Being raised in the ministry, I have had the opportunity to meet many great men from our Baptist leadership and pastors. There have been many that I have been blessed by, and others that I wish I would have only known them from the pulpit. I guess watching a “hero,” verses meeting a hero can sometimes be a blessing and other times, it can be a let down. All that to say, a couple of weeks ago I received a phone call from a pastor whom I have long admired; one by whom I have been blessed by both his preaching and many of his books. I had been familiar with him for some time and the highs and lows of his ministry are well known to most in Southern Baptist Life. This man of God is in the Bible belt and was at one of the SBC’s “flagship” churches – but when he began to focus on the health of the church and sound doctrine, he went through great difficulties there. Today, he has a church, ministry and testimony that are stellar to say the least. He is truly a man who is willing to stand on the Word, despite some difficult consequences. A man I have been blessed to have spoken with personally and thankful to have had the opportunity to meet.
After my conversation with this pastor, I spoke with a friend from another part of the country – he had listened to Pastor David Platt’s “Secret Church” simulcast and he had an interesting question for me. I had shared with him about this pastor who called me and my friend asked me a question (I will summarize it). “Why do you have such doctrinal churches and preachers in areas like California, Minnesota, Washington D.C., but men like this pastor in Bible Belt go through such difficulty when they preach doctrinal truth?” Great Question! I think the answer lies in the title of this blog…Folk Theology. We have had the opportunity to discuss this a little bit in our Men’s Fraternity Class on Thursdays, but in short, Folk Theology is not a biblical theology but a theology that has been handed down from Paw Paw, Maw Maw, Dad, Mom or their favorite preacher.
You can tell people who have been strongly influenced by “Folk Theology” because they are the ones who “know it is in the Bible, but just can’t find it.” They will tell you what Baptist people believe, but refuse to discuss Scripture. You tend to see more of this in our area of the country because all of us have been taught some form of Folk Theology - the question is, have we found it to be Scriptural or familial?
I remember hearing a Sunday School teacher telling me that God created man because He was lonely. Really? The God of the Universe had a need that could not be met without me? The supposition that God had a need should send red flags up - but not so much among our folk theologians. I have said many times that when it comes to doctrine, if it is new, it is wrong! We stand on the shoulders of men like Paul, Timothy, James, John, Hosea, Moses. Then we can look to the early church and see what great theologians thought - while the early Church Fathers certainly weren’t inerrant, our theology should be able to be traced back from generation to generation. We should know what Augustine, Luther, Calvin and so many other theologians thought, right or wrong, we should know something about their beliefs. We should know how men like Spurgeon, Hodge and Edwards viewed passages of Scripture. This is not simply the call of a Pastor; this is the call of a Christian. Sadly, many in our churches today only know the theology they were handed down…they have never bothered to dig into the Word and know why they believe what they believe. Therefore, we have built a culture in our Bible belt that when you challenge many of them to think through their theology and it comes up different than what they have “heard,” it is very difficult for them to swallow. When you see how the church should look in the Word of God and you compare it to what we see today, there is a clash. However, if I ask them to reject today’s norm in favor of following the Word of God, I am also asking them to reject Paw Paw, Dad or Bro. “Insert favorite preacher’s name here.” The result? You get rejection, anger, frustration – but, not because of theology…most never knew that in the first place. The anger is because there has been an attack on what their grandparents believed and taught them - so that means war! My grandparents or mom could never have been wrong! It is the notion that “If you continue to teach this doctrine – then you are saying my teaching I have received from loved ones, or what I have known from experience, was wrong” and that evokes a strong anger. So, you have people who have never contemplated any theology, thinking they are ready to battle over theology… but, they are really ready to battle over the emotional response to challenging their familial upbringing or experiences.
The results? You still have preachers reading Prov. 29:18 to deliver their personal “I Have a Dream Speech” to the church rather than properly dealing with the text. You still have preachers quoting Revelation 3:20 as if Jesus is knocking at the heart and no one will answer the door. Want more proof? If you get a bit offended at me speaking against using these passages this way, the basic reason is…FOLK THEOLOGY.