One person has rightly said that all people are theologians, you just have to decide what type of theologian you are going to be. Are you going to be a good theologian or a sloppy theologian?

The hardest thing about theology is not the big words, historical studies, philosophical arguments, or the exegetical rigor one must have. It has less to do with how “smart” a person is and more to do with how much one is willing to learn. It has less to do with a person’s GPA and more to do with their ability to set aside previous notions and allow themselves to engage the issues without letting their baggage – intellectual and experiential baggage – determine the outcome. To truly learn, one must train themselves to be a learner. And this is not easy.

The problem is that when it comes to our religious beliefs, we are content to trade in our normal, everyday methodology of critical examination and inquiry and simply accept whatever fits within our currently held worldview. Christians are normally no different. We love stories that confirm our faith. We love anything that confirms what mom told us. We hate stories that militate against it. We uncritically accept whatever someone says as long as it fits into the color scheme we have already adopted.  We outright reject anything that is against it without consideration.

We are  generously permissive and adaptive to strange stories, folk-lore, and bizarre shared experiences without being critical. Why? Because when it comes to our beliefs, we are ready to practice a methodology that would never pass muster in any other area of life. This is called tabloid theology.

Let me relate this to journalism first.

Tabloid journalism. You know what this is. It is sensationalistic journalism and it is a billion dollar business. It preys on our naiveté to believe something unbelievable. It exists because we like to let down our critical guard and indulge our minds by believing that which normally would be rejected. From alien abductions to pregnant men, the tabloids have it all.

Tabloid theology is the same. It is sensationalistic theology. More than this, it reflects the uncritical attitude of much of our religious culture today. It is the result of a culture that creates a dichotomy between the mind and faith. It is fueled by people’s uncritical methodology. A tabloid theologian is one who constructs his or her theology based upon naiveté. In the Bible, this is called a “simpleton.”

Some examples of tabloid theology:

1. The pancake with Jesus’ image proves that Jesus is real.

2. Statues of Mary crying.

3. Stories of miraculous healings need to be believed without question.

4. The shroud of Turin.

5. The Bible Code.

6. The story of the microphone which picked up the screams of hell during an oil drilling.

7. “If you receive this email, pass it on to five people and you will receive a blessing. If you don’t there will be a curse.” (Don’t say you have not done this!)

8. “If you send a financial gift to this ministry, you will receive a cloth from brother ________ that will heal you.”

9. “I sense that there is someone in the audience who has a back pain. God has healed your pain.”

10. The hitchhiking angel who mysteriously disappears after saying ”Gabriel’s mouth is on the trumpet.”

Many television preaching personalities rely upon the existence of tabloid theologians for their messages will be received without question. Criticism will kill tabloid theology—instantly. Therefore, criticism is seen to be sinful and dishonoring among some. “Doubter! Skeptic! Do you not believe that God will heal?” Many are guilted into becoming uncritical thinkers believing that this is what God would desire of the truly spiritual.

This dichotomy of faith and intellect is not only destructive, I believe it is a sinful dishonoring of God by neglecting the stewardship of our mind. God calls on us to love Him with our entire being, the mind included. When a person believes anything and everything, this evidences a neglect and forfeiture of the mind and jeopardizes the foundation of their belief.

I am not saying that God cannot heal back pain or appear in a pancake with a message. But I am saying that I am not going to believe these type of stories until there is good reason to do so. I am a critical Christian. I am critical of all truth claims, especially those that are about God. Why? Because I must be. God has called me to be. He has called us all to do the same. Our beliefs are too important to surrender based upon the smile of the seller or the good intentions of an email. Our beliefs form the foundation of who we are. If our theology is built upon trust in uncritical hearsay or unexamined sensationalistic claims, we are playing spiritual Russian roulette. As Jonathan Edwards said, “The heart will not accept what the mind rejects.” Eventually our faith will fall apart.

If you are one who accepts anything and everything that confirms your beliefs, I encourage you to become more critical. I encourage you to evaluate truth claims as a skeptic. I know this sounds odd when speaking about God, the Bible, or Christianity, but you must do so. Make sure that any truth claims have an impressive resume before they are believed. When people call you unspiritual for being critical of their stories of divine intervention, take heart. God’s truth will always have an impressive resume.

I believe that religious systems other than Christianity have no choice but to base their religion in tabloid theology. Christianity is the only one that does not. Christianity invites – indeed, demands – criticism, skepticism, discernment, and questions. True Christianity will pass the test.

Proverbs 8:5: You who are naive, discern wisdom! And you fools, understand discernment!

Proverbs 14:15: A naive person believes everything, but the shrewd person discerns his steps.

