Seven Theological Caricatures That Make Me Scream

screaming girlWhat is a caricature? Merriam-Webster defines it as “exaggeration by means of often ludicrous distortion of parts or characteristics” When done with theological positions, exaggerations and distortions are usually a result of shallow or non-existent interaction with the positions being characterized. Instead broad-brushed generalizations are formed, usually because of opponents views, which are not carefully interacted with either!

To be fair, I’m also picking on my own theological persuasion camp just there’s no bias. Regardless of whether I agree or disagree with a position, it drives me nuts when it is not treated fairly. And the only way we can do that is to actually engage with competing ideas and their proponents with the intent on understanding. Building strawmen doesn’t count.

Also, there is typically a range of belief within a particular position that often gets neglected when making sweeping generalized allegations.

So in no particular order…

1) Unconditional election in Calvinism means we are robots who God forces to choose him. No Calvinist believes this or advocates it. Ask and read them and they’ll tell you the human will is involved. But the will is subject to illumination that only the Spirit can bring.

2) Cessationists don’t believe in miracles or the work of the Holy Spirit. No, what cessationists don’t believe is that miraculous events are defined by gifts in the present. Cessationist actually have such a high view of God that they believe he’s powerful enough to speak through his written word and can still govern affairs without the extras. And most cessationists really do believe in miracles and that the Holy Spirit is very much active! But again there is a range.

3) Arminians promote me-centered theology. Not as far as Wesley is concerned, or any other Arminian who truly loves the Lord and seeks to honor his Word and His church.

4) Egalitarians don’t have a high view of Scripture and seek to support their agenda. Two words: Gordon Fee and hermeutics. Nuff said. Oh wait, two more – mutual submission. Can we please concede that there are Christ-honoring folks on both sides of the equation who are submitted to his authority?

5) Complementarians just want to control and repress women. Well maybe some do, but that is a result of a sinful heart not complementarianism. Also, there is a range of what complementarians believe with respect to women but the bottom line is respecting an order that is believed that God put in place.

6) Dispensationalists believe in 2 ways of salvation. Not that Scofield or Chafer advocated this, but the statement ignores the string of modifications since them. Put Gerstner down and read something actually written by Dispensationalists today, many of whom don’t even ascribe to the earlier articulations of Dispensationalism that garners the 2 ways charge. (I was reminded by this article that Dispensationalists can be just as bad with Covenant Theology)

7) The creeds are man-made and unbiblical. Well they were created by men based based on what is biblical. This was because what the witness of Scripture said about God was being challenged by folks who didn’t believe it. God always used men, even to write his word. Let’s give him, and the creeds, more credit.

I’ll throw in an 8th one that’s come across my radar lately and has produced the same result. Consider it a bonus!

8) Church hierarchy systems are not scriptural and imposed on the church to control people: hmmm, are we challenging abuse of what some have done in the name of pastoring (while really not doing that) or the system of having shepherds as guardians and nourishers of Christ’s church? Think about that.

Well, I’d be surprised if my list was wholeheartedly embraced. I suspect there will be disagreement. But the bottom line is to be fair.


7 thoughts on “Seven Theological Caricatures That Make Me Scream

  1. gsccdallas June 10, 2013 / 6:30 am

    But by being fair you can’t manipulate the unread masses!? In all seriousness, however, I have heard these caricatures defended by means of by a theological method referred to as implication theology. The argument is that ones theology is not what they express but the perceived implications of what they express. I find that ludicrous!! As a scholar, I am to deal with what is expressed.

    • ljrobinson June 10, 2013 / 6:43 am

      Hi, thanks for stopping by. Sorry, but I don’t quite understand the concern. What is expressed is a good starting point for understanding. But often what is expressed needs to be unpacked and evaluated against an entire method. I think this is the problem, when we get sound bytes of belief and then turn it into something a position is not exactly advocating. Due diligence and patience are in order.

  2. Laura June 12, 2013 / 8:34 am

    These are all good! Great post! I must admit I am very guilty of # 3. I attended a Nazarene church for a few years (yet was never Arminian in my personal theology), and I hate to say it but we really did find the theology very me-centered! We got so tired of hearing how saintly we are, having to shout “we are saints” (I refused- haha) and some people claiming they went months without committing any sin at all. There didn’t seem much humility at all. By the way, I see myself as simultaneously a saint and sinner – and for me the “and” is critical. But I digress. ; ) So my caricature arises from this experience. However, when I took one of my theology classes and we carefully looked at the teaching of Wesley, I was puzzled. As I did not see these problems in Wesley’s teachings! The Prof said part of it may have been “folk theology”. Sometimes beliefs and how they actually play out among the people can be different.

