If It Makes You a Jerk, It’s Not Good Theology

It happened again.

Another story of Presbyterians going Presbyterian on one of their own.

The story is old. It goes something like this: Inerrantist, complementarian, Presbyterian, covenant theologian, willing to sign off on the 80+ pages of the Westminster Confession of Faith, has his ordination stymied by a theological debate.

Seriously.

I’ve pretty much come to the point where I’d think that if anyone is willing to sign off on your 80+ pages of theology that you should grab them and never let them go.

But that’s not how the conservative Presbyterian world works. That’s not the fruit of traditional Reformed Theology.

And what I say to them I say to all of us: If the fruit of our theology is that it makes people jerks, it is not good theology.

At some point, we have to step back and say that it’s not merely that people take the theology in a wrong direction, or that people with good theology nevertheless behave badly. There is something in the culture of the places that cling to Reformed or Neo-Reformed theology that makes them rabid about theology.

And these worlds aren’t alone. Lots of us move in or through ecclesiastical circles where there is a viciousness to the theological conversation, or a viciousness in the pursuit of holiness.

I am thankful for the Reformation. It opened up the doors for much-needed reform to come to the church. And that good reform did come both to the Roman Catholic church and through the newly birthed Protestant churches.

But one of its most unfortunate legacies was its providing us a theological justification for separating our theology and teaching from our ethics and behavior. Faith is one thing. Works is something else. The faith we profess is crucial. The works we perform will all need to be forgiven.

And with that, we surrendered our calling to judge by fruit. We are not to believe every prophet. We are not to believe every teacher. And while many of us have strong standards of judgment, ours are not the ones Jesus erected.

For us, the standard of judgment has to do with theological correctness, with correspondence to our system of doctrine. False teachers are run out of town when they say the wrong thing about the Bible or what God was thinking about before creation, or sex.

But Jesus tells us that the reason to run someone out of town is not their theological system but their fruit.

And what we too often, too willfully, forget, is that contentiousness and divisions are the very fruit of the flesh that demonstrate a person’s walking by the flesh and not by the Spirit.

In other words, if the fruit of your theology is that it creates a community of jerks, your teaching has gone awry.

Contentiousness should be a wake up call for us. When we find ourselves in worlds where fights recur, something has gone amiss–we should examine how we’re defining the gospel and thus ourselves as God’s people, and figure out what went wrong.

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