Virtual Voices

I'm not Paul, but . . .

Religion

The grandiosity and confidence of some theologians and pastors in an age of democratic theology is something the early church fathers would find puzzling. If you're attending a vibrant church, it seems easy to assume that your church must be "right." In evangelicalism, what qualifies as credible is often church size and pastoral charisma. If the church is big and the pastor is a good speaker, then the church must be preaching something right. God must be "in it." However, in an age where theological accuracy and biblical fidelity to the historic teachings of the church are authenticated by the size of parking lots, media appearances, profiles in Christian magazines, the pastor's "hipster" quotient, believing that Christianity began in the 16th century, and so on, I'm not so sure we should be as dogmatically confident as we profess.

Churches without pastoral leadership bound and accountable to higher ecclesial authority and oversight, outside of the local congregational setting, typically end up with pastors who surround themselves with "yes men." These men may be called "elders" but they were selected by the super-pastor and are not considered his theological equal.

For pastors driven by numbers (followers), influence, making the church catholic into their own image, and so on, it is also easy to fall prey to the group-selected narcissism that feeds the arrogant self-deception that "pastor X's" or "Dr. X's" theological preferences are best for the church universal. A congregation's "vision/mission statement" or "statement of faith" is treated as creedal and used as a basis for assessing the orthodoxy of the church down the street.

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Perhaps this is why celebrities, in general, believe their own hype as suggested in Dr. Gad Saad's article, "I'm not a Doctor, But . . . ," in the most recent issue of Psychology Today. Narcissism, grandiosity, fame, "yes, men," the post-modern democratization of opinion lead us to wrongly believe that well-known people must be right. I think issues may apply to well-known pastors, theologians, and Christian musicians, as well.

Honestly, I struggle with theological humility in my own writing and speaking. This is not a problem, then, exclusive to those who are well-known. There is also the opposite extreme of those who believe they are "right" because their church world is small and their pastors are not well-known.

What's different about a church world of democratized theology is that we no longer have the authority to declare something heretical nor in error. We can't remove bad teaching from church communities. We can only blog about error or slander error on Facebook and Twitter. Sadly, numbers feed the self-deception that Paul the apostle would agree with whatever your church teaches and practices. Church history should remind us that it is entirely possible, because of sin and deception, for any of our churches to be large, or your favorite pastor or theologian to be famous, because God is, in fact, not "in it."

Anthony Bradley
Anthony Bradley

Anthony is associate professor of theology and ethics at The King's College in New York and serves as a research fellow at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty. He is author of Liberating Black Theology. Follow Anthony on Twitter @drantbradley.

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