Theological Abuse [And what to do about it]
Anyone who knows me will know I am passionate about truth. I love the Word of God, I love sound doctrine, I love books, sermons and lectures which present the truths of God’s Word and their application to every area of life.
A major vehicle for much of that learning has been the Internet but with every day that passes, I am growing more and more convinced that some use theology to abuse and demean others. I am also worried that a lot of us see it happen and let it slide because the ones doing it share our theological positions and so it’s all above board.
I’m keenly aware of this because I hold to a number of theological positions which, in the minds of some, are contradictory. Allow me to use the most charged example I witness regularly.
I’m a dispensationalist of sorts (though I am loathe to discuss it in public for some of the reasons I will talk about in a moment) and a thorough-going Calvinist. Arguably, it has never been more acceptable in some online circles to engage in “whack-a-dispy” antics. Now that is nothing new – dispensational and covenantal thinkers have been at each other’s throats for decades.
But as someone who spends a little time in the world of social media, I am regularly confronted with a hubris against my belief in dispensationalism that borders on hatred. Yes, you read me right – hatred. I’ve seen accusations of being in unrepentant sin, being a heretic, being responsible for the anti-intellectualism which pervades evangelicalism. We’ve been made the butt of jokes, treated as second-class citizens and frankly, we’ve been refused the common charity that should be characteristic of believers’ treatment of one another.
Well, why? Allow me to present a handful of reasons why this is the accepted norm online:
- We’ve forgotten that theology is intended to humble us: Too many people believe they have the understanding of doctrine they have is like a badge of honour they should wear proudly and those who don’t have it should feel bad. Like c’mon – why haven’t you attained the euphoric heights of great theology I have reached, you sad, sad person.
Brothers and sisters, it should not be so! In 1 Cor 4, Paul thunders: “For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” The theological understanding you profess to have came from God’s good hand – if someone hasn’t come to your understanding, how about you walk in humility, take your time, pray and then lovingly teach from the Scriptures.
- We’ve allowed theology impede fellowship: Now hear me – I am more than conscious that sound doctrine will cause divisions on some levels. As much as I love my Charismatic brethren, the reality is that if we went to plant a church together, it would be all different kinds of frustration. I love my Presbyterian brothers but every time a baby was born, it would be a struggle when one elder wants to baptize the kid and I’m thinking, “Really, brother???”
However, I am convinced that some of us use that legitimate reality to then impede any possibility of fellowship. Suddenly, every nuance of doctrine is such that we can’t fellowship, whether virtually or personally. Oh so you’re X? Yeah, go sit over there and leave me and my Y-type friends alone is the general sentiment I witness day in, day out on a host of issues. How about some discussion of the things we can unite on?
(On a side note, I have always been heartened with how ministries like Ligonier can invite men of differing theological positions to minister together and enjoy some fellowship together. Yet, for reasons which I will never make peace with until we get to eternity, we can’t manage it on something as basic as Facebook/Twitter? Just saying…)
The end result is that we have a load of people in the church who are guilty of theological abuse – using the gift of God’s Word to demean, belittle and destroy, rather than build up, encourage and edify. We end up with people who are exactly like the people Paul describes in 1 Cor 13:1-2:
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
Men and women (because some ladies are crueler than a thousand angry men when they’re in this mode) who can break down the order of decrees and rail on the lack of good preaching but hate their brother or sister and use theology to manifest that hatred – a contradiction if there ever was one!
I feel like I go on and on about this theme of humble orthodoxy (to borrow the phrase from Josh Harris) but my love of the truth is at an all-time high and I am rather sick to my stomach with people bringing truth into disrepute by their terrible example – beginning with myself!
Let’s love the truth, live it out and put theological abuse to bed in our own lives, praying for those who do such things that the powerful God they read about would grab a hold of them!
[Contributed by Kofi]