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Getting Theologically Humiliated

No one likes to be told they are wrong. Correction and critique are things we go out of our way to avoid. Those who can ask the tough questions about your life—probing deep when they suspect some spiritual sickness—are not often not welcome friends. We don’t pick up the phone when they call. We avoid them at work. We don’t return their emails. Why? Because they can tell us the skinny about our life and we don’t want to hear it. We are prideful people who, like the priest, choose to walk far around the problems in our life, and we ask others to do the same.

As problematic as this mentality is with regards to things having to do with moral integrity, I believe that the problem is just as severe with regards to theological integrity.

Everyone hates to be critiqued. I remember going into seminary with a good deal of pride and arrogance. I did not recognize it at the time, but now that I look back now I can see it. I remember in my first preaching course, I could not wait to get in front of the other students and the professor and deliver my masterpiece. They would call me “Michael the Golden Mouth.” Oh yeah . . . recognition was coming. But my teacher did not see things the way my mind’s-eye had envisioned. I remember I preached for fifteen minutes on the Psalms. Afterwords I had to sit down and listen to my professor rip me to shreds in front of twenty other seminary students who gawked in fear as they knew they were next. Here is the type of critique we came to expect.

  • “Where did you come up with that? That is not in the text. Good sermon, wrong text.”
  • “You selectively used that translation because it supported your view.”
  • “That was completely boring. Your audience will be thinking about the football game within two minutes.”
  • “You need to go home and come back and tell us what the text really means.”

This hurt. Many students want to drop out of seminary after their first evaluation. We have to have post-sermon-support-groups encouraging others that this still may be God’s call for them.

Writing an exegetical paper in the New Testament department was no less fearful. Upon turning it in the comments would come back:

  • “What makes you think you can use Strong’s for your word study? Don’t you know it is outdated.”
  • “You took this completely out of context.”
  • “You cannot use a John MacArthur commentary for an exegetical. It is a preaching commentary!”
  • “Did you check your sources or did you get this from secondary sources?”
  • “How did you come up with that interpretation when the entire history of the church has failed to see it?”

In the theology department the damage got worse:

  • “You completely misrepresented your opponent. Rewrite this paper.”
  • “You are selectively quoting Luther. Did you read him yourself or get this from someone else?”
  • “Your prejudice is guiding your beliefs. Who’s to say that your mom and dad were right?”
  • “Your certainty level on this is uncalled for. You may be right, but you have to hold this in tension.”

Concerning these critiques—concerning these beatings I took—there is something you should know—most of the time I was theologically correct in my conclusions. I thought that this is all that mattered. Hey, if I did not do the word study right, who cares? As long as I came to the right answer—wasn’t this acceptable? Isn’t the right answer what we ultimately are trying to find? This was not good enough! I learned that how you come to your conclusions is just as important as the conclusions themselves. In the end, I was humiliated so that I could be humbled.

In just about every discipline of thought, you have accountability. If you are a doctor, you cannot just develop and prescribe a new medicine because your mother told you all your life that it worked. If you do, you will go to jail. As a scientist, your works will be scrutinized by your peers in published journals. As a physicist, you cannot invent a new law of nature based upon a dream or vision. As a judge, you cannot judge people based upon subjective opinions or a deep inner peace. The constitution prevents this. If you are a soldier, you cannot disregard your superior and come up with a new battle plan because you were enlightened by a new book you read on fighting techniques. In all these areas there is an accountability structure that provides discipline and guards against novelty and abuse. Within each exists a system of checks and balances that, for the most part, provides integrity. In other words, you cannot just do or believe anything. If you violate these constraints, you will be humiliated and humbled.

Sadly we have an epidemic of theological discipline in the church today. People think that they can believe and teach anything based upon a subjective experience or a provision of hope. This epidemic is caused due to lack of theological accountability. We don’t think we need people to tell us we are wrong. We don’t have any system of checks and balances; in fact, we often avoid them. We think that if we have the Bible and the Holy Spirit, we have license. There is no way to be humiliated so that we can be humbled.

Because of this lack of discipline we have people out there believing and teaching based upon wild hairs. They are prescribing spiritual medicine that they invented. Sadly the average person is the spiritual test rat. I wonder what the “faith-is-a-force” people did when they first got the idea that faith was a force that we could control. Did they consult anyone about this? Did they have theological advisers? Did they have someone who would tell them that they was wrong? Did they consult church history or biblical exegetes? Did they even have a method for validating their beliefs?

Integrity of belief is essential for every Christian. We all need trustworthy sources to which we can turn to test our beliefs. We need to have learned how to handle the Scriptures properly. We need to learn not only the right beliefs, but how to come to the right beliefs the right way. We all need to be humbled . . . often. We even need to get the snot kicked out every once in a while. We need battle scars of discipline. We need to have friendships with people who will tell us we are in left field. We need to fear discipline enough that we will think twice about believing or teaching something novel.

