After writing the post on Theological Nitpicking, I began to nitpick the whole concept. While I am not attempting to contradict my previous thoughts, I think qualifying a few things may be helpful as a follow up. While I do think the tendency to theologically nitpick is best if disciplined with humility and practiced in moderation, the fact remains that the Bible does call us to “guard doctrine,” “shepherd the flock of God-exercising oversight,” “keep a close watch on the teaching,” and the like.
The question that has been gnawing at me is this:
How do we guard doctrine without crossing the line to incessant theological nitpicking?
Here are 5 thoughts (in random order):
1) Do your job.
- The internet is awesome, but it has its negatives. One negative is that everyone and their grandma has a platform. Everyone has access to everyone and you don’t have to take a test to get a license to drive on the worldwide information highway. This leads to a culture of information exchange where anyone (qualified or not) can “play the expert” in any situation. People with a loud enough voice and strong enough opinion to gain a following can stand toe to toe and demand a response from experts in the field.
- As Christians we need to know ourselves, be aware of our sin, and do our jobs. A denominational leader has a job to do. A pastor with a PhD in theology has a job to do. A local church elder who has put in years of study and knows the hearts and tendencies of those he leads has a job to do. And a youth pastor with a platform of 87 students who follow him on Twitter has a job to do. We each have to know our job and do our jobs with humility, grace, conviction, and in accountability.
2) Know (and continually learn more about) right doctrine.
- We must study the Scriptures and remain pliable. This means we must submit ourselves within the context of a local church to sound biblical teaching. We must hold one another accountable, challenge one another, and not simply judge doctrine on the basis of what “sounds good” at the moment–but what has actually been determined as sound historically through the community of God.
3) Know the facts before you critique publicly, and make sure that’s your job.
- I have been asked to write blogs on certain individual’s theology before, and have declined because I haven’t taken the time to study them close enough. While it is easy to nitpick sound bites, I think we should be really wary of critiquing publicly until we know all the facts. At other times, if we have studied something and there is a need in our context to address that, we should. I have done that as well.
4) Do theology in community.
- If you want to go sideways in your theology just disconnect from the local church, eschew all forms of spiritual authority, and start basing your theology on how you “feel,” what is “fair,” and for good measure, “your experiences.” Then start a blog, open a Twitter account, and get to naming names. This will be very helpful for all of us.
5) Contribute to guarding right doctrine through relationships in your local church and network.
- Relationships are so vital for staying on the right side of the line in this venture. The less relationship we have with someone the more we allow perception to rule our minds on an issue (or person), rather than reality. A great way to respond to something we think may be sideways is by personally asking, “What did you mean by that?” or “Where do you stand on that?”
- The context of the New Testament’s admonitions to “guard doctrine” all refer to local church contexts. We must do right doctrine right, and that is in community, accountability, and under qualified spiritual authority.