When the Church Loves Bad Theology
I had the privilege last week to attend the Christian Community Development Association’s (CCDA) annual National Conference. I was encouraged in fellowship with 3000-some other CCD practitioners from around the world, and challenged by the pastors, leaders, politicians and world-changers who shared from the platform during the plenaries.
I always look forward to CCDA’s National Conference, and I was especially excited this year as they dove headlong into one of the most frequently abused passages in Scripture:
Most church-goers in the U.S. are at least somewhat familiar with Jeremiah 29 – specifically verse eleven.
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord. Plans to prosper you and not harm you. Plans to give you a hope and a future.”
This verse was emblazoned on the front of my high school graduation programs.
I was given a coffee mug with the verse inscribed on it for the same occasion.
I sent and received notes and cards during finals week or throughout tough semesters in college with this promise scrawled inside.
“Don’t worry! Jeremiah 29:11! God has a plan for you!”
You can purchase t-shirts, wall art, mugs, jewelry, almost anything you can imagine with these inspiring, encouraging words written on them and that’s all well and good…
…but it’s a poor use of Scripture. A downright bad use of Scripture, if I’m going to shoot straight with you.
At CCDA the teachers and preachers and leaders spent a weeks worth of plenaries reclaiming and unpacking this passage for what it is:
God’s simultaneous promise of blessing and deep, soul-wrenching challenge to a people who had lost it all.
Before we can get to GOD HAS A PLAN!!! We have to read and hold on to the reality of militaristic takeover, exile, and deep loss – both of people and possessions. We have to somehow attempt to put ourselves in the frame of mind to understand what it would look like, and how it would feel to have God command us to “set up homes” and “seek the peace and prosperity” of the land and the people who stripped us of everything we hold dear. We have to think about displacement from family; loss of identity; death of loved ones; deep, profound, brokenness. Exile.
And that is when God tells Jeremiah to write: “I know the plans I have…”
They called Jeremiah “The Weeping Prophet” but we’ve turned him into a Hallmark card.
It’s bad theology, and the Church loves it.
That’s not our only pet abuse of Scripture though, not even close.
Evangelicals will rally the troops and grab their torches and pitchforks when a Hollywood producer takes liberties with the Noah story, but when another producer cozies up to the book of Revelation we clear off a shelf in the Christian bookstore to market the movie and any spin off products and paraphernalia.
Both Noah and Left Behind are misrepresentations of Scripture, but the Church is comfortable with one so we let it pass without question.
So many of us (myself included) like to talk about the Bible, we talk about having “high regard” for Scripture or how it’s our “Daily Bread.” But I don’t think many of us really love the Bible as much as we say we do. I think very few of us really live and sustain our lives and lifestyles on the words of Scripture as though it were bread, but it does make for a catchy devotional title.
We like the Bible when it maintains our lifestyles.
We like Jesus when He carries lambs, hugs babies and makes us feel good about our lives.
We love God when God hates all the same people we do.
We’re willing to suffer (on our terms) for the cause of Christ, but only when the promise of prosperity (also on our terms) is on the other side.
Hang on, God knows the plans he has for you!
We’re in love with bad theology in the U.S. Church, and we need to be honest about that.
We want to read Scripture that affirms and supports the status quo, so we do.
We want to have 15 minute “quiet times” that give us our daily dose of God’s truth and fill us with juuuuust enough of the Holy Spirit to scrape by dawn to dusk.
Most days, if I’m honest, I don’t really want truth.
I want comfort and encouragement.
Something “positive, uplifting and safe for the whole family.”
But that’s not Scripture and that’s not Jesus.
It’s bad theology.
And we love it.