In the early church Christians went through a rigorous discipleship process (notice the connection between disciple and discipline). Once you became a Christian you went through a three year boot camp. You were called a catechumen, derived from the Greek katechein, meaning “to teach” or instruct.” For three years your theology was shaped and scrutinized by superiors in the church. Did you get that? Three years. During this time your superior(s) mentored you through the faith. We see this illustrated in ancient church documents such as the Apostolic Traditions, the Apostolic Constitutions, the Canons of Hippolytus, and the Testamentum Domini. The church would not accept a new convert to the faith without this rigorous discipleship process. They took serious Christ’s command to “make disciples.”

From the Didascalia Apostolorum we read, “When the heathen desire and promise to repent, saying ‘We believe,’ we receive them into the congregation so that they may hear the word, but do not receive them into communion until the receive they seal and are fully initiated” (2.39).

This initiation did not come for three full years. Why? For two reasons. 1) The early church did not assume that a profession of faith was sincere, having seen many who once professed and then turned away either in doctrine or in practice. 2) They wanted to ensure the health and stability of the new converts belief.

Cyril of Jerusalem reflects on the importance of theological stability: “Let me compare the catechizing to a building. Unless we methodically bind and joint the whole structure together, we shall have leaks and dry rot, and all our previous exertions will be wasted” (Prochatechesis 11). This training provided a fail-safe that Christianity would be represented correctly and that the “believers” would truly believe, knowing what they were getting themselves into. In other words, they gave them an opportunity not to believe so that they might truly believe.

This process may seem extreme to us today, but consider where we are at. Once one becomes a Christian, the most they normally receive is a four week membership class that deals less with theology and more with church polity. But for the most part they don’t even get this. We tell them to ask Christ into their heart then we send them on their way with our blessing. In reality, we don’t know what has been created. At best, we have just placed a new born baby on the streets telling them to be filled and happy.

Is it any wonder that the church has such an epidemic for theological integrity? Should we really expect any different?

Who are you accountable to for your beliefs? When you get a wild hair about some theological issue, where do you turn? Better, where does this wild hair come from and who gave you the right to have a wild hair. “Wild.” Look it up in the dictionary and you will see that it means “undisciplined, unruly, or lawless.”

People need serious theological training. People need discipline. People need to be humiliated theologically. People need to know that they cannot do whatever they want with Christian belief and expect there to be so many lab rats available. If you have not been trained theologically, you need to be. This does not mean that you have read a book or two on theology, but you need to be in some sort of program that systematically, from beginning to end, takes you through the Christian faith, teaching you not only what to think and believe, but how to think and believe. We all need to be critiqued, disciplined, and humbled. We need more spiritual black eyes. We also need to be prepared to do the same with others.

Proverbs 11:14 Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.

Proverbs 13:10 By insolence comes nothing but strife, but with those who take advice is wisdom.

Proverbs 19:20 Listen to counsel and accept discipline, That you may be wise the rest of your days.

Proverbs 6:23 For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching a light, and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life.

Proverbs 13:18 Poverty and shame will come to him who neglects discipline, But he who regards reproof will be honored.

Proverbs 12:1 Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid.

70 Responses to “Getting Theologically Humiliated”

  1. Well, the first part of the post scares me. That’s what I have to look forward to? Yikes.

    Seriously, great commentary. I think one of the biggest challenges in garnering this type of accountability is the leaders who insist on separating the spiritual from the intellectual. The “wild hairs” as you call them, are typically some so-called revelation that these leaders suppose have come from God as a recipe from following the Spirit. Your prescription here is what is needed, I think. But how to combat this dichotomy? How do you get that leader to understand that this type of accountability is needed when they’ve already dismissed it as intellectual and therefore, anti-spiritual? I find it most troubling.

  2. Thank you for this post Michael! It was really good.

  3. Great post. I especially appreciate the historical connection to how theological positions were developed in community.

    As a former seminary student and current seminary professor, I do think that constructive critiques can be given with grace that builds up rather than tears down and terrifies….

  4. Yikes is right! Being humiliated by man is not the only (or in my opinion the best/healthiest) way to become humble. What you prescribe here is not what I see happening in scripture. Where is relationship? And who better to teach than the counselor Christ said was coming?

  5. Sadly we have an epidemic of theological discipline in the church today. People think that they can believe and teach anything based upon a subjective experience or a provision of hope. This epidemic is caused due to lack of theological accountability. We don’t think we need people to tell us we are wrong. We don’t have any system of checks and balances; in fact, we often avoid them. We think that if we have the Bible and the Holy Spirit, we have license. There is no way to be humiliated so that we can be humbled.

    Don’t you mean to say: “Sadly, we have an epidemic lack of theological discipline in the church today.”?

