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.