Dan Kimball: When ‘Theology’ Gets in the Way
“I have found myself overwhelmed with sadness because we have time to disagree, but we don’t have time to evangelize.”
I am not someone who cries often, but lately I have found myself emotionally moved to the point of tears several times.
What is causing such a strong emotional reaction? The rhetoric and tone some evangelical Christians use when they differ with other evangelicals on theology or ministry methodology. I am not talking about major doctrines of historical orthodoxy. When such foundational teachings are compromised, we are instructed to defend the faith, teach correction, guard doctrine (1 Tim. 4:16). I also love robust arguments and fun discussions about our differences as evangelicals.
The theological disputes that grieve me and cause me to feel ashamed of us are when evangelicals engage in destructive arguments over Calvinism or Arminianism. Or whether one interprets Genesis to believe the earth was created in a literal six-day time period or over billions of years. Or when we dispute methodology: Do we advocate for the megachurch with plenty of paid staff or an organic church staffed almost exclusively with volunteers? Do we use traditional liturgy or contemporary pop and rock music? Do we preach topically or verse by verse?
No Time for Discord
The consistent stream of negativity, the critical tone, and the time and energy spent pointing out why one is wrong and the other is right is something I believe one day we may look back on and be ashamed about. We aren’t living in a time when we have the liberty to fight like this. If there is a time in American history when we need to be linking arms, supporting one another, defending other evangelicals who may have differing theological or methodological views within historical orthodoxy, this is that time.
The world needs Jesus more than ever, and there are fewer and fewer people in most of our churches. Emerging generations have horrible views of Christians, as we see in surveys. We are seeing many evangelical churches (not just mainline, nonevangelical churches) aging and dying off. When we do see growth in our churches, it is often people who are just switching churches, not conversion growth or new disciples being made through evangelism.
There is an urgent need of evangelistic effort, yet here we are spending precious time, emotions and energy ripping into other evangelicals over their different views on secondary issues. If we aren’t doing the ripping, then we spend time reading about it and commenting about it.
Unite for the Gospel
It is like the Titanic is sinking and we are safe in our life boats, but instead of joining together in the desperate mission to rescue those who are not yet safe, we paddle around to find others who share our specific beliefs and practices or ways we feel “church” should be. And we spend precious time criticizing those in different life boats as people are drowning.
Evangelicals who focus time and energy being critical and negative about other evangelicals who think differently or do ministry differently than they do need to stop. We should have no tolerance for intolerant evangelicals who care more about minor areas of doctrine or ministry methodology preferences than they do about people who don’t know Jesus yet. We should be cheering on and praying for other evangelicals who may do things differently than we do, but are evangelizing and seeing people coming to know Jesus.
So I have found myself overwhelmed with sadness because we have time to disagree, but we don’t have time to evangelize. May we set the pace for others in focusing more on evangelism than being the kind of Christians that often keep people from being interested in Christianity. And may we join together, whether Arminian or Calvinist; whether we wear robes and use the Book of Common Prayer or present the message with pop music with spinning lights; whether house church or megachurch. Let us fuel one another and cheer and pray for one another in our evangelistic efforts.