Monday, September 21, 2009

By Their Fruits

This is another post that was originally written for my Christian Theology class. After the post I will include the bibliographical information for the books that I cite.

I know that this one has the potential for being a little more controversial than the previous one. Let me state that I am intentionally being provocative, however, that does not mean that I am not serious in my assessment. Let me know what you think.


As most of us recognize, and has been mentioned in the readings this week, there is a always a greater context in which theological work exists and transpires. Part of Ellen Charry's goal in By the Renewing of Your Minds is to reclaim the pre-modern context of the theologians that she presents. One of the main principles of contemporary Biblical textual study is to ensure that the context in which the the text was written and presented to the community of faith is not forgotten or ignored. This premise is no less true for the theological reflection in which we are currently engaged in this course and with these blog entries. We are all writing in a certain time and place and out of certain cultures. Even within our class these contexts are different: we are a (relatively) diverse group of different ages, gender identities, denominational backgrounds, ethnicities, and socio-economic class.

However, our recognition of differing contexts should not be limited to these outward forms. Indeed, since Theological reflection can, and does, start in such an interior as the human mind, there is a personal intellectual and ideological (meaning here relating to or concerned with ideas) context that each of us carries into the discussion. This context may change on a daily (or even hourly!) basis as we read texts for other classes, engage in conversations, watch a movie, or read the news. No Theological reflection, or any intellectual pursuit, can exist in a vacuum; our thoughts and responses always arise out of the context of our culture and identity, both external and internal.

All of this simply to say that I am aware that my response this week has been largely shaped and informed by this larger context, by ideas that have been at the forefront of my thinking this week that may have given me a different emphasis when I was reading the texts.

What I found my self coming back to, again and again, was the theme running through both Charry and Migliore that the Christian faith should call us to a life transformed and that this transformation should and must have real implications on the life that we live and in the way that we treat our fellow human beings. This new way of being, acting, and interacting should be one, both Charry and Migliore assert, based on love, reconciliation, inclusion, justice, and righteousness. This stands apart from the conservative evangelical teachings that I received in the churches that I grew up in that stated that coming to G-d through the lens of Jesus was more about assent and “belief” in a certain right doctrine. But as Migliore states, “Surely faith is more than thinking correctly (a notion that might be called the heresy of orthodoxy). Faith is a matter of transformation --- personal, social, and world transformation.” (Migliore, 9)

In her extended analogy comparing theology and medicine, Charry points out that “Drugs are trusted and prescribed based on their demonstrated effects, not their theoretical cogency.” (Charry, 13) Thus, “you will know them by their fruits.” (Matt 7:20) Charry continues the analogy by pointing out how medical malpractice is no reason to turn to non-empirical healing methods and thus spiritual malpractice is no reason to dismantle the tradition. However, Charry misses here an important point. Just as a “doctor” guilty of medical malpractice must be stopped for the health of the community, practitioners of spiritual and theological malpractice must likewise be rooted out for the health of the community. “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Matt 7:19)

For far too long “moderate,” “liberal,” and “progressive” (do these words have have any real meaning?) have shied away from calling out the false prophets in our midsts, all in the name of a misguided pseudo-pluralism that fails to recognize the negative consequences to the Christian community that arise from the toleration of false prophets. A “gospel” the fruits of which are greed, anger, hatred, murder, war, and fear, just to name a few, is not the Good News of Jesus.

I recognize that this argument can be read as a potential attack on other faith traditions, however, I am hear only referencing my own tradition. I am a member of the Christian community and no other, making me wholly inadequate to critique any tradition other than my own.

Bill Maher's anti-religious polemic Religulous concludes with these words:

And those who consider themselves only moderately religious really need to look in the mirror and realize that the solace and comfort that religion brings you actually comes at a terrible price. If you belonged to a political party or social club that was tied to as much bigotry, misogyny, homophobia, violence and sheer ignorance as religion is, you would resign in protest. To do otherwise is to be an enabler, a mafia wife, for the true devils of extremism that draw their legitimacy from the billions of their fellow travelers.

By allowing these false prophets to continue to use the language of the Gospel to promote their heresies of hatred, fear, ignorance, and death, we do allow them the legitimacy of our faith tradition. I truly believe that it is time to stand in the light and love that is the Gospel of Jesus and name these people for what they are. For, as Migliore points out, “What the church needs at all times and especially in times of crisis is clarity of conviction and purpose.” (Migliore, xi emphasis added)


Books cited:

Charry, Ellen. By the Renewing of Your Minds: The Pastoral Function of Christian Doctrine. Oxford Univ. Press, 1999.

Migliore, Daniel. Faith Seeking Understanding, 2nd edition. Eerdmans, 2004.

When I cite the Bible, unless otherwise stated, I am citing the New Revised Standard Version.


  1. Lot of good points made in this article. I agree that you will know them by their fruits is true for me as it relates to my actions or the living out my beliefs.That is why a daily "Examen" is necessary. I agree also that the subject of false prophets should be addressed but what is the God like way to do this? We think killing is wrong so how do we protect ourselves without sometimes killing? How do we show/tell others that there is a time to kill and a time to not kill? Explaing Christianity and the message of Jesus is not a simple task. None of us know how to do it well. For me the best personal way is to simply listen to anothers point of view and tell my story with beliefs and why I believe the way I do. Most of that will be based on what has been shown through the years to "work". Love over hate, non-judgmental over judging, living peaceably over warring,etc. These things are some that Jesus believed in and taught and have been proven to be the best for society and each individual. It gets tricky when we want to "name and call out false prophets." I think Hitler proclaimed or others did that he was some kind of "God" and we all knew him to be wrong by what he did. We named him and called him out or to the task. However, how do you do that to your neighbor? Some of my beliefs may change daily as I too receive new insight. That does not mean that I have tossed aside my earlier thoughts, just added to them and weeded out those that "have been proven to be wrong" by their "fruits." This type of sharing will hopefully help shed some light of this subject as well as other topics. Thanks and keep up the good work.

  2. Jo Ann:
    I really would like to respond to this, but I don't have the time to do it justice tonight. I will try and get to it in the morning.

    Thanks for being here!