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Christian Living

3 Problems Caused by Theology

An Academic Pursuit of Religious Knowledge Can Cause Much Harm

When I wrote about the dangers of pursuing a right theology, I noted that God doesn’t want us to know about him. He wants us to know him on a personal level. In our pursuit of knowledge, we seek to categorize our understanding of God. We’ve taken the mystery of who God is and turned him into an academic pursuit. We organize, and we intellectualize. In doing so we risk producing three negative outcomes.

1. Theology Labels

Theologians love to give highfalutin names to murky philosophical constructs in a vain attempt to quantify God and explain who he is. This produces labels for various theological thoughts. People who study God from an academic perspective will align themselves with viewpoints they like and distance themselves from others. Using these labels, they determine who is with them and who is against them in their spiritual comprehension of faith (see 1 Corinthians 1:12-13).

People too often try to do this with me. They ask, “Are you a (insert-theological-label)?” They grow irritated when I don’t answer. This is because I can’t. By intention I’ve not studied the nuances of the doctrine they mentioned. Instead I study God as revealed in the Bible and through the Holy Spirit.

I follow Jesus and strive to be a worthy disciple. That’s all that matters. Seriously. Don’t let theological labels detract from this singular focus that trumps all others. If we’re all on Team Jesus, everything else becomes a nonissue.

2. Theology Judges

As we put labels on certain theological perspectives, we apply these tags to those who align with them. We judge people based on which camp they reside in according to their set of beliefs. As a result, we view some people as in and others as out (see Romans 14:10 and James 2:4).

If they agree with the beliefs we hold dear, we accept them. But if they have an alternate view, we judge them as unworthy of our attention and push them aside. In most cases, the judgments we form by our nuanced theology force many people away. It’s us versus them, even though we all pursue the same God—the God of the Bible.

Jesus prayed for our unity, and we responded by allowing our theological squabbles to divide us. Click To Tweet

3. Theology Divides

First, we label. Next, we judge. Then we divide. We see this most pronounced on Sunday morning. We go to church with other people who believe just like we do. And too often we vilify those who believe differently. This is why Protestantism has divided itself over the centuries to produce 43,000 denominations today. Most of these spring forth from theological disagreement.

Jesus prayed for our unity (John 17:20-21), and we responded by allowing our theological squabbles to divide us. Denominations are the antithesis to Christian unity.

Tool or Distraction?

For some people, an academic quest to understand God is a tool that brings them to him. Yet many more pour themselves into pursuing a right theology as if it is the goal, as if nothing else matters. They risk having this intellectual path distract them from truly knowing God, from having an intimate relationship with him.

The result is labeling, judgement, and division. This trio harms the church of Jesus, distracting us from becoming all he wants us to be.

Read more about this in Peter’s new book, Jesus’s Broken Church, available in e-book, audiobook, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

How Important Is It to Have the Right Theology?

God Doesn’t Want Us to Study Him; He Wants Us to Know Him

When people first learn that I have a PhD and where I did my postgrad work, they assume I’m into theology. Imagine their disappointment to find out I don’t care about the concept or want to pursue a right theology, that I can’t engage in a meaningful discussion about the topic—at least not as they perceive it.

At its most basic level, theology is the study of God. I like that. But as nuances of finding a right theology layer on top of this basic understanding, the subject gets murky.

The result is too many long, multi-syllable words that few people can pronounce and even fewer can comprehend. Turning God into an academic pursuit of the right theology pushes him away and keeps us from truly knowing him.

Relationship Is Key

For many people, their spouse is their most important relationship.

Imagine if I went to my wife and said, “I’m going to devote the rest of my life to studying you.

“I’ll watch you and make notes. I’ll catalog who you are and categorize what you do. Next, I’ll read books to help me better understand you. I’ll also talk with others to gain their insights about who you are. Then I’ll tell others what I’ve learned.”

How would she react? Not well. My singular commitment to focus on her would not win me her appreciation. Instead it would stir up her ire. She would rightfully complain, “Why can’t we hang out instead? I just want you to spend time with me.”

