. The best I can figure is as follows:

      1) Obviously God is perfect and wholly pure – in a word holy. Something is either perfect or it’s not. Once it has been blemished even a little bit, it is no longer perfect and can never regain perfection. So we’re left with only two categories: 1) Perfect, 2) Not-perfect.

      2) God is obviously the power-source of life, biological and spiritual. As long as perfection remains, God approves of us and grants us life. But as soon as we mar that perfection, as sin does, God no longer approves of us and we are cut-off from life. Just as we have only two categories for perfection, so too we have only two categories for life, 1) Life, 2) Not-life (otherwise known as death).

      3) Thus, death is not an extreme punishment for sin. The punishment for sin consists of being moved from the Life category into the Not-life category, otherwise known as death. If we no longer qualify for Life, the only alternative is death. It’s not that God is overly vengeful, mean, sadistic or barbaric; it’s that death is the only remaining option when Life is forfeited. Either we have total life, or we have total death.

      Currently in our fallen state we have total death and must rely on the grace of God to restore us back to total Life. Death isn’t the extreme punishment; rather Life is the extreme expression of grace.

    • Marv

      I have to agree 8 is also problematic. Michael, you tend to frame these in some kind of convenient scenario.

      But sin makes us fall short of the glory of God. Is one sin enough to do this? Certainly. Apart from the grace of God, there is no remedy for even one sin. But under the blood of Christ, there is redemption for as many sins as one may commit in life.

      Had Jesus sinned even once would He be able to die for us? I think not. Maybe this too is folk theology.

      But as much as I love Lewis, this is not really the answer. The penalty for sin is eternal because this is what God has decreed. One sin or a trillion, apart from the blood of Christ, one is lost forever.

    • Jay Altieri

      Austin, as CMP observed, we may be getting off topic from folk belief. But for a quick answer, yes I think you are correct that sin always results in death. James 2:10 says that we are all lawbreakers. The penalty for breaking the Law is capital punishment. Israel did not have banishment (like the Icelandic Norse of Edda lore), they executed lawbreakers by stoning or other means. Our God is lawful. He will abide with the same rules as he institutes for humans. The wicked will not be banished to a lonely, godless place for eternity. They will receive God’s capital punishment.

      For a further idea of the punishment due click this:

    • Austin

      Regarding #8, why is Hell eternal?

      It seems to me Hell is simply the place where God is not. God doesn’t force Himself on anybody. By not making a choice *for* Christ, one is making a defacto choice *against* Him. If we basically state that we would rather not have God in our life, He obliges by sending us to a place where He is not.

      Since all good things come from Him (Jas. 1:17), and Hell is the ultimate separation from God, Hell is nothing more than a place where there is absolutely no grace or good things to be found. So yes Hell will be the ultimate form of torment, but it seems it’s not *designed* to explicitly punish.

      It’s just simply giving people the separation from God they think they desire. Thus Hell isn’t eternal because one tiny sin is deserving of eternal punishment, but it’s eternal because when people had the opportunity to choose Christ, they missed their window. They stated they wanted life without God so they got it.

    • Daniel S.

      The idea that hell is not explicitly designed to punish but rather a place where God is totally absent is, imho, also folk theology, and, I think, a quite common assumption in evangelical circles…

    • Jay Altieri

      Austin, in post#23 you said “Hell is the ultimate separation from God.” I don’t think “separate” is ever used in Scripture. Perhaps the closest idea might be to be removed (Hebrew ‘rachaq’) as used in Ps 22:11. The bible repeatedly says that the wicked will die, but I don’t think it ever says that they will be banished or exiled to a place of solitude. From where do you deduce the separation of Hell idea?
      Your last sentence is also troublesome for me: “They stated they wanted life without God so they got it.” Are you saying that the wicked receive life outside of JesusChrist? Jesus is the author of Life (Heb 5:9). Without him it simply does not exist. I like your own post #20 much better: Life and non-Life.

    • Jay Altieri

      I concur with Daniel S. Hell is a place of punishment not separation. Consider 2Thes 1:8-9. The Greek word for vengeance or revenge means to mete out justice. The penalty of Hell is on God’s terms not their own. They don’t get what they had asked for. They get what God decrees. Before you ask, in 2 Thes 1:8-9 ‘eternal destruction’ means that the consequence of this destruction is eternal. The same word for eternal is used in Jude 1:7 where it compares the vengeance upon the wicked with the vengeance that God took upon Sodom and Gomorrah. Those cites have never been rebuilt, but southern lisan of the Dead Sea in Jordan is not still actually burning. The results are eternal.

