3 Ways Christians Use Theology to Misuse the Bible

3 Ways Christians Use Theology to Misuse the Bible July 15, 2014

Post by: Christian Stackaruck, Theological Contributor

In recent years, theology has garnered a very popular reputation as being dead. In fact, more people probably believe that Elvis is alive and well than the study of theology. As a student of theology I have come to know this quite well. When asked by Christians what I study I now say, “ministry,” and when speaking with non-believers I say, “ancient Near Eastern languages and religious systems.” In the instance of the latter, I do not sound much more employable, but I definitely seem more interesting (thus, why it stuck).

Yes, theology can be dead, much like other fields of study. The true shame is that theology is the study of the most life giving and transforming truths. One would not think that an eternally risen Christ could be killed so easily. But, as with other matters, this is a story for another day.

The real issue arises when dead theology wraps its cold fingers around the Bible and takes it down with it. Picture the belrog in The Fellowship of the Ring dragging Gandalf down with him. Nothing less than a tragedy.

But its true, many Christians, who have, for themselves, killed theology (a momentously tragic achievement), will execute the Bible upon the very same gallows.

The Bible is where God speaks. I don’t want to argue for, against, or about any of the big “I’s:” inspiration, inerrancy, infallibility, etc. Most Christians, mainline and Evangelical, will admit that the Bible is where God speaks. That’s exciting! Its incredible actually. We meet God in the Scriptures. The Scripture is where we come with all that we are: our passions, our problems, our prayers, and get to hear something fresh from God. Something life-giving. Its kind of like Jesus: bringing good news, freedom, a large ring of keys to unshackle those parts of us red from tugging at life’s shackles. What a beautiful thing.

Theology is something we do with what God says in the Scriptures, something mostly responsible and life giving. Theology answers questions about the Bible. To reuse the metaphor of the Bible like a ring of keys, theology is the man who tells you what key to use, what the keys do, where the key is.

So here it is, how Christians will kill the amazing work of God’s Word with their own (self-inflicted) cold, dead, theology:

1. Showing up at the Bible with predetermined theology: Going to Scripture only to hear something we already know. No new messages, no fresh words, no life change! This person has “hermeneutical strategies” for all the hard passages and well-rehearsed excuses for all the difficult things in the Bible. Like the girl who repeatedly turns down a prospecting man’s date invitations, eventually he will stop asking. Eventually Scripture stops speaking new things, new life. Ask yourself: when’s the last time you let the ethical challenges of the Sermon on the Mount challenge you? How has your theology quieted the “untamed lion” of God’s Word?

2. Christians, especially Christians in ministry, will read the Bible to only find certain theological answers: One of the greatest challenges of teaching people to read the Bible is showing them how it is meant to be read. I’m talking about encountering God through the literary richness of the mysteriously divine-human text. Words like story, poetry, beauty, lament, contrite, justice. The Bible answers questions, yes, but it also presents questions and answers that you won’t ask, that you don’t want to ask, and that you need to be asking. I find that seminary students are more like theological bomb-makers in training today. Filled to the brim with a certain theological system, students want to learn to get their “mind-blowing” theology into deliverable sermons. Practical? Yes. Fully representative of Scripture? No chance. Ask yourself: do you approach Scripture only to answer questions or to craft a preconceived sermon?

3.  Assuming the Bible teaches only one system of theology: This is where the Bible quickly stops being something that unites, but only divides. Yes, the author (essentially) only holds one primary and accessible message. No, there is not only one orthodox way of understanding and applying the Eucharist, baptism, justification the spiritual gifts, worship, and the end times. There is room for great diversity on these issues and within the body of Christ. In this way pastors and teachers will arrive at a passage, seek its one meaning, call it orthodox, and alienate themselves from the diverse Christian church as well as the way the Scriptures are meant to challenge us day by day.

I pray that theology will continue be a craft that blesses the church and ignites believers to live out God’s word in Jesus’ kingdom in powerful ways. I pray that theology continues to faithfully answer questions in ways that speak the morning light of life into the hearts and minds of a grieving world. The cerebral task of theology can be distracting from the heart, mind, hands encounter found in the Bible. May we cease to strangle the life out of the Scriptures with our theology and may we allow the Bible to keep speaking to us, opening ourselves to hear from God in fresh ways, beyond our rigid, predetermined theology.