So it is with God. He doesn’t want us to study him. He wants a relationship (Hosea 6:6). Theology keeps God at a distance when what he really wants is for us to know him.

Knowledge Puffs Up

As people pursue theology, they amass a great deal of information. Much of this forms a theoretical construct, turning God into an abstract spiritual entity.

In doing so they gather much knowledge but risk pushing God further away. This knowledge of who God is generates pride. It puffs up. Instead of knowledge, we should pursue love, which builds up (1 Corinthians 8:1).

Pursuing theology isn’t necessarily bad, but it can distract us from what is most important: being in a relationship with Jesus. Click To Tweet

Education Distracts

The pursuit of higher learning is a noble task, but it’s not the goal. Chasing after a theology of God isn’t the end. It’s the means to the end: to know who God is in an intimate, personal way.

Jesus routinely criticized the Pharisees and Sadducees—who we could equate to ancient theologians. Instead he embraced a simple message when he said “follow me” (John 10:27).

Pursing a Right Theology

Though pursuing a right theology and even having a Bible study aren’t necessarily bad, they can distract us from what’s most important: to follow Jesus and be in relationship with him.

Read more about this in Peter’s new book, Jesus’s Broken Church, available in e-book, audiobook, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

Love God and Love Others: A Call to Christian Unity

Shun Division, Disunity, and Denominations in the Name of Jesus

Just as church member status divides the church body into two groups, so does our doctrine. Instead of obeying Jesus’s instruction to love God and love others, we make a lengthy list of what we should do and shouldn’t do, judging others according to our opinions of what’s proper and what’s not.

This legalistic approach follows what the Old Testament set in motion with its 613 instructions in the Law of Moses, of things to do and not do.

Compounding the problem, God’s children in the Old Testament added tens of thousands of manmade rules, which evolved over the centuries, to help interpret the original 613 expectations he gave to Moses.

Jesus Says to Love God and Love Others

Jesus says that his yoke is easy in his burden is light. This means his doctrine is simple to follow and effortless to bear (Matthew 11:30). To confirm this, Jesus simplifies all these Old Testament commands and man-made traditions when he says we are to love God and love others (Luke 10:27).

Yes, Jesus’s essential expectation is love.

To accomplish these two instructions to love God and love others, we can best do so through Jesus. We should follow him (Matthew 4:19 and Luke 14:27), believe in him (John 6:35), and be his disciple (John 8:31 and John 15:8).

These are all ways of saying we need to go all in for Jesus. That’s it.

That’s our essential doctrine. Everything else is secondary. Beyond Jesus and love, we shouldn’t argue about the rest. We are to be one church, just as Jesus prayed we would (John 17:20–21).

Denominational Division

Yet in the last 500 years we’ve argued about doctrine, we’ve judged others by our religious perspectives, and we’ve killed people for their beliefs. We deemed that our view was right and everyone else was wrong. We used this to divide ourselves.

We formed groups of like-minded thinkers, which became denominations.

Today we have 42,000 Protestant denominations, dividing Jesus’s church so much that we’ve lost our witness to the world. Jesus wanted his followers to live in unity. Yet we persist in division. Our denominations that we made are the antithesis of God’s unity that Jesus wants (Ephesians 4:3–6).

Yes, division occurred in the prior 1,500 years—the first millennia and a half of Jesus’s church—but that was nothing like what’s happened in the last five centuries during the modern era.

We are to unite ourselves under Jesus, to be like-minded, of one Spirit and one mind. Click To Tweet

Paul says that we are to unite ourselves under Jesus, to be like-minded, of one Spirit and one mind. In our relationships we should have Jesus’s mindset (Philippians 2:1–5).

To Titus, Paul writes to warn a divisive person one time, and give a second notice if they disregard the first. Then the only recourse is to ignore them (Titus 3:10–11).

Jude also warns against division. Instead of taking sides, he tells us to rise above it by focusing on growing our faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, and abiding in God’s love (Jude 1:18–23).

As followers of Jesus, we must pursue unity in him and oppose every instance of division—regardless of the source.

Read the next post in this series about things we must change in our discussion about making disciples.