  3. Tiribulus June 15, 2013 / 9:39 am

    4) Egalitarians don’t have a high view of Scripture and seek to support their agenda. Two words: Gordon Fee and hermeneutics. Nuff said. Oh wait, two more – mutual submission

    Jehovah’s Witnesses have a high view of scripture. What they don’t have is any exegetical, lexical, theological or ecclesiastical support within all of historic orthodoxy just like egalitarians. You’ll forgive me if Fee (an Arminian) fails to persuade me to question the great cloud of witnesses I see before me.

    You at least somewhat know my convictions by now Lisa so I really do not think you are going to accuse me of being a women oppressing misogynist. I’m also talking primarily about domestic egalitarianism. I won’t burden you with a repeat of my views on the gruesome consequences the abandonment of God’s created order for the family has inflicted upon the western world. Bringing with it every other problem we have, including ALL the financial ones.

    There are out there an army of man hating, bitter, bible butchering women, along with their castrated male counterparts who wouldn’t believe anything other than their egalitarianism even if the Angel of the Lord appeared to them in their kitchen and told them they were wrong. I’ve met them.

    I will, to be honorable, recognize that not all “egalitarians” are the same. My point is that this particular “caricature” is not without real merit in many cases.

    I’m pretty much with ya on the rest. Even the one about Arminians and me centered theology. I don’t believe in Ariminians anyway. (I won’t get into that right now). I know some very fine stalwart people of God whose spiritual maturity surpasses mine who profess themselves Arminian. They very blessedly and thankfully do NOT practice what they preach. In fact, in their counsel to others they don’t even PREACH what they preach. A “me centered” Christian is a contradiction in terms. I KNOW there are self professed Arminians who ARE Christians. Therefore to be “Arminian” is not to ipso facto be me centered”. Hey, that was a syllogism 😀

    Each one of these could be a future article. (hint hint)

  4. MikeB (@g1antfan) June 18, 2013 / 5:02 pm

    Lots of good caricatures captured here in this post. And I also find it frustrating when a position is not dealt with fairly. Though having taken soteriology this past semester and wrestling through Spurgeon’s sermons on my blog I find #1 to be an interesting choice for this list.

    First let me say I agree/accept that Calvinists do not believe/advocate/teach that unconditional election = people are robots. In fact all the Calvinists I know (or at least read) would reject to this analogy. And if someone claims that Calvinists teach election=robots then this would be incorrect.

    However, I think it would be fair to say that the teachings of Calvinism can lead one to come to that logical conclusion (something we will likely disagree on). Why? Because a person’s unaided nature/will is to reject God. That condition persists in the person until and unless God unconditionally and irresistibly transforms their nature/will to accept Him. Since this transformation is both unconditional and irresistible it would appear to remove the idea of a person having a “real choice” in accepting or rejecting God. Most Calvinists (certainly Spurgeon) seem to recognize this and admit that the Reformed teaching on this is a paradox.

    My point though is not to debate Calvinism but to note that as long as a distinction is made between what Calvinism actually teaches and what a writer/speaker is drawing as a logical conclusion from these teachings are made clear than I think #1 can be a fair statement rather than an ill-informed caricature.

  5. Lora June 19, 2013 / 2:52 pm

    There are some egalitarians who hold a high view of Scripture- first person that comes to my mind is Catherine Clark Kroeger. She studied under Cornelius van Til.
    Since Paul’s statements have had such an extreme influence within fundamentalist churches, I prefer to look at the Old Testament for examples of women- their insight, their courage, and their obedience to the spirit of Acts 5:29 is inspiring to me.
    Sometimes we need to step away from the 20th century and its theology and look at the history of ideas within the Church…keeping those that line up with Scripture and tossing out the rest.
    Reading J.I. Packer’s work Fundamentalism and the Word of God (1958) has been a huge blessing to me and my personal quest for answers to life’s most perplexing questions.

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