Theology is Sacred Power

Have you ever seen a pastor recite a long passage of Scripture from memory? It’s mesmerizing.

If not, I think you still know the feeling. Even if you’ve never been to a church, you’ve probably watched a TED talk. There’s an expert, showcasing her knowledge, with dazzling slides — and no notes. It’s a taste of omniscience. It’s exhilarating.

For Christians, the highest value is to be in the presence of God. So to see a holy person, recognized as a spiritual leader, powerfully reciting the word of God? It can charm you.

If you add good looks, a booming voice, an expensive microphone, a well-tuned sound system, and a theological degree, the mix gets even more potent. How does it feel to have the eyes of a filled auditorium follow you across the stage as you explain to them the meaning of their lives?

It feels good.

If knowledge is power, then theology is sacred power.

It is to take the stance, “This is what God says, this is what God wants.”

In Matthew 9, Jesus invites Matthew the tax collector to follow him. As they gather for dinner, the dishonorable and irreligious come to be with Jesus.

But this is incomprehensible to the religious authorities. Why would Jesus volunteer to be with the socially rejected? The theological experts are so curious they are forced to admit their ignorance.

And so they have to ask Jesus’ disciples to explain it to them. How humbling.

Jesus chooses to gives the reply. With biting irony, he instructs the religious leaders to go and learn theology (Matthew 9:13).


Here is God in the flesh, yet unrecognizable to the Biblical scholars. Why?

Because they loved theology as a means of gaining power. By controlling the interpretation of God’s words, they knew they could control others. They learned how to harness spiritual power to benefit themselves. It felt good.

In this passage, I think Jesus hints that their deception of others curdled into self-deception. They came to see themselves as righteous, so they could not see themselves as ‘sinners’ (Matthew 9:13).

In this story, who enjoyed a friendship with Jesus? And where would you be?

Here’s one simple diagnostic. Are you sharing meals with the poor, widows, orphans, and irreligious types? Do you speak up for survivors of abuse? Or are you dining in luxury with professional theologians as you defend your brand’s reputation?

Either way, you have your answer.

There’s no way around it. Theology does provide sacred power. But as Jesus shows us, it is intended to give us the power to confess our sins, to be dependent upon God, to love, to serve, and to show mercy to those who need it most.