There’s a difference between being right and rude.
When you’re invited to be a guest on a TV or radio show, the topic is decided by the host, not the guest. It is, after all, his show. Little wonder, then, that Glenn Beck was upset with a “Big Evangelical” he had invited as a guest. This unnamed preacher insisted that he would only come on as a guest if he could address the differences between Mormons and Christians.
Before you side with the preacher, ask yourself whether you’d feel the same in another context. Suppose Hannity invited a guest to discuss some new medical procedure. It turns out the guest is also a militant atheist, who insists that he’ll only come on the show if he can discuss — let’s say — the Spanish Inquisition.
It’s not only irrelevant to the show’s programming, but it’s presumptuous and rude. Being a guest isn’t about getting your own private soapbox. (It would be a different story, indeed, if during a segment Glenn were referencing a shared religious belief. The guest might then make a response within the legitimate context of the show.)
If it’s Glenn Beck’s show, it’s Glenn Beck’s terms. (You can see his 90 second response for yourself.)
Beck’s objection was that academic disputes about the finer points of belief are irrelevant. What really matters is how you live your life.
There is a kernel of truth in his objection. Some people who claim to major in Truth are not very good at loving God or neighbor. Beck has personally organized events to directly benefit poor and suffering people while others were only wringing their hands about the problem. It’s not surprising that he might dismiss criticism of his Mormon belief.
Aside from the guest’s presumption, is Beck right? Is theology truly irrelevant?
Is a generalized “belief in Jesus” (or even “god” or even a generalized “good”) all that matters?
Again, to his credit, Glenn Beck is more bold in referencing the theological motivation for his own behaviour than most other people out there. He is more free with the name of Jesus than many Orthodox Christians. But I don’t accept that theology is irrelevant, and — if I may be so bold as to say so — neither does Glenn Beck.
How can I say this about someone I’ve never met?
Simple. He’s made a big deal about theology before. And he was right to have done so.
Remember when President Obama was still a candidate? People were just finding out about who he was. What was he was like? Who were his friends?
Remember the name Jeremiah Wright? Remember “Liberation Theology”?
Even people who were not very interested in theological topics were treated to a crash course in theology when Jeremiah Wright popped into the picture. I’m glad he did.
Why? Because theology actually matters.
Theology matters because theology (just like philosophy) is a fixed set of anchor-points people use to navigate through life. These ideas define our relationships, and ethics. They make claims about human nature, and our role in society. What’s good, and what needs to be set right.
The fact that Wright’s church preached “liberation theology” means they had hijacked Christianity. They took familiar forms, language, traditions, and authority. They removed the core of traditional Christian belief, and replaced it with their own as a means to fulfilling their own political ends. Even central ideas like redemption and salvation were recast to fit their own revolutionary views.
Beck recognized Liberation Theology for what it was. A false Christianity, pretending to offer hope and peace, but which could not deliver that promise.
Similarly, Yuval Levin’s The Great Debate looks back to the early beginnings of what later became the political Left and Right. Edmund Burke and Thomas Paine were the early examples of this split held up for observation.
It bears mentioning that much of what frustrates us about the so-called “Progressive’s” tactics and assumptions show up in Paine’s own ideas. Paine rejected history. He had utopian aspirations. He favoured wealth transfer. He believed human nature was basically “good” and that inequalities in political systems ultimately create the problems of human society. (Any of this sounding familiar?)
Paine’s assumptions came from somewhere. They came from his philosophy and theology. Paine actively and forcefully rejected “organized religion”. He was a deist. The Progressive world he envisioned rested firmly upon his (“rationalist”) assumptions of deism, innate human goodness, and grandiose utopian visions. We see where that has taken us so far.
Going back to the question of theology. Does it matter? Sure.
Even the Christian apostles themselves thought so. Paul wanted his own preaching to be vetted against Scripture (Acts 17:11).
The Biblical apostles aggressively exposed and refuted False Gospels, False Prophets and False Teachers. Notice, this is not the pagan religions they are surrounded by. These are people and groups who would deceive the believers with a counterfeit Christ and a counterfeit Christianity. (Note Galatians 1: 6-9). There are many religions making a claim to Jesus right now. Mormons are only one of them. The important question isn’t whether this or that secondary theological claim is correct. More important is: “Is this a different Jesus?”
We’ve already seen the consequences of wrong assumptions about both God and man in THIS life.
How much greater significance would such wrong assumptions have in the Next?