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How Much “Bad Theology” Can you Believe and Still be Saved?


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.

How following Jesus works in real life.

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