Thursday, February 16, 2012


Heaven Help Us!

Roger Olson:
We’ve been discussing the concept “heresy” here and it is a notoriously difficult one to pin down or find agreement about. However, I worry that a bigger problem for the American church, especially, is folk religion. Sure, the two concepts overlap somewhat. But American folk religion (and I’m sure it has its analogies elsewhere) is rampant within the churches (all denominations) and outside the churches.

So what is “folk religion?” I’ve described it and responded to in in some detail in one of my books: Answers to All Your Questions: The Journey from Folk Religion to Examined Faith (Zondervan). I’ll define it briefly here. Folk religion began as a sociological concept; it hasn’t found its way into theology on any large scale yet. One of my authorities for describing it is sociologist of religion Robert Ellwood.

According to Ellwood and other sociologists of religion, folk religion is unreflective religious belief based largely, if not exclusively, on feelings (e.g., comfort), traditional folk ways (e.g., funeral practices), cliches (e.g., bumper sticker slogans) and devotional literature (including poems, songs, religion fiction, etc.). It thrives on urban myths (“evangelegends”) and unverifiable stories passed around among the faithful. It is unreflective and even resists reflection (especially critical reflection).
Olson then goes on to discuss one such example of "folk religion" in what most people believe about life after death:
The theological problem here is twofold and the two aspects are closely related. First, very little sound biblical teaching is being carried out in many Christian churches about death and life after death. For example, the Bible does NOT portray death as a friend but as the “last enemy.” People are being allowed, if not encouraged, to base their personal views on stories read or seen on TV or in movies. Funeral sermons are being adjusted to fit these folk religious visions of life after death. (For example, “Our dearly departed loved on has flown from this shell in which he lived for seventy years and is now in heaven with all the saints surrounding God’s throne worshiping him forever and ever.”)
OH NO - someone might have their theology wrong, there theology about something we can never know with certainty; their theology about something that is distinctly and utterly in God's hands; their theology about something that frankly has little or no bearing on how they live their lives on a day-to-day basis.

Mr. Olson, we are saved by Jesus Christ, NOT our theology. Oh, and by the way, I can assure you, knowing virtually nothing about you, that you are wrong about something too - in fact several somethings - maybe even THIS something. See Christians disagree about this stuff.

But far be it from me Mr. Olson to stand in the way of your deciding who is correct and who is not - you're free to do that - right or wrong.

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