September 28, 2020

iMonk 101: “I Hate Theology”

iMonk 101 is a series of past essays and posts reposted for the enjoyment and edification of the IM audience.

“I Hate Theology.” Occasionally.

I don’t think I have reposted this iMonk classic “crisis” post in a couple of years. It definitely needs some light and air.

It’s provocative and a bit extreme, but sometimes, y’know, you just want to put your head through a tiny hole in a brick wall, and when I do, it’s some theological crusade that put me there.

Don’t get me wrong. Some of you people need a lot more theology than what you’re getting from your pastor or your radio. But there’s a bunch of you who have ingested so much theology that you need to volunteer to go the International Space Station for a couple of months.

[I’m not a Calvinist. I was- sortof- when I wrote this.]

Read: “I Hate Theology.”

Comments

  1. What do you have against Abraham Kuyper?

  2. Great jowls.

  3. 1)I put up a link to the original post on my blog, hope that’s all right.

    2) I thought that was a picture of you.

  4. Thanks. I needed this and I read the WHOLE thing. I am not a theologian. I’m not even a good Bible scholar, but for some mysterious reasons, I have proof that God loves me. My mom and dad were good people; maybe that’s the reason. Nevertheless, I may not know why, but I do know God loves me.

    I get passionate about this love because I have done so much to really mess up in my life, all the while knowing better. I get excited about relationship with this spirit and I want to talk about it, but I’ve learned my postings are not well-received on many religious blogs–guess my ignorance is showing.

    Whenever I am working with the communities in the inner city, I find so many whose last shred of hope hinges on the possibility that there might be a God. These are the people whose battered, weary faces can take on a certain gleam that preaches the most profound sermons ever heard.

  5. Well if I was a Calvinist I think I would hate theology too 😉

  6. Well, I’m not a Calvinist any more.

  7. Bob Sacamento says

    Wow. That was great. As I was reading it, I was making a list of the points I particularly liked and wanted to comment on … but that list includes them all. This is what has happened to “theology” in evangelicalism. You nailed it. Thanks.

  8. What, pray tell, is TULIP?

    Is theologize really a word?

    <<<>>>

    But, who is the elect and who is the reprobate? Jesus hung out with “sinners,” and had disdain for the Pharisees – the Theologians (if you will) of his time. As Brennan Manning points out, “Jesus sure had a thing for ragamuffins.”

    I love Brennan Manning.

  9. Is there a word that means theological idiocy.

  10. Thanks for these provoking thoughts Mr. Spencer! I love theology, but I’m much more interested in living my theology out with others as followers of Christ. I’ve grown impatient with armchair theologians (of who I am a card-carrying member) who are more interested in fly-swatting than being shaped by the cross. So, I say a hearty AMEN to your article. But how do I change? I still feel my theology radar working overtime almost anywhere I go. It drives me nuts and it creates barriers between me and other well-meaning, devoted followers of Christ. It cripples me from having conversations because I’m afraid of dropping the theology hammer and coming off as one against whom your article is written. I want to think deeply about God and I love to read and study. So, any ideas on what I need to do?

  11. Speaking as someone who’s skipped Mass (lately) to read religion blogs and be angry about stuff, this one hurt. It’s ironic that even when you don’t feel like having faith, you’ll still nurture that petulant urge to argue about faith with other people. When you hate the thought of praying and feel horrible about yourself and your life, you’ll still read about ethics and theology just to develop an accusation against the world; if prayer is how we talk to God, theological argument can be just another way to talk shit about people using His name. Talking shit is much easier than talking to God. Most of the time I’d rather not talk to Him. Thanks for the article, iMonk.

  12. As creative as the Spencer family seems to be, this quote “Well, I’m not a Calvinist any more” sounds like the makings of a country gospel song – G,C,D, and if you want a little flash, an A-7 along the way. Hmmmm….:)

  13. I never heard of “Mr. Blue”. It sounds like an amazing novel.

    From recent posts concerning “The Shack”, it seems like Christian fiction is always a tempting nail for the theologian’s hammer. Even C.S. Lewis and George MacDonald were criticized. It’s a shame, because it makes one think that Christians have no choice but to read theology books. What little fiction does make it to market is so shallow and safe, that it’s not worth the time to read. To me, that is an even worse representation of the faith. Good theology should cultivate good art, not stomp it out. But good theology should have a thing or two to say about grace. Maybe that’s where the real problem lies.

    Thanks for reposting this article.

  14. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    IMonk: I think what you describe as “Theologians” would be better called “Theology Fanboys”, tunnel-visioned to the point of absurdity and madness.

