The 10 Commandments of Progressive Christianity #4: Is Behavior More Important than Doctrine?

Jesus never said the problem with the Pharisees is that they are too concerned with orthodoxy.

The prioritization of behavior over theology will sell well to our modern world because they already have the idea that people who care about theology are divisive, narrow, dogmatic, and even mean.  What matters instead, we are told, is that we are just kind to people.

 

I’ve been working my way through a series entitled “The 10 Commandments of Progressive Christianity.”  It’s an examination of 10 core tenets of progressive (or liberal) Christianity offered by Richard Rohr, but really based on the book by Philip Gulley.

Now we come to the fourth commandment: “Gracious behavior is more important than right belief.”

Upon a first reading, there is room here for some common ground.  We certainly would agree that gracious behavior is something that should characterize the church (though there may be disagreement about what exactly that entails).  But, at a minimum, we could say that the church (and Christians) should be patient, gentle, kind, and loving to everyone–even those who have different theological convictions.

However, there are also a number of concerns that arise with the way this commandment is phrased, and with the way Gulley fleshes out the specifics.

Is the Pursuit of Good Theology the Problem?

The prioritization of behavior over theology will sell well to our modern world because they already have the idea that people who care about theology are divisive, narrow, dogmatic, and even mean.  What matters instead, we are told, is that we are just kind to people.

Gulley drives home this stereotype by comparing people who care about theology with the Pharisees.  The the problem with the Pharisees, argues Gulley, is their “fixation on orthodoxy” and their “misguided quest for theological purity” (67).

Translation: If you care about orthodoxy you are probably just another Pharisee.

Leaving aside the ungracious (!) nature of this comparison, we can simply observe how historically inaccurate it is.  Jesus never said the problem with the Pharisees is that they are too concerned with orthodoxy.  The problem with the Pharisees was legalism (putting man-made laws ahead of God’s) and hypocrisy (saying one thing and doing another).  And the two often went together.

To put it another way, the problem with the Pharisees was not that they cared too much about good theology, but that they cared too little!  Their theology was a mess.  It glorified man, twisted God’s own priorities, and selectively followed God’s law.

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