“Don’t discuss theology, go evangelize” There is always one of “those people” around. I can sense it every time I start or join a discussion about the Bible. A fellow Christian on the internet made an interesting statement or has a genuine question. Other Christians converge, as their sincere interest to know and understand the Bible draws them near. We begin to discuss and try to understand something or help one another, and perhaps some even try to persuade others. Yet we believe that there must be an objective truth, a right and a wrong, so we eagerly toss about our ideas, knowing that “iron sharps iron ” (Prov 27:17) and thus we can help each other. And then, the minute I click that “reply” button, I feel one of “those people” getting into position. I am talking about the “holier than thou” crowd, specifically the ones that think any theological discussion, or – Lord forbid – debates, are useless and carnal. Someone asks “Does the Bible really teach X?” “Shame on you, why are you wasting time, go evangelize instead!” is their reply.
The idea that Christians should avoid thinking and talking about doctrine is a common view by many. I once sat in an elders meeting, where they were discussing whether I was heretical or not, and ultimately one of the elders told me to cease blogging. His logic was that if given a pen and paper, each one of them would give a very different response. So then, he stated, let’s do and feel, instead of focusing on ideas. Very often Christians, like him, try to divide three very essential components of our Christian life.
- Emotion – loving Jesus and people (heart and soul in Mark 12:30)
- Action – doing good deeds (strength in Mark 12:30)
- Thought – learning God’s Word (mind in Mark 12:30).
We often hear someone yelling against intellectual pursuits by saying “just love and do,” which is action and emotion, and “you don’t need books!” Others miss the emotion and shout “just study and obey! ” And still others only focus on the heart and mind by saying “just love and meditate on it.” In all cases these three components (emotion, action, thought) can never, and should never be disconnected, for when you do such a thing, you wreak havoc on the Christian life. Here are the three dangerous directions people end up going if they split up these three. I am not here to judge others, but to say I myself have fallen and failed in all of these ways. I want to warn you to avoid the landmines that I didn’t see.
Three errors I have made
1. Focusing mainly on emotion (Emotional freak)
People in this category get “on fire” or excited about God is some abstract sense and live off of these feelings. They may excitedly try to do actions, to teach others, to do evangelism, to make people stop sinning out of that emotion, but without solid doctrine. They usually argue against serious thinking and study, and even assume books are unspiritual. They try to make church only about experiencing a certain subjective feeling instead of understanding an objective Biblical truth. Often the real world doesn’t fit their emotional expectations (though it fits the Bible’s view) and they end up feeling disillusioned by Christianity as a whole. They feel God will bless them for “sowing a seed” but they get no money back, and keep getting poorer, so they think “perhaps God isn’t real.” In other cases they keep layering on levels of Christian self-delusion, often corrupting many lives all around them with the lack of good doctrine. By failing to honor God with their minds, they either get the Gospel wrong, or make enough theological mistakes that they confuse the faith of many around them. They block those who are more educated or intellectual from becoming Christians, because they redefine what it means to be a Christian. Their children grow up with this emotional “folk religion” and have no defense’s against the arrows of atheism and Biblical criticism.
2. Focusing mainly on action (Heartless legalist)
People who fall into this category are the second type of legalist. They are cold, cruel, and have no excitement nor joy. They often have a cynical approach to life, assume God is only a judge that is looking for failure, and live the Christian life only out of selfishness. Many of the Pharisees in the Bible would fall into this category. They spend all their time thinking about the Scriptures in some way, but with no love or joy, instead only to create/obey laws and earn rewards. There is no desire to worship the creator and live in a joyful relationship; there is only cold law keeping to prevent eternal condemnation. They are so focused on church programs, church attendance, and religious productivity, that they have no happiness. These type of people offer no mercy towards others, they are not gracious nor sympathetic. If they meet a sinner in need, who doesn’t look or dress like them (a yoke they enforce upon others), they will coldly reject them. Ultimately they prevent many from coming to Christianity by their indifference and hard hearts. Their children grow up in this strict legalism and often reject Christianity because it has a much vibrance, life, and joy as a slab of granite.
3. Focusing mainly on thought (Lazy theologian)
People in this category are so lazy they wouldn’t touch legalism with a ten foot pole. They like things in their head, but don’t really want to do anything in the real world. They may experience bursts of emotion, and come to church to sing “I will go to the ends of the earth for you God!” Then they only go as far as the restaurant across the street. They like knowing fun facts about God, and study things here and there, but fear making a real commitment to serve in the church. They are quick to discuss the Biblical view of money and giving but don’t ever really give anything. They know everything about evangelism, but are far too embarrassed to bring a friend to church. They have a degree in child psychology, but would rather loaf around than serve in the church nursery. They would rather talk about the philosophy of prayer, than sit down with someone in pain to utter a prayer. Their children grow up seeing a huge disconnect between what is believed and what is done. They assume Christianity is an amusing philosophy that has no real world connection.
All three are essential
Now in truth when you have one of these things, and you have it truly, it ought to ignite the others. If I learn knowledge about Jesus it should ignite my love for him and actions out of that love. Or if I fall in love with Jesus, it ought kindle a desire to learn more about him. Yet in the hardness of our hearts we humans are (or at least I am) far too easily distracted and dissuaded from the truth. It becomes very normal because of the sin in our hearts to break up these essential components and do only one or two, often the ones that are easier for us. I have literally been guilty of all three of the situations described above. I have been an emotional freak who knew nothing, a heartless legalist, and a lazy theologian. Fortunately for me, in God’s great grace, I can all find help, healing, and restoration in Christ; as can you. In the end, let us never divide these things. What God has put together, let no man separate (Mark 12:30)