    • Austin

      Jay, as far as separation, whether or not that exact term is used in scripture is not important. The idea of being eternally and totally separated from God is what’s important. There are many verses that support this, for instance 2 Thes 1:8-9, Matt 8:12, Matt 25:30, Matt 25:46

      Regarding the whole life/death thing. Since God is the author of Life, separation from him is necessarily death, even if someone remains in existence for eternity. Hell is just eternal death – eternal separation from God. Gen 2:17, Lk 15:24, Matt 8:2, John 5:24, John 6:58

    • Wow, this has “Fundamentalism” all over it! Not because it does not have some correctness (though I don’t agree on several), but because of its very nature of the so-called question and then correct answer. Btw, whatever happened to the Reformed Creedal (Creeds)? Once again I am reminded why I am an Anglican! Again, a rather friendly disagreement. 😉

    • Gabriel Rodriguez

      What about the belief of “not touching the Lord’s anointed”?

      I heard pastors say this when certain people disagree with them on some point of doctrine or decision and they feel threatened.

    • Beth

      The folk theology that drives me most crazy is that “God won’t give you more than you can handle”. The truth is that circumstances in our lives and throughout scripture are way more than we can handle, and God’s promise is that he is with us and “with man, this is impossible, but with God, all things are possible”.

      The other folk theology that drives me crazy, but I try to be cool about it, is the little girls of the church looking SO cute as the angels in the Christmas pageant, when scripture never describes angels as sweet, dainty, female only, helpless, or cute. The way I read it, these beings are well-armed warriors whose appearance causes grown men to be rendered speechless. But try to say that to the music director :). The reality is, I do enjoy seeing the sweeties in their angel dresses, but that is not what I want MY angel to look like.

    • pgepps

      Fun. Lots of things we could play with in emphasis, but true and fun overall.

      Disagree on 15; I think you’re missing the implications of Transfiguration and of the disproportion between what is sown and what grows in 1 Cor 15.

      On 19, I think it’s both/and. The conventional depiction, after all, is from art based on the description in Rev 12. …so while these pictures shouldn’t be taken literally, and the “angel of light” has to be tested, like “every spirit,” nonetheless it may be helpful to us to remember those visual metaphors for his true character.


    • Matthew

      You have done a great job in your analysis of Folk theology but I would rather suggest that you remove number 8 from the list or rephrase it in such a way that will not make many Christian to be comfortable with issue of sin. every act of disobedience is a rebellion against God which can in turn send people to eternal hell irrespective of the nature of sin.

    • Jay Altieri

      My understanding of “cast into outer darkness” has more to do with familial relationships and nothing to do with existential geography of being separate and alone.
      Imho, outer darkness does not represent an actual location to which wicked souls are banished and physically separated from God’s presence. I think it is a metaphor. Think of an Israelite family group camping in the wilderness. If you are expelled from the campfire and disinherited from the family, then you will risk predators (lions and bears were extant in ancient Levant) and be forced to sleep in the cold. This is anathema to the ancient village dweller. The meaning is that the unfaithful Pharisees will be booted out of their own Abrahamic family, while faithful gentiles like the centurion (see context of Mat 8:10-12) will be adopted.
      My point being, outer darkness does not mean that Hell is a location of separation from God. For further evidence of non-separation of the wicked while being tormented in lake of Fire, please consider Rev 14:10.

    • Tamara Perry

      Really enjoyed reading this and will be reading more of the links. It’s funny to see things here that are taught in my own church. Now I’ll be starting debates. Thank you for taking the time to create this page. I’ve shared it with my family and friends.

    • Austin


      I don’t think separation has to mean geographical separateness necessarily. Again, it’s being separated from the good gifts and grace of God. Actually Hell could be quite worse if one had to suffer such spiritual desolation in the midst of, or close proximity to, believers who rest in the peace and blessings of God. That would be absolute torture.

    • Carrie

      I have also read that hell will not be eternal. That the spirits of those who will not receive “eternal” life will pass away and be destroyed with the passing of the old earth. So the eternal burning and torture is not true.

