Timothy Buchanan
Sound-bite theology
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By Timothy Buchanan
January 2, 2021

Every social upheaval has costs that often go unrecognized until many years have passed. Most of us no longer have the luxury of spending a quiet Saturday or Sunday afternoon at home apart from numerous distractions and chores. Boredom has been abolished and frenzy has taken its place. When not producing, we are recovering from work or preparing to return to our tasks.

At least one reason for this situation is the endless call to fund the voracious appetites of over-bloated governments and their attendant wasteful programs. In many quarters, ordinary men, women, and children find it increasingly difficult to be still long enough to reflect upon and thoughtfully examine what we read and hear. (I’ll leave it to more cynical minds to question whether this condition was legislated with intention and if so, by whom.)

Whatever affects the society eventually affects the Church. Great numbers of professing Christians have adopted the risky practice of adopting and repeating sound-bite theology. It’s risky because, as R. Albert Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary points out, “Ideas have consequences. Theological ideas have huge eternal consequences. Subversive theological ideas have devastating consequences for the local church.”

One of the best-known examples of sound-bite theology may be God helps those who help themselves. According to a Barna poll, 52% of professing Christians surveyed believed that this quotation of Benjamin Franklin is actually contained in the Bible (along with over 80% of the general population). While not completely false, neither is it totally true. And that is the fundamental flaw of sound-bite theology.

Alfred Lord Tennyson said, “A half-truth is ever the blackest of lies.” Why? Because tainted half-truths do far more damage in human minds than outright lies which can more easily be detected and quickly dismissed.

In complex systems like human societies, the greatest harm is often caused by small flaws repeated over and over again. Such is the case with our misguided ideas about love. For all of our talk about love, the gross wickedness and abounding treachery of American culture belies that we comprehend it.

Most people uphold a perverse subjective image of love that lacks commitment and power. We frequently confuse love with a superficial polite pretense of care and concern for another’s physical and emotional well-being. Biblical teaching, however, illustrates that genuine love is devoted to the eternal spiritual welfare of another person. The words and works of Christ offer us the highest model of love for humanity. We see Him speaking boldly to those who need to hear the raw truth forcefully struck, for the purpose of penetrating hard hearts.

Arguably, Love the sinner; hate the sin has taken the greatest toll on human lives in our generation because its deceptive use deflects the truth regarding the perils of sin in general, and the very grave sin of homosexuality in particular. This unbiblical phrase dilutes the meaning of love and the meaning of sin. The result is that we neither hate the sin nor love the sinner.

Scripture tells us, “the way of the transgressor is hard.” In order to bring the sinner to repentance, we’re told, “God is angry about sin every day,” and “the wages of sin is death.” While most people would hasten to intervene to stop someone from committing physical suicide, few will speak up to dissuade him from eternal spiritual suicide.

Real love demands that dangerous sins be confronted and condemned. Most folks don’t speak against sin because they don’t want to be accused of ramming their religion down the throats of others. But the Bible warns that if we refuse to admonish a reprobate, his blood will be on our heads.

The common modern definition of love is weak and dispassionate. Sin has severe temporal and irrevocable eternal costs. Love the sinner; hate the sin, as used in most situations, is little more than callous indifference—the most enduring form of hatred. Love risks everything: offense, rejection, scorn, and reviling for the benefit of the beloved. Let’s be honest; the reason most people withhold the truth from those who most need to hear it, is pure cowardice. While we may prefer not to confront a stubborn homosexual or lesbian with the truth about his or her sin, real love demands it.

Unlike the dubious COVID-19 contagion, rampant unrestrained sexual perversity is a real pandemic in the U.S., claiming the bodies, lives and souls of men, women, and children. For all of our talking and singing about love, we do nothing and say nothing. As some have said, “We’re ‘loving people’ right into Hell.”

Alcoholics and drug addicts who recover, usually do so because someone loved them. While others watched, someone cared enough to confront them and expose the damage their addictions were doing to others and themselves. Some may say that comparing sexual deviants to alcoholics and drug addicts is insulting and offensive. If so, drunks and addicts shall have my apologies. But nothing worthwhile is obtained without risk.

The Church may have arrived at this place because of a preceding well-published lie used by a prominent homosexual who said, “If you don’t draw us with love, you won’t drive us with fear.” Trouble is, it’s not true. Most human beings make substantial behavior changes only when we are forced into doing so—by fear. Wholesome righteous fear, such as the fear of a holy God is a powerful motivator for change, and one that is not employed often enough.

Another corrosive sound-bite is, a sin is a sin is a sin. To the unsaved, sin is no big deal. And while scripture says, “He who violates the law at any point shall be guilty of the whole law,” the very fact that the temporal punishment for sins varies, testifies that all sins are not equal in degree.

The sound-bite Truth without compassion is brutality has been widely broadcast on radio and television by pastors and teachers. But to hold this sound-bite as true is to assault the character of Christ who died to pay the penalty for even the most vile of sinners. Our subjective culture wrongly judges words and actions as loving or cruel by how they are presented rather than according to whether or not they achieve a positive effect toward repentance. Since the way of the transgressor is hard in order to promote change, do we not work contrary to the purposes of God by muting the consequence of sin?

The Church in America has grown mentally-lazy and emotionally-cold, infected with half-truths carried in by sound-bite theology. Malignant half-truths blunt the sharp edge of divine truth. Each of them is formed in a crucible of unbelief; each is a compounded formulation of pride, ignorance, and moral compromise.

C.S. Lewis wrote, “The safest road to hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.” Christians must provide the signposts and point out the milestones so that some may be saved, perhaps, by casting down our own pride for them to stumble over.

We begin by returning to the Holy Word of God as our sole authority in all matters of life and faith and by recognizing the deadly effect of sin. Only then can we learn how to dissect untruths out of distorted theological sound-bites.

© Timothy Buchanan

 

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Timothy Buchanan

Timothy Buchanan is a US Navy veteran, a former defense contractor and broadcast engineer. He's the author of two published books and a regular contributor to BarbWire.com. Timothy and his wife live among the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia.

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