I have come to have a love-hate relationship with theology. I love it because it can deepen one’s faith, helping people to rejoice more because they understand and know God better (Jer. 9:24). There is nothing more exciting than the look on peoples’ faces when they are being theologically transformed. It is the “wow, this is really true” look. I live for that both in myself and in others.
However, there is a dark side to theology. I see it everyday. I pray that this does not infect my students, but inevitably, there are always one or two who take their theological knowledge and create a recipe of sin and shame. These are people I call “theologically dangerous.”
The theologically dangerous have no grace. They get some right answers and then become the judge, jury and executioner of people. What should have been the path toward humility turns into the path of arrogance. Their self-justification for their graceless belligerence is this: “I am not arrogant, I am discerning.” Correct theology becomes a virtue that swallows up virtues of tenderness, grace, respect, and kindness, offering only a black hole of hopelessness unless people conform. Those who come in contact with them are judged only by their statement of faith. Their fellowship circle is small and friends few. The distinction between essentials and non-essentials does not find a place in their diary. They hunt and hunt for bad theology until they find it. They correct others with pride. When they are not invited to the parties, they interpret this as a mark of persecution for a theology well-played.
These are the type of people who are on the dark side of theology. Unfortunately, those who are theologically dangerous are the most vocal (and possibly, the most numerous). Since they have yet to be theologically humiliated, they can’t stop talking. The fear of God, they have yet to learn. They set themselves up as the watchdogs of Christian orthodoxy. They are the first to comment and correct on the blogs. They are the first to raise their hand in Sunday School when you say, “Does anyone have any questions?” Yet after ten minutes of talking, you ask yourself “what part of the word ‘question’ do they not understand?” They question people’s salvation based on minor theological points of disagreement.
Fortunately, many eventually increase in their theological knowledge to a point where they become theologically transformed. This happens when one becomes theologically humiliated. It is like the transition from uninformed adolescence, to a know-it-all teenager, to a mature adult. The mature adult has wisdom and grace due to their coming of age theologically. All the things they thought they knew as a teenager goes through the trials of life. Doctrinal battle scars evidence a ripening of the fruit of belief. Their categories become more diverse. They realize that while there are some black and whites to our faith, there is also a lot of grey. In other words, they recognize that there is a lot we don’t know. They tighten their grip on the main things and losen it on others. They choose their battles very carefully. It is a transition from ignorance to arrogance back to some degree of informed ignorance.
At this point, fellowship can resume. The lynch mob is sent home. The invitations to parties trickle in. The lantern of the hope of the gospel is shinning bright. At this point, the dark side of theology is over.
C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger.
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. He can be contacted at [email protected]