Here’s a conundrum: We need strong theology, but sometimes we can be so fixed on “guarding the good deposit” that we forget to treat people with grace and compassion. Sometimes, being so focused on orthodoxy can come across as sanctimonious and judgmental.
Theology offered without humanity seems like a special lack of emotional intelligence. You know those people you meet who just can’t read the temperature of the room, or see and recognise emotions on other people’s faces? Person A is speaking. Person B is getting upset. Person A can’t see the effect of their words on Person B and carry on regardless. Person B is clearly deeply hurt and retreats. There is damaged trust between Person A and Person B after this point.
Our churches can sometimes be Person A, and it annoys and hurts and depresses me when you see it.
Here’s what I am NOT saying: I am not saying we should change or shift our theology in any way. It is a good deposit and it definitely needs to be guarded. I am not saying we should be progressive and liberal, condoning behavior that is sinful and clearly contrary to God’s plans for us.
I’m also not saying that everyone in the church, or all churches, are like this. Thankfully we have access to genuine ministers of the word and pastors of people who have great theological training and a heart for the flock.
Here’s what I am saying: Just don’t be a jerk. You don’t have to have been divorced to be able to walk with someone and not make them feel as though they are morally tainted for life. You don’t have to have a gay child to be able to stand side by side with the parents who’s hearts are hurting and confused and full of love for their kid. You don’t have to have been abused to be able to do life with them authentically and lovingly. You don’t have to have had relationship difficulties to be able to support someone and love them through the ups and downs.
Presenting the beauty of the Bible in a way that minimises theology to the individual words themselves causes more damage than you know. It also treats the Bible legalistically – a list of can and can’t do’s to be presented starkly, coldly, judgmentally.
Presenting theology without humanity drives people away. It makes the church itself a stumbling block to people’s faith and discipleship.
Jesus did not approve of, or condone, people’s sin. But he walked with them. He cared for them so much that he was accused of heresy by the Pharisees. Can we do that? Can we point people to Jesus with compassion? Can we present our theology with love? Can we try to understand where people are coming from? What issues they are facing? Comprehend the mess? We don’t have to compromise our theology to present it with grace.
At the end of the day, theology needs to be applied in real life. That means not treating it like a text book. This means climbing down from our ivory tower to meet people where they are. It means loving them and walking with them. We point them to Jesus who will love them better and more beautifully than we ever could.
So remember this: Even if you come across people who have forgotten how to give a toss – they are not “the norm”. The response is not to double down on something you see that disappoints you by spreading discontent. The response is to get alongside those who are hurting. You don’t have to change your theology to do life with people in the middle of the mess. The church is not a building, it’s a body of people. It’s you. Have confidence in your ability to love people and point them to Jesus.