Friday, April 05, 2013

Top Ten Theological Mistakes...

Like my, "Ten Common Mistakes about the NT," some of these are slam dunks and a few more debatable, but here are 10 common theological mistakes you hear all the time that I think are pretty easily dismissed:

1. God made the world because he was lonely and needed us.
Nope, a core Christian doctrine is the self-sufficiency of God, his "aseity."

2. God learned what it was like to be human and to suffer when he became Jesus.
Nope, God created the world out of nothing and thus created the possibility of suffering, what it would feel like, etc. There is no distinction in God between his theoretical and his experiential knowledge. He created experiential knowledge.

3. When God forgives us, he forgets our sins and can't re-remember them.
God is omniscient and doesn't literally forget anything. This is a poetic statement. In fact, read the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant.

4. All sin is sin.
Not according to the New Testament.  There is a "sin unto death" and a "sin not to death" in 1 John 5, for example.  There are sins Paul scolds and sins that get you kicked out of the church and delivered over to Satan (1 Cor. 5).

5. Everything happens for a reason.
Only in the sense that God has a reason for allowing the laws of nature and free will to play themselves out without always intervening. Wesleyans don't believe God micromanages the creation this narcissistically.

6. God turned away from Christ on the cross when Jesus took on our sins.
Nice story, just not in the Bible. Jesus suffered for our benefit.  Jesus "became sin" (a poetic statement). But God is not a legalist. Jesus may not have felt God's presence at the end, but I believe God was there.

7. The Bible has all the answers.
The Bible has all the principles, but we as the church have to work out our salvation with fear and trembling.  All we need for salvation is there, but there is no passage on abortion or when to disconnect the feeding tube, if we listen to what the biblical texts were actually about (rather than making them say what we want them to say).  Theology is where the church prays through the content of the Bible's books, written for specific ancient audiences, and tries to discern how to apply those principles to new issues and situations.

8. If God knows what's going to happen, then he must determine what's going to happen.
I continue to marvel either at my own stupidity or the stupidity of the people that think this.  It seems to me that people who think this do not fully appreciate what it means to say that God is outside time and created the universe out of nothing.  If God is looking on the future right now as well as the present, then for him to know the future is, at the minimum, him simply knowing what he is seeing in the future right now and has seen at least since the creation of the world.

9. God wouldn't be sovereign if he gave us free will.
Why, because that would make him weak?  What an immature sense of being in control.  Having the power to do anything and choosing not to use it is not only just as powerful as using it, it shows he isn't intimidated by us or our defiance. After all, doesn't our defiance just reflect how pathetic we are?

10. What we believe is all important.
God more looks on the heart.  If the history of Protestantism is any illustration, God must smile/shake his head at all the little denominational conclaves that finally give the "right answer" on what to believe and put it on their websites. Of course he probably wasn't smiling when all the Christians were burning each other at the stake in the 1500s and drowning people in the river to mock their re-baptism.

It seems to me these are all, to greater and lesser degrees, fairly obvious theological mistakes.


Brian Small said...

I think you mean "aseity" for point one.

Ken Schenck said...

:-) Thanks Brain!

Nathaniel said...

Finally, He cried: My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me? As being man, therefore, He speaks, bearing with Him my terrors, for when we are in the midst of dangers we think ourself abandoned by God. As man, therefore, He is distressed, as man He weeps, as man He is crucified.

St Ambrose, Exposition of the Christian Faith II.7.56

Phil said...

I just read Thomas H. McCall's book "Forsaken," which deals directly with the question you raised in #6. The book really wrestles with the cry of dereliction. Convinced me more than ever that we shouldn't view the trinity as having been severed at Calvary. Good post!

Ryan said...

I think I might demure a bit from the sin-is-sin point. There is a way in which sin is sin. All sin is said to be falling short of the mark, and like missing your train cause you're late, once you miss it it really doesn't matter whether you missed it by a lot or a little: the result is the same.

As James 2:10 says, whoever keeps the whole law but fails on one point becomes accountable to all of it... if you do not commit adultery but you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law."

(at least that is my reading of the NT. Which, btw, is another thing the author of point 4 should consider: unless God recently marched down from Sinai and declared him to be to be the ultimate authoritative arbiter of what is or is not "according to the New Testament" he might want to couch his opinion in terms that are a bit more humble and subjective.)

Now, of course, there are different *consequences* to different sins. Some might lead to death, some might get you kicked out of the church, and some might just get you promoted at work. But when discussing the nature of sin, and whether "sin is sin," I think we should distinguish differences in consequences from differences in sin. Consider, for example, a young couple who fornicates and as a result get pregnant. They have both committed the exact same sin, but her consequences - dealing with the pregnancy - will likely be much greater than his.

John C Gardner said...

Item # 4 seems to be a particular problem for many in our congregation. The idea that God views all sin equally is what Roger Olson calls a part of folk religion. I myself have argued against it but it seems to be a particular idiosyncratic belief that would somehow equate the sin of murder with telling a white lie. This is quite strange to me.

Ryan said...

call it whatever you want, but - besides seeming to be what James might be saying - it also is very helpful for avoiding the old "hierarchy of sin" notion that too many of the self-righteous use to place themselves above others, i.e. "I'm not really bad, like those people that committed X, I only told a little white lie."
As soon as you start giving people a means by which to impute - or at least increase - their own righteousness, you mitigate their need for salvation. yes?

Ken Schenck said...

Ryan, I don't find the Bible to operate with your definition of sin. Isn't the point of James 2:10 that you can't just do parts of what God expects and think that lets you off the hook on the others? So you can't get by with favoritism just because you might do other parts of the law. James of all books says that we are justified by works!

Sin in its most meaningful sense has to do with the heart, the intent": "Whatever is not of faith is sin" (Rom. 14), "If you know to do good and don't do it" (Jas. 4).

I just don't find this idea of sin being measured against some standard of perfection as the operating definition of sin in the NT. It strikes me as a worldview imposed on the text, based on reinterpreted verses and one or two strange verses (e.g., Gal. 3:10). Those who say, "all sin is sin" are usually talking about how serious each sin is, and the Bible does operate with degrees of sin in this sense. Is forgetting a wife's birthday really the same sin as having an affair?

Kevin Wright said...

"Of course he probably wasn't smiling when all the Christians were burning each other at the stake in the 1500s and drowning people in the river to mock their re-baptism."

Glad to see you've still got your sense of humor. I laughed out loud when I read this.