    As for the rest of the paragraph: Welcome to Protestantism. It’s like Churchill’s(?) comment about democracy, i.e., “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”

    Also, how do you intend to force your reform school onto Christians and pastors everywhere? They can just go elsewhere and/or start their own church, and what are you going to do about it?

  6. I remember my first preaching class. I preached one of my “standards” that everyone had seemed to “love” in the past. The teacher tore it to shreds. I literally was holding back tears I was so humiliated (in a good way I think).

    I took the critique to heart though and proceeded humbly as best as I could. By the end of that semester I was regularly preaching at this professor’s church and on his recommendation, and he’s still a dear friend to this day.

  7. Spiritual things are spiritually discerned.

    Paul writes in I Cor. 2:9-12 that eye has not seen, nor has ear heard… But the Spirit of God has revealed to us…

    Out of context? Don’t know, but I do know that it is folly to apply one of man’s conventions (philosophy) to a relationship with our Savior. Isaiah (55:8-10) wrote that God has a good handle on His business, so we ought not try to out wit Him.

    Bottom line is the Bible has two purposes; one to tell man he needs a savior, the other to tell him that Jesus is that savior. We don’t even need the New Covenant to figure it out. Abraham didn’t. David didn’t.

    I liked the section on “three years discipleship”. This would have had to been for non-Jews. No Jew having come to realize Jesus as Messiah would need three years worth of discipleship to be “confirmed” in the faith.
    Faith in Jesus is sufficient for the “Amazing Grace” of God to be of effect. Jesus + Full Emersion Baptism in the Jordan, Jesus + Knocking on doors, or Jesus + anything else is a doctrine of man which by extention is a doctrine of demons.

  8. We see this illustrated in ancient church documents such as the Apostolic Traditions, the Apostolic Constitutions, the Canons of Hippolytus, and the Testamentum Domini.

    “Did you check your sources or did you get this from secondary sources?” :) If so, can you properly footnote your sources? :)

    Just having a bit of fun here. But isn’t it interesting what we can get away with in sermons, or blogposts that we wouldn’t date try to get away with in Seminary!

  9. There is a benefit to Christians not being theologically-adept or well-trained in how to “rightly divide the word,” and that is that they are much more willing to get along and have communion with others who “believe in Jesus” without drawing Calvinist/Arminian, Charismatic/Cessationist, Sacramental/Symbolic, Complementarian/Egalitarian lines or creating church divisions or church splits because of those things.

    Wasn’t one of the statements made about the early Christians (whether in astonishment or in sarcasm): “See how they love each other!”

    Do we really want to make it a priority that the cry become: “See how they have sound doctrine!”?

  10. Dr. Paul W. Foltz January 12, 2009 at 11:16 am

    ”Cursed be the man who trusts in man.

    When the Holy Ghost gives me something from the Word of God, I don’t give a flip what the so-called scholars believe or say. When did God die and put them in charge/

  11. Truth Unites... and Divides January 12, 2009 at 12:29 pm

    A most excellent post CMP!!

    A few minor quibbles….

    “As a scientist, your works will be scrutinized by your peers in published journals.”

    True enough. But this erroneously presumes that your work will even pass the editorial process (bias actually) of the referees of the journal. I.e., your work may never even see the light of day due to the politicization in academia.

    “As a judge, you cannot judge people based upon subjective opinions or a deep inner peace. The constitution prevents this.”

    Really quite a naive view. For example, are you familiar with the California Supreme Court voting to legalize gay marriage in 2008 and using shallow, vacuous, and flimsy legal arguments to disguise their subjective opinions?

  12. This is my second visit and my first time commenting.
    I found your site via a link at Challies to your series on
    cessationism.

    Pride is an ongoing struggle for me and I found
    your discussion very helpful.

  13. One of my professors, Dr.J.W. MacGorman, teacing the book of Revealation told us, “one of the prime purposes of theological education is to show us where to be dogmatic and where not to be”. Great advise and well taken.

  14. Here’s a reply to a reply. The reply said:

    “When the Holy Ghost gives me something from the Word of God, I don’t give a flip what the so-called scholars believe or say. When did God die and put them in charge?”

    What happens when the Holy Spirit gives the opposite “something” to ten other committed Christians who happen to be scholars? For me, I then would not be putting my trust in humans if I stopped, did a double-take, returned to the text, and made sure that my exegesis was accurate. The Spirit is infalliable and the Word is inspired, however, as a human being, my interpretation is quite falliable and errant. So, I don’t think “Parchment and Pen” was ever saying scholars should oust God. The point was, that principles of interpretation, excellence in examination of the text, and collaboration with the community of Christian interpreters is better than making the Word say whatever I want it to say to suit my situation.

