Monday, April 03, 2017

The Dangers Of Theological In-Breeding

I have written before about the problem of theological in-breeding, of Christians growing up in a tradition and never really questioning the theological assumptions of that tradition. During our journey as Christians we have been part of a bunch of theological traditions, and ironically almost never in a tradition that would match up very closely with my own deeply held beliefs. We have been involved in Southern Baptist, Reformed Baptist, Mennonite, Church of Christ, Plymouth Brethren and house church traditions and without exception I observed the impact of theological in-breeding. What I mean by that term is people from a tradition, often especially the people most invested and engaged in the church, who have had very little interaction and engagement with other traditions in the church. This might be less prevalent among Reformed types as so many of them came from other traditions but it still exists there, manifested in reading all of the same books and going to all of the same conferences to listen to all of the same guys who write the books they read.

As an example, in a small fellowship we used to be part of in another town where I took great pains to not get into the Calvinism/Arminianism debates but one guy we used to fellowship with got wind of my Reformed leanings and decided to give me a CD from a teacher who was well-known in their circles that purported to disprove Calvinism. It was a ludicrous series of caricatures and eisegesis, just laughably bad , I actually did a line by line rebuttal of this "teacher" on my blog but ended up deleting it after he and I had a private email conversation. What I took from the incident was that here was a guy who was a nice fellow and a pretty decent student of the Bible in the areas that his tradition emphasized but he had apparently never really taken the time to interact with and consider Reformed theology. He just knew that his tradition didn't believe in it and therefore he didn't either. Given the very extensive and rich theological tradition of the Reformed, it seems odd to me to not really ever consider it beyond a clumsy smiting of strawmen.

I really try to at least give a fair hearing to theological positions I don't agree with, although I worry that I might be doing so mostly to give me more material to prove them wrong. Even if that is part of my motivation, it still is healthy to at least study people I disagree with to make sure I am on solid Biblical footing. If I had just gone with the caricature of Anabaptism you get from The White Horse Inn guys I would have missed a great deal of wonderful stuff. I still think that Michael Horton and company are right a lot more than they are wrong but I also realize you need to consider that they might miss the mark on some issues and investigate for yourself. 

With a few notable exceptions, most conservative theological traditions have some valuable lessons to teach the broader church. Not all are equally valuable of course but because each has a different focus, each also usually emphasizes different areas and often those different areas are blind-spots for other traditions. It is good to know your own tradition and why you worship where and how you do but it is also important that you take some time to learn about and understand other traditions. I am not saying that if you read John Calvin and Menno Simons you will always or often agree but you might just learn something new about our mutual faith and that is always valuable. Examining ideas you are unfamiliar with isn't dangerous but theological in-breeding often is. 

1 comment:

Aussie John said...

Excellent thoughts!

" It is good to know your own tradition and why you worship where and how you do but it is also important that you take some time to learn about and understand other traditions." Absolutely!!

In my younger days pastoral leadership I was soon to find out that many in leadership positions didn't know their own traditions and the whys and wherefores, even those who were the product of a denominational theological seminary..