The Accidental Theologian

I’m stepping far outside my theological pay grade today so you will need to test and weigh the words of this post.

After forty years of knowing Jesus, I find myself challenging my assumptions about many things on a regular basis, attempting to see myself as God sees me. What attitudes do I have that should change? What comfortable positions do I have that are more self-deception than God’s truth?

It can be a little unsettling, but after all, God is not a tame lion.

Every person is a theologian. Some have formal training in the field, some are self-taught and others simply develop a personalized theological stance to make themselves feel better by explaining the world on their own terms.

Even atheists are theologians. They look around and see nothing supernatural. Their god is random chance and meaningless existence, but it is a theology, and they believe and worship it deeply.

My intention today is to carefully and gently (I hope) point out how Christian publishing people can accidentally fall into some theological traps in the way they approach their work and interact with others.

And maybe I am preaching to myself as well.

What brought this to mind was cable TV programming. I like watching the various programs where older homes are rehabbed. The work is really quite amazing and exhibits the talent and vision of some highly skilled people. Some of them are Christians and the rehabbed houses could be a metaphor for the redemption of a life in Christ. But accidental theology pervades those shows.

True contentment, happiness and joy come from having a really nice house.

Writers of Christian books carry a heavy burden. Not only do they need to write a creative story, a well-written narrative, or something that communicates well to people they have never met, they need to be sure what they write is consistent with God’s truth. And not all Biblical truth is fun, inspirational or exciting.

For instance, an author writes a novel that includes a character needing God in their life. They clean up their act, stops doing bad stuff, go to church and are saved, living happily ever after.

The accidental theology – Salvation is a result of our actions, not God’s grace    and happiness and joy are a function of circumstances.

 Most accidental theology is just that…an accident. Entirely unintentional. An author creates a wonderful sequence of scenes in a novel, but stepping back from it, the story might communicate that a person is saved if the good out-weighs the bad or that certain sinful behavior is okay as long as the character is likeable.

This is why every author needs a “theological editor” who can see those things that are unintended…the accidental theology.

But theological accidents occur in the way we conduct ourselves as well.

You have probably heard publishers and agents do not like being told “God told me” or “God gave me” type of statements from authors.  While the intent is to eliminate the appearance of being manipulative, we need to be careful we don’t ignore the hand of God in the process either, otherwise…

The accidental theology – That God doesn’t inspire and gift people to write.

Authors can fall prey to a related trap.

You believe God wants you to write and be published. You are rejected along the way by agents and publishers. You are really angry at the whole system of gatekeepers.

The accidental theology – God is not in control. Mere mortals can stifle God’s     sovereign will. God is a small, powerless god and I need to take control.

That opinion might never be spoken out loud, but frustration and anger testifies to the belief.

Or, your book is published, but doesn’t sell particularly well, in your opinion, due entirely to the publisher dropping the ball at various points in the process.

The accidental theology – God needed your book and now there are people not helped or not going to heaven because of a poor book promotional plan.


Authors, agents and publishers can lose their temper and verbally destroy someone. They are in a battle for the hearts and minds of unbelievers and the target of your anger got in the way of that mission.

The accidental theology – Without me, God is powerless to change the world.

Good or bad, we all communicate our theology of God and life every day by the way we work, interact with others and how we write. I’ve been pondering what sort of theology I am “preaching”. It has been a little unsettling.

Probably a good thing to check my compass once in a while.

Like every day.

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