What Is The Difference Between Good Theology and Bad Theology?

It has been a couple of weeks since my friend Jay Williams passed away. I have had some time to think about his life and the impact that he had on so many, even in his death. Even now I am still hearing stories about the impact his life had. It is just amazing to me how one person can reach so many. Which, brings me to today. As I was standing in the hallway behind the sanctuary during Jay’s funeral, a thought hit me: Good theology is so important because life is too short to get it wrong.

I think some definitions would be helpful here before we go any further. Theology is the a word that means “study of God.” That means that when we are studying theology we are trying to understand something about how God works in this world and what kind of a God we are talking about. When we try and figure out how we are supposed to interact with God we have moved into a different realm of study. We are now talking about philosophy.

An Example of “Bad” Theology

My pastor a couple of weeks ago said something that I had felt, but had never really verbalized in quite this way. Pastor David said, “I have never been to a funeral where the person in the casket went to hell.” What he was saying was that it is very difficult to be the preacher at the funeral and say, “Well, they were a scoundrel, lived a terrible life and are now burning in the flames of eternal damnation! Oh, and by the way, they deserved it because they were unrepentant sinners.” I have never heard anything like that. But, we have to ask ourselves the question, “Does everybody go to heaven?” This post is not going to entertain the discussion that has been had in the last few years about this issue. I will state that I do not believe that everybody goes to heaven. What I want to say is that if we are so afraid of hell, why do we not accept the answer that God gives, rather than make up our own–that there is no hell or that everybody goes to heaven?

At the root of this example is a fear that all people have. If we allow the preacher or eulogizer of the dead to posit the eternal destiny of the person in the casket, then we have to ask ourselves the same question. “Have I given enough, or any thought, to what will happen to me at my death?” Have we considered what our destiny will be?

Bad theology lets us off the hook for our actions and puts us in more favorable circumstances. We all come out feeling better about ourselves even if the truth of the matter is something else. Bad theology is bad precisely because it puts us in the position of having to defend God from his own Word. God does not need defending.

What is Good Theology?

At the heart of Good Theology is God, as he truly is. Without the need for qualification or clarification. God all by himself. When we stop trying to make God look better we can begin to dig into what we are supposed to know and understand. My friend Jay died from a tragic accident. He fell from a roof. One of the most common things that I hear when someone dies young or unexpectedly is, “Well, it was just their time.”

Let’s think about that for a second. What are we saying about God? We are essentially saying that God was actively involved in the death of this person. Now, while this is not outside the realm of possibilities, and God is well within in right to do as he pleases, do we want to get into a “God’s Hit List” situation? God’s knowledge of events does not make God guilty of what happens on a fallen planet.

Good theology starts where the bible starts. Where is that exactly? The Bible starts with God’s goodness and human sin. Jay was a good man, a righteous man, by all accounts public and private, but Jay was a sinner and he lived in a sinful world. He, just like the rest of us, had to deal with the realities of living in a world ravaged by the effects of the fall. So what does that mean? It means that Jay’s faith in God did not immunize him from the realities and difficulties of life. It means that even accidents and premature deaths happen to those who believe in Jesus.

God is good even when especially when things do not turn out the way that we planned. This is the turbulent truth of the Christian faith. Can we endure the struggles of life, wondering if God will prove to be faithful? Or will God finally fail us?

What I have learned in the days and weeks following Jay’s death is that good theology is the only hope we have. Bad theology may make us feel better in the short term, but it will rob us of true peace and joy in the end.

Advertisements

5 thoughts on “What Is The Difference Between Good Theology and Bad Theology?”

  1. Ah. Quaker theology (so far as there was any, & so far as anyone still bothers with it) held that your “word” was ‘some words of God’, that it said (as it does) that the actual Word of God is Christ — & that aside from God inside interpreting it to the reader, it’s only words, susceptable to considerable human misunderstanding.

    My own ‘theology’ is that theologizing in a spirit of literalism is the essence of ‘bad theology’; that the only safe way to drink this stuff is poetically.

    I think that if we don’t risk offending each other (and I did worry about that!) there isn’t much point in us being on the same Earth together. The theology you espouse offends me; you don’t! (My Missouri Synod room-mate in my first year of college was sure I was headed straight to Hell, but I didn’t hold it against him much. I didn’t think he should be quite so cheerful about it, but when we recently met again we were still friends.)

    Whether we’re close enough for conversation to be fruitful, well… I see God’s intention of redemption — & expect it to be entirely effective. I’m not so sure it’s a ‘plan’ (nor that it isn’t!) I wouldn’t confine God’s ‘word’ to the Bible, because I’ve had to conclude that everything in life is God’s communication — but that always, even in the Bible, we need God’s aid in discerning how we’re meant to read it.

    So. Maybe we just map out some basic differences, & waddle on our ways for now?

  2. If everybody went to Heaven, I’m guessing you’d be there complaining about the riffraff that guy Jesus let in — but I guess we’re going to miss you! (Or maybe you’ll let yourself in later. “70X7″ is the recommended forgiveness quota for sinful humans — & that idiom translates as ~”unlimited, plus maybe another 70X7 times after that, etc” so I expect God will manage it, whenever you can recognize and forgive yourself.)

      1. Well, certainly not literally. Definitely in the spirit of: “The measure you put out will be the one you get back.”

        You want to warn people away from the kind of behavior that would make life ‘hell’ even in heaven — and I’m saying that ascribing human lack of mercy to God is itself an example. Since I’m a poet in your “bad theology” camp, I don’t really get to keep you out — but I did want you to reflect on what such lack of mercy would mean, to any of those ‘lost sheep’ you think God would leave adrift forever. [God is nicer than me, too!]

      2. I want to thank you again for reading and responding. I have read your comments several times to make sure that I understood what you were saying.

        I think that we have a fundamental difference in the way that we understand God’s view of sin and God’s plan for redemption.

        If I have offended you, I apologize. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me as I strive to faithfully communicate what I read in God’s word. This is the primary reason that I write–to engage in a conversation with others. Thank you again.

Comments are closed.