It all starts with the Heart
Bad theology is more a matter of the heart than it is of the intellect. What we believe and how we interpret the Bible really has nothing to do with how smart we are but everything to do with the condition of our hearts. It all boils down to three things. Whether or not the Holy Spirit lives in us. How humble we are. And how much faith we really have in the word of God. In short, bad theology comes from either: (a) an unregenerate heart; (b) a prideful heart; or (c) a heart that doesn’t have full trust in the Bible as God’s word.
1. An unregenerate heart produces bad theology
An unregenerate heart basically means you’re not saved. Regeneration is what happens when a person is saved and the Holy Spirit comes to live inside of them. You may have heard the term “born again” before. That’s what this is. It’s being born again of the Spirit.
Jesus said, “Unless a man is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:). The Greek word translated born again there is where we get the word regeneration from. The Bible teaches that before we are saved we are spiritually dead. Meaning we are separated from the Spirit of God. We have a physical life but not spiritual life. In Ephesians, Paul uses the phrase “dead in our trespasses and sins” to describe our spiritual state apart from Christ (Eph 2:1).
The Bible also teaches that the person without the Holy Spirit cannot understand the things of God because they are spiritual things and make no sense to the natural mind. This may not seem like it applies to bad theology because the logical conclusion would seem to be that people who are not Christians would not be trying to interpret the Bible. More than that, one would automatically assume that those who are preaching and teaching the Bible are saved and born again Christians. I wish this were true.
There are a lot of well-educated people who openly admit that they are not Christians but still attempt to interpret the Bible and produce theology for the rest of us. Then there are also those who are pastors, Bible teachers, seminary professor and such who are preaching and teaching the Bible and call their selves Christians but are not truly born again. Then there are those who are more sincere who are not Christians but are investigating the claims of Christianity and develop poor theology in the process.
2. A prideful heart produces bad theology
For those who truly are saved a humble heart is a good safeguard against bad theology. Pride is rooted deeply in all of our hearts. It doesn’t miraculously vanish just because we become Christians. It only begins to manifest itself in more religious ways. Probably the biggest mistake most young Christians make is assuming God has removed all of their pride now that they are a Christian. Ironically, it is a very bold and prideful statement to say that we are not prideful people.
Humility begins with acknowledging our pride. When we don’t our pride will creep into how we interpret the Bible and we’ll never know because it will all sound very spiritual to us. Pride affects the Christian’s understanding of the Bible in one major way. It causes us to create a theology that is more founded on what we think than on what the Bible actually says.
It does this because it creates a kind of spiritual roadblock in our hearts that will not allow us to be corrected when we are wrong. This mostly shows itself in the seeming innocence of our intuition. We encounter a passage that challenges how we think or feel about something and our intuition tells us that it just can’t mean this or that. My friend, your intuition is not an accurate gauge of what is truth and what is not because your intuition has been tainted by sin and pride.
So what we do because of our pride is not allow the Scriptures to challenge and correct our thinking on certain things and we start reading our own meanings into them. In my article, Three Easy Indicators to Identify False Teaching, I mentioned a preacher who based an entire sermon off of “common sense.” His common sense told him that there’s no way a certain teaching could be true. But it is pride that wouldn’t allow his common sense to be corrected by biblical sense. So he pulled passages from the Bible, filtered through his common sense, and built an entire interpretation around it.
3. A doubting heart produces bad theology
There are some things in the Bible that you will simply never understand if you don’t have full trust in it as God’s word. How can Jesus be both fully God and fully man? How could a virgin give birth? How can a bush burn without being consumed by the fire? How could Daniel spend the night in a den of hungry lions and not be eaten by them? How cold Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego come out of the furnace not even smelling like smoke? How could God just speak everything into existence out of nothing? The list goes on and on.
These things are simple enough examples but there are others that get more complicated because we have such a hard time simply trusting what the Bible says. At the root of this is either a lack of trust in the Bible as the word of God or a lack of trust in God Himself. Hebrews 11:3 says that by faith we understand.
Most people take this to mean that by faith we just blindly accept those things we can’t understand. That’s a perfect example of reading meaning into a text because that’s not what the text says. It says by faith we understand. Not, by faith, we blindly accept what we can’t understand. It literally means by faith we understand.
Through our trust in the Bible as God’s word, and our trust in God that He cannot lie, we understand things we cannot understand apart from that trust. Through my faith, I understand that God spoke the world into existence because God said He did and I trust Him. The Great word translated understand there signified, in the Greek language, to perceive with reflective intelligence.
To perceive with reflective intelligence is a lot different than blind acceptance. Faith, trust in the Bible and God, literally enables us to perceive with reflective intelligence things that otherwise would make no sense to us. Faith doesn’t turn us into dumb creatures neglecting intellectual reasoning. On the contrary, it empowers our intellect.
Good Theology is A Matter of The Heart
Overall it really is a matter of the heart. Have you truly been born again? Do you humble yourself when approaching the Scriptures and allow them to challenge and correct you instead of you challenging and correcting them? And do you really have a full trust in God and the Bible as His word that will empower your ability to understand it?
Jesus said that out of the heart come evil thoughts and these are things that defile us (Matthew 15:19-20). If we’re brave enough to think that just because we’re Christians that evil thoughts won’t creep out of our hearts and into our theology then our pride has already deceived us and placed us on the path to bad theology.
We won’t have to worry about false teachers deceiving us because we’ll be doing their job for them. Worse than that, we may even become one. If our theology is bad it’s not because we’re too dumb to understand the Bible or because it’s too complicated. Bad theology is a heart problem, not a mind problem.
Good theology begins with the heart. Saved, humble, and trusting in God and His word. It doesn’t mean we’ll get it right every time. But it sure will help.
Questions for reflection:
- Do you know for sure that the Holy Spirit lives inside of you?
- Do you allow the Bible to challenge you and look to see in what ways it can correct your thoughts and feelings? Or do you challenge the Bible and inject your own thoughts and feelings into it?
- Do you trust and believe, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that God is good and that the Bible is His word to us?
Copyright © Lawrence Joseph Sterling 2017. All rights reserved.