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

    33 replies to "On Being Critical Theologians"

    • Dr_Mike

      I think an excellent example of what Michael is describing is the Bereans: they didn’t take Paul’s claims at face value but went home and studied to make sure he was telling the truth.

      Luke, instead of ridiculing or accusing the Bereans, extols them by saying they were more noble minded than the Thessalonians, who seemed to have just nodded their heads and believed what they were told (cf Ac 17.10-12).

    • David from GA

      “We are generously permissive and adaptive to strange stories, folk-lore, and bizarre shared experiences without being critical”

      Here is some food for thought. Couldn’t Noah and the flood, Jonah and the fish and the Tower of babel be classified as strange stories and folklore as well? Yet some christians believe these stories are historical events. How then does christianity pass the tabloid test?

    • C Michael Patton

      That comes from issues regarding the reliability of the Bible and interpretation. It tabloid has more to do with hear-say novelty that confirm or adapt to your current thinking pattern, but are not foundational to the pattern itself. So these stories would not necessarily qualify.

      However, if someone uncritically accepted the Scripture as God’s word, then these stories—along with a resurrected man, talking bush, and axe heads floating—would all apply. That is why we need to have a valid defense as to why we believe the Scriptures are inspired and why we believe that the particular stories are meant to be historical. Otherwise, it is just folk theology (not tabloid). It could be true folk theology, but its truthfulness does not justify our niave method of belief.

      We need to be critical thinkers and follow truth, not prejudice. This goes for all people, atheists, Christians, or whoever. My assumption is that when people become critical thinkers, Christianity is the most viable worldview.

    • David from GA

      Michael, you said in your original post, “I believe that religious systems other than Christianity have no choice but to base their religion in tabloid theology.” However, people who are part of other religious systems (Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindu) are doing what christians do: trying to give a valid defense as to why the stories in their holy books are historical. There are apologists for every religion who defend their stories as true and historical. However, that doesn’t take away from the fact that Mohommed flying on a winged horse to Jerusalem (in the Koran) or Jonah living inside a fish sound very much like folklore and fanciful tales. All I’m saying is that from an outsiders point of view, Christians believing these stories make it look like Christians aren’t critical thinkers.

    • Dr Mike


      It’s been awhile (a year) since I’ve read it, but I don’t remember any stories in the Qur’an. It’s all God talking.

    • cheryl u

      Dr Mike,

      I’m not sure I understood what you meant in that last comment, “It’s all God talking. Are you saying that God is speaking in the Qur’an as He is in the Bible?

    • C Michael Patton


      Yes, you are right. Many other faiths will have defenders. That was not my point. I would hope that everyone would defend their faith somehow. My comment was simply that I believe that Christianity is the only historically defensible faith with regard to its claims and the implications of the claims. But of course this is what I believe so my comments were nothing extraordinary. It is the same thing as saying that I believe that if anyone truly examines the evidence, Christianity comes out on top. If I did not believe this, I would not be Christian!!

    • Dr Mike


      Sorry for the confusion. The Qur’an is a long series of communications directly from God, not anything written by a man. This is their approach to their divine book.

      Now, I don’t believe it’s from God for a second. It may be from a spirit – a demonic spirit, in fact, is what Muhammad thought at first – but it is not from God. (Since they don’t believe in the triunity of God, they would deny it is from the Holy Spirit.) The Qur’an is, in their belief, dictated by God and copied by Muhammad without commentary or additions.

    • cheryl u

      Dr. Mike,

      Thanks for the clarification. I was hoping YOU didn’t believe it was from God!

    • Alan

      We should all be apologists for our faith and for me that means never being “apologetic” for the case that I make for my catholicism.

    • Drew K

      This article once again confirms why this blog has become my favorite. Michael says things I wish I had written. I can whole-heartedly relate to this post. I spent my formative Christian years amongst charismatics, yet I always felt that there was an anti-intellectual ethos among them. This despite the fact that this particular fellowship was in a university town with membership populated by college students, graduate students and Ph.D.’s. This was not your stereo-typical “holy-roller” church. Yet they were very reserved about my decision to major in Religious Studies at a secular school, then go on to grad school at another one. I often felt very alone despite the fact I recieved much practical love and counsel from these folks.

      BTW, I have not dismissed my charismatic experience but I have changed my theology of that experience. I now prefer the term continuationist. I am more in the mold of Piper, Grudem, CJ Mahaney, etal. If anyone can relate to me in this, I highly recommend Micheal’s post “The Rise of the Charismatic Intellectuals.”

    • Alan

      Unfortunately, most protestants fail to realize that centuries passed in salvation history before Luther and the genesis of the protestant movement.