    And all their effort’s going to be moot in the end. You think God is going to conform to every jot and tittle of the Theology Fanboy who KNOWS he’s got Him all figured out? That Aslan is going to jump through the fanboy’s hoops on command? If nothing else, imagine how smug Theology Fanboy would be in the New Heavens and New Earth if he could point to his books and charts and go “SEE? SEE? I WAS RIGHT! SEE? SEE?” For that reason alone, God WILL do it differently — a “mystery of ambiguity, from the quantum level up” that seems to be the Divine style.

    It’s a shame, because it makes one think that Christians have no choice but to read theology books. — Dumb Ox

    Paraphrasing Chesterton, the fairy tales are written by the 99% of people in the village who are sane. The theology books are written by the 1% who are not.

    What little fiction does make it to market is so shallow and safe, that it’s not worth the time to read. To me, that is an even worse representation of the faith. — Dumb Ox

    Tell me about it. I’m in the Lost Genre Guild, trying to fulfill a 40-year dream of becoming an SF writer.

    “Christian Bizarro World” (Jollyblogger’s term, not mine) is a dead end, a closed universe pinched off behind its holy event horizon. Unless, that is, you want Left Behind knockoffs, Bonnet Romances, and “Just like fill-in-the-blank, except CHRISTIAN (TM)!” with a target market of Born-Again Bored Housewives. (I’m good for an hour-long rant on this, so I’ll stop now.)

    Best essays on the subject:

    Sex & Death & Christian Fiction by Dr Simon Morden (not to be confused with Babylon-5‘s Mephistopheles figure with the same name…)

    Minister or Entertainer? by Steve “Meltdown at Madame Tussaud’s” Taylor

  15. stan in san diego says

    I hate TULIP.

  16. Headless Unicorn Guy:

    Please don’t give up! I can understand how hard it must be to get anything of worth on a store shelf.

    I just took a look at the “fiction” section of a local Christian bookstore. The selection mostly consisted of Christian romance novels. I agree 100% with your comments about Chesterton and mystery. Mystery does keep us sane; the mad man is the one with the answer to everything (paraphrasing Chesterton). Your comment about Aslan is stellar. The majesty of God can’t be expressed in mere theology; I think that is why a big chunk of the bible consists of poetry.

    “The riddles of God are more satisfying than the solutions of man.” – Chesterton, from “Introduction to the Book of Job”.

    Be encouraged! There are many of us out here looking for decent literature.

  17. How about: I hate theology when it interferes with relationship with the Divine…

  18. Thanks so much for the link. I’ve been thinking about that more and more. I became a Calvinist in 2006, and I read my share of Piper, MacArthur, Mahaney and more. This went on for a year or so. I would go to churches, and scrunch up my nose because they weren’t preaching “enough theology”. It got to the point where I wanted theology in everything – my t-shirts, magazines, books etc. If my left brain did not shudder when reading a devotional or Christian book, then that was mediocre.

    And God caught me (well, He was pretty much watching my arrogant self all the time). I took a break from my Reformed theology hut. I stopped reading book reviews on a certain site, and read the books for myself to see if they were heresy or not. During Advent last year, I was finally able to breathe – to have a relationship with God, not spouting the Westminster Cathechism back at Him.

    I haven’t yet let go of all the Calvinism, but you won’t exactly call me Reformed now. I’ve put down my swatter, and learned to walk and question.

    About the Christian fiction – good fiction is hard to find, but I recommend Claudia Mair Burney. Her book on an interracial relationship, “Zora and Nicky”, is a very beautiful novel. Plus she’s been everywhere on the denomination spectrum in life – she’s Roman Catholic now. “Wounded” is great, too, but if you don’t like stigmata, forget it. Her books have romantic themes, but they are not Harlequin novel rewrites like the ones I see in Christian bookstores. This is a girl who hates chick lit, so I know what can be stomached and what can’t, lol.

    And do not get me started on Left Behind!! Ahhh!

  19. Michael, it sounds like you like hate Theology when it disagrees with yours. Do you hate Theology, or do you just hate Calvinism? Can a person be a Calvinist and still have a “Jesus Shaped” spirituality? Is that possible? Or are all Calvinists simply “limited atonement” bad guys just waiting to make the children cry?

    Thanks for posting. I do appreciate your wrestling with these ideas…but I do hate feeling like a villain simply because I believe in limited atonement.

  20. Tim:

    Sorry you’ve misread the essay. I don’t have a vendetta against Calvinism and I’m sure any regular reader of IM knows that. I don’t have any issues with Calvinists and I’m not going to be taunted into a debate.

    I don’t believe a person is a villain for believing L. I don’t criminalize those who differ from me. The blogs that do are probably well known without my mentioning them.

    I think I was angry Lutherans when I wrote that one 🙂 Mostly I was upset at what theological warfare did to me.

    Generous orthodoxy to ya.

