Apr
18
2012

Guest Post: 6 Ways To Survive Shifting Theology

This week is going to be a little different at Church Thought.  I am currently finishing up an eBook based on the church planting series, and preparing to head to Exponential (let’s connect!) next week.  In order to maintain a degree of sanity, I have asked a few friends to share their wisdom with us this week.

Today, Matt Wade is sharing the story of how his theology has evolved as he has developed a better understanding of his Creator.  Matt’s blog is called Human Like You, check it out and get a copy of his free eBook.

In 2005, while pastoring my first church, I collided with a wall theologically and/or doctrinally. I mean, I hit it hard. I began questioning aspects of what I held as my sacred foundation of Christ. These fundamentals were so connected to my salvation that the mere idea that I would dare to question such foundational pieces was to admit that I might be “backsliding”. What’s more, I could possibly be walking toward the eternal fiery abyss.

What’s worse than going to hell over questioning your theology? I wouldn’t think much – unless you live in the Bible belt of course. Dogmatic preachers can be a sort of hell-on-earth, especially if you ask them your newfound questions.

However, fear of eternal hell or judgment from my colleagues could not control my desire to know truth.

I asked questions to myself. I asked questions to God. I asked questions to certain pastoral/ministry friends. I asked questions to my wife. However, until I realized that this transition was a way that God was helping me grow as a teacher and leader, I didn’t have an ounce of peace.

Maybe you are experiencing the same transition in life. If not, your time will come. I have discovered that inward transition happens to those who care about truth.

6 ways to successfully transition through shifting theology:

Be aware that theology evolves

Realize one’s theology evolves over time. Think back to what you believed 5 or 10 years ago and compare and contrast to what you believe now. There are probably a few things that you thought would never change, but now you are experiencing a new dimension of God that was birthed out of that transition of theology.

Ephesians 1:7-9 is a great text to read concerning how God reveals to us the mystery of His will. It’s not all at once, transition takes time.

Experience matters

Talk it out with someone who has experienced the chaos. The stress or mental duress that one often experiences from a theological conundrum can cause one to feel exhausted internally. It can also cause one to doubt his or her salvation or calling to the work of Christ.

It is key to find one who has been through this and has come out on the other end with peace and freedom. As I mentioned above, I hit the theological/doctrinal wall in 2005. It took me 5 years to get things sorted out. Why so long? I didn’t speak with people who had been there and made it out successfully.

Ask: Does this produce freedom in Christ?

Embrace that which makes you freer in Christ. I don’t know how to say that any other way.

Accountability will clarify

Give room for correction in case of obvious error. This correlates with #2 Experience Matters. Often we can find healthy accountability with the ones who have been through this same things. To make sure that we are not walking in error or in contradiction to the life of Jesus, we must remain accountable to people that we trust and to those we know that have our best interest in mind.

As Proverbs 11:14 teaches us, “Where there is no guidance, a people fall, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.”

Preach carefully

The worst part of my transition period is that I carried my congregation through the brunt of it. I didn’t know how to process or handle the pressures that this caused, nor did I have healthy relationships in my life to help me through the chaos. Many people suffered inwardly due to the war that I was fighting mentally.

Be careful that you don’t carry others through your transition. Wait till you are through it to share it. Transition is not to teach or preach, but to experience as an individual. Once you have walked through the transition successfully, then you can share it with clarity and confidence to helps others.

Realize that shifting theology is not tied to your salvation

I thought for sure that I was doomed to hell for the questions that I was asking inwardly. I had to come to a place that I realized that God could handle my questions and doubts.

Realize that shifting theology is time sensitive, not salvation sensitive.

I hope that these six things are a benefit to those of you who are fighting inwardly with your theology or church doctrine. Its ok to wrestle over those things. I would be more worried about the preacher who does not question those things than the one who seems to know it all.

What are some of the areas in which you have had to face transition theologically, how have you handled the transition?

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About the Author: Matt Wade

Matt Wade is a former lead pastor who burned out early and the creator of Human Like You, a ministry for burned out, broken, and messy leaders. A speaker and author of the e-book "10 Lies Leaders Tell", Matt is also a regular @faithvilliage contributor.