    • […] Folk Theology: Twenty Urban Legends in Theology:  Folk theology describes beliefs, generally shared by a large group of people, which said adherents have rarely thought through in a critical way. These beliefs are normally inherited (passed on through rote teaching and tradition). […]

    • Jay Altieri

      Carrie, you have correctly understood my interpretation. In modern English eternal means infinity, without end, forever and ever and ever. There is mathematical sign that looks like a sideways numeral 8. Such abstract concepts did not exist for the ancient Israelites. In Hebrew the word commonly translated as eternal is ‘Olam’; it more accurately means bigger then you are. For instance in Prov 22:28 (and repeated in Pro 23:10) the property landmark is not really eternal it is just really old from a time gone by. In Isa 42:14 God had not forever held his peace (after all He flooded the world for wickedness in Noah’s day), but God had been over the top patient with Judah’s rebellion, he had waited much longer than they could remember or deserved. In Jer 18:16 Jerusalem will not really be scorned eternally, only for 70 years, But the punishment will overtake them. As far they these people are concerned it might as well be eternal, because they will be dead. Eternal (olam) as used in Scripture means as long as the item or person being referenced is capable of lasting. Thus eternal punishment does not necessarily mean conscious eternal torment. I believe that God is just and the wicked will die, but then righteousness will flood the universe. The happy ending is that throughout eternity every nook and cranny of the cosmos will be in unity and peace with its creator, Jesus Christ.
      However, Michael has aptly commented that this is not folksy, it is serious doctrine, so I will try to quit.

    • anonymous

      would love to know much more, though, e.g.… 20. how ARE people going to be like angels; 19. what ARE all the ways we ought we consider the enemy; MIGHT we be like Him when we see Him as He is; 7 how worshiping God DOES only mean bowing down to Him; 2. all that the Lord’s encouragement example of 2-3 gathered together DOES imply;1. what IS the unforgiveable sin…. and more.

    • Jay Altieri

      Unforgivable sin is a great question. Mat 12:31-32 and also Mark 3:28-29. It is quite simple. This is the lifelong failure to repent and turn toward God. If I shake my fist in the sky and scream curse you Holy Spirit! Such is arrogant blasphemy, but is forgivable just like any other sin. The one sin that will not be forgiven, the mother of all sins, is the failure to get saved.

    • anonymous

      Jay above. ‘failure to get saved’ seems difficult wording; how bout ‘failure to believe’

    • Carrie

      I agree that unrepentance would result in the ultimate unforgiven sin but what do you define as a true repentant heart? How do we know that what we have done to receive forgiveness and acceptance by God has been enough? How do you define enduring till the end? I believe in God, the son, and the holy spirit. I know that they are one by divine unity as revealed in the hebrew word YAHWH and Torah. I know God came to earth as the messiah Jesus Christ. His mortal body was broken and killed but by His power was raised on the third day. He will return to establish a new heaven and a new earth in which he will reign as king. I dont understand the sacrificial part of it because in the OT forgiveness was often given without sacrifice. But is what I know and believe enough?

    • Jay Altieri

      Agreed. I was putting it into modern American Protestant lingo. I much prefer sticking with the Biblical language.

    • Dave Z

      I’ve heard that “failure to believe” idea for along time, but I’m not sure it fits the context of the verse, which sure seems to be about attributing the works of God to Satan. Jesus is speaking in response to the Pharisees claiming that he drives out demons by the prince of demons. It’s about the words we speak – Matt 12:32

      The “failure to believe” explanation may be too broad a brush. Jesus seems to be more specific. After all, he could have said “If you don’t believe you cannot be forgiven.” But that’s not what he said.

    • Jay Altieri

      Whoa, hold up a minute Carrie. Those are questions that only God can answer. I am not the judge. However for a little perspective, I would suggest that nobody is forgiven or saved based on knowledge of facts that they know. This includes doctrine. The word doctrine means teaching, which requires knowledge. So a priori, by definition in my opinion (Michael has a whole thread about this) doctrine is un required for salvation. Abraham knew nothing about Jesus, messiah, virgin birth, trinity, etc etc. He did not even know the personal name of YHWH. But Abraham trusted God. Salvation is all about your humility and contrite mind, and nothing about your doctrine and bible study.
      You ask how do we know if my repentant heart is truly enough? I would suggest that if you are actually worried about it, then you are good. God hates a haughty heart. Many verses preach about God’s hatred of the proud. The proud do not worry about these things. They are self confident and arrogant. In the temple system, The high handed sin is not forgiven (Numb 15:27-31). This means unrepentant sin. High handed implies keeping your chin up and enjoying who you are/what you have done. They do not want to change. This arrogance is repulsive to God, and He will not forgive the sins of any such people that do not seek forgivness. Whereas the repentant sinner has his tail between his legs, he is ashamed of what he has done, he cries on his bed pillow at night like David, who frequently screwed up but cried out to God. The humility of repentance is what God desires, not astute doctrinal orthodoxy.
      If you are humbly looking at your life and concerned how pitiful you are, how deserving of judgment you are, how undeserving of mercy and goodness from God you are, then I would bet such an individual will receive pardon and grace, regardless of head knowledge.

