Theorists in casual Friday dress wreck evangelism

christian theorySome of my cohort were intrigued when I was aroused from my inattention last week during our final  intensive. My professor (who I like very much) was, for some reason, veering into theology. I considered it practicing outside her expertise so I had to say, “I just don’t believe that.” She had already told us that when we consider God we need to start with a theory, “Everything starts with a theory.” That was supposedly from the Bible and not from Enlightenment rationalism. She went on to write a subject on the board, draw a line under it and have us fill in the subtopics, like we were the first scientists labeling the world. Only she was working on the concept “sin is sin,” working on the theory that anything not righteous is sin and blaming her kind of thinking on the Bible writers.

I did not really dispute her conclusions too much, although I was afraid she would soon need to put mass murderers in the same category as fibbers because that is what her theory demanded. What I objected to was ignorantly applying a theory to the Bible and calling it revelation. She pinched the evangelist in me and I said “Ouch” (rather too loudly and strongly, perhaps incoherently, as I recall it now). Several friends rushed over to inspect the theological boo boo on my scraped soul. When the Christian experts, liberal or fundamentalist (like my teacher), keep passing out Christianity in a 17th century wrapper, it is very hard to make an actual, Bible-following, Jesus loving, Spirit-filled convert.

Modern Evangelicalism has been seduced into secular rationalism and still doesn’t seem to know it.  Evangelicals surrendered the soul to intellect and began to try to play the religious game on the rationalist field. Their time and energy was spent proving that God fits right in to materialist philosophies, and documenting the factuality of the Bible as applied to every possible discipline, as if the Bible were actually considering all the myriad specialties invented by scientific rationalism. Now they are church planting as the “neo-Reformed,” delivering the “word” while softening the fundamentalist packaging with work shirts and nice production values.

For Jesus, the Kingdom of God is a kingdom not of this rationalistic world (my expansion of John 18:36). The “soul life” or “psyche” Jesus does not want us to lose feeds on the Spirit, and on revelation it does not produce. Freud and other scientists intellectually colonized the territory by proposing that dreams are neurobiological phenomena. But the Bible writers know better. They are not talking theory; they are talking about the experience of God that Jesus brings into human dialogue. We live in a kingdom suffused with the Spirit of God. We swim is a sea of revelation. It is a bit like being a receiver in an atmosphere full of radio waves.

I think people were sick of Christians fighting about their words and theories a long time ago. I know I am. Thus I confronted my teacher with my unbelief and protested the imposition of the teaching as if it were straight from God. When I was in the maelstrom of rationalism in seminary, I wrote one paper that has always stuck with me. What could Paul be talking about when he says, “What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us.  This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words?” (1 Corinthians 1:12-13). It surely can’t be charting out a simplistic theory of reality on a white board!

In the name of evangelism, some Christians have fed back the spirit of the world dressed up like the Bible. It did not make believers understand the words taught by the Spirit. The faith landscape is littered with the lives of former believers who just couldn’t buy the arguments. The whole church is arguing itself to death on the battlefield of 18th century thinking as we speak! I still want to do something else by responding to the great revelation I have received.

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About Rod White

Pastor for Circle of Hope. Graduate of Fuller Seminary, PhD in MFT from Eastern University.
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2 Responses to Theorists in casual Friday dress wreck evangelism

  1. Francesco says:

    This is a great post and much needed in the Church today. I think Augustine nailed it when he said, “Understanding is the reward of faith. Therefore, seek not to understand that you may believe, but believe that you may understand.”

  2. Art says:

    Much agreed. Theories and interpretations are great for group intellectual exercises, but they are a poor substitute for actually relating to God, spirit to Spirit. Otherwise instead of Jesus we would have just been given more text books – which are very good things, but not the best God has to offer. Sounds like your getting a lot out of your classes, even if in a round-about way! Thanks for sharing.

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