Exaggerating Theology

Theological arguments tend to go to extremes. As people argue, they get pushed further and further into their corner.

There are those who think that exaggerating their point somehow makes their point more spiritual. Rather than emphasizing a doctrinal point, they are making themselves and their doctrine better than the other guy’s. It has little to do with holding highly doctrine and more to do with holding yourself highly.

Let me give you an example.

We are saved by grace through faith. One would think the response to salvation by grace through faith would be a desire to serve the one who saved us by His grace. I will show you my honor of grace by my works. As Paul said, because of God’s grace, “I labor more abundantly than they all.”

But wow, that seems pretty tough. Awful worky. So I will come back with my higher view of grace that says, “You know, grace is so great, I don’t think works are necessary. It’s all Christ. It’s all grace. I am so little and insignificant. It’s all grace.”

This attempt to magnify grace carries some arrogance with it. To say that grace is so big I can’t do anything anyway, so I won’t, although seeming to glorify grace, actually tends to glorify your own self.

So the next guy, rather than going back to Paul’s idea that grace makes you labor more, has to outdo the last sanctimonious theologizer. He has to glorify grace even more than the “I can’t do anything” guy.

So the next guy says, “Grace is so amazing, so large, so incredible, not only can I not do anything, I will say that grace is so big, it is magnified even more by my abject sinning. I will get so far away from the dangers of good works, I will just sin and let God’s grace, which is so amazing, cover it all. I am nothing but a sinner, sinning in the glories of God’s grace. Praise God!”

The journey is complete. You can’t get any further away from the Bible’s stance on grace. But all this is done in an effort to glorify grace.

That’s what’s so amazing about so much false doctrine: it was created to emphasize and glorify the very doctrine they eventually destroy.

The same thing is true of Calvinism and God’s sovereignty. God is so sovereign, He even makes people sin. We don’t understand how or why, we will say He’s not the author of sin, even while saying He is, it’s all a mystery, but God is glorified by things that are completely contrary to His character and glory.

In an effort to emphasize His sovereignty, they blaspheme His very nature.

(You will also note that in both the grace and sovereignty exaggerations, both end up saying sin is not that big of a problem! This is the root point of most bad doctrine.)

Once you are aware of this theological trend, you will see it everywhere.

It’s no longer about elevating our view of God, but rather elevating our views of ourselves and whether we are better than those people. All you need to do is listen to people and the attitude and arrogance dripping off their explanations. There is no one more arrogant than the guy who thinks he’s elevating his doctrine to lofty heights. (Read Michael’s comment from Justifying your Disobedience post last week for a recent example.)

It’s a sad thing. Using God for our own advancement. Using doctrine to brag about ourselves. Everyone is susceptible to it. Myself included. It’s a terrifying thing.

Stay humble, my friends. Stick with what the Bible says. Don’t fall for the trap that going beyond what Scripture says makes you more spiritual. It aint true.

6 thoughts on “Exaggerating Theology”

  1. Jeff,
    You don’t know me. You’ve never met me, and you don’t know what I do. You have no idea of the strength or otherwise of my faith, nor how I go about my everyday life to serve the Lord. Yet, after a single comment in your blog, you call me arrogant in a public forum. I couldn’t find an email address, otherwise I would have addressed you about your cowardice privately.

    As far as I can tell, having read your recent blogs, and in spite of your many claims, all you do is write about theology, despising anyone who disagrees or apparently doesn’t measure up. You have a good chortle don’t you. How dare they disagree. In short, you do precisely what the preachers and ‘church goers’ whom you rail about do, along the way causing untold damage to those who don’t believe, and grinding into the dust any who might struggle with a bar that most of the time seems so high.

    Why don’t you email me Jeff, with your number, and I will call you. You can come and meet the heroin addict I am walking alongside at the moment, he who has such a fledgling belief whose everyday struggle is ‘will I get through today’ and you can preach your ‘good works’ theology to him. Tell him he just doesn’t do enough for Jesus.

    You smug, vile turd, where are the ‘good works’ you spin so much about? Certainly not much evidence in the writing is there. I bet you feel extremely proud of your little tirades, so well done on that. I can’t wait to read the response.

  2. It is true I do not know you, and yes I did judge you, and I can see how my response can be taken as cowardly. I responded how I did because I have been on the internet a long time and I generally just let people say their thing and let it go because discourse on the internet solves nothing. Your initial response fit very nicely into my latest point, so I threw it in there. perhaps that was bad judgment.

    You’re not the first random stranger who has popped on my blog and called me such things as a “vile turd.” I did not go to your blog and criticize you, you came here. If you don’t like what I write, then don’t come and read it. I just write my stuff. It helps some people. So I keep doing it. I will pray for your heroin addict friend.

  3. You smug, vile turd,

    I think that says more about the person who said it than about the person to whom it was directed.

    It also makes Michaels beliefs about grace less surprising. Someone choosing to use such insults needs to believe in a cheap and easy grace.

  4. Michael said:

    Why don’t you email me Jeff, with your number, and I will call you. You can come and meet the heroin addict I am walking alongside at the moment, he who has such a fledgling belief whose everyday struggle is ‘will I get through today’ and you can preach your ‘good works’ theology to him. Tell him he just doesn’t do enough for Jesus.

    Sadly, in your hurry to justify yourself and defend your theological stance you not only miss the point, you push it aside and ignore it.
    What do you hope for – or expect – for the heroin addict you mention?
    What do you hope or expect God to do in his/her life?

    Will God leave them in addiction with their only hope being they’ll end up “in heaven” should they overdose?
    Or can you trust that God can and will make them new – give them the required strength to overcome and become a devoted witness to the good news of Jesus Christ?

    It’s not a matter of a new Christian doing “enough for Jesus”.
    Do you think we should assure the new believers that coming to Jesus will have no effect on their life: that they will remain as they are and that God is okay with them continuing in their sin and destructive behaviours?

    Does God leave everyone in their sin?
    Does God leave everyone in their weakness?

    Anyone who is in Christ WILL change from glory to glory by the work of His Spirit.

    Clearly it’s not Jeff’s (or my) “good works theology” when Scripture says that Christ newly creates us to do good works that he has prepared for us.

    Why do you reject what scripture CLEARLY and unambiguously states?
    How strong is your desire for the truth as compared to your desire to stand on a theological position that ignores an important and very clear part of scripture?

  5. Onesimus,
    I’ve been following the conversation between you, Jeff, and Michael and I appreciate your posts a great deal. In my former Lutheran (LCMS) membership, I had been taught that we can do nothing as Christians; we can never move past the cross.

    This series has been incredibly helpful to me; thank you for your imput!

  6. Thanks for your kind and encouraging comment Ruth.

    Jesus’s story about the vine and the branches gives some interesting insight (John 15).

    No branch can bear fruit when separated from the vine.
    But when the branch IS in the vine it should bear fruit or it will be cut off.

    Jesus is the vine

    When we are without Him (prior to salvation) we are incapable of bearing fruit.
    When we are In Him we are enabled and expected to bear fruit. HE gives us the capability to do so and works in our lives to make us increasingly fruitful.

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