When Pastors Shift Theology

When Pastors Shift Theology July 9, 2012

My questions are these: Does your church tolerate theological shifts on the part of the pastor? Do you know what your pastor/s believe about crucial topics? Pastors: What are your stories? Have you struggled? Where can you find a safe place for discussing your shifts, your theology, etc.?

What happens if you, as a pastor, shift from your church’s pre-millennial view to a more a-millennial view, or toward preterism? Are you expected to be on the side of the creationists and find yourself aligning yourself with the theistic evolutionists or evolutionary creationists?

Erin Roach, BP, sets the table for us today. To be sure, these are extreme examples, but the spectrum is from the benign (you call it “ordinance” but I call it “sacrament”) to the doctrinal (I struggle with one or more statement of faith) to very serious levels of doubt.

One pastor, a Methodist, said he no longer believes that God exists, but his church members do not know that he is an atheist. Most of them, he said, don’t even believe Jesus literally rose from the dead or literally was born of a virgin.

Another pastor, from the United Church of Christ, said he didn’t even believe in the doctrinal content of the Christian faith at the beginning of his ministry, but he continues to preach as if he believes because it’s the way of life he knows.

A Presbyterian pastor in the study said he remains in ministry largely for financial reasons and acknowledged that if he were to make known that he rejects most tenets of the Christian faith he would obliterate his “ability to earn a living this way.”

A Church of Christ pastor explained how he continues to lead his church despite losing all theological confidence.

“Here’s how I’m handling my job on Sunday mornings: I see it as play acting. I see myself as taking on the role of a believer in a worship service, and performing,” the pastor said.

He describes himself as an atheistic agnostic and said he still needs the ministerial job and no longer believes hypocrisy is wrong.

A Southern Baptist pastor included in the study said he was attracted to Christianity as a religion of love and now has become an atheist. If someone would offer him $200,000, he said, he’d leave the ministry right away.


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