Some time ago I saw an article by Albert Mohler titled, Preachers Who Don’t Believe. The article takes a look at a study spear-headed by atheist, scientist, and philosopher, Daniel Dennet. The article is, I would suggest, worth reading. My intent is not to rewrite what Dr. Mohler says, but draw some attention to some specific points.
Early in the article that caught my attention. Commenting on Dennet, Dr. Mohler says,
Dennett… [proposes] that many modern people claim to be Christians while holding to virtually no specific theological content, [suggesting] that their mode of faith should not be described as “belief,” but rather as “believing in belief.”
And this seems to me to be an unfortunately accurate assessment of a lot of evangelical Christianity. It’s a more detailed way of phrasing, “I don’t need no doctrine; I’m just a simple man that loves Jesus.” Sadly, it seems that this kind of statement often works itself out in a church member that shows little difference in his theology and that of a cultic group that he, on principle, rejects.
The article goes on to note the story of a minister that no longer has a believe in a god or God, but for reasons (mostly financial), he’s kept that hidden. As someone that works for an institution that requires the signing of assent to a lengthy doctrinal statement, I’m very simpathetic to the plight. If my theology changes enough, the financial security is at risk. That is, unless I lie about it.
Clearly, this would also be a serious consideration for pastors, too. I did see an article recently where a pastor mused on Facebook about his adoption of some seriously divergent theological views and he was subsequently fired by his congregation. While, I do think my (hypothetical!) lying about my own views to keep my employment would be very serious, for a pastor to do that is so much more, especially because what is at stake.
Dr. Mohler goes on to say asserts that, and I agree with him, that unbelieving pastors are a curse on the church. And they ought not be there. Further he says,
If they will not remove themselves from the ministry, they must be removed. If they lack the integrity to resign their pulpits, the churches must muster the integrity to eject them. If they will not “out” themselves, it is the duty of faithful Christians to “out” them.
And this I also agree with. But, I don’t think it starts and stops there. While no doubt this as it happens is a serious scourge on the church, the two ends are not faith and atheism, for in many churches theology matters (or should matter) on points more broad than the question of God’s existence. It starts there but does not end there.
A concern I’ve had for a while in reflecting on the life of the church has not been of the unbelieving pastor in particular, but broadly the pastor who simply will not be dogmatic about anything other than a very, very small circle of issues. That, to them, there is almost nothing in the theological landscape worth addressing if it means disagreement. And I’ve myself wondered why in some congregations pastors are not only slow on correcting, but almost ambivalent to false teaching.
A lot of our churches have adopted intentionally vague and small doctrinal statements and when faced with overt challenges to clear-cut teachings in Scripture, they ignore them, instead appealing to the desire for unity, putting aside even Scripture itself for the sake of so-called peace.
On the global scale, however, I’m not sure how many pastors are concerned with peace as much as the are in being cagey with their own theologies, reflecting largely on their own interests. Why else, if the Bible were true, would one resist guiding those in error to a road out of it? Would not the easiest of conversations be with those whom you both love, care for, and already share openly at least a base of similar worldviews?
I think, sadly, that a strategic decision made by some is to keep their own theology close to the chest, as it were rather than speak plainly about it, not because theology doesn’t matter, but precicely because it does matter. This, I think, is why with some notable teachers, that questions are much more important than answers. When we speak plainly, the stakes are much higher. Obfuscation is the solution.
But then again, putting our own interests ahead of what’s right isn’t unique to the pastors of whom this assessment might fit, is it? For don’t we all, to at least some extent mask who we are or what we think, what we say or what we do or want to do? My goodness, is anything more telling than social media, in the persuit of image-shaping? As Christians, not only for pastors, we need to be open and honest, bringing clarity and light, goodness and truth. Craftiness is not a virtue. Certainly as Dr. Mohler says, such pastors are a curse on the body, and yet the practice of presenting one’s self falsely is a vice for all and a curse upon anyone. Such hypocrisy is a plague.