Read more about this in Peter’s new book, Jesus’s Broken Church, available in e-book, audiobook, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

How Important Is Seminary for Today’s Church Leaders?

Knowing Jesus and Hearing the Holy Spirit Is Better Than Formal Education

Most all churches expect their clergy to have undergone formal, academic education. Many insist on a seminary degree, especially for their ordained ministers. From a worldly standpoint this makes sense. But from God’s perspective I can imagine him laughing.

Look at the credentials of Jesus’s twelve disciples. They were ordinary people, having received no higher education beyond that which all Hebrew children underwent. They had a relationship with Jesus. Their one essential qualification is that they spent time with Jesus.

Don’t miss that. Their one essential qualification is that they spent time with Jesus.

Though today’s leaders can’t spend physical time with Jesus, they can in the spiritual sense. They should. They must. Walking with Jesus in an intimate way and having his Holy Spirit lead them—just like in the Bible—is what we most need from our church leaders today.

If they don’t have a close relationship with Jesus, nothing else matters. Their credentials accomplish nothing.

A Personal Relationship with Jesus

Instead of emphasizing a personal relationship with Jesus, today’s seminaries focus on an academic deep dive into the Bible. This in-depth training ensures that graduates overflow with a substantial theological foundation, of which most church members care little about.

One common argument made in favor of seminary is that it’s a necessary protection against heresy. Yet, most all major heresies in the past two thousand years have come from trained clergy.

In truth, seminary best prepares graduates to teach other seminary students. But it falls short in equipping its students to provide the type of ministry functions that people at churches want.

Even worse, I fear formal religious education downplays having a relationship with Jesus and following the Holy Spirit, making these traits secondary in importance.

We need to select our clergy based on their godly character and not their seminary diploma. Click To Tweet

We need to select our clergy based on their godly character and not their seminary diploma. We must reorder our priorities away from man-made credentials and toward godly character.

Read the next post in this series about things we must change in our discussion about Sunday school.

Read more about this in Peter’s new book, Jesus’s Broken Church, available in e-book, audiobook, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

Will You Pray for Us?

The People of Israel Ask Samuel To Intercede for Them

Throughout the Old Testament, the Philistines show up as a recurring nemesis for God’s chosen people, the nation of Israel. The Bible mentions the Philistines 191 times in seventeen of the Old Testament’s books. In most of these cases the Philistines are doing something to harass the Jewish people.

Today’s passage is one of many such examples.

Pray for Us

The Philistine army advances to attack Israel, and the people fear what will happen. They go to the prophet Samuel and ask him to “pray for us,” to intercede and seek God’s provision for deliverance from their enemy.

“Do not stop crying out to the Lord our God,” they beg, “so that he will rescue us from the Philistines.”

Though the Bible doesn’t specifically say that Samuel prays, we can assume he does. Then Samuel offers a burnt offering to God.

When the enemy army draws near, God produces a mighty thunder and the Philistine army goes into a full-scale panic. In complete disarray, the Israelite army easily routes them, killing many and winning a significant victory.

Then Samuel sets up a stone as a monument to commemorate the event. He calls it Ebenezer, which means “stone of help.” This serves as a reminder to the people of how God worked through nature to bring about a victory for the Israelite army.

Pray for Yourselves

This passage is a tribute to God’s power and of Samuel’s intercession for the people. Yet why did the people need Samuel to pray for them? Why did they need him to be there liaison to God?

They could have sought God directly and personally asked him for deliverance. But they didn’t. It could be that their faith was weak, and they didn’t feel they could approach God. Another explanation is that their theology was in error, and they didn’t realize they could pray directly to God.

We can go directly to God in prayer. Do we do this or ask someone else to pray for us? Click To Tweet

Today, we can go right to God in prayer. Do we do this or ask someone else to pray for us? What does this say about our faith and our theology?

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is 1 Samuel 5-7, and today’s post is on 1 Samuel 7:8.]

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Christian Living

7 Things Church Is Not

We Must Correct Some Wrong Perspectives about Our Religious Practices

We’ve looked at how Jesus fulfills the Old Testament to provide a new way for us and our churches to function, replacing the temple, paid clergy, and tithes. Then we explored ten New Testament practices and five New Testament examples to inform our church behavior.

