A month ago, I talked about my superpower–my ability to ruin people’s enjoyment of certain Christian teachers, authors, speakers, and musicians by pointing out the theological squishyness (or downright wonkiness) of what they believe or profess. But I have learned that having such a fine discernment filter can lead you down a challenging and lonely path, fraught with peril. Yes, “fraught.”
The particular peril in question? Too much energy poured into the task discerning error can turn one into the theological equivalent of Grumpy Cat. Nothing is praiseworthy, nothing is excellent, nothing is of good report. This isn’t Phariseeism exactly, but it’s closer to Curmudgeon-ism, and can be just as unsavory.
I’m not at all saying that discernment is unimportant or harmful–just the opposite; it’s vital, as in necessary for healthy Christian living. But if all we do is discern error, we will begin to lose sight of the joy that comes from knowing the truth (and knowing the One who is Truth).
Joyless warriors are weary warriors. I’ve seen that firsthand in the eyes of ministers I’ve met who have spent so much time in rhetorical battle with theological opponents that they look like an old fighting dog that’s always ready to snap at the first sign of aggression. Rather than finding joy in even imperfect church situations, they nitpick things that don’t really mean much. That kind of approach dries out your heart.
I saw this play out in the aftermath of the murder of 21 Coptics by ISIS. In the theological circles that I run with, there arose a sometimes-heated discussion about whether or not Coptic doctrine was theologically orthodox. (To be honest, I’m still not sure I can confidently call those 21 men fellow believers, because I don’t know for certain if they had a right understanding of salvation–that it is by grace through faith and not by works. I want to believe, but I just don’t know.)
However, when some of the online discussion became rancorous, even among brothers in Christ, I found myself more bothered by seeing my brothers argue than I was about the murder of the 21 (which said something troubling about my heart, I’m afraid). I watched a zeal for right doctrine sour into nay-saying and name-calling.
Don’t misunderstand: this wasn’t the product of doctrinal zeal; it was the fruit of theological joylessness.
Two weeks ago, my wife (whom God has given to me to keep me from becoming a jerk) asked me a pointed question. I was telling her about a sermon by a major evangelical leader that got my dander up, and she asked, “Don’t you ever listen to good sermons? What’s on your iPod?”
I replied that I had a few discernment-style podcasts, a few other Christian shows, some silly geek stuff, and several productivity/creativity podcasts.
“You need to stop listening to all that other stuff and listen to some good sermons for a while. It’ll do you some good.”
My wife, she is wise. And patient. And gorgeous. (I love you, beauty.) And she was right. I was spending a LOT of time listening to bad sermons being critiqued, and not enough to good sermons being preached.
So for the last 2 weeks, I’ve been pumping good sermons into my ears–proper exegesis, in-context textual references, and above all else, teaching that is focused on how the gospel of Jesus Christ makes a difference in what we believe, how we think, and how we live.
How did this small change help? I immediately recognized that it helped fuel my love for the Bible. Good preaching and teaching is Bible-drenched. As a result, it’s still polishing and sharpening my zeal for truth. I can focus on what’s good and true, and love it just as much. This is, in turn, helping me become a better teacher, because I’m delighting in the truths I’m teaching.
But don’t worry, fine citizens–Captain Buzzkill is still watching over our fair city, keeping a steely eye focused on any heretical ne’er-do-wells who may be hawking their terrible theology in religious bookstores. However, like all heroes, he must always be careful to avoid becoming the villain he’s trying to stop–a Bible teacher who has taken his eyes off of the beautiful, powerful, glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ.