On the Parchment and Pen blog, C. Michael Patton recently wrote an excellent article entitled, “The Evangelical Epidemic of Theological Accountability and Discipline” in which he makes an excellent case why (albeit tacitly) theological education must primarily exist in an ecclesiological context. Here are some excerpts from his article:
“No one likes to be told they are wrong. Correction and critique are things we go out of our way to avoid. Those who can ask the tough questions about your life, probing deep when they suspect some spiritual sickness, are not often not welcome friends. We don’t pick up the phone when they call. We avoid them at work. We don’t return their emails. Why? Because they can tell us the skinny about our life and we don’t want to hear it. We are prideful people who, like the priest, choose to walk far around the problems in our life, and we ask others to do the same.
As problematic as this mentality is with regards to things having to do with moral integrity, I believe that the problem is just as severe with regards to theological integrity.”
“Sadly we have an epidemic of theological discipline in the church today. People think that they can believe and teach anything based upon a subjective experience or a provision of hope. This epidemic is caused due to lack of theological accountability. We don’t think we need people to tell us we are wrong. We don’t have any system of checks and balances; in fact, we often avoid them. We think that if we have the Bible and the Holy Spirit, we have license. There is no way to be humiliated so that we can be humbled.”
“Integrity of belief is essential for every Christian. We all need trustworthy sources to which we can turn to test our beliefs. We need to have learned how to handle the Scriptures properly. We need to learn not only the right beliefs, but how to come to the right beliefs the right way. We all need to be humbled . . . often. We even need to get the snot kicked out every once in a while. We need battle scars of discipline. We need to have friendships with people who will tell us we are in left field. We need to fear discipline enough that we will think twice about believing or teaching something novel.”
“Once one becomes a Christian, the most they receive is a four week membership class that deals less with theology and more with church polity. But for the most part they don’t even get this. We tell them to ask Christ into their heart then we send them on their way with our blessing. In reality, we don’t know what has been created. At best, we have just placed a new born baby on the streets telling them to be filled and happy.”
Is it any wonder that the church has such an epidemic for theological integrity? Should we really expect any different?
Who are you accountable to for your beliefs? When you get a wild hair about some theological issue, where do you turn? Better, where does this wild hair come from and who gave you the right to have a wild hair. “Wild.” Look it up in the dictionary and you will see that it means “undisciplined, unruly, or lawless.”
People need serious theological training. People need discipline. People need to know that they cannot do whatever they want with Christian belief and expect there to be so many lab rats available. If you have not been trained theologically, you need to be. This does not mean that you have read a book or two on theology, but you need to be in some sort of program that systematically, from beginning to end, takes you through the Christian faith, teaching you not only what to think and believe, but how to think and believe. We all need to be critiqued, disciplined, and humbled. We need more spiritual black eyes. We also need to be prepared to do the same with others.”
A Blue Collar Theology values theological accountability and discipline through a confessional integrity in an ecclesiological context. Accountability and discipline could never adequately occur through mere theological precision in academia (though it is a prerequisite); rather, we are called to watch both our life and our doctrine–and the two cannot, must not be separated. Therefore, theological accountability and discipline rightly correspond to the spiritual disciplines of holiness and progressive sanctification, for as we mentioned earlier, theological education cannot be divorced from sanctification.
Are you accountable for your theological beliefs? Where do you turn to humbly submit your doctrinal understanding and beliefs? Should it not be the local church and your elders? Indeed, it should.