Self Masquerading as Zeal

March 17, 2013 — 6 Comments

I for too long have been concerned with the rhetoric of disagreement, especially from Christian blogs.

Behind the white hot screen shouts come forth. I too have been guilty. But the longer I have been an inhabitant of this world, the more shrill voices I have slowly been muting.

The problem is slashing sells, and all this in the name of “truth.”

Newton says it best:


Zeal is that pure and heavenly flame

The fire of love supplies;

While that which often bears the name

Is self in a disguise.


True zeal is merciful and mild,

Can pity and forbear;

The false is headstrong, fierce and wild,

And breathes revenge and war.


While zeal for truth the Christian warms,

He knows the worth of peace;

But self contends for names and forms,

Its party to increase.




Patrick Schreiner

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I teach New Testament at Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon. I am married with three children. This blog, against all wisdom, includes anything I am interested in. That includes movies, music, theology, culture, hermeneutics, the Gospels, and politics. Feel free to comment and let me know you are reading or that you have found something helpful. I reserve the right to delete unhelpful or rude comments. Many of these posts are simply things I find interesting and therefore I am not asserting I agree with everything I link to.

6 responses to Self Masquerading as Zeal

  1. Good word. In Sunday School we were talking about the ease it is to put on a fake self online (blogs, Facebook, Twitter etc). Many things we say online (especially with great zeal and passion) we would never say in person. Slashing and cutting is much easier when your identify is just a username and an email address.

  2. I think evangelicals across the spectrum need to have a conversation about what theological dialogue should look like. Demonization is too often the MO. Fear is at the root of the problem. This topic would make for an interesting ETS session if it could be headed up by someone who models both critical thinking and sympathetic reading/listening.

  3. Brian’s

    Thanks for your comments. Davidson, I agree, I am just not sure how that would go politically at ETS. If it could pass, I think it would be popular. We should talk to Thigpen about it.

  4. Since several of my friends and acquaintances for the longest of times disagree with me theologically, and typically are affiliated with SBTS, I find this concern to be valid. Often the zeal is for truth. I find that strange to combat. Who doesn’t want truth? The real problem is not truth, but the fact that we do not know the truth. The purpose of the debate of many theological issues is to solve something we do not know, by arguing for what we believe the truth to be. My SBTS friends often think of themselves as the arbitrators of truth, whose mission is to judge all other people’s believes as heresy for their congregation to avoid. I’ve been demonized far more by Christian friends than my atheist friends. Even my methods of seeking truth by logic, a method used by them and the Church for over a millennium, is considered evil as it does not cohere with the supposed truth that some people feel and know to be true, deep inside, which they have no reason to believe.

    I haven’t received that response from non-Protestants or Anglicans. I like to think it’s because we’re not arrogant to presume to know the truth of all matters, but part of it is just knowing that the issues are open for debate and the debate is not solved by appealing to a pastor, creed, or scripture. I love the implication that if someone can quote scripture that they somehow win a debate, as if their opponent hasn’t read it.

  5. Steven

    I understand and I think there can be more charity. Although the way you put it, it seems you have bought completely into postmodernism. I think there is much good in postmodernism but to say “we do not know truth” sounds like humility but really does not further the conversation.

    We need to hold onto the most important doctrines tightly and talk winsomely about them.

  6. You over interpret me. ‘To not know truth’ in that context means not to know the correct answer. Surely you don’t claim to know the correct answer to all questions. Even if we have doctrine, we must also justify them. Surely some of the most basic doctrines have competing arguments for them too. But who is to say? Obviously, it must be some source of authority. Equally obvious, it can’t be scripture. Then who has that authority? The answer is typically the person I am debating. You can hopefully understand my frustration with them for being so arrogant.

    The mere fact that there are question that could have answers is not consistent with some tenets of postmodernity. I do not claim to know all the answers, but that’s because there are good competing arguments for some issues. That doesn’t mean there is no true answer, only that I don’t know it. Some SBC people I know fail to recognize that possibility, so ever confident that the truth of their interpretations is sufficient that there is nothing to disagree over, except their authority, which is often presumed.

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