Learning from People with Bad Theology
I don't know how many times I've heard something like this: "So-and-so believes such-and-such, so I'm not going to read any of his books!" The idea, I think, is that if someone believes something wrong in one area, then you shouldn't rely on what he or she has to say in other areas. Apparently the one bad area taints the rest of it all.
So, for example, N. T. Wright's ideas about justification earn him a boycott from reformed Christiansâ€”or at least his books don't get a decent recommendation, even the ones that have nothing to do with justification. Or, for another example, Robert Capon gets quoted on a reformed website, and emails fly in demanding that the quote be removed because of Capon's views in an entirely different area than that which the quote addresses. Nevermind that the quote in itself was a brilliant illustration of the Gospel!
[I wish I could write a whole book about this problem, but no one would read a blog entry of that length. So I'll keep what I have to say concise, knowing that much more explanation could be given in support.]
This attitude is sinful.
Each and every Christian has something wrong with his or her theology. That's true whether you actually believe it or just say you do out of false modesty. To say you can't learn from and respect someone who's got something wrong with his theology, someone just like you, is blind arrogance.
It's also unbelief, and reformed Christians should know better. We're supposed to be the ones who have a big focus on the general revelation and common grace of God! If we can't see that even the most antagonistic heretics sometimes have something good to say, and take that for what it isâ€”the gift of Godâ€”then we don't believe what Calvin believed, and we don't believe the Scriptures.
It's also an attempt to justify or feel good about ourselves before God. When you reject a person because of something that person says, you're building a "holiness hedge." You don't want to be influenced by sinful ideas, because you figure if you have perfect ideas about everything, you'll be okay. You're saying, with Eve, "I'm not supposed to look at the tree," when God only said you can't eat from it.
The solution lies in being willing and able to discern between good and evil in what someone has to say, to embrace the good and reject the evil. Also, we must not respond with hate, but goodwill and respect toward those with whom we disagree. The willingness and humility to do these things comes with believing the Gospel. God, out of sheer grace, did not completely destroy the reasoning faculty of mankind when humankind sinned against him in Adam and Eve. Non-Christians can think! Christians with imperfect theology have something to contribute!
The fact is that we reformed Christians need our minds transformed by Christ every bit as much as a pagan sinner or as an almost-Orthodox Christian. Sometimes God even transforms our minds through the words of people with bad theology. That means that we don't get to say to anyone "I refuse to learn from you."