  15. I should mention that in the Prussian army, and in the USMC, a jumior officer was given missions that he could only complete by breaking rules. It encourages independent thinking on the battlefield.

    An interesting post however.

    I think that some of the commentators are missing the point. The Bible is an ancient document written for ancient people with a different social order than our own. It is not, as some people claim, a love letter written from God to us. We must be careful to ensure that everything we take from it is understood properly. In that respect criticism from those who more correctly understand the text is valuable.

    EricW does have a point that we can end up with some heated debates, such as that between Calvinists and Armenians that can go on for post after post (and century after century). However I would not say that such debates are unimportant either. Debates about the deity of Jesus for example strike at the heart of Christianity and we should always have a reason for the hope set before us.

    Speaking of which I was in a bookshop the other day, and found a magazine entitled “How do read the Bible” or something like that. I picked it up and had a leaf through. I thought it was a bit odd when I started reading things like the gospels were written in 70-80AD and were influenced by Pauline Christianity (in the text there is no evidence for any date of writing, although “Luke’s” silence on matters such as the fall of Jerusalem in Acts could be used to argue for a date in the late 50s early 60s, and heaven knows what they’d make of Plutarch’s history of Alexander, written 400 years after the fact), there couldn’t be conflict with the Pharisees because Jesus’ teachings was so much like theirs (I guess they’ve never heard the saying that “where you find two Jews you find three opinions”) etc. I finally realised it was a joke when I found an article from Tom Harpur repeating his pagan Christ thesis. He’s still quoting Kersey Graves’ Sixteen Crucified Saviours. Now if I understand it correctly even the Internet Infidels regard Graves as a crackpot. Not one of his crucified saviours were actually crucified (Attis emasculated himself, Mithras never died etc). His work is pure hokem. Yet here it is in a work presenting itself as scholarly advice on reading the Bible.

  16. Dr. Paul W. Foltz January 12, 2009 at 2:42 pm

    Brother Kelleman,
    The Holy Spirit will never teach one thing to a believer, and something else about the same thing to another.

    Dr. Paul W. Foltz

  17. Dr. Paul W. Foltz January 12, 2009 at 2:50 pm

    TO Jason C.
    ”The Word of God is alive and powerful.” [Hebrews 4;12]. It is a living Book,
    speaking to all men in every age, in every generation, in every place.

    To not to believe this destroys the foundation of Christianity, and evidences one who needs to be transformed inwardly by the Spirit of God.

  18. Brother Kelleman (sic),
    The Holy Spirit will never teach one thing to a believer, and something else about the same thing to another.
    Dr. Paul W. Foltz

    So, who had the Holy Spirit teach him the correct order of events re: Christ’s cleansing of the Temple, cursing of the fig tree, visit to Jerusalem, etc. – Mark or Luke? (I assume they were both believers)

  19. Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it. For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it. For we which have believed do enter into rest, as he said, As I have sworn in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest: although the works were finished from the foundation of the world. For he spake in a certain place of the seventh day on this wise, And God did rest the seventh day from all his works. And in this place again, If they shall enter into my rest. Seeing therefore it remaineth that some must enter therein, and they to whom it was first preached entered not in because of unbelief: Again, he limiteth a certain day, saying in David, To day, after so long a time; as it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts. For if Jesus had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day.There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God. For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his. Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief. For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do. Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.

    Since the context seems to indicate that the subject is not the written word of God, but the spoken word, and that is seemingly equated with Jesus, I think you’re engaging in proof-texting. Oh and thanks for the patronising comment.

  20. CMP,

    Nice post–although I echo LisaRobinson and say yikes! What am I gonna be getting myself into in a couple years? haha

    To a few other commenters: yes, the Holy Spirit is the promised Counselor, but doesn’t He usually work through a community of believers who should be keeping each other accountable in the faith?

  21. Dr. Paul, I think you misinterpreted my comment (hmm, misinterpretation is possible–smiling). You actual verify my point–the Holy Spirit has only one meaning in the text, yet, as another poster pointed out, we have numerous interpretations of any given text. I am pro-Holy Spirit. I am anti any human thinking his/her view is exclusive and does not need the community of believers to test the human sense that the Spirit has spoken to exclusively to him/her/them.

    To Jason, is it not possible that the Word of God is both a “love letter” from God and an ancient document that needs careful scholarship?

  22. Great post, Michael! You are so correct in all that you say.

    My only comment is this: I wish it were as simple as developing a discipline. I’ve known Christians who were very disciplined in their study, but they purposely chose to believe what they wanted to believe, what traditional told them, or the things another person taught them (someone they respected). Our culture loves to over-spiritualize and theology is a great place to enjoy one’s speculations and personal preferences.

