In keeping with the Halloween theme for another day, an article written by Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite provided a contrasting perspective to that provided by Timothy George. Thistlethwaite served as the immediately past president of Chicago Theological Seminary and presently serves at the Seminary as Professor of Theology. In her article, she address “Five Christian theologies scarier than Halloween.”
Halloween is not something of which to be frightened, she notes, but these five “Christian theological themes” are quite scary. Here are the five she lists with brief excerpts from her longer explanation.
1. Christian Dominionism
Christian dominionism is the idea that our nation should be governed by Christians according to a conservative understanding of biblical law, and was, I believe, the theology behind the recent government shutdown. This is the “scariest” Christian theology to me because . . . it is fueled by “sanctified” rage.
2. Hell and Damnation
Scary images of Hell and damnation have been part of religions for millennia . . . But while these scary images abound, a theology of hell is something different than images of demons and fire. Images of hell as judgment have been used over Christian history to construct a punitive, punishing idea of God that is used like a club to manipulate people, producing true horrors instead of faith journeys.
Theologies of hell and damnation that are used to make human lives a misery are truly scary to me because they help to create and sustain ‘hell on earth’ for many. They contradict God’s love and mercy.
3. Women Should “Submit”
Theologies that emphasize a hierarchy in creation, i.e. that women were created second, and Eve is to blame for the sin that got Adam and Eve kicked out of the Garden of Eden, are scary to me because they are literally responsible for a lot of violence against women. . . . “Submission” is a scary theology that justifies abuse in the name of Christian obedience by women.
4. God versus Evolution
One of the scariest places I have ever been was the Creation Science Museum in Kentucky. . . . “Creation science” is a theology, not a science since it does not use scientific method. It is a scary theology because it is used to deny the real science of evolution and undercut the genuine urgency to stop polluting human activities that are causing violent and abrupt climate change.
5. God Doesn’t Love You If You’re Gay
Homophobic Christian theologies that condemn people who are lesbian, gay, bi-sexual or transgender are scary dangerous, and they need to be continuously countered.
Because there is so much that is scary in the world, Halloween, Thistlethwaite claims, should no longer be one of them. She explains that she has made it fun for her children and now her grandchildren. Let the kids have fun. In contrast, the five Christian theologies are truly the things of which to be frightened. She concludes,
What really scares me, not only this week but all year through, are the Christian theologies that prey on our legitimate fears of human finitude, physical suffering, economic uncertainty, environmental destruction, and the threat of war in order to accelerate anger and alienation. There’s no treat in that, only being tricked.
Not surprisingly, there is no reference to the Bible and no clear statement about how she moves from the Bible to theology. In essence, theology has become her attempt to state her own beliefs. This is not just scary, it is wrong, especially as a teacher of theology. Though the Bible and theology are not one and the same, one’s theology must be rooted in the Bible and shown to be rooted in the Bible or it is not Christian theology.
And regarding her conclusion on the doctrine of hell, it is moves beyond wrong to being damnable in the sense that if one does not believe and receive the Lord Jesus Christ, one will experience eternal conscious punishment (cf. EFCA Statement of Faith, Article 10, Response and Eternal Destiny). Satan denied this truth in his deceptive lies spoken to Eve that led to her rebellion against God. He claimed, “You will not die” (Gen 3:4b), a direct contradiction to God’s word.
Free Church Historical Connections to the Chicago Theological Seminary
Unknown to many, our Free Church history is rooted in and indebted to the Chicago Theological Seminary. Many of our Free Church Norwegian-Danish pastors were trained at the school. Beginning in 1884, the Norwegian-Danish department was established, with Reverend T. C. Trandberg appointed as the head, and the next year, the Swedish department began with Fridolf Risberg serving as head. In 1895 P. C. Jernberg, a graduate of Yale and the Chicago Theological Seminary, replaced Trandberg as head of the Norwegian-Danish department
Jernberg claimed that the Chicago Theological Seminary was the “pioneer in the work of the Norwegian-Danish Free Churches.” During these days, Jernberg himself trained many of these pastors of Free Churches.
However, as often happens in academic institutions, in order to keep up there was a merger. The leaders of the Chicago Theological Seminary looked to align with the University of Chicago as its graduate school of divinity. Free Church people were concerned with biblical and theological drift at the Seminary. This resulted in the Norwegian-Danish Free Church opening its own school in Rushford, MN in 1910. This is one of the two schools (the Swedish the other) that became Trinity International University/Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
I am thankful for the role the Chicago Theological Seminary played in the preparation of our Free Church pastors. I am also thankful that our Free Church pastors were committed to the inerrancy and authority of the Bible. And in practice, I am thankful these pastors were wise and aware to discern the times such that it led to their departure from the school and that they began a new school for training pastors that reflected these important truths.
May we remember we stand on shoulders of giants and be grateful. May we remain committed to preserve and pass on the same foundational truths to the next generation(s), the truths once for all entrusted to the saints (Jude 3), and remain humbly dependent on God, His Word and His grace.