  21. Nobody’s going to tell me what TULIP is? I think I’m going to go sit in a corner and pout now.

  22. Once I stumbled across “Calvinism” (and its close Reformed cousin “Arminianism”) in my wandering journey into Christianity, I must admit I was perplexed why anyone might find it attractive or appealing. I’ve never really gained any more understanding in the handful of years since. But I did take to semi-jokingly referring to myself as a 0 point Calvinist and (by squinting and looking sideways) perhaps a 2 point Arminian. 8)

    More seriously, I have been struck these past couple of years by the Orthodox perspective on theology. I’m sure I’ll mangle it, but it goes something like this:

    “A theologian is one who prays and one who prays is a theologian.”

    It strikes me that there is much truth in that statement. But it’s not the sort of truth that can be quickly or easily unpacked, understood, or applied. It must be lived.

  23. For the lazy:

    T — total depravity. This doesn’t mean people are as bad as they can be. It means that sin is in every part of one’s being, including the mind and will, so that a man cannot save himself.

    U — unconditional election. God chooses to save people unconditionally; that is, they are not chosen on the basis of their own merit.

    L — limited atonement. The sacrifice of Christ on the cross was for the purpose of saving the elect.

    I — irresistible grace. When God has chosen to save someone, He will.

    P — perseverence of the saints. Those people God chooses cannot lose their salvation; they will continue to believe. If they fall away, it will be only for a time.

    For some reason I never found surprising that the person that came up with this was a lawyer.

  24. Eric Rodgers says

    Giovanni,

    A lawyer? Are you referring to Jean Calvin? Because he didn’t come up with them. He was even fairly inconsistent on some of those points over his very long career in France and Geneva. It was not until a few generations after his death that the five points were penned at the Synod of Dort. While I would say that these five points are a logically cohesive unit, I would also say that it is a bad interpretation of Calvin’s overall theology. They were a reaction against the theology of Arminius. Calvin himself was a humanist (in the old sense of the word) in the tradition of Erasmus and a rhetorician beyond compare.

    Michael doesn’t have a problem with Calvinists, just Calvinists who revel in the condemnation of sinners for “God’s glory” — the “enjoy-it-while-you-can-because-it’s-about-to-get-a-lot-hotter” kind of Calvinist. And as public a person as Michael is, he has run across a lot of them.

    Michael, I love this article. It reminds me that Calvinists who revel in their own salvation and in the perdition of those whom God has elected not to save are not faithful to Calvin’s writings, like his Institutes, in which he calls predestination to hell the “horrible decree.” So thank you for posting this old favorite of mine!

    And, as always, Pax Christi, y’all!!

    Eric

  25. Well, I’ve definitely got issues with the L-part, eventhough I freely admit that I didn’t choose God. He chose me. I tried my darndest to run away, but He kept after me. But, the Bible says, “God so loved the world…” implying the whole thing. It also says, “Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:3) I don’t see that Whoever allows for exceptions. It also says, “This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:3-4) Again, who falls outside of ALL?

  26. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    I just took a look at the “fiction” section of a local Christian bookstore. The selection mostly consisted of Christian romance novels. — Dumb Ox

    With the women looking dreamy on the cover all wearing Amish bonnets? (That’s why they call them “bonnet romances”.) Two anecdotes:

    Two-three years ago, I was visiting my writing partner (a burned-out preacher) in PA. I accompanied him as he made a run to a Christian big-box in Harrisburg to pick up some materials for his church. I did the mosey over into the “Fiction” section — and stepped into Apocalypse Now (“The horror… The horror… The horror…”). Every inch of shelf was filled with Left Behind, volume whatever. Then the truly Lovecraftian Horror — LB was now an official Shared Universe, with two trilogies (Volumes 17-22?) done by non-LH&J authors. I called my writing partner over. I showed him the proof. He went into shock, too.

    Last year. Same burned-out preacher-man, same big-box Christian store. This time LB had relinquished its death-grip on the “Fiction” section. What dominated now was soft-focus dreamy women in Amish bonnets on pastel covers with elaborately-curlicued title fonts, answering the question “What if Ned Flanders wrote bodice-rippers?” (Just looking at the rack, I felt my testicles start shriveling up from estrogen osmosis.)

  27. Michael, Thanks for clarifying. I’m not looking for a debate, just communication. Your response was helpful. Thanks again.

  28. …another insightful and inspiring post fo those of us who tire of the dogma and lifelessness of a head filled with God knowledge, but a heart devoid of God himself. Ray Ortlund had a post not too long ago about his reformed theology—echoed your sentiments here in a couple remote ways.

    Thanks so much.