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  • Susan

    This article is so helpful to me because I am going through one of these transitional times. I’ve always had a conflict between conservative and more liberal Christian theology. During my life I’ve bounced back and forth between evangelical and more progressive churches, but I’ve felt uncomfortable in either one. I am coming to the place where possibly I need to accept that I am both an evangelical and not quite a typical evangelical without feeling guilt.
    Thank you for pointing out that my salvation is not in danger. I do believe in God and that is my solid foundation. I always ask him to bear wit h me! I’ve had this pattern of attending one type of church for several years, then feeling guilty because of gradually building doubt in it’s theology, so I stop attending. Then I spend another few years in aimless wandering and worry before I finally start attending another church with a different theology. I realize that a lot of this is my own problem, not the churches! Maybe it is okay for me not to agree 100% with any church’s beliefs and just go and stay in one where I can learn what I can and form real relationships with other Christians and serve God and others.              

    • http://twitter.com/mattwade Matt Wade

      Susan,
      I 100% understand the feelings that you have experienced. I too have had your
      sentiments of “God, please bear with me…”. 

      I attend an evangelical church here in Nashville that is completely different
      from that which I grew up attending. I have some struggles with a few things
      there, but I have come to realize that the church in whole is what I desire –
      not one aspect of the doctrinal or theological statement or practice. 

      Ravi Zacharias says, “Unity does not necessarily mean uniformity”. We can
      believe in part when it comes to doctrine or theology and still be in unity with
      whom we believe in, Jesus.

      Also, keep in mind that Jesus was more about community with humans than all the other stuff that accompanied religious practice.

      I
      am so glad my feeble thoughts helped you today. 

      Still
      transitioning, @mattwade:disqus  

      • Susan

        Thank you, Matt. I do believe in the central tenets of the Bible and do feel at peace with God over those. I’ve also been concentrating recently on Jesus actual words (the red letters ones) in the Bible. It does seem that if we have faith and are honestly seeking and praying, that the Holy Spirit will guide us into more truth while allowing us to walk in the light that we have. 
        It’s good to be able to ask questions without being in fear of being rejected, and I so appreciate that you welcome this. PS I really go to a good church now, too. I just need to realize that I have a lot of issues from the past that I haven’t dealt with before.God bless you and your family!           

  • Paul Fredericks

    Matt, while you drove by it, you never mentioned the fact that we should always, always make sure what appears to be evolving must align itself with Scripture in its entirety.  If we begin to isolate one chapter, paragraph, or verse and build a theology on it, that could be disastrous, e.g., the end  of Mark 16.  Scripture, along with your other points would the route to go.  

    • mattwade

      Paul, thanks for your feedback. I appreciate it. 

      The issue we often run into is not that of Scriptural alignment, but rather something more challenging that that – our belief system altogether. If we were solely discussing our proclivity to only challenge our church doctrine or theology then Scripture alone could solve most questions. 

      However, most people who are/were in my situation did not want more Scripture, we wanted peace with God and ourselves. 

      I felt that trying to bring myself into alignment with Scripture made me feel the same internal battle that got me in this situation to begin with. 

      Wrestling with theology or doctrine does not get satisfied by putting in more Scripture in the mix. 

      As one who has been through this type of hardship, I often found trying to align myself with certain scripture made it more difficult to work out than simply allowing time with Holy Spirit to settle my heart and lead me to truth. John 16. 

      I truly can’t say that there is only one way to work out internal struggles. Whether it be finding Scriptures to align myself with, praying, or finding and accountability partner – I know that one way or another I will land in the place that Christ has for me. Now days, the Scripture is more alive than ever before. 

      I hope all that made sense. 

      Matt

    • mattwade

      Paul, thanks for your feedback. I appreciate it. 

      The issue we often run into is not that of Scriptural alignment, but rather something more challenging that that – our belief system altogether. If we were solely discussing our proclivity to only challenge our church doctrine or theology then Scripture alone could solve most questions. 

      However, most people who are/were in my situation did not want more Scripture, we wanted peace with God and ourselves. 

      I felt that trying to bring myself into alignment with Scripture made me feel the same internal battle that got me in this situation to begin with. 

      Wrestling with theology or doctrine does not get satisfied by putting in more Scripture in the mix. 

      As one who has been through this type of hardship, I often found trying to align myself with certain scripture made it more difficult to work out than simply allowing time with Holy Spirit to settle my heart and lead me to truth. John 16. 

      I truly can’t say that there is only one way to work out internal struggles. Whether it be finding Scriptures to align myself with, praying, or finding and accountability partner – I know that one way or another I will land in the place that Christ has for me. Now days, the Scripture is more alive than ever before. 

      I hope all that made sense. 

      Matt