Not long ago, I met with an old friend of mine who is a “swinger.” For those of you who don’t know, swinging is when both partners in a committed relationship agree to have a sexually open relationship. This guy was married and came in to talk to me about – you guessed it – marital problems. The idea behind “swinging” is that things never become mundane. Sexual monogamy, according to swingers, is nothing more than confining yourself to sexual boredom. Being with the same partner becomes cliché and uneventful. Swinging keeps things fresh and novel at all times so the high produced by provocation is always maintained.
As problematic and destructive as marital swinging is, that is not what I am writing about. I want to talk about what I call theological swinging. This is, in my opinion, one of the greatest problems in theology today (and probably of any day). Let me explain.
Before going to seminary, I was given a set of books by my pastor. At the time he was, to me, the smartest person living on planet Earth. I salivated to get a peek of his notes each week. I wanted to record everything he said. And just to get to see his library – the source of the very sun! – was just about too much excitement for me to handle. That is why I was speechless the day he gave me two books, one blue and one red. I knew these were precious books to him due to the amount of notes and stickies that covered the dog-eared pages. What were they? Evidence That Demands a Verdict, Volumes 1 and 2 by Josh McDowell. Upon receipt of these books I read them over and over. The wisdom and knowledge that filled the pages was almost too much excitement for this 20-year-old wannabe apologist to take. It was so provocative to me. The provocation came not from learning the Gospel for the first time, but from seeing with my own eyes, for the first time, an attempt to defend Christianity. “Are you kidding me?!” I said each time I read about a new topic. This guy, Josh McDowell, must be a giant of the faith, demanding respect from everyone. He was my new hero.
It was not until I hit seminary that I found out the “truth.” You see, at seminary, among all the students “in the know,” I came to find out very quickly that these kinds of works are frowned upon. I came to find out that McDowell’s apologetics were called “pop” apologetics. In essence, pop apologetics is cliché defense of the faith performed by cliché apologists. Translation: it was naive. It was not kosher. If and when I quoted someone like McDowell in a conversation with fellow students, there would be some snickering. The idea conveyed was that there were certain works, written by certain authors, that were “little league” and not respectable. Whether is was Lewis Sperry Chafer, Josh McDowell, Wayne Grudem, or R.C. Sproul (all of whom were my self-proclaimed mentors until that point), they were, at best, milk from the breast of my mother; at worst, they were naive teachers who simply parroted the simple and sheltered faith of evangelicalism. If you wanted to run with the “big boys” you had to read yourself some Barth, Multmonn, Hauerwas, or one of the liberation theologians such as Boff or Gutierrez. Why? Because, quite frankly, they did not fit the “stupid” evangelical mold. These were the “cool” people to read. They were the trump cards that, when played, left other students feeling inadequate and inferior. I thought I could read Dwight Pentecost’s Things to Come and be prepared for any discussion on eschatology. Who knew that quoting Theology of Hope by Jürgen Moltmann at Dallas Theological Seminary would be more prestigious than Pentecost? Who knew that saying that you had been reading A Theology of Liberation would score you more points than reading Basic Theology by Charles Ryrie? Who knew that the greatest danger for any Christian leader was to be labeled cliché? Continue Reading →