Yet today’s church has characteristics that come from our culture and have no scriptural basis. We need to identify these unbiblical practices and remove them from our perspectives—and our churches. We need to pursue what Jesus wants.

1. Church Is Not About Membership

Membership in a business promotion or club implies privilege. There are qualification requirements to meet. Often there is a fee. Because not everyone can meet these barriers to entry, membership becomes a status symbol.

It separates those who are in from those who are out.

Church does the same thing when it touts membership. To become a church member, there are hoops to jump through: attend classes, agree to certain teachings, follow specific rules, or commit to give money, possibly even at a certain annual level.

Once we become a member, the church accepts us as one of its own. They fully embrace us, and we become one of them. We are elite, and, even if we won’t admit it, we swell with pride over our special status. Now the church and her paid staff will care for us.

To everyone else, they offer tolerance but withhold full acceptance. After all, church membership has its privileges.

There’s one problem.

Church membership is not biblical. We made it up.

Having members separates church attendees between those on the inside and everyone else. It pushes away spiritual seekers. Membership splits the church of Jesus, separating people into two groups, offering privileges to one and holding the other at a distance.

It is a most modern concept, consumerism at its finest. (More on this in the next section.)

Although perhaps well intended, membership divides the church that Jesus wants to function as one (John 17:21). Jesus accepts and loves everyone, not just those who follow him or give money.

Paul never gives instructions about church membership, Peter never commands we join a church, and John never holds a new membership class.

Church membership is not biblical. We made it up. Click To Tweet

2. Church Is Not for Consumers

When we join a church by becoming a member, we expect something in return. In addition to acceptance, we seek benefits. That’s why we go church shopping, striving to find the church that offers us the most.

We look for the best preaching, the most exciting worship, and the widest array of programs to meet our needs.

This is consumerism—and it doesn’t belong in the church.

When people feel free to leave a church, often over the smallest of slights, they view themselves as a customer shopping for the church that offers the most value. This is a consumer mindset, not a godly perspective.

We shouldn’t shop for a church that provides the services we want. Instead we should look for a faith community we can help.

When people go church shopping, the church becomes a service provider. Which church offers the best services? Then the focus shifts to programs, service styles, and preaching power.

Instead of asking, “What can the church do for me?” the better question becomes “What can I do for the church?” Don’t seek to be served but to serve. (See Matthew 20:28 and Mark 10:45.)

This idea of receiving services influences our church selection process. Seldom do people look for a church that gives them the opportunity to serve. Instead they seek a church for the benefits it provides: the music, the message, and the ministries.

They’re church shoppers, pursuing church selection with a consumer mindset.

The result is a retail religion. These people shop for a church the same way they buy a car or look for a gym. They make a list—either literally or figuratively—of the things their new car, gym, or church must have.

Then they draft their wish list of what they hope their new car, gym, or church could have. And then they create a final list of deal breakers, detailing the things their new car, gym, or church can’t have.

Then they go shopping.

They tick off items on their list. With intention they test drive cars, check out gyms, or visit churches. In each case, they immediately reject some and consider others as possibilities.

Eventually they grow tired of shopping and make their selection from the top contenders, seeking a solution that provides them with the most value.

A better, and more God-honoring approach, is to seek a church community that provides opportunities for us to serve. We need to stop thinking of church for the things it will provide for us and instead consider the things we can do for it, that is, for the people who go there and the community surrounding it.

We should look for a church that provides opportunities for us to serve, according to how God has wired us, ways that make us come alive. This includes service within the church and to those people outside the church.

Service is not an isolated activity. As we serve, we do so as a group. Church service and community matter more than church programs and benefits.

We need to stop thinking of church for the things it will provide for us and instead consider the things we can do for it. Click To Tweet

3. Church Is Not about Division

We’ve talked about how church membership divides people. Some carry the special status of members, while others are relegated to second-class status as attendees. Membership segregates people into two groups. This divides Jesus’s church, the body of Christ.

Sadly, there are nuances within membership too. There are those who serve on boards and committees and those who don’t function in a leadership capacity. There are those who teach classes and those who don’t. There are those who volunteer and those who don’t.

