Fear in Search of a Theology

Many of today’s boldly proclaimed beliefs—masked as Christianity—are birthed through the narrow canal of fear. This exceeding high birth rate follows a pattern, a particular lineage.

Cultural changes are the beaming grandparents out of which the offspring of fear is born and raised. 

Such lineage is easily traced: Change births fear; fear births untruthful claims that lead to unloving acts. Especially fearful to many professing Christians are cultural shifts in which those who don’t look, believe and act as they do might somehow be given equal status in the eyes of God and others. In response, self-protective beliefs are embraced that easily produce and justify unloving acts.

Selfishness overtakes service. Privilege is preferred over freedom, equality and justice. Control trumps spiritual commitment.

One can see the genealogy unfold: Uncomfortable changes beget unfounded fears; fears beget comfortable beliefs. These beliefs beget behaviors of hostilities, inequality and exclusion.

Just check the belly buttons of the prevalent religious/political ideologies masked as a “Christian worldview” or “biblical worldview” and wonder no more. Then simply ask, “From whence did these come?”

No DNA test is needed to determine the descendants. A clear line can be drawn from change to fear to belief to action. 

Justifying fear-borne beliefs and practices requires an accommodating theology. 

Jesus called his first disciples to toss aside their social pacifiers and follow him with faithful abandon. Yet through many centuries now, efforts to create competing, contrasting and accommodating theologies have become quite the art form.

As a result, the God who created everyone in the same divine image gets remade into endorsing the supremacy of white Europeans over people of color. Jesus’ clear and even radical teachings of hospitality and costly discipleship are reworked, when not simply ignored, to allow for unloving ways of treating others.

Fear is a hunter. It goes searching for a theology—and always finds a really bad one. Such results are unsurprising.

“Fear not” is the most repeated command in the Bible, with Jesus clearly conveying that all who truly consider him to be savior and lord will be driven by faith and love over fear and its offspring.

The Bible is filled with actual genealogies. But this spiritual one is present as well: Change births fear and fear produces self-protective beliefs that often lead to harmful acts.

Ancestry.com, which traces genealogies today, has a compelling tagline: “Every family has a story to tell.” Not all stories, however, are discoveries of pride. 

One friend, who used DNA testing recently, said he confirmed a quiet but persisting rumor that his grandmother’s relationship with a neighbor may have altered the branches on the family tree from that listed in his family’s tabletop Bible. 

Embarrassment, however, would be welcomed whenever examining the family trees of poorly conceived and delivered theologies. They are birthed out of cultural changes that produce fear and then lead to belief-spawned ugliness with no similarities to the biblical fruit of the Spirit. 

Often a false birth narrative is created in an attempt to justify one’s desired results. That is, theologizing often takes place when seeking to align what one really thinks with how one wants to be identified. 

Therefore, if one professes to be a Christian, he or she will want their beliefs to be marked as sufficiently Christian—even when those beliefs and corresponding acts contrast with the life and teachings of Jesus.

While everyone does theology—which is simply the way we think about God—not everyone does it well. The worst kind is that which is constructed with an ulterior motive—to justify some unchristian attitude or action.

The formula is simply: “Here’s what I believe. How can I make it fit my Christianity?”

Mental and scriptural calisthenics are required to produce such bad theology. The way to measure these tenets, however, is to simply look for the navel. 

Where did it start? Or more specifically, what fear was it created to counter?

It is no wonder that Jesus turned to the wonder of birth to describe the kind of wonderful transformation of a life toward good that he offers. 

In John’s gospel (3:1-21), a nighttime conversation with Nicodemus is focused on rebirth, which the inquiring religious leader first takes literally. He asks Jesus how one can enter the womb again and be born a second time.

Jesus explains that spiritual rebirth leads to both eternal life and a present life in which one “lives by the truth” and their good deeds are easily seen. Then the writer of 1 John states that those born of God reflect that which Jesus deemed the greatest. “Dear friends, let us love one another, because love comes from God. Everyone who loves has become a child of God and knows God” (4:7 NIRV).

Social change scares the (abundant) life out of many white Americanized Christians. Their fear of losing cultural dominance leads them in search of a justifying theology.

However, the rebirth—the new life—Jesus offers always and only produces love.