Wednesday 23 February 2011

Theology FAIL: Chuck Colson's doctrinal boot camp

Evangelical leader (and former tough-as-nails US Marine) Chuck Colson wrote a Christianity Today piece on "Doctrinal Boot Camp", where he argues that catechesis for "younger evangelicals" should be modelled on the Marines. Apparently what the church really needs is more psychological brainwashing, self-abnegating conformity, and absolute unquestioning obedience. He relates a conversation with another former Marine:

I asked him about younger evangelicals who believe that we oldsters aren't being sensitive enough to their concerns. ‘Can you imagine,’ he asked, ‘what would happen if a scruffy young recruit were to tell his Marine drill instructor at Parris Island that he ought to be more sensitive to his needs?’ We both chuckled, knowing what would happens to the poor recruit. If he survived, he'd be doing 100 pushups a day for weeks.
Grrrr, we youngsters just hate it when former Marines chuckle together about our theological naivety! Anyways, David Congdon has issued a blistering response to this ecclesiastical legalism. He writes:
The commanding authority that Colson sees as the analogue of the drill sergeant is not Jesus or God, but rather the church. It is the authority of the church, not the authority of Christ, that demands our formal, blind obedience. Colson’s theology is the deification of the church, and thus the deification of a particular cultural form. Despite his best intentions, the gospel on such an account is simply propaganda.
Although David's argument is an excellent response, I'd also be intrigued to see a church where the minister really does address the congregation like this (maybe I'll try this in one of my theology classes too):

Now that I think of it, there is one minister who achieves a Marine-like theological severity – the fabulous Mitchell and Webb vicar. Maybe this guy was Chuck Colson's inspiration:


Mike Crowl said...

yeah, like we all want the Mitchell and Webb vicar in OUR church. LOL
Though, curiously enough, he's actually making a point, albeit in a terrifying way!

Anonymous said...

Isnt that just applied Calvinism - Colson is very much a Calvinist, as is the company that he keeps.

Or an adult(dolt) version of the poisonous pedagogy as described by Alice Miller in For Your Own God, and in her work altogether.

kim fabricius said...

So his heart belongs to the Corps, but his ass belongs to - the Grand Inquisitor.

Terry Wright said...

Scarily, I only see the Mitchell and Webb sketch as an exaggeration of what's actually out there.

Anonymous said...

I'll one-up you on a theological fail:

In which he argues that collective bargaining is a sin...seriously.

Erin said...

I was a little unnerved by Colson's comparison of the Manhatten Declaration with the Nicene Creed.

Ah, the good old days, when people had to walk uphill through the snow barefoot to get to church, both ways.

David L Rattigan said...

I'm lost for words.

Unknown said...

Along the same lines, I saw an internet ad for a Christian college called New St. Andrews with the tagline, "Yo, secularism, why don't we step into the alley" - here's their corresponding tweet:

"This is the kind of bullying Christians should want to see more of..."


Paul Wallace said...

Hi Benjamin.

I've been reading F&T for quite some time but have never commented. I just wanted to drop you a line and let you know that it has appeared on‘s list of Top Ten Most Irresistibly Brilliant Blogs:

Thanks for doing what you do.

Paul Wallace

Pamela said...

Can I have Bad Vicar's phone no?
He'd go down a treat at our next neighbourhood barbeque.

Daniel said...

If I could label this post and Congdon's response it would be "THEOLOGY OVER-REACTION."

Sorry, this is just way over the top. To submit an article of such brief and limited scope to such searching and extensive critique is silly. Colson's theology is fair game for criticisms but this is just grasping at straws. Congdon writes an article ten times as long to explain and deconstruct a simple article trying to emphasize the need for creeds and radical conversion in young Christians. To get all up in arms because Colson might think the truth value of propositions is important is an over-reaction and over-intellectualization of the article. Church deification? We can talk about the church possessing authority without having to launch into a detailed exposition of the nature of that authority in Christ.

This post seems more an ad hominem against Colson than a post with substance.

Kyle said...

Was it "legalism" when Stanley Hauerwas said the same thing in 'Resident Aliens'?

Paul Tyson said...

Fun post Ben - good and spicey!

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