Each distinguishing characteristic elevates some and devalues others.

We also divide by race, ethnicity, and social economic status. More God-dishonoring segregation. Shame on us.

4. Church is Not About Theology

Another way we promote division is through our theology. Yes, theology divides us.

At its most basic level, theology is the study of God. But the modern idea of finding the right theology piles layers on top of this basic understanding, and the subject gets murky. The result is too many multi-syllable words that few people can pronounce and even fewer can comprehend.

Turning God into an academic pursuit of the right theology pushes him away and keeps us from truly knowing him.

As people pursue theology, they amass information. Much of this forms a theoretical construct, turning God into an abstract spiritual entity. They gather knowledge at the risk of pushing the Almighty away.

This knowledge of who God is generates pride. It puffs up. Instead of knowledge, we should pursue love, which builds up (1 Corinthians 8:1).

The pursuit of theological learning is a noble task, but it’s not the goal. Chasing after a theology of God isn’t the end. It’s the means to the end: to know who God is in an intimate, personal way.

Instead we take our theologies and divide Jesus’s church. We cite certain beliefs as immutable. We fellowship with those who agree with us and disassociate from those who disagree. We dishonor Jesus in the process and serve as a poor witness as a result.

We take our theologies and divide Jesus’s church, dishonoring God in the process. Click To Tweet

5. Church Is Not for Networking

Some people become part of a church to make marketing contacts or achieve status as a member of a high-profile congregation. Their goal in attending isn’t spiritual. It’s business. It’s closing sales.

Once they’ve sold all they can to those who attend that church, they move on to another one. For them attending church is a business strategy, and God takes a backseat.

6. Church Is Not a Business

A church is not a business, and we shouldn’t run it like one either. Many churches today, however, think like a business and operate like one. A church should not have a profit motive, that is, maximizing donations.

Nor should a church adapt current business world concepts such as having a CEO, a board, marketing strategies, customer experience, and incentive programs.

Yes, a church should be fiscally responsible and manage its money—God’s money— with the highest integrity. And a church needs some degree of leadership, but remember Jesus modeled the idea of servant leadership (Matthew 20:28 and Mark 10:45). So should today’s church leaders.

And we shouldn’t track the achievements of our church the same way a business would. Today’s church measures success by attendance, offerings, and facility size. This is because the world values increased scope: the number of people, amount of money, and square footage of a building.

We’re more like the world than we care to admit. More people showing up for church each week is good. A larger campus impresses. Bigger offerings allow for more of the same. Churches with a sizeable attendance or grand edifice garner attention.

They receive media coverage. Books celebrate them and elevate their leaders to lofty pedestals. This is how the Western world defines success.

The church buys into it without hesitation. These measures of success become the focus. But this focus is off, even looking in the wrong direction. The triple aim of most churches—attendance, offerings, and facility—doesn’t matter as much as most people think.

Said more bluntly, most church leaders today focus on the three B’s: butts (in the chair), bucks (in the offering), and buildings.

I doubt God cares about the size of our audience, offerings, or facility. Instead of an unhealthy, unbiblical focus on the three B’s, what if we and our churches looked to the three C’s of changed lives, community, and commitment?

Changed Lives: First, Jesus wants changed lives. He yearns for us to repent (Luke 13:3) and follow him (Luke 9:23). Then we can reorder our priorities. In fact, most all he says is about changing the way we live.

Community: Next, Jesus wants to build a community—to be one—just as he and Papa are one (John 17:21). He wants us to be part of the kingdom of God (John 3:3). Instead we have become a church.

Commitment: Last, Jesus expects our commitment. He desires people who will go all in. He wants us to follow him, to serve him, and to be with him (John 12:26). We need to maintain our focus on him and not look back to what we left behind (Luke 9:62). That’s commitment, and that’s what Jesus wants.

If Jesus focuses on changed lives, community, and commitment, so should we. Let’s push aside butts, bucks, and buildings, because these things get in the way of what Jesus wants for his followers.

