Theologians and Pastors are Always the Biggest Hypocrites

credit: Flickr/nauright
credit: Flickr/nauright

Many people have the same complaint against Christianity and against theological training. They say the church is full of hypocrites. Or, some say, seminaries produce people full of head knowledge but who don’t obey. This complaint is fundamentally flawed.

Knowledge produces hypocrites

In any room, the biggest hypocrites always are theologians and pastors. It has always been this way and it will always be so. Why?

We can only obey what we know. Someone teaches us something, then we can obey it. People always obey less than they know. It can be no other way. Because theologians and pastors (typically) know more Bible than a lay person, they disobey more things than the average lay Christian.

As a result, complaining of hypocrisy too often is an easy cheap shot. It becomes an excuse, not a reason. Who can argue with such rhetoric?

From this perspective, we can draw interesting insight. Only those people who actually strive to live a godly life can be accused of hypocrisy. After all, those who don’t attempt to live well can’t fail.

Who is a “hypocrite”?

We ought not to assume what the Bible means by “hypocrite” is what modern readers think it means. For many people, a hypocrite is anyone who does not live up to their professed ideals. This is such a flawed definition that it’s amazing we ever use it. After all, who does not fail sometimes? If so, how can anyone call someone else a hypocrite?

I. Howard Marshall wrote a helpful article (“Who is a hypocrite”) to address this issue.[1] One key insight is this: the hypocrisy condemned in the Bible is deliberate. Hypocrisy involves inconsistency between behavior and profession but that consistency is purposeful. The hypocrite uses deception in order to achieve some goal, whether praise, rewards, etc.

From this perspective, another conclusion becomes apparent. Anyone who genuinely seeks to honor Christ cannot be a hypocrite. Let’s stop using that word to describe other brothers and sisters who simply succeed and fail in different areas than we do.

Ignorance is no ideal

When pragmatists accuse theologians and pastors of hypocrisy, what are they suggesting by implication? If studying theology produces hypocrites, should we not teach them the Bible? If we wait until someone fully obeys what they’ve learned, then we will never get past “Love the Lord your God will all your heart, mind, and strength.”

Ignorance is no solution to hypocrisy.

The root of hypocrisy frequently is not too much head knowledge. Instead, it stems from a lack of perspective that can produce a right heart change. Ironically, the pressure to do, do, do can shortcut the maturation process. By limiting the teaching of information, disciples lack the understanding to inform obedience from the heart.

What happens when people don’t understand who God is and the real reason for acting? They use some lower motive as a substitute for more biblical motives. Consequently, we might subtly foster hypocrisy by pushing people to obey while keeping them from gaining a robust biblical perspective that comes from theological training.

 


 

[1] Bibliotheca Sacra 159 (April-June 2002): 131–150.

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