    I think people seeking to be disciplined feel caught sometimes — some seminaries have become very liberal and some people seeking training turned away from disciplining and training themselves because of the corruption in the system. They go so far as to condemn the whole system, insisting that God doesn’t want your mind tainted in seminary. (i’ve seen this in Calvary Chapel circles.) It’s a cop-out, of course, because not all seminaries have become liberal. (Some are the opposite extreme.)

    The very process of “wrestling” through it, as you always say, cannot help but totally benefit a balanced approach to Christianity.

  23. While I’m in total agreement with you that there are a lot of folks in the churches with wacked out theology, and that “the church” as a whole needs a return to at least some subset of orthodoxy…I’m hesitant to ascribe too much importance to “academic” theology.

    You can love God and love your neighbor without ever having heard the words “Calvinism” and “Arminianism” mean. Maybe I’ll turn out to be wrong, but I can’t help but think that in heaven we’ll encounter lots of folks whose Christian faith was a great deal less sophisticated than, say, your average seminary professor.

  24. Would General Joyce, Joel et al read this, and take heed!?

  25. I personally think more emphasis needs to be put on biblical literacy and how to read the Bible as literature, backgrounds of the ancient document, etc. We can talk “theology” stuff to them all day long (surpralapsarian, Arminian, etc) and it won’t mean jack crap apart from a knowledge of the Scriptures. I also think leaders and teachers need to teach more inductively rather than dogmatically and show their people how and why they come to certain conclusions.

    I agree with a lot of things you say, CMP, but I do have some drawbacks. For instance, just b/c some in the early church went through a 3-year catechesis doesn’t mean everyone thereafter has to follow suit. We need to teach our people, of course, but due to the nature of modern theology, praxis should be one of our main goals. So instead of having them read Grudem maybe we should have them give some of their time to local injustices like working with prostitutes or the homeless in order to identify with “the least of these.” Give me a person that’s on the edge theologically but is passionate for God and dearly loves others as demonstrated by their acts of service verses a complete theologically sound exegete who can teach me every passage of scripture and explain the history of the church yet doesn’t show they give a rip about others any day of the week. God is more interested in how we live than in what we know. Those wishing to enter the faith should bear fruits worthy of repentance, not go through a 3-year ivory tower ascetic program.

    Also, I’m not down with people just teaching novel things b/c it makes them feel good and they can’t validate the position, but I’m also not down with blindly accepting whatever particular brand of historical theology you like either. We see many so-called “heresies” beginning in the early church and continuing on throughout the modern era, so the argument that only the “orthodox” beliefs are those which are most prevalent in church history is complete hogwash. I think we can, with the tools available to us and in the context of community, see things that those who have gone before us have never seen. A text can never be exhausted, period, and I’m just not content with rehashing the same ol theological discussions and beliefs that those who have gone before us have already done. We need fresh insight and to pursue areas of study that haven’t been touched. I think it’s funny that the same rule we impose on ourselves (acting like historical theology has all the answers and we should trust them) we neglect to impose on those who went before us. In any case, after studying the lives of most people’s favorite church history guys (Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and Edwards/the Puritans), I would say that we should disagree with them at least as much as we agree with them. Many of them had completely whacked out theological ideas, and to be frank, all of them were complete jerks and hardly had an ounce of love in them (1 Corinthians anybody?). Executing heretics is about the last thing Jesus had in mind when he told us to love our neighbor (a term that is an unqualified human being according to Luke’s Gospel).

  26. C Michael Patton January 13, 2009 at 1:20 am

    Luke, I understand where you are coming from, but my perspective is going to be much different.

    You said: “Give me a person that’s on the edge theologically but is passionate for God and dearly loves others as demonstrated by their acts of service verses a complete theologically sound exegete who can teach me every passage of scripture and explain the history of the church yet doesn’t show they give a rip about others any day of the week.”

    What you have just described could be a closet humanitarian. Many people do good things. It is part of human nature to help others. But this does not mean they have their faith correct. The motivation for their works must be there or, in God’s site, they are still evil.

    I have dealt with way too many people who have never been grounded in the faith, yet did missions and worked with the poor all their lives. In the end, many times these people, if not theologically educated and discipled, end up in a state of spiritual bankruptcy, finding no solid motive for their actions.

    Theology first, then practice will follow necessarily if belief is present. If it is not, I don’t care how much “good” they do, their soul is still in a damned state.

  27. I wouldn’t change a word of this post, Michael. EXCELLENT. I agree completely. If my leadership at church hadn’t removed their email addresses from the website very recently….they’d all get a copy as we have a pastor’s conference on biblical preaching this week. Those posting here that they don’t give a flip what someone else thinks of their theology are probably under the conviction that something’s amiss but they’re too lazy or proud to do anything about it. As long as the attendance numbers are huge, LAKEWOOD, then all must be well, right? Seems I recall the Apostle Paul giving a certain church a tongue lashing for straying from the doctrine presented to them and adopting something else. But Paul would have gotten blasted here if he were to post, I guess.