Jesus focuses on changed lives, community, and commitment. So should we. Click To Tweet

7. Church Is Not an Institution

Most churches—and especially denominations—become institutions over time. As institutions they seek to perpetuate themselves regardless of the circumstances. In their struggle for survival, they lose sight of why they existed in the first place.

Instead of seeking to serve their community and share salvation through Jesus, their focus grows inward. Their priority is on self-preservation at all costs.

People expect a church—their church—will last forever. They forget that a church, which comprises people, is a living, breathing, and changing entity. It’s organic. That means a church is born, grows, thrives, and dies—just like the people who are in it.

The only way to avoid this is for a church to become an institution, but once it does it loses its original purpose. It’s no longer alive. It’s dead and can do little to advance the kingdom of God.

Church shouldn’t be a business, institution, or club. We must rescind membership, stop thinking like consumers, and start pursuing unity over segregation. Finally, we need to stop dividing ourselves by our theology. Jesus has one church. We must start acting like it.

Read more about this in Peter’s new book, Jesus’s Broken Church, available in e-book, audiobook, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

What About Spending Time with Christians Who Believe Like Us?

Hanging Out with Those Who Share Our Beliefs May Be Comfortable, But It Isn’t Good

In the post “Can You Be a __ and Still Be a Christian?” we discussed our tendency to judge other Christians and evaluate their faith through the lens of our life and the spiritual decisions we make. But these choices are secondary.

What matters is Jesus. The key, the one essential, is following Jesus. All other concerns dim in importance to this one eternal, all-encompassing truth.

It’s human nature to seek out those who believe like us—just like us. And in our increasingly polarized world, we more than ever seek like-minded people with single-minded fervor, pushing aside those who think, talk, and act differently—even a bit differently.

But when we focus our time only on people who believe exactly as we do, we run the risk of producing misguided beliefs—and then promoting them with unexamined confidence.

I call this spiritual incest, a provocative, yet apt label for an inevitable outcome we should avoid when we congregate only with like-minded people.

Go to Church with People Who Believe Like Us

When we seek a church to attend, we look for a place that aligns with what we’re used to and where we feel comfortable. This makes sense, but embedded in this goal is people who believe like us. This is what we’re used to and what makes us comfortable.

Yet what we end up with is a spiritual echo chamber that allows us to feel good about ourselves and our choices but fails to produce meaningful, significant spiritual growth.

Instead we should seek a church that will challenge us spiritually to look at our faith, practices, and convictions from different perspectives. We need spiritual diversity—not uniformity—if we are to thrive and grow into the people God wants us to become.

Don’t seek a church that makes us comfortable—that’s a consumerism mindset. Instead seek a church that makes us a little bit uncomfortable, that stretches us spiritually, that challenges us to become more than who we are. This is a holistic, spiritual mindset.

Follow People on Social Media Who Believe Like Us

The same holds true for social media. We seek people who believe like us. They support our perspectives and reinforce our choices. We feel smugly content with their affirmation. Similarly, we push aside those with conflicting ideas because they confront our choices.

We feel uncomfortably unsettled with their divergent ideals. So we ignore them.

I get this. This is my default mode on social media. And I sometimes question if I should be there at all. Yet when I allow myself to truly consider the perspective of someone who believes differently than I do, I grow as a result.

This can produce one of two outcomes. Either I tweak what I thought I knew to produce a more enlightened, inclusive understanding. Or I embrace with greater intellectual honesty what I already believed.

Only now my perspective becomes an examined one and not blindly accepted. Either way I grow.

Read Content from Authors Who Believe Like Us

Continuing this perspective, we tend to only read content from authors who believe like us. We do this for the same reasons we use to select what church we go to and who to follow on social media—of who we hang out with.

However, I doubt that you read my writing because you agree with everything I say. I’ve never met anyone yet who believes exactly as I believe.

I suspect, I hope, I pray that you read my writing because I occasionally challenge you to think of spiritual issues a bit differently, to tweak what you believe to be more spiritually enlightened and inclusive.

And whether you agree with what I write or not, my goal is for you to emerge with a more examined honesty in what you believe and why.

