All of us have major problems with our theology.
And the sooner we recognize that our theology is not perfect, the better off we’ll be.
Of course, the trick is knowing where you theology is wrong.
Though I am certain I have problems in my theology right now, I do not know what these problems might be. If I knew, I would change my views.
This is why it is important to always be talking with others, reading the ideas of others, and thinking about theology and how it relates to life.
As a result of my own theological study and research, a lot of my theology has changed over the past fifteen years. Below are five of the main mistakes I made in my theology when I was a pastor.
1. I expected everyone to study the Bible and read theology.
Since I love to study Scripture and read theology, I believed and taught that every Christian should do the same.
I saw how much spiritual benefit I received from reading and studying Scripture and theology, and I assumed that everyone else would get just as much benefit from these practices as I had.
I also believed that people could not really come to know God unless they diligently studied Scripture and read widely from theology.
Looking back now, I see how wrong I was.
I now see that God has made Himself known to little children and to those who may never crack open a book of theology or read a chapter from the Pentateuch. I have encountered people who know more about God and how He works than I have ever hoped to know of God, and they have never read the Bible all the way through, nor do they even know what the word “theology” means.
I have now come to see that I enjoy reading and studying theology because this is partly why God put me on planet earth. I have gifts, talents, and abilities in the realm of Bible study and theology. But not everyone has these same gifts, and therefore, not everyone has these same interests.
Therefore, not everyone needs to read the Bible or study theology. And even when they don’t many of them will have a better knowledge and understanding of God than I ever will.
2. I took theology and Bible knowledge way too seriously.
I used to think that theology was a serious subject, which required sound thinking, sober minds, and no laughter or joy. I have since found that this is a common disease among theologians.
We tend to think that since we are “talking about God,” we must do so with all seriousness.
Now, however, I sometimes think that God gets just as bored with our serious theological discussions as would anyone else (except theologians). Furthermore, God does not really care for how seriously we take the words that come out of our mouth.
I now believe that we all need to lighten up about our theology.
I sometimes imagine there is a “Comedy Hour” in heaven where God and the angels read through all the things we Christian theologians preach and teach and write about. As I wrote a while back, in talking about God, we are like an oyster on the bottom of the sea trying to philosophize about ballerina knees.
I am not saying that our theology needs to be full of hilarious jokes and creatively told insights and stories. No. Just because Jesus told stories, this does not mean we should as well.
Instead, what it means is that we need to take ourselves less seriously. I need to take myself less seriously.
I know that just as much of what I believed in the past turned out to be seriously wrong, so also, much of what I believe right now might turn out to be wrong as well.
So I do my best. I study hard. But I hold my conclusions lightly.
And when I get a chance, I laugh. I laugh at Christianity. I laugh at church. I laugh at myself. Why? Because theology needs more laughter.
3. I thought that truth trumped love
While I always tried to be loving in what I said and did, as I read back through some of my old sermons, I find that I often erred in being so focused on truth, that I was not very loving.
I believed that the foundation for love was truth. And so while Paul instructed the Ephesians to find the balance between truth and love (Eph 4:15), I believed that the most important thing was truth. After all, I thought, it is never loving to withhold the truth.
I thought that it was preferable to speak the truth, even if it hurt, than to withhold the truth in the name of love.
I understand my logic, but I think that I often used such logic to say unloving things and treat people in unloving ways.
Today, while I do not condone falsehoods or lying, I try to err more on the side of love. I have discovered that some truth simply aren’t worth saying.
Besides, I have a view of truth which helps me see truth in almost everything.
I have noticed as well that Jesus wasn’t much of a stickler for orthodoxy. He was more than willing to contradict traditional theology to extend love. I try to follow His example and let my personal theology go out the window if doing so will help me love someone else.
4. I believed truly dedicated Christians regularly attended church
I still remember how I viewed the people in my church who only attended our Sunday morning service. I was grateful they came, but I knew, deep down in my heart, that if they were really devoted to following Jesus, they would also come to Sunday school, the Sunday evening service, the Wednesday evening Bible study, and the Saturday morning prayer meeting.
At least they came to the Sunday morning service though.
Which was more than could be said for the “so-called” Christians in town who didn’t attend any church at all!
There were several families I was aware of who said that they were following Jesus, but didn’t attend any church. I remember thinking how sad it was that they could be so deluded and deceived. After all, nobody could truly follow Jesus if they didn’t attend church!
I now realize how wrong I was.
Some of the greatest followers of Jesus I have met over the past fifteen years have not “attended church” in decades. I have now come to see that while church attendance is helpful and beneficial for a good many Christians, it is unhelpful and damaging for a good many more.
This does not mean that those who do not “attend church” are not part of the church; they are. In fact, it may be that many of those who do not attend church might be more active in the church than those who do attend.
Church, after all, is not the event that takes place in a brick building on Sunday morning, but is the people of God who follow Jesus into the world (See my book, Skeleton Church).
Following Jesus and being the church is not about sitting in a pew on Sunday morning (though for many it might include that), but is about being Jesus in the world.
5. I believed the goal of the Christian life was to get rid of sin.
To put it another way, I believed that God was in the sin management business. I believed that God was looking down on planet earth, wringing His hands in frustration (and even anger) at how bad we had messed things up.
I believed that the reason God gave us Scripture, and the reason God sent Jesus to this earth, was to tells us how to live “right.” I believed that God’s primary goal for our lives was to get us to stop sinning.
Today, I don’t believe God is nearly as concerned about sin as we are. I believe that sin is just not that big of an issue for God. If there is something God is concerned about, it is religion, which presents an ugly portrait of God to people and tells us to worship this ugly portrait “or else.”
And while sin is destructive and hurtful, I think that God would rather have us sin a little than live smug religious lives of self-righteous arrogance.
Bonus Item: 6. I believed that God was violent.
I used to teach that everything the Bible says God did is in fact what God actually did.
While I still hold to the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture, I now view things a little bit differently (I have a book coming out soon which explains more).
I no longer believe God is violent in any way, shape, or form. I do not believe God engages in violence or commands His people to do so. I believe that, if Jesus reveals God to us, then God is, by definition, non-violent.
This understanding, of course, has made me rethink a lot of other areas about theology, including how I read Scripture, but this entire topic is too huge to summarize in this post (which is already too long).
So those are some of the theological mistakes I made as a pastor. I imagine I am making more mistakes right now, but time will tell what those are.
How about you? What theological mistakes have you made in your past? What do you believe now instead and how did the change come about? Let us know in the comment section!