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How Much “Bad Theology” Can you Believe and Still be Saved?
Posted by Clare
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Thirty years ago, as a new follower of Jesus, I went with several reformed pastors in my city, to the World Conference on the Holy Spirit and Evangelism in New Orleans. Here I was a Dutch Reformed guy, new to serious faith, in the Super Dome surrounded by 40,000 charismatics!

I went to that conference for the same reason I’ve since attended masses, gone to a monastery and attended healing services and evangelistic revivals. Most of my life I’d arrogantly written off other expressions of faith, as being either in error or a bunch of misguided goof balls. As I wrote in The 10 Second Rule:

My people are Dutch. Responsible. Wary of spontaneity. We knew where that led. We’d seen them on Christian TV sitting on gold thrones, with helmets of white hair, jumping up praising the Lord after getting some “word” from him. We were not about to let that happen us – get ourselves bushwhacked by emotion. Ours was a sensible faith.

So, when I had repented of my cultural Christianity, I began my quest to understand why other Christians believed things I didn’t, or worshipped in ways that were really uncomfortable to me. 

So, one evening after a long day in the Super Dome, we were discussing what we had heard and seen. I asked the question, “How much bad theology can a born-again Christian believe and still be saved?” (I’ve also since repented of the assumption that all theology I didn’t agree with was “bad.”)

The response to my question from the pastor of a very conservative church both surprised me and opened my spiritual eyes. He said, “I hope a lot, because I may be teaching some.” He went on to explain that as convinced as he was of the truthfulness of his theology, he could be wrong about some things “It could be I don’t have the doctrine of infant baptism or my understanding of election, correct. And the fact that I don’t understand speaking in tongues doesn’t mean it’s not of God.

He finished with this statement, “If a person believes – truly believes, that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, died on the cross for the forgiveness of their sins, cries out to him for salvation, and determines to live for him from that day forward, the fact that they also believe Mary was sinless or the wine in communion turns to real blood, or that they believe they have the spiritual gifts of prophecy or miracles, but may not really have them, does not disqualify them from salvation.”

He made it clear that this wasn’t an excuse for “false or unbiblical theology.” We need to carefully examine scriptures and renounce false doctrine. “But be careful,” he said, “of writing off a truly born again person who has what we think is ‘bad theology.’”

I ran across this quote from N.T. Wright, a well respected Anglican theologian speaking of how many evangelicals view Catholics:

Evangelicals imagine that we are “reading the text straight,” and that if somebody disagrees with us it must be because they, unlike we ourselves, are secretly using “presuppositions.” This is simply naïve, and actually astonishingly arrogant and dangerous. It fuels the second point, which is that evangelicals often use the phrase “authority of Scripture” when they mean the authority of evangelical, or Protestant, theology, since the assumption is made that we (evangelicals or Protestants) are the ones who know and believe what the Bible is saying. If we are not careful, the phrase “authority of scripture” can, by such routes, come to mean simply, “The authority of the evangelical tradition, as apposed to the Catholic one.”

So, my challenge for you this year; go to a worship service or get to know well, a person who attends a church you believe teaches “bad theology.” Ask the Holy Spirit to give you discernment and wisdom. If you do, I’m certain you’ll walk away a little surprised that you have more in common regarding Jesus, then you might have imagined.

There’s another benefit to this exercise. Even if you ultimately conclude that you don’t agree with their theology, the people you mentor and your own children will respect you more for your gracious attempt to understand other Christian traditions.

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Comments (8)
  1. Dan said...

    Takes more than just a little courage to say what you’ve said here in Dutch Jerusalem, but I’m with you on this one and thank you for your courage. I agree with you that the Amazing Grace of our Lord covers a lot of bad theology, and I think there’s going to be a lot of amazed people in heaven when they see who else is there!

    I’ve spent a lot of time with some people who truly love Jesus, believe He was sent by
    God to earth to die for our sins, and are doing all they can to live for Him. They believe exactly what that conservative pastor said after “If a person believes…”

    Now they’ve got some weird end-times beliefs and they also have great difficulty with the doctrine of The Trinity, which is probably one of the most difficult doctrines for any of us to truly understand. They do not believe that Jesus is God. But rather the very first creation of God, and therefore the “Son of God”. That’s some seriously goofed-up Theology from my standpoint!

    Nevertheless, I, along with that conservative pastor, believe the Amazing Grace of God that sees right into our hearts and forgives our sins and misunderstandings is amazing enough even for the theologically unsound Jehovah Witnesses. Or have I gone too far?

    • Clare said...

      Dan, thank you. But here’s my problem with Jehovah Witnesses and other Christian cults. They do not believe Jesus was actually God. That’s a deal killer for Christians. If you don’t believe Jesus is God, then he has no power to forgive your sins. Problem #2 Another deal killer for Christians. These issues aren’t some fringe theological difference that Christians can agree to disagree on. They are the heart of our faith!

  2. Dan said...

    Clare, You’re absolutely right – They do not believe He is God, and they are wrong about that. But they believe He is the Son of God, they love Him, they serve Him, He is their risen Savior, they believe He died to save them from their sins, He is their only hope and comfort in life and in death, and they believe He is the only way to salvation. Seems to me their hearts are in the right place, and their frail and fallen minds are simply confused about the theology of His divinity. Do you really think the God that you and I serve will really say to them, “Sorry, close but no cigar!”

    • Clare said...

      Dan, I could be wrong and perhaps the tent of faith is more broad. However, the “Arien Controversy” early in the church’s history, was over just this point. Arias believed something close to what the Jehovah Witnesses believe and the Council of Nicea repudiated it, and the church universally has accepted the Council’s findings as true and outside of orthodox Christian faith.

  3. Jim McNaughton said...

    I’ve always believed (since being saved) that Jesus doesn’t care as much about our denomination as our relationship with Him. With a relationship with Jesus we can learn the “Truth” from the Holy Spirit that will transcend error. Without a relationship with Jesus, it doesn’t matter what we believe, truth or error.

    • Clare said...

      Jim, I agree. Jesus couldn’t care less about our denomination. He ultimatly only cares about our faith in him alone to save us, as evidenced by how we live.

  4. Jim McNaughton said...

    Clare, Thanks for your comment. I wanted to expand your comment if I may. Saving faith in Jesus to me means that I trust Him. If I trust Him I will obey Him. It is in obeying Him that I develop a relationship with Him. It is that relationship that changes me. That change is that I come to love God and love people like Jesus does. I can have correct doctrine, but if I’m not obeying God in relationship to Him, it does me no good. To me, the question is not what set of beliefs will get me into heaven when I die. The correct question may be do I intimately know the Savior by obeying Him? An example of obeying is do I treat others the way I would want them to treat me? Do I help the helpless? Do I care enough about others to take action to meet their needs?

    • Clare said...

      Jim, well said! Someone once told me, “Believing correct doctrine alone will help me, but it won’t save me. “

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