ArticlesProtecting Your Congregation from Flawed Theology

Protecting Your Congregation from Flawed Theology

By Tanner Watson

The Problem

Flawed theology is not something that the 21st Century invented. In fact, a great way to learn historical theology is by exploring the different historical counsels that formed to fight the flawed theologies of their day. The 21st century is a connected age, and that means that individuals and groups that possess flawed theologies are more connected with the rest of the world than ever before. The internet allows anyone to say anything to just about anybody, and it is there forever. While I would argue that being connected is an overwhelmingly good thing, we have seen some of the negative results of being over-connected in areas like the news, politics, and social media. Inevitably it seems, flawed theology has also gained a greater platform in a connected age than it has ever possessed in the past. I am not talking about simple differences of theological opinion though. Rather, I am talking about serious differences with some foundational, historic, and orthodox beliefs of the Christian faith.


The Data

To help paint the picture, let me share some statistics from The State of Theology. A survey given to Evangelical Americans about their theological convictions:

  • 56% of evangelicals agree that “God accepts the worship of all religions, including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.” (42% agreed with this statement in 2020)
  • 43% of evangelicals agree that “Jesus was a great teacher, but he was not God.” (30% agreed with this statement in 2020)
  • 26% of evangelicals agree that “the Bible, like all sacred writings, contains helpful accounts of ancient myths, but is not literally true.” (15% agreed with this statement in 2020)
  • 38% of evangelicals agree that “religious belief is a matter of personal opinion; it is not about objective truth.” (23% agreed with this statement in 2020)

So, what is the data telling us? Not only is flawed theology held by a significant number of Evangelical Believers, but that the numbers are on a steady rise. 43% of evangelicals agreed that Jesus wasn’t God? That isn’t some openhanded issue we can agree to disagree on, that is heresy. Not to be an alarmist…but that alarms me!  


Who’s to Blame?

Can we really blame the individuals that responded to this survey though? I say no.  Sure, there are people out there spreading flawed theology purposefully, but most of the people that responded to this survey heard or read these conclusions somewhere and decided to run with it. I have a theology library sitting behind me at my desk, but that isn’t the case for most people. Instead, most people have a world of information at their fingertips that is constantly barraging them with different ideas, and they have happened to pick up a few that are not theologically sound to run with. Can we blame the Church? Maybe? Perhaps we have not been putting enough emphasis on sound theology as of late. I think it would be fair to put some of the blame on our modern and connected age. The connected age isn’t going away though, all we can do is respond to it. Whoever or whatever is to blame, it probably does not matter that much. All we can do is take care of our own flocks.


What Do We Do?

So, what can we do about it? How can we protect our congregations from flawed theologies? The results of that survey alarm me as a youth pastor, and I hope they alarm you too. Close to half of the people that identify as evangelical don’t even believe that Jesus is God! How do I protect my students from flawed theology like this? Well, I have a few thoughts.


For starters, don’t demonize the exchange of ideas. Like I said, a connected world is not an inherently bad thing, and it is not going away. Plus, it is good for us to encounter ideas and even theologies that are different from our own. The answer is not building bigger walls to keep new ideas out. We can’t create bubbles to stay in to block out everyone who disagrees with us, that is the opposite of our call in the Great Commission! Instead, I believe the answer to this dilemma is equipping our people with robust theological foundations so that they can engage different ideas openly and with context.


This leads me to starting with the basics. Sound orthodox theology begins and ends with a real understanding and consistent interaction with scripture. I don’t think we can encourage these things enough with our people. At my church, we publish daily bible readings that help our people engage scripture in step with what we are teaching from the pulpit each week. This encourages consistent interaction with scripture and helps give biblical context to what we say from the pulpit on Sunday mornings. Other ways to accomplish this include small group curriculum, newsletters that include scripture, passing out bibles, etc. False theologies do not come from scripture. So, in my head, it stands to reason that consistent engagement with scripture can help equip our people to better process the ideas that they encounter in their everyday lives. I guess the question we must ask ourselves here is this: “How do I make a real understanding and consistent interaction with scripture accessible and a priority for my people?” If we can answer that for our flocks, I think we are headed in the right direction.


In addition to this, we can’t assume everyone understands the basics. No matter how long someone has been a Christian, we can’t assume what they do and don’t know about theology. This is ESPECIALLY true for those in our congregations that are new to the faith. With that in mind, we need to make sure a major part of our regular teaching and programming is geared towards basic theological teaching. Please hear me, this does NOT mean we need to dumb down our content and teaching. Neither does it mean we need to preach boring and unapproachable theological discourse from the pulpit. Instead, I am suggesting that we can use the basics of theology to continually challenge our people and help them build an authentic faith while maintaining a robust theological foundation. This starts at the pulpit but continues into every part of the content and programming that we and our churches produce.  Here we should ask: “How can we continually drive home the basics of our faith in ways that are engaging and approachable?” I think this can get us headed in the right direction too.


This isn’t all up to the church though, every individual must engage these ideas, both good and bad, themselves. That means we must encourage our people to do some of this on their own. This could manifest in suggesting books, videos, podcasts, etc. This means offering classes that those interested could attend and learn about different flawed theologies. That means opening our doors to questions and being a safe place for people to ask them. Ultimately, we must put this in the hands of our flock because they aren’t encountering flawed theology on Sunday mornings (hopefully), they are encountering flawed theology every other day of the week in their normal rhythms. So, I guess the question to ask here is this: “How do we make a robust theological foundation something that is important to our people?” When we only see our flock a few times a week (on a good week), this is a crucial part of the direction I believe we need to head.


Final Thoughts

We can learn a lot from the history of the Church about facing flawed theology. Like I said, this isn’t a new thing. We can look back on the parade of saints that have gone before us and learn from their wins and from their mistakes. To be fair, there are plenty of both throughout Christian history. We know that flawed theology is not going away, all we can do is prepare our people for it. Because of this, I think it best to equip our people to engage flawed theologies instead of shielding our people from them altogether. In turn, I see a bright future ahead for our congregations as they move out into the world as representatives for the Gospel with a sound and robust theological foundation.


*The views expressed are those solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Pastor’s Common

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