      I invited many of my protestant friends to go back to the early church fathers, for to be steeped in church history is to cease to be protestant. They are now coming home.
      Christ never meant for there to be the disunity that we see in the protestant faiths. With nearly 40,000 protestant denominations all claiming to have authority in their interpretation of scriptural passages.

      “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my church. The evil of hell shall not prevail upon it. Look not on your sins but the faith of your church and know that I am with you always, till the end of time. When Christ proclaims that I am with you always then we know that the Holy pirit is also there for you cannot separate the mystery of the Trinity. If Christ is telling us He is with us always then we have to believe in the primacy of Peter and apostolic succession.
      Do you believe that Christ is happy with all the 40,000 protestant denominations all claiming the truth yet separated from one another by the fullness of what each one really percieves as the truth???????? To be steeped in church history is to cease to be protestant.

    • EricW

      Been there, done that, bought the pyx/icon.

      Alan, some of us who went back to the early church fathers, but did more than buy or swallow the line fed them by Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic apologists and zealous converts, found out that the history was not as neat and tidy as claimed or presented, nor were the EOC and RCC boasts to have kept and preserved and handed down “the faith once for all delivered to the saints” as valid as claimed.

      Not only is the 40,000 Protestant denominations figure wrong (as I said, Google for the origin of the 30,000/40,000/whatever figure), but quoting John Henry Cardinal Newman proves only that you can quote Newman. 🙂

    • Alan

      Do your homework Eric for as usual you have no idea what you are talking about. I have researched it and the figures are correct.
      I am glad you are not a defense attorney for many would be going to jail.

      So how do you believe you are saved by Sola Fide? I asked you to defend your position in light of Matthew 25:31-46. Where did Jesus send the goats on His left? You have been very quiet. Cat’s got your tongue or do you know nothing about apologetics?

    • EricW

      Alan, I have done my homework. I had to in order to support 1. my commitment to the Orthodox/Catholic traditions and doctrines, and then 2. my reevaluation and rejection of them.

      As usual, I do know what I am talking about. I don’t make statements I can’t support or that can’t be argued. You may not agree with my arguments or statements or conclusions, but they have been thought out, not just tossed into the mix as off-the-cuff comments or arguments-with-you for the sake of argument.

      This is Michael’s blog, not a site to try to argue for the Roman Catholic church; that’s for your own blog.

    • Alan

      Matthew25:31-46 refutes justification by faith alone. I am still waiting for your response?

    • EricW

      Alan: You won’t get a response from me. This is Michael’s blog. He hasn’t posted a blogpost with the topic of whether or not Matthew 25 has anything to do with Sola Fide. Until and unless he does, I’m not going to clutter his comment box with non-relevant arguments.

      Start your own “Why I Am A Catholic And Why You Should Be One, Too” blog.

      If I want to argue with a Catholic who wants to convince me to become one, then I’ll go to such a blog. I’m not going to engage in such discussions here.

    • Alan

      Peace and love and I hope we both make it to heaven.God bless you, God love you and goodbye.

    • Alan

      What is Michael the final word? Matthew has everything to do with Sola Fide. Why don’t you invite him to debate me right here on this blog?

    • Lisa Robinson

      Alan, I would encourage you to read the blog rules. Handling disagreement irenically is the standard and there is no place for personal animosity. Also, calling the author out on his own blog is not too cool a move.

    • Alan

      Lisa, do you know what the word apologetics means? It is about learning ones faith then defending it. We all need to become apologists for our faith but never be “apologetic” for the case we make for our Christanity.

      When Eric W. says Catholics are blaspheming Jesus by believeing in His real presence in the Eucharist do you really think I am going to be silent? When he says I am saved by Sola Fide and I challenge him to read Matthew 25:31-46. Neither he or Michael accepted my offer to debate them. If they call themselves apologists they should be anxious to defend their beliefs.

    • EricW

      22. Alan on 22 Sep 2009 at 8:48 pm #

      Lisa, do you know what the word apologetics means? It is about learning ones faith then defending it. We all need to become apologists for our faith but never be “apologetic” for the case we make for our Christanity.

      When Eric W. says Catholics are blaspheming Jesus by believeing in His real presence in the Eucharist do you really think I am going to be silent? When he says I am saved by Sola Fide and I challenge him to read Matthew 25:31-46. Neither he or Michael accepted my offer to debate them. If they call themselves apologists they should be anxious to defend their beliefs.


      I did NOT say that Catholics are blaspheming Jesus in the Eucharist. That was dudley davis who said/wrote that:

      128. dudley davis on 19 Sep 2009 at 8:09 pm #

      I am a Presbyterian. I love the sacrament of the Lords Supper but the roman church teaching makes a balsphemy of it.

      Read his entire comment here:

      My argument/belief, as I wrote in my comments, is that neither Jesus nor the Apostles taught what the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches teach about the bread and the wine be(com)ing His real body and blood. I do not accuse the Roman Catholic Church of blasphemy, simply of erroneous teaching/understanding.

    • Alan

      Jesus didn’t teach that it was really His body and blood present in the Eucharist???? What Bread of Life Discourse are you reading in John 6???????. His audience was scandalized as they left Him. Jesus never once called them back. He reiterated unless you eat (Greek word Trogo= gnaw or chew on flesh) my FLESH and drink my blood you have no life……….. NEVER once did Jesus ever say this is a SYMBOL of my flesh or a SYMBOL of His blood. Never did He call his scandalized audience back. Instead He asked His aposles if they were going to leave Him too.

      I have seen a Eucharistic miracle with my own eyes and there have been countless one thrughout salvation history. The evidence is so overwhelming in the bread of life discourse to His real flesh and blood.

      But the reality is that 40,000 different protestant denominations decide on their own what is the truth. They can not even be in ageement with how they discern biblical truth. So they splinter over and over again. Pretty soon the truth becomes a lie and a lie the truth. The Spiritual Light goes out. When your light is darkness how deep that darkness must be!

      Even Luther when he broke from the church believed in Christ real presence, Body, Blood and Divinity. Regarding the Eucharist, the early church fathers taught exactly what Christ’s real church teaches today.

    • EricW


      You’ve already written that same thing, and I’ve already responded to it. No doubt others here could also explain why they disagree with the Roman Catholic teaching of John 6 and the Eucharist.

      For a Catholic “apologist,” you sure seem slow about “apologizing” for libeling me in post #22 above.

      I’m…waiting. (But not holding my breath.) 🙂

    • Drew K

      I wish Michael had stepped in and stopped this Eric/Alan debate. Primaily because it was way off topic. But I’m sure he’s a busy guy and can’t moderate his blog 24/7. I thought Eric held his own but eventually tired of the crusading mentality of Alan. sigh…. all the theological issues aside, sounds like Alan finds his faith in the church, with God as merely an object of the faith not the “author and perfecter” thereof. The deeper question for Alan is what philosphical template/paradigm does he bring to the table? This is often more telling than the theological clothing it is draped in. Thanks Lisa, as one of Michael’s contributors here, for trying to act as moderator/mediator.

    • Alan

      I am not just an apologist for my faith nor do I view God as only an object in my church. I try each day to live out the Gospel message in Matthew 25:31-46. We must put our faith to work. Protestants call this the fruits of ones faith. There is love that is delivered to others through a certin physicality necessary in seeing the face of Jesus in all our neighbors. Jesus asks all of us to feed, give drink, clothe and visit the sick and those in prison. We must all put our faith to work or we could end up being the “goats” on Jesus’ left hand side. I do as much as I can visiting residents in a nursing home or trying to help out in a local food pantry. I am sure there is much more that I can do. I know I am a sinner. I also know our spiritual journey is a day by day process and sometimes we fall down but then we get up and God is love and mercy beyond our wildest dreams. Eye has not seen ,nor has it even entered into the heart of men(and women) what God has pepared for those who love Him.

      My intention was not to offend anyone here but I had to defend what I believe to be the truth. However, in the process that did not give me the right to offend anyone.

      I do sincerely apologize to you Eric and anyone else for my lack of Christian charity towards you. I don’t have to agree with you but I DO have to respect your beliefs. Again I am sorry.


    • Drew K

      Thanks Alan. You, indeed showed some “fruit of the Spirit” by being humble.

    • Alan

      Thank you Drew.

    • EricW

      Thanks, Alan. May we indeed meet each other in His Kingdom, whenever and however and through whatever He draws us there.

    • Alan

      Amen to that Eric and so well spoken. We are all pilgrims on a journey and our destination is not of this world. Take care.

    • Joe

      Being “critical theologians” is not really being critical of everyone else’s theology; but even your own. Your own theology; your own church.

      This follows Jesus; Jesus taught us to look for the “beam in your own eye,” before you criticize the speck in others.”

      Today, conservatives often attack intellectuals, as having a “double standard”; criticizing western Christianity, but giving all other religions a free pass. But to be sure, Christianity is our “own eye.” It is a major root of Western Civilization.

      And so, we must interrogate even our holiest Christian traditions. To discover where even our own favorite church might err. In order to see the “beam in our own eye.”

      And then pass on to a second and better understanding of Christ and God.

    • C Michael Patton

      Joe, you are right. The point of the post is the we need to be self-critical and examine what it is that we believe. This is a very introspective process. If one starts with the assumption that he or she is correct and then builds from there, this simply amounts to theology being a process where your prejudices are confirmed. That does not honor God in the slightest.

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