Doctrine: The Superfluous Paraphernalia of the Church?

(This is a re-post from May, 2012)

Here’s a great critique of revivalistic pietism by Os Guinness.

“The trouble was that after the movement of revialistic pietism swept by [in the 1800s], evangelicalism had also become anti-intellectual and anti-theological to a fault.  Examples of this anti-theological anti-intellectualism abound.  ‘My theology!’ Dwight L.  Moody said later, ‘I didn’t know I had any.’  ‘If I had a creed,’ Sam Jones, the Moody of the South, added, ‘I would sell it to a museum.’  Billy Sunday did not ‘know any more about theology,’ he used to boast, ‘than a jack-rabbit knew about ping pong.’

“Faith without theology?  Creeds fit only for a museum?  Theology at a jack-rabbit level something to brag about?  The statements themselves are flamboyantly brash; the assumptions behind them appalling.  But they reveal our evangelical anti-intellectualism beyond any contradiction.”

“Current versions of anti-intellectual pietism are milder and sometimes even a little uneasy.  But they have not been forsworn. Again and again our pietist flaw shows through.  Whenever evangelicals have an experience of direct, personal access to God, we are tempted to think or act as if we can dispense with doctrine, sacraments, history, and all the other ‘superfluous paraphernalia’ of the church – and make our experience the sum and soul of our faith.”

“Thus our evangelical experience has become our strength and our weakness.  We are people with a true, sometimes a deep, experience of God.  But we are no longer a people of truth.  Only rarely are we serious about theology at a popular level.  We are still suspicious of thinking and scholarship.  We are still attracted to movements that replace thinking and theology by other emphases – relational, therapeutic, charismatic, and managerial (as in church growth).  Some of our ministries and organizations that operate at the highest level of national life are still deeply, explicitly, and persistently anti-intellectual.”

“Whatever the virtues of these movements and the unquestionable importance of piety, we must courageously repudiate anti-intellectualism for the sin it is.  Piety is essential, but it is not sufficient by itself.  Truth, thinking, theology, and the place of the mind must be given the emphasis they deserve from followers of Christ.”

I agree; Guinness said it well.  You can find this entire discussion on pages 38-39 of this great book: Fit Bodies, Fat Minds.

shane lems

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