Christian Stackaruck- Chris is an evangelical writer and thinker driven by a commitment to see Evangelicals renewed and rejuvenated in their mission through helpful discussion and progressive dialogue. Chris works as a theological education consultant and writer and is a graduate of Moody Bible Institute with a BA in biblical languages. He is also currently pursuing his MA in Theology at Wheaton College Graduate School. Chris loves to read and write about Evangelical theology, world religions, ecumenism, and global missions. Chris spends most of his time in the three places he and his wife call home: Toronto, Chicago, and Northern Thailand. While not crunching theology textbooks Chris enjoys traveling with his wife, eating foreign food, and reading broadly about history and religion.

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  • Brian P.

    Roman Road. Four Spiritual Laws. Must be Born Again. Personal Relationship.

    A few simple questions Christian.

    1. Who are the leaders of most Evangelical churches–pastors, elders, deacons, Sunday school teachers, youth group leaders etc.?

    2. What theological training do they have?

    3. How did they get saved?

    4. How do they want to see their calling and mission realized?

    5. How does the money flow?

    6. What employment agreements, statements of faith, unspoken and spoken norms “self-inflicted cold, dead, theology?”

    In my circles I see very pragmatic blocks in that:

    1. Overseers are either a) charismatic preachers or b) respect-worthy businessmen

    2. Who have very limited theological training or even exposure

    3. Who “got saved” via the the very simplified constructs of certain evangelistic techniques of 20th century American revivalism

    4. Who want to see others having faiths that mirror their own experiences

    5. Where nobody wants to disrupt an economic status quo (which, if at risk is on a slow burn)

    6. Where signed statements of faith affirm these specific, sectarian and temporal commitments.

    Personally I think the stasis of these systems contributes to a feeling that theology is dead. I also think the stabilizing misuse of the Bible is often simply means to keep the status quo.

    I’ve found it very difficult to get clergy and lay leaders discuss these things.

  • Jon Fermin

    This article feels like it is treating novelty as an end rather than a means.

  • Steve T

    The article was going very well until the author wrote the third point. I couldn’t disagree more that there are multiple theologies taught in Scripture. The preachers job (and all believers) is to exegete Scripture to find the inspired authors intent on why he wrote what he wrote. When the human authors of scripture (inspired by God to write what they did) wrote, they did so with one specific theology in mind, not multiple theologies that the reader must figure out which one. That’s absurd. Truth is clear and theology (the true and biblical ONE) is vital to the believers life, both for now and in eternity.

    • Brian P.


    • Rick

      I think #3 is really dove-tailing on #1. I think he is saying be open, specifically in areas where various interpretations may be allowed. As he wrote in #3, “we allow the Bible to keep speaking to us, opening ourselves to hear from God in fresh ways, beyond our rigid, predetermined theology.”

    • felixcox

      “When the human authors of scripture (inspired by God to write what they did) wrote, they did so with one specific theology in mind, not multiple theologies that the reader must figure out which one.”
      I’m curious what “inspired by God” means to believers. I used to be one, to let you know where I’m coming from. Do you believe that God inspires other writers who are not in the bible, such as Aquinas or C.S. Lewis? What exactly does it mean? Did God dictate to them? Did he plant the idea in their head, which they understood to be God’s direction?
      Do you believe every book in the bible is equally ‘inspired?’ Even the Pauline forgeries (nearly every single biblical scholar believes some of the epistles are forgeries, even believers) were inspired?
      If God works through everything at all times, how can anything NOT be god-inspired?
      Obviously, I do not believe in God, but I’m sincerely just trying to understand how faith works today (I stopped believing 15 years ago).

  • Clay

    I think most Christians would agree that there is room within the Body of Christ for differing theological opinions on certain issues. However, I believe, and again I think most reading this would agree, that there are certain fundamental doctrines that are not open to interpretation. The problem is in agreeing on what comprises the non-negotiable doctrines. If a core fundamental doctrine held by denomination A is in contradiction to a doctrine held by denomination B, denomination A has no choice but to separate from denomination B. I actually think this is a good thing – denominations should be clear on how they define orthodoxy. This could lead to greater cross-denominational unity among those groups that hold to a common orthodoxy.

  • Fallulah

    Have you actually READ the bible, out of curiosity?