On Theological Drift


Ah, yes, drifting looks like a lot of fun but what about theological drift? What I mean is statements like the one Keith made in a post a while ago:

All theologies seem to have a certain drift affixed to them.

If a guy can sit down and stomach something like a John Piper sermon, at the very least I know his temptation isn’t going to drift in [Brian McLaren’s] way.

Sounds sensible, right? Piper makes a very similar comment using the term “trajectory” instead of “drift” regarding Doug Wilson here:

Again you have the idea that if one starts off going in one direction, one tends to go that way. It’s downright Newtonian you could say. But does it apply to theology like it does in the physical world? As intuitively appealing as that seems, I do not believe that that is necessarily the case.

Charles Taylor uses the example of a preacher preaching hellfire to the congregation hoping that the congregants would be fearful enough to turn to God. One might be inclined to think all that hellfire talk is going to make a strong impression, really put the fear of God into people. The drift of such a congregation would seem not to lead to apostasy. But all the hellfire talk – or so Taylor posits – actually drives people into the arms of humanism, despairing of their salvation. Just as the same threat (and its attendant solution – indulgences) drove Luther to break with Rome.

I think it’s a fair question to ask a pastor or religious teacher or theologian where they think their theological project is going. I certainly wouldn’t hesitate to ask someone what they thought the logical conclusions of their thought was. That said, it is not sufficient to condemn a theology for its apparent trajectory or drift alone. The results of any given theological project can be difficult or even impossible to predict.