  29. Christopher Lake says

    Wow, there seem to be a lot of Calvinism-bashers here… and yes, I know that some Calvinists, especially on the internet, conduct themselves with a pronounced lack of grace and humility (how sadly ironic is that?). The behavior of certain people doesn’t justify bashing the belief though. Actually, I prefer not to even use the word, because it gives people the impression that I follow a sinful man, rather than the living God, as revealed in His word.

    Anyway, to paraphrase Alistair Begg, Biblical learning is for *living.* The point of theology is to know God and His attributes and ways more deeply (in the context of a real, vital relationship with Him), *so as to* apply that knowledge to one’s actual words, thoughts, and deeds. If studying theology doesn’t make a Christian a more humble, loving person, both in relation to God and to other people, then it has been misused and/or misunderstood. Theology, ultimately, is for actual practical application in one’s living. Otherwise, it can be positively dangerous to one’s spiritual health and life, both temporally and eternally.

    Justin Taylor recently posted an incredible passage from a book about the point of theology being practical application. I tried to post the link here yesterday, but it seemed to be too long, and the post didn’t even make it through apparently. If you want to read it, go to Justin’s blog (“Between Two Worlds,” found on Michael’s blogroll), and do a search for “The Answer to Practical Problems Must Involve Robust Doctrine.” Believe me, it’s worth the time to read this outstanding (and for some “theology-heads,” maybe life-changing!) passage.

  30. Christopher Lake says

    Hmm… well, I *thought* that Justin’s blog was on the blogroll here! 🙂 I just tried again to post the link, and my post wasn’t recognized… I guess people aren’t allowed to post links here? Anyway, the blog and excerpt are easy to find– just do a search for “Between Two Worlds” + “The Answer to Practical Problems Must Involve Robust Doctrine.” Again, it’s worth it!

  31. Christopher Lake says

    Actually, I should correct my earlier observation– there aren’t *a lot* of Calvinism-bashers here… except “Stan in San Diego” and few other people who are perhaps not bashing, but definitely making comments that might not be tolerated here in regard to other Bible-based beliefs…

  32. Eric Rodgers says

    Christopher,

    Calvinism is not always bad. Some Calvinists, however, wield their theology and the supposed proof texts like a cudgel to beat down anybody they perceive as “the opposition.” Lutherans can be the same way, and they tick me off, too. The only difference between the Calvinists I bash and the Lutherans I bash is that the world is used to ignoring the Lutherans because we don’t say much to anybody outside of the in-house crowd.

    What I’ve noticed lately, though, is that pastors are avoiding their responsibility to shepherd their flock by hiding behind their theology of the ministry. And I really don’t like that.

    Pax Christi, y’all!!

  33. Christopher Lake says

    Eric,

    I agree with you about the “ungraceful” behavior of *some* Calvinists (I can’t say for Lutherans; I’ve haven’t yet noticed that sort of behavior from them). As others on here have noted, some contemporary Catholic apologists speak and act in the same “ungraceful” ways. The difference, though, is that I can’t imagine anyone here actually bashing *Catholicism itself* (not the behaviors of individual Catholics but the belief system itself) and being allowed to do it, as a few people on this thread (not Michael) have been allowed to do regarding Calvinism (otherwise known by some as TULIP).

  34. I would tend to disagree with that comment, there is plenty of antagonism to go around. To me personaly any time a person refers to any Catholic in this board as an RC I find that insulting. Or when told the difference between Catholics and Christians(tm).

    Reformed theology is challenging for people outside of it, I mean most Perbetyrians don’t even teach the TULIP anymore. You are bound to run in to walls of ignorance.

    Me being guilty of that myself by Eric pointing out that Calvin him self did not come up with the TULIP but it was rather a condenced summary of his theology.

  35. >To me personally any time a person refers to any Catholic in this board as an RC I find that insulting.

    What’s insulting about an abbreviation? RC= Roman Catholic? I’m surrounded by anti-Catholicism and that abbreviation has never been used in an insulting way, and it’s never been used as anything other than shorthand here at IM.

    Where’s the insult? I call my own denomination the SBC all the time.

  36. Like I said, “I personally” it is how I feel about it. There are many Catholics that do not find a problem with it, mainly because they know themselves to be Roman Catholic as am I. However I know many Eastern Rite Catholics that would not like it either.

    The Catholic Church maybe one big tent but there are many problems in it, the forced Latinization of the 60’s is def one of them. The Baltimore Cathechism remains a matter that is controversial.

    To cut a very long story short, after the 1054 split much of the Church that remained loyal to the Pope in the East was abused by the Western Bishops because they were such a small community.

  37. Well you lost me there. You’ll just have to trust me that RC means Roman Catholic, which is all the Catholics I know.

  38. Nope, sorry: You failed. I still hate theology. Theology is not at all like medicine. Humans need medicine: We do not need theology.