  28. Dr. Paul W. Foltz January 13, 2009 at 2:04 am

    In my 51 years of Chriistian service i have observed that a correct theological position tends to lead to correct practice.

    Doing good works from simply doing good are dead works, AND ARE WOOD, HAY AND STUBBLE.
    Human energy is NEVER acceptable to God.

    Works done with a dependence upon The Holy Spirit, because of a correct theology, are the only works accepted by God.

    Those with a correct view of the doctrines of Soteriology, will produce a correct lifestyle.

    Dr. Paul Foltz

  29. Michael, I am a recent visitor to you site. I think the word you wanted was ‘dearth’ rather than ‘epidemic’ – the former would assert that we have a severe lack of theological discipline and integrity, the latter an excess of it!

  30. Michael,
    Thanks for your emails and posts. After reading this one I am happy that I returned to the Roman catholic Church. It is a true humbling experience in the Body of Christ- The Church. Thanks for the confirmation.

    Pat

  31. Real inductive Bible study is hard work, sometimes agonizing, always stimulating, but very spiritually uplifting and faith growing.
    Christians (starting with the pastors) need to learn how to read and study the best theological book out there – the Bible.
    N. T. Wright in explaining the theology of the letter to the Romans said ,” We have the text, thank God we have the text”. Dr. Bruce Corely said, “the Bible actually sheds a lot of light on commentaries”, and I would say on Systematic Theologies as well.

    CMP
    I think TTP courses 1 and 2 are fantastic.

  32. I’m half way through reading
    The New Testament: An Orthodox Perspective (New Testament) by Theodore G. Stylianopoulos

    In it he goes through various interpretive approaches, looking at which ones were used by the apostles, the church fathers, etc etc.

    I’m not sure where the book will end up, but something that he demonstrates is that interpretation is at least in large part dependant on your hermeneutic.

    When did the apostles spiritualize the OT, either the stories or the Law? When did they use an OT example as an archetype or prototype for current interpretation? When is a command only for the current culture, and when is it an absolute? When might we apply Paul’s hermeneutic of the OT, and when is Paul applying his apostolic authority in interpretation that we shouldn’t imitate?

    Now the trouble is, there isn’t just one biblically mandated hermeneutic. All the criticisms of your professors could certainly be applied to the apostles, or even to Jesus himself. The problem wasn’t purely sloppiness on your part, it was also partly the use of a different hermeneutic.

    I’d recommend the book. Understand what hermeneutics have been used in interpretation historically, and how they affect interpretation.

  33. Now the trouble is, there isn’t just one biblically mandated hermeneutic. All the criticisms of your professors could certainly be applied to the apostles, or even to Jesus himself. The problem wasn’t purely sloppiness on your part, it was also partly the use of a different hermeneutic.

    Yes, I’ve heard it argued when I brought it up that we can’t interpret and adapt the Old Testament text the way the apostles sometimes did; we have to use the grammatical-historical method. We can’t, e.g., allegorize like Paul did re: Sarah and Hagar. We can use as allegories what the NT includes as allegories (including the one I just mentioned), but beyond that we have to go with original authorial intent. The Holy Spirit can’t give us new interpretations of an Old Testament text if it goes beyond what any of the New Testament authors did with that text. The New Testament may give us interpretations of the Old Testament, but is not to serve as an example of how to read the Old Testament. For that, we have to go with (again) the grammatical-historical approach and authorial intent. While a text might have more than one application, it can have only one meaning.

    Yada, yada.

  34. #25 Amen Luke!
    #26 Closet humanitarian or closet Pharisee…humm…without God is either acceptible?
    #28 works done with a dependance on the Holy Spirit are a correct theology with or without the “correct” theology.

  35. Interesting comments. There are pretty clear demarcations between (1) those who don’t want to let go of something, whether pride or irresponsibility or a pet theological fantasy, (2) those who have been through the process and understand the wisdom and benefits of having yourself refined by the Holy Spirit through others, and (3) those who are willing – albeit not necessarily eager – to submit themselves to the scrutiny of the godly men and women called professors at seminary.

    For my money, this is one of the best things you’ve ever written on this blog. I couldn’t agree with you more and I am both dismayed and not surprised by the self-proclaimed wise people who seek to detract from what you’ve said.

    (Having said that, I must make one criticism: I believe it’s a “wild hare,” not a “wild hair.” I suspect the phrase came from “mad as a March hare,” but I don’t know that for sure. But for posterity’s sake, you might want to consider changing the metaphor a bit.)

  36. The Holy Spirit will never teach one thing to a believer, and something else about the same thing to another.

    Dr. Paul W. Foltz

    I agree… That will never happen.

    But I think the Kellerman’s point was this: It will happen that different believers will both think that the Holy Spirit has given them different things from the Word of God.

