The Dark Side of Theology – by C Michael Patton

I want to share an insightful article with you by C. Michael Patton.

I have come to have a love-hate relationship with theology. I love it because it can deepen one’s faith, helping people to rejoice more because they understand and know God better (Jer. 9:24). There is nothing more exciting than the look on peoples’ faces when they are being theologically transformed. It is the “wow, this is really true” look. I live for that both in myself and in others.

However, there is a dark side to theology. I see it everyday. I pray that this does not infect my students, but inevitably, there are always one or two who take their theological knowledge and create a recipe of sin and shame. These are people I call “theologically dangerous.”

The theologically dangerous have no grace. They get some right answers and then become the judge, jury and executioner of people. What should have been the path toward humility turns into the path of arrogance. Their self-justification for their graceless belligerence is this: “I am not arrogant, I am discerning.” Correct theology becomes a virtue that swallows up virtues of tenderness, grace, respect, and kindness, offering only a black hole of hopelessness unless people conform. Those who come in contact with them are judged only by their statement of faith. Their fellowship circle is small and friends few. The distinction between essentials and non-essentials does not find a place in their diary. They hunt and hunt for bad theology until they find it. They correct others with pride. When they are not invited to the parties, they interpret this as a mark of persecution for a theology well-played.

These are the type of people who are on the dark side of theology. Unfortunately, those who are theologically dangerous are the most vocal (and possibly, the most numerous). Since they have yet to be theologically humiliated, they can’t stop talking. The fear of God, they have yet to learn. They set themselves up as the watchdogs of Christian orthodoxy. They are the first to comment and correct on the blogs. They are the first to raise their hand in Sunday School when you say, “Does anyone have any questions?” Yet after ten minutes of talking, you ask yourself ”what part of the word ‘question’ do they not understand?” They question people’s salvation based on minor theological points of disagreement.

Fortunately, many eventually increase in their theological knowledge to a point where they become theologically transformed. This happens when one becomes theologically humiliated. It is like the transition from uninformed adolescence, to a know-it-all teenager, to a mature adult. The mature adult has wisdom and grace due to their coming of age theologically. All the things they thought they knew as a teenager goes through the trials of life. Doctrinal battle scars evidence a ripening of the fruit of belief. Their categories become more diverse. They realize that while there are some black and whites to our faith, there is also a lot of grey. In other words, they recognize that there is a lot we don’t know. They tighten their grip on the main things and losen it on others. They choose their battles very carefully. It is a transition from ignorance to arrogance back to some degree of informed ignorance.

At this point, fellowship can resume. The lynch mob is sent home. The invitations to parties trickle in. The lantern of the hope of the gospel is shinning bright. At this point, the dark side of theology is over.


Dear, Brother & Sisters in Jesus Christ,

Let us remember,

1Peter 5

5    Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for ” God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.”
6    Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time

1Corinthians 13

1    Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.
2    And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
3    And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.
4    Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up;
5    does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil;
6    does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth;
7    bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
8    Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away.
9    For we know in part and we prophesy in part.
10    But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.
11    When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
12    For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.
13    And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Author: SlaveofJesusChrist

I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. Galatians 2:20

4 thoughts on “The Dark Side of Theology – by C Michael Patton”

  1. I relate. I do not know if this is a good thing or not, as pertains to my character and its development. My arrogance stage was absolutely arrested…my conservative fundamentalist “belief system” utterly obliterated precisely eight years ago, to the month.

    I began a blog in 2007, but was unable to speak much on that blog, until around 2010. My speaking had changed. I began to focus on the social aspect of our God…his divine society of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

    I began to realize that the being responsible for coding my specific DNA had been all along trying to unify we humans…lift us into his heart of things…trying to build a society.

    In my arrogance, I had shut the door to this society–the Kingdom of God–in people’s faces. I did not really do this knowingly, but in my ignorance, this was exactly what I was doing.

    Here God was attempting to bring everyone into the heart of things…trying to get the whole lot of our “wills” to consenting to entrance into such a divine society. And I have only recently begun to catch onto his brilliantly shrewd methodology or means for raising us into this society.

    We must stop doubting our Messiah, and believe…or trust him. And…we must let go of our resentments and grudges…our judgments against others that have us thinking that certain people are fit for God’s society, while certain others most certainly are not.

    I learned that none of us is fit, but finally, through Luke 15, began to understand that our only hope for redemption is through the Righteousness gifted to us through Christ’s work on the cross. Our man-made righteousness will never qualify us for such a Kingdom as God’s Kingdom, because our man-made righteousness has no room for loving mercy.
    When I discovered that I was unfit for society with God, then my relationship with Him began to grow, oddly enough. It began to change in a way that can only be characterized as positive…even though I realize that sounds strange.

    I began to relate more with…strange as it sounds…the criminals and outcasts of our modern worldly society. I began to desire mercy and to loath the never ending sacrifices always demanded of any individual seeking to become “self-righteous.”

    I made one…well, two…vows before my Maker. I vowed to partner with Him to stop doubting and believe…and I vowed to partner with Him to bail all resentment, even toward my worst enemies, from out of my heart. I vowed to harbor no grudges, and to believe the best in others…particularly those who claimed to be Christians.

    Your post was something I needed to listen to…thank you for posting it.


    1. Thanks, Katie!

      Your comments remind me of this passage.

      Luke 18
      9 Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others:
      10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.
      11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men — extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector.
      12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’
      13 And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’
      14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

      Thank God for your perceptive and humble heart : )

      Grace & Peace

  2. Yes. Thank God. If not for the grace of God, Himself, who helped me to see the Pharisee within my own self–and that was painfully shocking and years in the processing–then I would still be thinking in terms of “categories,” and calling myself a conservative fundamentalist.

    Martin Luther King Jr. once wrote, “…if a person wants to be strong, you must combine in your character antitheses strongly marked. You must be most militant and moderate; you must be both idealistic and realistic.”

    I think Jesus Christ modeled this sort of character for us.

    I think, for me, we often get swooped up into the more complex teachings of Saint Paul. There is nothing at all wrong with Paul’s teachings–they are spot on!

    However, the teachings of Saint Paul of Tarsus are meat and potatoes. If we are not careful to remind ourselves about what Paul’s teachings were founded upon in the teachings, stories, parables, and actions of Jesus Christ (which were the foundation), then we are prone to misinterpret St. Paul’s deeper teachings.

    I always point newly converted Christians directly toward specific stories and parables and teachings of Jesus Christ, such as the parable of the prodigal son–and Luke 15:7 (a verse that is absolutely pivotal to our very own repentant beginnings)…and the teachings of Saint John, where we are taught the rudimentary beginnings for establishing a relationship with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that teaches us directly HOW to be loved, and therefore HOW to love others…

    I also recommend some of the portions of Paul’s writings that teach us about God’s love, such as 1 Corinthians 13…as well as the portions that teach us about our own human fact of criminality, and the basics in God’s imputed Righteousness as being a gift freely given us and not earned…such as parts of Hebrews and the book of Galatians.

    I am not as well versed in calling up scripture as you are…but I hold the logic of our Christian documents in my heart.

    In my arrogant youth, I had skipped the milk of our discipleship, in Christ…and jumped to the meat and potatoes. This turned me into someone with a really critical judgmental spirit!

    Thanks be to God for effectively humbling me and showing me that my arrogance was about as dangerous and foolish as…playing with a Ouija board!

    Our God is attempting to build a society that welcomes others into the heart of things…not an exclusive society that works to “shut the door of the kingdom in people’s faces.”

    Love your site.


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