A while back I was in a discussion with a friend about theology and some teachings that he embraced which I thought were dangerous. At one point in the discussion he quoted the man who he was receiving most of his teachings from and said, "All theology is demonic. Always." The man he got this idea from is named Brian Barthrop. The next paragraph contains some of his similar teachings. After these sayings I'd like to address the issue of theology and how it's not only not demonic but unavoidable.
1) "In Jesus' day the demoniacs were naked and lived in the cemetery. Now they wear suits and teach at the seminary." 2) "Religious demons learn the bible in hell by exegesis." 3) "Theology is 100% the tree of knowledge of good and evil, pure soulishness, another name for that tree is... satan." 4) "There is no such thing as 'good theology.' All theology is demonic, and is the knowledge satan had as lucifer while he was a cheribim." 5) "Theology is religious fantasy... it does not contain life." 6) "There is always perfect unity at the top of Mt. Zion. Any division is a result of not knowing the Father. All theology divides." 7) "What's the reason for denominations? Answer: Theology. If everyone's Christianity was based on experience in heaven there would be unity." 8) "The problem with theology is that it is entirely based on the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Jesus' tree is experiential, always." 9) "If you need to exegesis, you need an exorcist."
First I'll address the problem with calling theology demonic and then I'll address the unavoidable nature of theology and how we ought to look at it.
The first question we must ask is "What is theology?" Simply, theology is the study of God. It is the study of 'theos' (God in greek). So what then is study? What does it mean to study?
Study is the application of the mind to the acquisition of knowledge, as by reading, investigation, or reflection. In other words, theology is the pursuit of setting our mind towards God. We often use the term 'theology' to speak of both the process and the results of study towards God. (be it reading about God, investigating a matter involving God, or reflecting upon something dealing with God).
There is no arguing the meaning of theology. The word defines itself. If Barthrop is using theology to mean something other than what has been explained here when he speaks of theology then it is unknown to the public for he never provides a clarification for what he means by the term and he uses the term in the same manner as everyone else. Therefore, he is in agreement, it seems, on the meaning of the term 'theology.'
Is it true that the study of God is demonic, based entirely off Satan or that theology is truly the knowledge of Satan as Barthrop claims? According to scripture, no. Do Satan and the demons, in fact, possess a theology? Of course! In fact, despite their rebellious nature, they often have better theology than humans for they know who God is and it makes them shudder (James 2:19)! They reflect upon God and respond accordingly.
If theology were a tool of Satan, belonging to and deriving from him, then why would his theology allow him to know who God is, in truth, and properly react to him with shudders when encountering him? After all, a house divided against itself can not stand according to Christ Jesus! If theology belongs to Satan then it would work against God. Yet, by it's very name we know it is a part of pursuing the truth of God!*
More must be said about theology before we are able to expound upon why it is not demonic. Earlier I gave a definition for study. This is key to understanding theology. Study is not mere book learning and philosophical theories.
Study occurs whenever we hear, see, feel, taste, smell. We have study whenever we encounter an opinion, truth, falsehood, thought, or anything at all and proceed to process it mentally (this is called thought), and then have an idea about the matter/object of which we have encountered. Study is unavoidable for it happens as we live.
The same is equally true of theology since the world and everything in it is God's (Psalm 89:11, Acts 17:24) and we can't help but have an idea about anything and everything we encounter. When we encounter anything in creation we also experience processes that literally force us to formulate a mental response (and/or conclusion).
Thus, whenever we hear or read a bit of information we quickly agree, disagree, or settle in confusion about the matter. Even in confusion we form views about that confusion or the contributing factors of that confusion. This is study, this is theology. Since everything we encounter speaks to us in some small way about God and the reality in which he has placed us, and that reality always affects the way we view God, then theology is unavoidable.
We are all theologians, like it or not. Because we encounter information, we process information, and because we process information we make conclusions about information, and because of this reality we are, without choice, both students and theologians. We can not escape theology. We can either study well or poorly. We can have correct or incorrect conclusions. We can react wisely or foolishly to the theological process with our day to day lives.
When we make study and theology out to be purely academic terms we do ourselves a disservice for we forget that life is a classroom and as human beings we are continually learning and growing, whether we are doing it intentionally or not, whether we are using textbooks or philosophical methods and frameworks of interpretation or not. We are always studying and theologizing. Always. Experience is study, but not the only form of study.
Study happens even as we grow close to others in a relational sense. We don't always call it studying each other, but we're doing exactly that! As we begin to experience one another or learn new information about one another we begin to better understand one another and formulate opinions on how to further interact with one another. It's not at all incorrect to call this natural process 'study.' When we allow others to know more about us through the sharing of information or the granting of experience/encounter then we give them 'revelation.'
Revelation is a large part of theology. Whenever we encounter revelation we learn something about God (because he's told us something about himself, ourself, or reality itself), and thus our view on God is changed; our theology is engaged and it is altered.
Revelation comes about through nature (Romans 1:19-20, Psalm 8:3-4) as well as experience and education. Revelation has come through scriptures, prophets, angels, miracles, and the incarnation of God known as Jesus Christ. Revelation is ever occurring and thus study and theology are ever occurring. We learn about God and are theological when we smell the wind carrying the fragrance of fruit from the trees, when we read the words of scripture or song lyrics, when we hear someone's words about truth, life, God or anything at all. This is good.
God, through giving us revelation and the ability to study (both in our senses and in our mental processing) has given us theology. It is a gift, more than anything else we would want to call it, and it is a gift which is to be used to know God more intimately so that we may grow in relationship with him, and carry out his will as a final result. Good theology results in deep love and true intimacy with God. Experience and study are like lovers or best friends, they are bound up together, needing one another, always helping and growing one another. The more we learn of God the more we may experience him and the more we experience him the more we learn of him. It's a complimentary cycle to be embraced. The two bleed into one another and this is why we can say experience is study but there are forms of study which are not based on the five senses.
