Everyone wants to write their generation’s “Ninety-Five Theses.”
When Martin Luther posted his “Ninety-Five Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences” on the door of the Castle Church of Wittenberg, he set off a chain of events which would ultimately lead to what we now call the Protestant Reformation. Whereas Luther had a relatively new invention known as the printing press to aid him in the distribution of his message against church practices he viewed as objectionable, self-styled theologians of today have a much more powerful weapon at their disposal – the Internet.
Despite the technological limitations of the day, Luther’s views spread throughout Europe at a fairly remarkable rate, but he would have to be astonished today at the rate information can travel (and that someone like Lady Gaga would have over a million people following her every move on Twitter). Within minutes, an Internet blogger today can have their thoughts and opinions read by hundreds of thousands of people all over the world. While this has undeniably provided writers everywhere with unprecedented access and influence, it has also provided anyone with an opinion (such as myself) a platform to spout off about whatever is on their mind, whether sharing that is beneficial to the rest of the world or not.
Not that long ago, Jefferson Bethke (who is a spoken-word artist … or something … I’m still not sure exactly who he is.), caused a mild Internet sensation with a video titled “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus.” The video generated quite a bit of discussion, with everything from scathing Reformed analysis, charismatic fervor, unintelligent name-calling, response videos, and blog commentary upon blog commentary popping up on the Internet. Bethke had found his own castle door to post his theses on.
Personally, I wasn’t very impressed with Bethke’s efforts, not so much because of what he was saying but more because I had heard so much of what he was saying somewhere else before. The “I hate religion, but I love Jesus” line has been around for years, and most of the riffs Bethke took on it were arguments I had heard about a thousand times since becoming a Christian nearly 21 years ago. For young Christians, let me warn you: There are certain words and phrases you will quickly grow tired of. “Comfort zone.” “It’s not a good thing; it’s a God thing,” “That’s from the pit, and smells like smoke.” The list goes on and on, so when Bethke says “I mean, if religion is so great, why has it started so many wars,” I just kind of stop listening.
The positive side of Bethke’s video, though, was that it encouraged the discussion of actual scripture. When someone begins a poem (or rap or whatever it was supposed to be) with the words “What if I told you Jesus came to abolish religion,” any theologian worth their salt will head straight to their Bible to either – depending on their position – prove or disprove that statement. This approach should extend beyond theologians, though; it’s something every Christian who watched the video should have done. Saying, “Yeah, that’s how I feel, too!” just isn’t enough. If someone is going to question how Jesus or the church fits into Christianity as a whole, they automatically bring scripture into the discussion. There’s simply no way around it.
I bring this up because a friend of mine recently wrote a blog response to a post by Rachel Held Evans, author of the book “A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband Master,” titled “15 Reasons I Left The Church.” I’m always curious when someone shares their reasons for leaving a church, since my family and I decided a few years ago to leave a church we had called home for quite some time. Whether my curiosity is a good or bad thing is highly debatable, as my motivations seem to swing wildly from attempting to gain a better picture of how the world today relates to the church and simply wanting to listen in on someone else’s gossip.
Held Evans immediately strikes a sour note with me by beginning her post with a statistic with no attribution: “Eight million twenty-somethings have left the church…” She alludes to George Barna in the next paragraph, but the damage is done for me. You never quote statistics without stating exactly where you got them from. In my mind, that’s Writing 101. Lack of style points, though, is not why I’m writing this post here. Then again, maybe it is…
Held Evans goes on to list her 15 reasons, some of which are relatable and some of which are, well, not so relatable. There are two primary problems with her list of reasons. The first pertains to the title of her post. One look at her 15 reasons and it is immediately evident Held Evans didn’t leave the church, but rather her church. If God’s church is composed of the entire body of believers, Held Evans’ efforts to find a “faith community” would seem to indicate she’s not exactly done with church. Her issues with her church’s views on women in the pulpit, homosexuality, the age of the Earth, and evolution point more to a specific congregation than to a larger body of Christ.
The other flaw in her post is that of all the issues I listed in the paragraph above, never once does Held Evans address her feelings about them in a scriptural context. When you say, “I left the church because I believe the earth is 4.5 billion years old and that humans share a common ancestor with apes, which I was told was incompatible with my faith.”, you need to be able to back up why you feel that way in a scriptural context, if you are a Christian. She does offer a couple of quotes from one of her other books – “Evolving in Monkey Town: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask the Questions” – which is a fairly asinine line of reasoning. “I will now prove my opinions are correct by stating more of my opinions…”
Held Evans actually wrote a follow-up post titled “15 Reasons I Stayed With the Church,” but it really doesn’t fare any better. Even though it wasn’t quoted directly in the Ninety-Five Theses, Luther was drawing from a vast well of scriptural knowledge. He would go on to teach on that very scripture in the years following the posting. Luther had to know the Catholic church would not just let his accusations pass without a confrontation, so he had to be prepared to defend his positions. Where is the defense in statements such as “I left the church because I had learned more from Oprah about addressing poverty and injustice than I had learned from 25 years of Sunday school.”?
I may have kicked a hornets’ nest here, but I am weary of armchair theologians (and I use the term “theologian” very loosely here) simply tossing out ideas with little or no scriptural grounds to back them up. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” How about we start there for a change?