August 9, 2018

If It Can’t Pass Muster, It Doesn’t Cut the Mustard!

SUBTITLE:  Responding to the Sometimes Subtle Influences on Our Ideas about God.

We encounter theologies in some of the most unlikely places: the water cooler at work, movie theaters, the Oprah Winfrey show . . . well, you get the point . . . just about everywhere. As disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ, we must keep our theologies open to honest critique, lest they be presented as, or mistaken to be, the equivalent of inspired Scripture itself. On the other hand, we must also guard our theologies vigilantly and valiantly, lest we haplessly buy into a deformed theology.

Typically, we find it easier to identify suspect theologies outside the arena of the Church, but that does not mean that we should give a free pass to every theology that is promulgated from a pulpit. Remember that In Acts 17:11 Luke commended the Bereans for their noble character because they searched the Scriptures to see if what Paul preached was true. Rather than being offended or feeling threatened by the critical analysis of the Bereans, Paul was energized and delighted by it. Modern preachers would do well to follow Paul’s lead.

But preachers are not the only purveyors of theology within the walls of the church. Hymnists and worship leaders also do their fair share of theologizing. Although their lyrics are more often than not inspiring, they are not inspired at the same level that the Biblical writings are inspired. They are products of the hymn writers’ own well-intended, yet nevertheless fallible understandings. Since this is so, we would do well  to make this our mantra:  analyze before you memorize. If it can’t pass muster, it doesn’t cut the mustard.

Hymns and songs are a particularly hazardous medium. Here, several strands of auditory and visual stimuli are working synergistically–instruments, pitch, key, tempo, tone, repetition, harmony, melody, mood, and . . . . lyrics. Multiple stimuli team up to more deeply etch the experience (and the words!!) into the mind. Refusing to listen to songs that purvey misguided theology–not to mention, offensive and immoral lyrics–in aesthetically pleasing musical packages is the better part of spiritual wisdom (See 2 Corinthians 5:10).

Hymn writers and worship leaders are therefore every whit as responsible as pastors for making sure that their words, actions, and directions are in full accord with the nature, character, and purposes of God as revealed in the Bible. This is especially important in some churches where “praise and worship” bands get more and more platform time, while the preached word gets more and more . . . well, sidelined.

Even allowing that in the vast majority of cases hymnists and worship leaders evidently were carried along by the same Holy Spirit that inspired the Biblical writings, their words and actions do not carry the same “guarantee” of divine inspiration as the words found in the pages of Holy Writ. Herewith I offer in “tweetese” my sagest advice on the matter:

To the meaning of what you are singing,
You should give careful thought—
not merely go through the motions,
as a mindless robot.

Failure to apply God-given critical thinking skills to the message and approach of misguided evangelists, pastors, and Bible teachers has had an alarming history—witness the Jim Jones tragedy as but one example. Fortunately, not all critical thinking meltdowns have such horrific results.  Nevertheless, an incomplete, inadequate, misguided, or entirely mistaken understanding of God and His will is always detrimental both to the Church as a body and to its individual members.  The muster-test for all theology (and the antidote for misguided theology!) is found in the spiritual disciplines: prayer, Bible reading, Bible study, and a healthy application of critical thinking and spiritual discernment.

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