    And when we try to exercise discernment, that includes consulting the rest of the Body of Christ. Including gifted teachers & students of the Word. (Not that every Christian scholar is actually gifted!)

  37. Dr Foltz:

    If what you say about personal interpretation and there being no need for you to submit yourself to others is true, then why did God bother to give us teachers? And why did Paul submit his gospel to the leaders of the church in Jerusalem?

    True, Paul did not immediately “go to ask advice from any human being” but instead “departed to Arabia, and then returned to Damascus.”

    Seventeen years later, however, Paul did go to Jerusalem and discuss his revelation and gospel with the leaders “to make sure that I was not running – or had not run – in vain.” Was he ignorant of what the Holy Spirit could do and didn’t know it was unnecessary to check with others?

    But more to the point: If what you say is true, why should anyone listen to what you have to say, whether here or from the pulpit? If we don’t need one another to arrive at truth, you’re just talking to yourself and wasting time. Is this not a logical conclusion to your argument?

  38. I guess I should throw in my two cents worth, here. As I read this post (and the comments) I see people missing the entire point, and Mr. Patton can surely correct me (no pun intended) if I am wrong. It seems that the entire post had a two-fold purpose:

    1.) Theological aptness. Without correct theology you CANNOT have correct practice. A good example would be Apollos in Acts 18:24-28. Here was a man teaching only what he know of Christ (a baptism of John who preached the coming of Christ). Aquila and Priscilla pulls him aside to theologically instruct him. Apollos then has the correct information and begins to teach correctly after this. I believe Mr. Patton’s point was that people (1) cannot teach whatever they feel is correct without being sure it is correct; and this by consulting the Word, context, other men of God, and learning to perform proper exegesis of a text. Proper exegesis by the way, includes much more than just consulting a lexicon for the meaning of a word. It involves context, how the word or phrase is used in other places, and grammatical constructions. With that said, proper theology leads to proper practice, and the opposite as well. In fact, the book of Acts, Greek word πρᾶξις is where we derive our English word ‘practice.’

    2.) Discipleship. The other main theme that I picked up while reading this was not only a commitment to disciple, but a commitment to be discipled as well. Part of the reason that the church in America is failing today (and make no mistake, it is failing!) is because of the lack of commitment on both parties. Michael was right in saying that most people only receive theology at a membership class. I am sorry, but that is not discipleship. I wish, when the Lord saved me, that there would have been someone to take me under their wing. I learned the hard way—sin and confession, falling and getting back up. This pattern marked about the first seven years of my Christian life. Without good, godly, theologically sound men to disciple the next generation we might as well kiss American Christianity goodbye and go ahead and settle for the shallow teachings of men that happen in the pulpits across America every Sunday morning. And lets face the facts: Most of what is preached is anthropocentric rather than Christocentric.

    But for all it’s worth, I think this is one of the best essays I have read concerning theological numbness. Thank you very much, Mr. Patton and continue to preach the Word in season and out of season.

  39. Right on, Dr. Mike. That’s in the vein of my last post. While Paul was correcting church’s theology, he was keeping himself in check, too. Human feelings are notoriously unreliable. Our subjective experiences matter for nothing. We don’t filter the Word through our personal experiences, we filter our experiences through the Word. Otherwise, we’ll all end up in different places theologically.

  40. To piggyback onto Dr Mike:

    Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 14:29 that prophecies (i.e., that which a person believes they have been given from the Word of God – whether the written word or as a direct word of inspiration) are to have judgment passed on them. The text is unclear whether it’s other “prophets” who are to do the judging/evaluating, or the leaders or any other member of the assembled gathering, but the point is clear: i.e., if someone is given something by the Holy Spirit, it is still subject to being judged/evaluated. People using their “right” to hear from God can’t use that “right” to display arrogance or be loose cannons not subject to correction by other members of the body of Christ.

  41. As we “debate” the issues that have been “debated” for eons, let’s remember one more thing. John 4:24! Let’s not exclude worshipping in TRUTH as well as in SPIRIT. Truth does not vascilate. Truth is not “relevant” (no matter what the “theologians” say. Truth is GOD. Truth belongs to Him. John 14:6. There is no “Well, what’s truth for you isn’t truth for me” nonsense. Boot me if you will, but as for me and my house …
    reo

  42. I totally disagree about praxis flowing from a correct theology. Many people at my former church were what many on here would consider “orthodox” and “theologically sound” (they were reformed southern baptists). However, they didn’t give a crap about the least of these. About the only thing they would do was go down to a university campus and hand out tracts b/c in their mind any thing else is “social gospel.” If that’s not tragic, I don’t know what is. It is this type of evangelicalism that I deal with on a daily basis b/c since the reformation we don’t understand the dichotomy between faith and works…absolutely tragic. Letting our light shine does not mean building bigger and better buildings, nor does it mean going down to a campus and telling some college kid that he’s going to hell. Believing in what you call good theology leads to anything but praxis, and given the fact that we are children of the reformation, maybe just maybe we should emphasize praxis to the point where it is overstatement while not neglecting to focus on theology as well along the way.