The goal isn’t to produce uniformity of belief, but to help us grow into the unique disciples he wants each one of us to become. Click To Tweet

I want to move us more in step with Jesus and who he desires us to become. The goal isn’t to produce uniformity of belief, but to help us grow into the unique disciples he wants each one of us to become.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

Do You Hold an Unexamined Theology?

Accepting What We’re Taught Without Scrutiny May Cause Us to Believe Things That Aren’t True

In the book of Acts, Dr. Luke writes about the Jews that lived in the town of Berea. He called them people with a “more noble character.” What did they do to deserve this label of respect? This was due to their reaction to Paul’s teaching.

Each day they listened attentively to what Paul said, and then they studied their scriptures to see if Paul’s teaching aligned with it. They checked to see if Paul spoke truth (Acts 17:11).

We should follow their example.

Seriously.

If we don’t we’re likely to hold an unexamined theology. In fact, we’re likely to hold many of them. Sometimes an unexamined theology will turn out to be sound, but other times it’s incorrect.

That’s why we need to carefully examine everything we’re taught about spiritual matters and make sure we only accept what the Bible backs.

Consider these three examples.

Unexamined Theology about Prayer

My parents and my church taught me three key requisites to prayer. We must close our eyes, fold our hands, and bow our heads before we pray. When young me asked why, I received a logical explanation. By closing my eyes, I shut myself off from distraction.

By folding my hands, I kept them from wayward movement. And by bowing my head, I showed reverence to God. It made sense. I accepted this is truth and obeyed.

Yet I don’t find any of these praying requirements supported in Scripture. I’ve not found a biblical command to do these things or even a verse that describes people doing them. But I have found verses of people gazing upward into heaven when they pray (such as Jesus in Mark 7:34).

Even though this isn’t a command, it’s more biblical than the three things I was taught.

Closing our eyes, folding our hands, and bowing our head as part of prayer isn’t in the Bible. It’s an unexamined part of our theology.

Unexamined Theology about Christian Life

Have you ever heard someone say that when you become a Christian, all your problems will go away and life will become easy? I have. I’ve heard it many times over the years, from well-meaning preachers and earnest proselytizers. But this isn’t in the Bible either.

Instead, Jesus tells us to count the cost and be willing to give up everything to follow him (Luke 14:33). This doesn’t sound like an easy life but a hard one.

Another time Jesus says that we should expect trouble (John 16:33). And James talks about us facing trials, as if it were normal. He tells us to accept these with joy and to persevere (James 1:2-4, 12).

Believing that following Jesus will erase our problems and produce an easy life is another unexamined theology.

How much of our theology do we blindly accept as fact when there is no biblical basis for it? Click To Tweet

Unexamined Theology about God’s Provision

Have you ever heard the phrase, “God helps those who help themselves” or perhaps stated a bit differently, as “the Good Lord helps them who helps themselves.”? Though it sounds biblical and even offers comfort, it’s not in the Bible either. Yet many people, perhaps most people, think it is.

Though this message of self-sufficiency may play well with the “pick yourself up by your bootstraps” culture of the United States, it’s not a biblically sound concept. Instead we’re supposed to seek God first (Matthew 6:33).

Unexamined Theology about Becoming a Christian

Having an unexamined theology about the proper way to pray is of no damaging consequence. However, holding unexamined theologies about Christian living and God’s provision is more significant.

But the most damaging—perhaps damning—is what people teach about how to become a Christian. Many things loudly proclaimed from the pulpit aren’t in the Bible. These include asking Jesus into our heart or saying the sinner’s prayer.

True, these things may be loosely based on biblical teaching, but they aren’t the requirement many people make them out to be. Jesus never said these things, but what he did often say is “follow me.” (I cover this in detail in my book How Big is Your Tent?).

Yet I never heard a preacher teach that all we need to do to become a Christian is to follow Jesus.

How much of our theology do we blindly accept as fact when there is no biblical basis for it? We will do well to follow the example of the Bereans who accepted what they were taught with eagerness but then studied the Scriptures to make sure it was true.

When we do this, it will help us from embracing an unexamined theology that is in error.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

What’s More Important, a Strong Theology or a Childlike Faith?