By default, we engage theology, but we are also directly encouraged to engage in study throughout the scriptures. We are told to seek knowledge and wisdom, to reason and pay attention to instruction, so that we may live well and know God rightly. If theology were satanic then this would make God evil for he is the author and helper of theology, always teaching us about himself through revelation found in creation, our neighbors, the scriptures, and Christ via the work of his Holy Spirit.
If this were not true then the prophets and apostles and all those who have learned about Christ and spoken of him have been demoniacs for they have also been theologians (without choice). They learned about God, they made conclusions about God, and they even taught others these things which they processed about God! Any person who wants to claim theology is demonic must also claim that no person is able to speak or even think of God without being demonic themselves. Even experiencing God would be demonic in this line of thought. This, of course, turns the person who makes the claim against themselves and thus, their house can not stand. The argument destroys itself. Theology can not be demonic in it's nature.
Theology can be poor. Someone can have bad theology. By that I mean a person can study poorly by ignoring resources and methods which have bee made readily available to them (such as logic, reason, literacy [if so blessed] etc.) and/or they can reach false or foolish conclusions which result in them having a damaging view of God. Theology is not, by itself, demonic but a person can be demonically influenced and thus have a theology which may be worthily classified as demonic (see footnote).
We must be careful not to hold study too highly in our hearts. It is entirely possible to neglect experience in the pursuit of knowledge. The two need one another desperately. Knowledge without experience is near pointless as it becomes mere theory and impractical. Also, experience without knowledge goes nowhere of profit, like a waterfall that never hits a pool but carries into an abyss. Knowing about someone (even God) does not mean we truly know him. Experiencing God but never reacting to the experience in any form is not truly experiencing or knowing God either. All experience must be, and undeniably is, mentally processed in some form.
Experience alone is a horrifying thing because we experience a great many ungodly things and we can be led astray from truth and a healthy relationship with God when we do not have the knowledge and wisdom necessary to compliment our experiences. We may be encountering feelings that amaze or flatter us, but that doesn't mean they build us up. This is why we study the revelations God has given to us in scripture and in Christ; so that we may test what we experience! This is why we are instructed to test the spirits in the New Testament (1 John 4:1-6). We do not do this on prayers and faith in the Holy Spirit alone but in a partnership with the Spirit which consists of our own efforts towards knowing the scriptures and engaging in intentionally study.
Just as the men and women in scripture did not abandon themselves to experience or knowledge alone so we must combine the two, also learning moment to moment. We are responsible and God-honoring when we use all our resources to our fullest ability. If there is good we ought to do and we do not do it then we sin (James 4:17). If we know we can and should learn more of God through the study of scriptures then we ought to do it as we pray, dream, and love.
Brian Barthrop teaches that thinking is sinning**, that theology is demonic (deriving from Satan), and that exegesis is an evil tool belonging to hell.
Exegesis means "to pull meaning out of" something. It's opposer is Eisegesis, which means "to put meaning into." When we talk about exegetical readings of scriptures we simply mean that we are seeking to understand the original and intended meaning of the text, allowing the Holy Spirit to teach us what this text means. The Holy Spirit uses the gifts of logic and reason in this process, helping us discern what is right and wrong as we think and process what we've read.
Eisegesis means that when we read something we apply our own meaning to the text, forcing it say what we desire for it to say. This is not a healthy way to read the scripture because, with this strategy, we are forcing the text to mean something that God did not intend but rather that we intended. Eisegesis is a self-serving way to read scripture, it is, in fact, an abuse of God's revelation.
Barthrop is an expert of eisegesis and has clearly stated his hatred for exegesis. He not only doesn't value the intended meaning of scripture, thinking, and having a view of God but he detests all these things. His own words have confirmed it. This is why he shows such a great lacking for Biblical literacy, making claims that don't contain any reason or sense within them.
This is also why he desires for people to base everything upon experience alone. He hates God and for people to come close to God. He is doing the work of the enemy by leading people away from thinking, logic, reason, knowledge, wisdom, the intended meaning of scripture, and a true understanding of revelation. He calls what God has given to man for the sake of knowing him 'evil.' Without a doubt, he is a false prophet, and his own words prove it when they stand against the truths of scripture.
So much more could be said concerning Barthrop's words and the need for study alongside experience (we haven't even touched on church tradition or the saints) but I'll let the reader carry that discussion on within themselves or within the comments section of this article. At the end of this, I simply want to encourage everyone to seek God in every possible way, testing all the spirits and teachings with the revelations which God has already given us so that we are not led astray. May we have a healthy and full theology which values exegesis, experience, knowledge, and the Holy Spirit. Peace of Christ be with you.
*At the same time, Satan uses his theology against humanity, for he even tempts Jesus with scripture. As Jesus' responses prove, however, Satan uses a corrupt theology when he desires, twisting the scriptures to do the exact opposite of what God intended for them to do. His theology is good enough to wield it in a rogue manner. His theology is also good enough to know when he has been beat and this is why he does not deny Christ's rebuttals but rather attempts to sway Jesus with another theological twisting.
**Elsewhere Barthrop writes, "...if ur thinkin ur sinnin." He contrasts this with "if ur drinkin ur winnin..." which is connected to his teachings that the Holy Spirit intoxicates those whom he indwells and that one ought to rely upon the experience and feelings of the Holy Spirit and neglect fleshly activities such as thinking or being reasonable.