My Fellow Sojourners,
I know that this is sent out to a wide variety of people (many of you, cherished friends) who fall at a variety of places between: 'I am a Christian' all the way to, and including, 'Christians represent everything I don't wanna be.'
I am a Christian, albeit (as most of you know) a hypocritical one. Though I am not proud of that, I am determined to be honest about it. I also I understand why many of you are disinterested in Christianity, given the abuses that have taken place, and continue to take place, by many a 'religious professional.'
The ugly truth is that it's easy to become abusive when you are in ministry because it's all quite seductive. How can it not be? Speaking for God is pretty heady stuff. Being an expert on God can inflate virtually any head. My head has been inflated (and subsequently deflated) many times over the years.
However, there is another temptation that accompanies ego-inflation that may be even more common among the religious experts. It’s what I call ‘Theological Atonement Theory’ (TAT) which asserts this: ‘The chief end of the Christian faith is to think (or teach) rightly about God.’ Put another way: 'Orthodoxy equals Piety.' Put yet another way: ‘All is well with my soul, so long as my doctrine is sound.’
Legion are the times I've returned from preaching or teaching at an event, only to ask myself, 'How did I do? By 'do' I meant 'teach?' W'as I clear? Did I emphasize X or Y adequately?' Appropriate questions, those. However, rarely would I ask an equally significant question: 'How did I treat people before and after I spoke? Did I truly listen to them or was I still preaching at them? Did I look for anyone who seemed an outlier? Lonely? Did I allow others to set the agenda in conversation or did I? Did I inquire about them, or did I report on me?
In the event that my preaching far exceeded my relational initiatives, I'd excuse myself on the grounds that, 'After all, my job was to preach or teach.' (i.e. convey sound theological information). I can TAT with the best of em. Still do it, often without realizing it.
Now, I’m all for theological precision. Who doesn’t want to be known rightly? Who doesn’t resent it when they are misrepresented by others? Am pretty sure God feels the same way.
The problem with TAT, however, is that the theological tail is wagging the behavioral dog. Theology is the means, behavior is the end...... which, according to Jesus, is to love God and others, which means that whenever we remind people, by the careful way we treat them, that they are sacred. In so doing, we are attributing ultimate worth to the God in whose image they are made. (worth-ship/worship).
I suspect that much of the drama Jesus had to deal with came from those whose theological precision was deemed adequate to atone for rather 'imprecise' relational and behavioral habits which, almost always boiled down to lovelessness.
There apparently were quite a few TAT-ists a couple thousand years ago in Corinth (they were called ‘gnostics’ back then) with whom St Paul had quite a row,. It resulted in his penning one of the most lovely and challenging passages in all of the Bible. Check out of 1 Corinthians 13. ('If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.')
What's more, one wonders if TAT-ism explains why so many churches or religious organizations turn a blind eye toward a host of predatory habits by their leadership so long as they preach sound doctrine, and preach it well? For if bad behavior is atoned for by sound preaching/theology, then it is prone to be excused and....as we've learned, enabled.
Just a thought.
All the best,