When We Focus on Theology We Miss the Point of Following Jesus

A lot of people today work hard to form a correct theology. Almost every church has a theology, be it formal or implicit. They use theology to determine who’s in and who’s out. Every seminary has its own theology as well.

If you agree with their beliefs, you have a chance to graduate. But if you take issue with it, you open yourself up for criticism, condemnation, and even rejection.

Most people and religious institutions use theology as a weapon. They leverage their beliefs to divide Jesus’s followers. They claim there’s right theology and wrong theology. Unfortunately theology is in the eye of the beholder. And everyone has their own.

The word theology, of course, doesn’t appear in the Bible. Faith does. Faith shows up several hundred times, from Genesis to Revelation and most of the books in between.

A Childlike Faith

Though the disciples shoo them away, Jesus embraces little children and blesses them. He says his kingdom belongs to them (Matthew 19:13-15). Another time Jesus says that unless we become like children we can’t enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:2-4).

This is where we get the idea of having a childlike faith, the faith of a little child.

Jesus doesn’t say, “You have to get your theology right for me to accept you into my kingdom.” Instead, he says, “Come to me like a little child.” To Jesus our theology doesn’t matter as much as our faith, the faith of a child.

Yet we persist in pursuing a right theology, a systematic theology. Yet if a systematic theology was important, you think it would be in the Bible. Paul would’ve been a good person to write it. Instead Paul talks about faith. He talks about faith a lot, mentioning it about one hundred times.

Our faith, not our theology, is important to Jesus. And our faith is also important to Paul, or he wouldn’t have written about it so much.

We’ve majored in theology and minored in faith. Click To Tweet

Over the centuries, especially the last five, people argued much about theology. They fought over it and even killed for it. Each time they did, they divided the church of Jesus. Instead of being one, as Jesus prayed, we formed denominations—42,000 of them.

We’ve majored in theology and minored in faith.

We got it wrong, and we need to fix it. We need to stop our preoccupation with theology and simply come to Jesus in faith, just like a child. Then we will enter the kingdom of heaven.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Bible Insights

Are Our Beliefs Flawless or Flawed?

If we claim to know the truth, that implies every other perspective is wrong

The book of Job is mostly dialogue between Job and his four “friends,” with God having the final word—as he should. The words of Job’s four friends aren’t much help.

At one point in Zophar’s monologue he claims that Job said his beliefs are flawless and he is pure before God. No one stands pure before God, just as no one is flawless in what they believe.

However, today many people carry this same assumption about themselves: that their beliefs are flawless. Yes, we must seek truth in our pursuit of God, but we must hold it loosely. After all, we might be wrong.

Unfortunately, not many people see it this way. They see their viewpoints as unassailable and without fault. This implies that all other perspectives are in error. These other people are, therefore, wrong in what they believe.

No one’s beliefs are flawless, and that includes our own. Click To Tweet

When it comes to matters of faith, it seems no one stands in complete agreement with anyone else. Though some may hold views closely aligned with what others say, 100 percent harmony doesn’t happen. Or if it does, it doesn’t last long. Inevitably differences of opinion will occur.

That’s a huge factor as to why we have 43,000 denominations in our world today. When people disagree, they draw lines. They push away those with different beliefs, even those with slightly different views.

Our Beliefs are Flawed

Yet no one’s beliefs are flawless, and that includes our own.

Instead of arrogantly assuming our beliefs are faultless, we should instead adopt the humble viewpoint that our beliefs are flawed: mine, yours, everyone’s. It’s as if we’re seeing through a mirror dimly (1 Corinthians 13:12).

What we know now, what we think we know now, we see in part. And for now, that needs to be enough. Later, we’ll see in full, but that won’t occur while we’re on this planet. It will happen later.

For now we must humbly accept the reality that our theology is incomplete, that no matter how sincere, our beliefs are flawed.

[Read through the Bible this year. Today’s reading is Job 9-12, and today’s post is on Job 11:4.]

Discover more about Job in Peter’s book I Hope in Him: 40 Insights about Moving from Despair to Deliverance through the Life of Job. In it, we compare the text of Job to a modern screenplay.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.