Skip to content ↓

Theological Black Holes

Just up the road from our house is a plaza or strip mall, a collection of 20 or 30 stores. This plaza has two large wings and right in the joint between the two wings is what must be the worst retail space in the city. At least, those of us who live here know that it is the worst retail space in the city. Aileen and I have been in this area for the past 15 years and in that time we have seen business after business try to make a go of it there, and not one of them has lasted for more than a couple of years. Several have lasted just a few months.

When we first arrived it was a family diner, but quickly the diner went out of business and was replaced by a fish and chips joint. Just a few months later there was a big notice on the door from the landlords saying that they were owed tens of thousands of dollars, and that the store had been shut down. Then it was a Lebanese restaurant, then a sandwich shop and, as of last week, an all-day breakfast place. And I know I am forgetting a couple of other iterations along the way.

The strange thing is that this store looks like it is in a great location. There is a long plaza stretching out on either side of it, with store after store. There is a lot of parking available, and a few attractive and well-trafficked stores just down the way. And yet, for some reason, this one storefront seems to be a retail black hole. It is where businesses go to die, where entrepreneurs go to blow their money.

Before every new store opens, the old sign gets hauled down, and paper covers the windows while the store receives a renovation. Every time I see another “opening soon” sign, I want to go and bang on the door and tell the people, “Don’t do it!” I see them walking in and out, full of excitement, and I feel a bit of dread for them. I know they’ve got a business plan that looks bulletproof, and they’ve convinced the bank to loan them some money to get started, but I want to tell them about all those other people who have followed the same plan and utterly failed. And eventually the inevitable happens.

Every time I see that “opening soon” sign I find myself thinking about people whose theology reminds me of this restaurant. I hear them tell me about some great new theological innovation they have discovered, or some great truth the church had been hiding from them. Or I see them gain a public profile and then their books begin to quote certain authors or hint at certain ideas. And I feel that same sense of dread. And I want to tell them that others have tried this and that it hasn’t gone well.

Others have tried to reconcile God’s knowledge and all the tragedy that happens in this world through various shades of Open Theism, but it has not gone well for them and they’ve soon smeared the very character of God. Others have been convinced that “inerrancy” is too strong a term and that we have to leave some room for minor errors or for certain cultural corrections, and before long they’ve rejected not just the inerrancy of the Bible, but also its authority. Others have become dissatisfied with hearing from God through the Bible and have demanded more; they have begun to live their lives by promptings and whisperings which they ascribe to God, and so often their lives have descended into personal and theological chaos. I see them setting up shop, thinking they are doing the right thing, but all the while they are walking into disaster.

And this is one of the reasons God places us in church communities where we are surrounded by people who are that much wiser and that much more mature than we are. He surrounds us with people who have tried things and found them wanting, or who have witnessed other people trying things and being led astray. He surrounds us with people who can speak with loving authority and experienced firmness of all of their attempts and failures, and who can guide us back to the straight path. He surrounds us with people who are wise enough to detect the first signs of wandering, and who love us enough to warn us of the consequences.

Image credit: Shutterstock


  • Not a Life of Ease

    It’s Not a Life of Ease

    You can’t read the New Testament and fail to understand that the Christian life was never meant to be a life of ease. Each of us will encounter adversity and adversaries, and each of us will have to wage war against our fearsome foes— the world, the flesh, and the devil. Then, each of us…

  • A La Carte Collection cover image

    Weekend A La Carte (June 8)

    A La Carte: Fighting for faith when doubts abound / The incredible blessing of my father’s final months / Why you can’t let yourself feel content / The means of doing much good / Bible translations are for people / Kindle deals / and more.

  • Free Stuff Fridays (TWR)

    This giveaway is sponsored by TWR, also known as Trans World Radio, whose mission is to reach the world for Christ by mass media so that lasting fruit is produced. TWR is looking for engineering, IT, maintenance and finance specialists to help us tell the story to God’s glory. Explore these and other opportunities here. …

  • The Way You Walk

    The Way You Walk

    You can tell a lot about people by the way they walk, can’t you? You can tell a lot about their physical health, their emotional state, and perhaps even their spiritual condition. You can often tell at a glance whether they are healthy or ill, joyful or sorrowful, delighting or despondent. Consider a company of…

  • A La Carte Collection cover image

    A La Carte (June 7)

    A La Carte: Feminism as critical social theory / Lessons from a Job season / Was the woman at the well married to any of the five men? / Holy haggling / The other D-Day / The problem with livestreams / and more.

  • A La Carte Collection cover image

    A La Carte (June 6)

    A La Carte: Toward a Protestant pronatalism / The rise of hyperpleasures / Why only pastors can baptize / Fighting the “respectable” sins of gossip and slander / Can we forgive when the offender doesn’t repent? / 10 questions a Christian man should ask himself before making a marriage proposal / D-day / Kindle deals…