    Just a few thoughts.

  43. Well, since Jesus said:

    He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me. He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward; and he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward. And whoever in the name of a disciple gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water to drink, truly I say to you, he shall not lose his reward.

    and:

    For he who is not against us is for us. For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because of your name as followers of Christ, truly I say to you, he will not lose his reward.

    we may find that many non-believers who honor and receive and bless others and Christians because the beneficiaries are Christians may be with the saints in heaven, while those “believers” whose theology and Creed-reciting was intact but whose works fell short may be doing some teeth grinding.

  44. Truth Unites... and Divides January 13, 2009 at 1:08 pm

    CMP: “Theology first, then practice will follow necessarily if belief is present. If it is not, I don’t care how much “good” they do, their soul is still in a damned state.”

    Luke: “I totally disagree about praxis flowing from a correct theology.” …

    “Believing in what you call good theology leads to anything but praxis…”.

    ———

    Luke, I don’t believe your position is supportable biblically.

  45. Truth Unites... and Divides January 13, 2009 at 1:12 pm

    EricW: “…while those “believers” whose theology was intact but whose works fell short will be doing some teeth grinding.”

    Sola Fide.

    Good works are the spilling out and the outworking from Sola Fide.

    Thanks and have a nice day.

  46. EricW, bounce what you quoted off Matthew 7:21-23, who was right? Oh wait, they’re the same speaker. Better put it all in context to get the overall message. What you eisegesically quoted would suggest, out of context, that Jesus was saying ANYONE who does good works, gets to Heaven. If that’s the case, He should have followed it up with: “well then what am I even doing here?”

  47. Dwight:

    Your dispute is with Jesus, not with me.

    I used the word “may.”

    I’ll leave it up to you to talk with Jesus about how to interpret His words and what weight to give the various things He said and what He meant by them. :^)

    P.S. I didn’t “eisegesically” (sic) quote anything. I simply quoted Jesus’s statements. Whether my comments were an example of eisegesis, though, is I guess up to the reader to determine.

  48. MikeW, please accept my apologies..I re-read your post after the time limit to edit mine expired and I believe I mis-read you.

  49. TUAD,

    Given that we are children of the reformation, and given that the reformation was reacting against things such as indulgences in the RC church to the point where they emphasized a privatized spirituality and exclusive faith apart from works, many “reformed” individuals theology leads to anything but praxis b/c praxis is a “work” according to them. Feeding the hungry and taking care of orphans and widows is a “work,” so lets just evangelize, lets just teach theology, etc.

    That’s why I say what I say. It’s historical theology I’m reacting against, not biblical theology. In fact, there is such an emphasis on right-living in the Bible that our reformation lenses have blinded us to its importance. It’s no coincidence that James is ignored by many and most don’t like the New Perspective on Paul. We are to bear fruits worthy of repentance and our works are to be in accordance with our faith. You want “biblical” support? Read Genesis through Revelation.

  50. Truth Unites... and Divides January 13, 2009 at 2:15 pm

    CMP: “Sadly we have an epidemic of [a lack of] theological discipline in the church today. People think that they can believe and teach anything based upon a subjective experience or a provision of hope. This epidemic is caused due to lack of theological accountability. We don’t think we need people to tell us we are wrong. We don’t have any system of checks and balances; in fact, we often avoid them. We think that if we have the Bible and the Holy Spirit, we have license. There is no way to be humiliated so that we can be humbled.”

    Interestingly, the word of the day is “Emerging Church”.
    CMP’s lament/critique about an epidemic appears to be relatively on target with respect to the definition of the “Emerging Church”:

    The “emerging church” is a representative designation for a growing ethos or way of thinking among many dissatisfied Christians (primarily those in Protestantism). While there is no primary leader or credal unity among those in the emerging church, there are certain characteristics that stand out among “emergers,” as they are called. These characteristics are not necessarily found in all emergers, but are representative of the emerging ethos.

    1. Epistemologically, they are less optimistic about our ability to come to know “the” truth, but find value in many perspectives.

    2. Theologically, they are prone to questioning traditional theological dogma.

    3. Politically, they call for change and social activism and often a disassociation with the Republican party.

    4. Sociologically, they call on the church to reach out to those in need with love and compassion.

    5. Missionally, they focus on “mission” as the everyday role of Christians that should permeate every aspect of their life.

    ———

    Repeating CMP again: “Theology first, then practice will follow necessarily if belief is present. If it is not, I don’t care how much “good” they do, their soul is still in a damned state.”

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