My Top 10 Suggestions for Theologians

My Top 10 Suggestions for Theologians April 19, 2024

My Top 10 Suggestions for Theologians

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What would happen if you realized someone removed the stage the next time you went to church, and the auditorium was completely remodeled? You notice no more elevations where one person could stand above the others. There are also no seats in one direction pointing towards something else. Instead, you see booths where you can find food and other places where people can sit and talk. The people standing around are discussing the unique changes that have been made. You notice there are stations for health care and counseling, and everything seems to have the welfare of the crowd in mind. No one is standing anywhere in the auditorium lecturing or promoting anything—just many discussions.

What would you call something like this? A community?

Maybe. But we may have to unravel even more than that. People have imagined what the 1st-century Christian Church looked like and started things like home churches and small congregations where they could control all of the variables. But as we know, these endeavors usually don’t grow very big, and often, people realize they are gathering together in someone else’s house to have a community that they probably could have found in their own actual community or a soccer game.

We know, in our hearts, that the mega-church was never the idea for those starting Christianity. We know that Jesus had an idea that was outside the walls of the building and that he was also interested in people loving their neighbors as the priority. He expressly spoke out against people who would “Lord” over others. However, throughout the last 1700 years, people instinctively discovered that they could control the narrative if they controlled the people. This belief would enable them to build more enormous edifices and seemingly gain control over what they imagined or taught people to be afraid of. In America, the intensity grew through our short lineage from Billy Sunday to Bill Graham to the modern Billy Goat Gruffs. They all realized that patriarchy is a means to control the narrative, and nothing motivates people better than fear.

Never has a group of people been so enamored with the idea that they are “special” when they are so completely off base from who they claim as their Messiah. They are so convinced that they are right and God is on their side that they relentlessly foster learned helplessness among listeners, repeatedly indoctrinate people with their “take” on their holy book, and use fear to control any opposition.

Who is this group—it’s the theologians!

Before you get out the pitchforks and light the bonfire, I encourage you to consider a couple of things. First, theology could have been concluded if we had listened to what Jesus said. He said everything encapsulates in the simple idea of loving your neighbor. If you want, you can add the golden rule and reword it as a caution to encourage us not to hurt others. In modern-day language, we sometimes say, “Do no harm!” We wouldn’t have ever needed to write any theology books or for anyone to stand on the stage if we just would have taken who we claim to follow at his word. Most of the damage started around the time of Constantine and just continued because people couldn’t figure out how to love their neighbors without controlling them. The theologians provided a very complicated, labor-intensive way to unite us all, even though it separated us into classes, levels, and hierarchies. It is enlightening to look at the cause of war and realize that most of it was directly or indirectly a response to fear generated by religious leaders. Hitler’s army was almost all Christian.

Most of what we do in today’s theology is unravel the toxic theology of our past, created by, guess who, theologians! Many of us are in some sort of  deconstruction, which has always been part of the reality of being a Christian. So even though criticizing the evangelical fundamentalist clowns that we see on stage gives us some sense of righteousness, it’s really all a part of the DNA that we inherited and what we did with it. 

What do you suggest, Karl? 

First, thank you for not accusing me of generalizing, which I must do when speaking of such a significant issue. I know your church is much different than the others, and yours is correct. But that is what theologians always think, and they teach their followers (We are right, and God is on our side)!

My Top 10 Suggestions for Theologians (I used to be one).

10. Accept the fact that religion has created trauma. At least one-third of people in church have some form of religious trauma. Fix this problem before anything else, or don’t call yourself a follower of Jesus.

9. Realize that churches don’t have room for our grief. Seventy percent of the money and most of the energy in a church are spent maintaining the organization and its assets because “The show must go on.” The trauma remains unaddressed.

8. Understand that your theology creates defensiveness. When you decide something is a belief, you defend it. You also spend a lot of time convincing others that you are right.

7. Consider that you might be wrong. The standard response of a theologian is, “Maybe, but I don’t think so.” One way to start growing again is to admit aloud, “I may be wrong, and you may be right.” (See Larry Jordan for more on this).

6. Realize that your position creates power differentials. I have never met a pastor who started with the intention of abusing people. Still, for most, when we struggle to grow a community and realize there are shortcuts, sometimes it’s almost too easy to follow the flow of patriarchy and abuse. After all, we are right, and God is on our side, and it’s for the greater good. This always ends with someone like Mark Driscoll bragging about those run over by the bus.

5. Admit that most of your theology is not original. Most theology is not as original as we imagine. It is a response to other toxic groups or a repeat of the past. Most of our doctrinal statements and creeds are not original to Jesus. They are a response to other theologians and cultural issues. Again, what if we did no harm and loved our neighbor? Even if your church is inclusive now, it is responding to a 20th-century theological change in theology.

4. Stop meeting in buildings. They occupy 70% of your offerings and most of your energy and they only amplify many of the issues discussed here. They also remove people from real communities and force them to nurture and protect the faux communities they create.

3. Stop holding conferences. I realize the power of a large group meeting. But it is entirely possible that only a particular class of people can attend because of cost, and the people on the stage aren’t necessarily who we should be listening to (reference the shit shows of the recent past). It generally devolves into fear and control tactics and show business!

2. Stop building organizations (aka starting something new). Many of my ex-pastor friends who deconstruct are trying to create an organization or following. Most of them have not spent any time in trauma therapy, addressed their toxicity, or discovered who they are. Yet they crave the attention, so they keep talking! Noticeably unique are the ones that have done the work to heal!

1. Take down the stage. It is the root of the problem and where most other issues begin. It attracts narcissists and protects them when they fail.

Bonus: Dopamine should not be confused with the Spirit. No matter how we brand it, it is usually just entertainment and various forms of hypnosis. Sometimes, it’s like a circus, and since the colosseums of Ancient Rome, we have known that people always show up for the “spectacle.” But it doesn’t mean there is anything spiritual going on. Jesus the Mystic taught us that! 

I can almost anticipate the response because it happens every time I dare to write about these subjects. Theologians criticize me for generalizing, and they will point out how they are different in their needs and not a part of the problem. Many of the faithful may admit the system is broken but also confess they don’t know how to venture outside of it. 

Please consider two possibilities postulated by the 20th-century theologian Billy Joel:

You may be right

I may be crazy

Oh, but it just may be a lunatic

You’re looking for

Turn out the lights

Don’t try to save me

You may be wrong for all I know

But you may be right

Be where you are, be who you are,

Karl Forehand

Things I Don’t Understand

An Open Letter to Pastors for Consideration

Evolving From Religious Trauma

Karl Forehand is a former pastor, podcaster, and award-winning author. His books include Out into the Desert, Leaning Forward,  Apparent Faith: What Fatherhood Taught Me About the Father’s Heart, The Tea Shop and Being: A Journey Toward Presence and Authenticity.  He is the creator of The Desert Sanctuary podcast and community.  He is married to his wife Laura of 35 years and has one dog named Winston.  His three children are grown and are beginning to multiply! You can read more about the author here.




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