    • Carrie

      Nope. Not carrie hunter. I just stumbled on this blog yesterday. This is the first time ive posted here. I dont know who carrie hunter is sorry.

    • Jay Altieri

      Dave, it appears to me that getting specific is even more dangerous than having a broad brush. Many cessationists belief that gifts of the Spirit are not for today, that they ceased in Apostolic time. Assuming that they are wrong, does this mean that by ascribing the power of God to satan (or something other then God) that many Baptists and Campbellites are doomed without hope? Or how about this: Catholics say that Protestants are outside the Church the true Body of Christ. Protestants think Catholics are beguiled and deluded. Yet 1 Cor 12:3 and 1 John 4:2 offer hope for everybody that confesses Jesus by the grace of God. It appears to me that by putting your definition in place we are all in trouble. James 1:17, yet I am sure that at times I myself have looked a gift horse in the eye and slandered it.

    • Lora

      COmment #28

      Thank you Fr Robert (Anglican) for making your point about fundamentalism…..

      In the field of psychology, black and white thinking is a symptom of several different personality disorders.
      Sad (and disturbing) to see so much black and white thinking within fundamentalist circles….

      But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peacable, gentle and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. (James 3:17)

      Wisdom includes all different shades of gray….

    • Lora

      Comment #29

      Touch not the Lord’s annointed….
      is commonly used by spiritual manipulators in the church who are trying to protect their position and reputation at the expense of a sheep…..

      The name Christ means Annointed One…..Jesus is the ONLY Annointed One.
      We need to remember what Jesus said—that in the last days there will arise many claiming to be Christs….

      So if someone says:
      Touch not the Lord’s annointed….then they are describing a false prophet–
      We all need to become familiar with Ezekiel 34 🙂

      For those who are interested in recovering from spiritual abuse, I highly recomment reading
      The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse
      by Jeff vanVonderen

    • Carrie

      Are you saying that there are many ideas that are true? Are you saying that there are many different paths that are right? Because that is what im hearing you say.

    • Lora

      Thanks for asking Carrie.

      I believe Micah 6:8 is best definition of worldview

      The Lord requires us to DO justly, to LOVE mercy, and to WALK humbly before God.
      Fundamentalist behavior seems to disregard the importance of living out Micah 6:8.

      Justice (morality, righteousness) and truth ARE foundational-but people who stay stuck there do not grow towards grace, wisdom, and mercy.
      People who stay stuck in black and white thinking are usually self-righteous (not WALKING humbly before God) and believe they have it all together, like the Pharisees in New Testament times.

      We need to remember what Jesus taught us and keep our distance from legalistic people who refuse to look at their own short-comings and are quick to condemn others.

    • Carrie

      I try not to be judgemental. I understand that God sees one sin the very same as he sees another ie eating pork is no different than murder. We are to obey all of gods laws and commandments. God understands that we will not be perfect because of our human nature but he also knows when we do strive to walk in his ways. I think people tend to seek out religions that fit into their box of comfort. People pick and choose what they want to believe and do whatever back flips are necessary to make it true. I think over the years truth has been lost do to translation errors and peoples loss of understanding of the culture during biblical times. I think because of this we have been left with a bubble gum theology of what truth is and a million different directions to take to get there. The reality is there has to be an ultimate truth. God is black and white..he isnt wishy washy in his ways. I unfortunately dont have all the answers but I also dont believe there is a denomination or religion that exists with the answers. We can only hope to find the truth and that god will supply mercy where there is error.

    • Brian

      I would add tithing to this list.

    • Carrie J

      Ok I will be carrie j from here on out. Im glad you cleared up that I wasnt using a blog troll name. I got a little worried. Lol

    • Matt

      I would add some (most?) understandings of “generational sin” and deliverance ministries to this list. The idea that someone’s great grandfather committed a specific sin and unless it is uncovered and prayed against said person will have problems is a gross misunderstanding of both the OT and NT. As a well-known NT scholar once said, the Lord’s prayer can be amended on occasion to “deliver us from deliverance ministries.”

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