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
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

    125 replies to "The Dark Side of Theology"

    • brian foulks

      Is this not the very thing that you spoke about with some of the other theologian?They read books and start their heresy hunts that in essence defame a person that is really much like them..

    • LynnOKC

      The truth of what you’ve written has played out in my life (sadly, more than once). I’ve been that theological snob waxing eloquent about the doctrines of grace…while negating said doctrine with every arrogant word.

      I think if any of us who love studying theology were honest, we’d have to admit our tendency toward being dangerous. It is hard not to be a bit incredulous when one realizes just how biblically and doctrinally illiterate our world has become.

      Balancing that incredulity and knowledge (just a smidgen in my case) with humility and love is a feat only accomplished by the Holy Spirit. Left to ourselves we ARE truly dangerous.

    • Camille Sobalvarro

      This is such an important statement. Well said, appropriately pointed, but humbly delivered. One of the things I most appreciate is that you didn’t call-out individuals, which would be esay to do, but could indicate a haute spirit… and begin to number you among the theologically dangerous, who ALWAYS feel the need to get personal.  While I claim no high level of spiritual maturity, I definitely have observed this curve at work in my own life. As a yong believer I was slow to call-out others because I felt like EVERYONE knew more than me. But as my knowledge grew, passion grew too, which is good, BUT resulted in a faith that started to develope threads of arrogance. Beyond this though, I suddenly began to see how often my earlier knowledge proved wrong, how often God changed my heart on things I thought I knew for sure. I began to learn that, as right as I think I am now, I may later be humbled by newer deeper insights. I’ve come to believe one of the most important truths we must hold onto as theologeans is that “I could be wrong.” Truth is found only in God, and we cannot fully comprehend Him. We must trust and follow.

    • Michael: Yeah, I had me an Irish greatgram as a boy in Ireland, she was among the so-called PB’s or “Brethren”. So I have been exposed to Dispensationalism for a long time. I even like to read the one-time Anglican, E.W. Bullinger! Now there was a “biblicist”! 😉 During a visit to see my then American Marine brother, back in late 80’s? I met Robert Saucy, and later read his book: The Case For Progressive Dispensationalism, etc. The book really opened my eyes back then, but too with Bock & Blaising’s book on the PD (plus my trip back to combat, and Gulf War 1, in my 40’s I might add, and seeing Israel up close in that whole affair), I really began to dig. That whole time was very providential! And then later my few years in Israel, in the late 90’s.

      Wow, me and a Credo House? Sounds grand! I only need time, and again God’s grace and providence! Note, both of my son’s were born in my 40’s also (15 and 21, almost 22 next month). Our 15 year old lives with us, but my oldest is in college in the UK. Yeah I was a late bloomer with kids! (Pray for me! lol)

    • Btw, I posted this on my own wee blog, but I thought it might go well here on this post? Allow me..

      “Human praise and human blame are mostly valueless, because men know not the whole which they praise or blame.” (Sermon quote, from the Anglican, E.B. Pusey)

    • DeWayne

      Those of Old Covenant God calls His upright and righteous, having held strong to the faith obedient to God, will see all of their promises (though 1st Covenant broken) fulfilled through their Messiah.

      Those of New Covenant God calls His righteous through the same Messiah Christ, will see all their promises fulfilled through Christ. [Roman 3:27-30]

    • Jeff Ayers

      The article almost implies that we are to be timid and even scared to proclaim the truth. “Milquetoasts”. And it implies we should approach everyone with a plea, asking permission to give them Biblical doctrine. Like Oliver timidly asking for more gruel.

      The following are the two “Top Ten Lists” I try to hold to and avoid (respectively) when presenting biblical truth and doctrine.

      1. Precise
      2. Poignant
      3. Forthright
      4. Bold
      5. Clear thinking
      6. Plain speaking
      7. Doesn’t mince words
      8. Confident
      9. Concise
      10. Direct

      DON’T [BE]:
      1. Arrogant
      2. Condescending
      3. Close minded
      4. Refuse to hear the person out
      5. Critical without understanding
      6. Talk over them while they are speaking
      7. Use high sounding words or concepts to obfuscate the issue (and make them feel stupid)
      8. Speak faster or more verbose to cover up your ignorance of the subject
      9. Use clichés you learned from your mentors to eviscerate the person
      10. Refuse to admit that you may be wrong!!!!!

      “First Understand, then Persuade” (Understand their position and terminology, then you can help them out of their darkness or refute their position.)

    • Nathaniel

      Wow, I am that person. I wish I could of skipped the teenage season, but it is what it is.

    • Duane

      I would suggest that if there is a “dark” side to theology it is embracing errant theology in the name of “orthodoxy.” This creates division, fragmenting the Body, dishonoring the Lord.

    • Waldean

      Great thought-provoking post. I think “the dark side” is inevitable. It’s filled with born-again, maturing folks that are also filled with self (I suppose this is everyone to some extent). It’s completely foreign for us to be become humble, loving, prayer-filled, dependent servants of Jesus.

    • Stephen

      I have been there

    • Cade

      This post is spot on, coming from an Indepent Fundermental Baptist background you become judgemental. I am thankful that God took me out of that movement and that you would write on these topics that do more damage to believers than good. God is is still moving that stuff out of my system after 13 yes., keep up the good work…

    • Jeremy

      Great post. I do like the title but also might call it “The Dark Side of Armchair Theologians”.

    • DeeJay

      What? That was the whole article? DRAT! It started out so well versed I thought it was going to make a useful point, not illustrate what a rant sounds like coming from a theologian at the peak of the graph’s ark!
      How disappointing.

    • mbaker

      I don’t see honest disagreement among Christians as criticism per se, but I do see a trend of legalism nowadays in the more theologically aware, who can quote their seminary teachers, their favorite Christian authors, or use their public blogs etc; as an excuse to be ugly to their fellow man.

      That seems highly condescending and off putting to me, although I am not of the other extreme either, that we can just write off bad theology in the name of Christian love.

      Seems to me the church nowadays is caught between the extremes, and that is not good for advancing the gospel.

    • Daniel Brady

      CMP, Excellent article. As one who often considers myself to be a theological “watchdog,” I try, pray, and hope not to be one who is theologically dangerous. I appreciate the fact that you said the theologically mature “tighten their grip on the main things and loosen their grip on others.” What I find disturbing is the fact that many people cannot agree on what the main things are. What I consider to be a main thing, someone else doesn’t think to be a main thing. Others make main things out of what I would consider to be secondary.

      I like to think I am humble enough to agree to disagree over secondary issues. What I find to be more of a challenge is having a proper level of humility while at the same time tenaciously holding on to the main things.


    • Donna B

      Theology to me is the study of God. Period..no light – no dark…just study that strengthens my already firm belief in Him. I love to study it all! My greatest desire is to be more like Christ every single day, to see others through his eyes, love as He loved and to trust him to lead me down the paths he has chosen just for me. Guess what…it is working! Love reading any of these articles. It is all interesting but my faith in God remains the same.

    • Donna B

      Theology to me is simply learning more about God and taking from it only what deepens my faith. I already believe His word. I have already experienced his influence and indications of the design for my life. I dont think Theology is dark or light. It is simply theology, a study. The only dark I know was my sin. My only desire is to be more like Christ now. I study hoping to find more of Him. To see others through his eyes and love others as He has loved me… and try to become more like him every single day with the wisdom from Him to do it. I trust Him, I know I don’t understand it all, I try to acknowledge him in all things, and I try to follow the paths he leads me on with constant prayer. It is working for me. I love Christ and what He has done for me…no matter what theology may or may not say. I just know it.

    • Tony

      The “Cancel All My Meetings” graphic is a riot!

      One time in seminary, I volunteered to present an argument against the Regulative Principle (another student did a presentation in favor of it). One dude *destroyed* me in class because he so vehemently held to the RP. HOWEVER, he also contacted me after class and apologized. Sometimes, people need a little time to process things. I’ve learned that if you teach theology, be prepared for this. Understanding what’s core and what’s not core is a “slow cook” process. Sometimes, I realize I’m still in the crock pot. It happens. God works with us at different speeds.

    • DeWayne

      To often theology is the acceptance of anothers interpretation concerning Gods word, yet verse not only warns of validating with Gods word the Bible, but tells how this word (in text form) is discerned for the seeker by the HS within.

      The Bible for those with the HS is not an intellectual read, instead the word tells us the HS enables this discernment, at the same time Gods word is open to the most common.

      In this respect it is not the babe in the Lord that is dangerous, but false teacher and prophet leading astray the seeker of truth. The most important, certainly verse telling of renewing of the mind while constant in the word of God, leading and enabling true wisdom and knowledge.

      Within the true church are gifts that with all doing their part leads all into unity and maturity. Viewing our present age, it appears we need fewer theological institute, and more seeker of truth (in) the word of God.

    • Christopher

      I have made the journey you describe. It was painful; it was my own personal calvary. This incessant study of God seems to me like geologists incessantly studying rocks but never enjoying the view. The study of rocks may enhance ones respect for the forces responsible for creating the mountains but it can never replace the experience of awe, wonder and love as one experiences the mountain views. The mountain cannot exist without the rocks and forces of nature, but awe and wonder of the mountain’s beauty and splendor exists without any knowledge of rock and tectonics.

      In the same way we could not know of God without the knowledge of his revealed attributes and character. And worship may never enter there. But true wonder, worship and love surely exists in the breast of the man or woman who experience God without knowing any theology at all. That is why we are told we must be like children to enter the kingdom and he calls the children into himself. The one who embraces theology will be dissapointed; but the one who embraces God himself will come to know him and survive every dissapoint life brings.

      I no longer believe i have God all figured out or that he has revealed ALL that he is – we see through a glass datkly. But one day we will know him and be with him and all of our theology will melt away…

    • DeWayne

      I would not dicourage anyone from keeping within (study) of Gods word, not only for spiritual discernment in renewing our (natural) mind, although as yourself having strong concern of much scholarly teaching’s and institution’s.

      Most important is learning with HS guidance to know what is predestined in recognition of ourselves, and certainly in relation to fulfilling God’s purpose.

      Most discouraging for myself was actually finding ‘textual’ errors within the Bible, most egregious was the false teaching and prophecy from others having either themselves been misled, or serving a lesser purpose and god.

      At this time the Christian church evidences not overly studying God’s word, but from accepting false teaching while not validating everything within Gods word as admonished.

      May we accept all teachings because we do not fully know God, if one has lack of needed knowledge, the promise is that it will be forthcoming. In this condition the best test of truth is in the telling. In time holding fast in faith and constantly within Gods word, in time the truth will prove itself.

      There is no dark part or portion in studying God’s word, the failure or error only is holding to false teaching and prophecy as such is revealed. Instead we need press forward in what we have, adding truth as it proves itself in Gods word. Never fearing discovery that what part we had accepted, is later proven in error, this also a part of learning.

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