Sep 07 2008

Join in Theoretical Humility

By John Immel

All tyranny requires these elements to be successful.


The next time you hear a church leader say, “I’m the greatest sinner I know…” the first thing you should ask him is to define his peer group. If he’s hanging around with Genghis Khan, Joseph Stalin, and Pol Pot, then maybe he’s got an interesting story to tell.

And if his peer group is Pope Benedict XVI, Billy Graham, and Mother Theresa, the finest advice is…run.

At BEST, the leader is afflicted with a case of the subjectives: a disease that creates hierarchies of evil–inexplicit ethics that turn natural tendencies into the greatest moral depravity and virtues to vice.  At BEST, the leader is parroting vain sophistry that he’s heard from those he admires, giving little thought to the true implications. On its face, “I am the greatest sinner I know…” is a comparative statement devoid of any real context or…substance. The lack of substance makes it more like air. At least that is what it must be, because we breathe it in just for oohhing and ahhhing at the leaders’ humility.

At WORST, the phrase is a deliberate moralistic slight of hand against intellectual scrutiny aided and abetted by our collective fraud. That is right, COLLECTIVE fraud.

In all varied forms and pretentious aspirations, the phrases below serve the same goal:

We are all fools before God…

We are all works in progress…

We are all sinners…

Of all sinners I am chief…

I am the greatest sinner I know…

The goal is to create a veneer of theoretical humility by forcing the acceptance of theoretical guilt.

For lots of reasons, Christian humility has been defined as self-effacing, anti-self commentary. The assumption is so embedded in most every expression of culture we accept the definition–and the corresponding actions that illustrate the definition–without scrutiny.

The loose logic goes like this: Adam’s sin sustains our theoretical guilty, therefore we should abase ourselves. Humility = self deprecation, anti-self commentary. Only truly humble people are qualified to spiritually lead. Spiritual leaders ascribe self-deprecating, self-effacing judgments to themselves to demonstrate their humility. We ooooh and ahhh when a “leader” demonstrates how we are to all act, fulfilling our assumptions and playing our part in the fraud.

We are sincere so the idea that our participation in a fraud catches us deep in our soul.  But hey, when you lay down your mind, you’ll believe anything you’re told you should.

Here is why it is a fraud. Humility cannot be about self-effacing, self-deprecating, self-denying, anti-self commentary because true humility requires a rigorous honest personal assessment. Guilt can only be ascribed to specific failings of ethic or law. Real guilt requires consequence: the cause and effect of justice and righteousness.   Everything else is mere pretense. We all know this. And we all act accordingly.

Notice: if someone TRULY is a great sinner. He TRULY is committing sin. And like our leader of “I’m the greatest sinner I know…” he confesses ACTUAL sin to demonstrate humility. Would this man of ACTUAL moral failing become the poster child for “Humble” leadership? Would we gleefully let him lead us to our own ACTUAL persistent sin so that we can demonstrate our glorious humility by honest self-deprecation?

By this definition, a homosexual pedophile priest who shoots his victims in the head would be the greatest spiritual leader amongst us as long as he demonstrates his humility by confessing his moral depravity.


Think Jimmy Swaggart. Think Jim Bakker. Think Todd Bentley. Todd Bentley has admitted (the last time I checked) to an “inappropriate emotional relationship”–whatever that is–and the cries of Heretic and False Prophet have filled the blogs, demanding that he cease his ministry. True guilt brings our outrage, the hue and cry goes abroad from the house tops. Real guilt requires consequence: the cause and effect of justice and righteousness.

If a leader confesses theoretical sin, theoretical guilt, we oooh and aaahhhh and applaud his manifest humility, and dive head-on into his moralistic slight of hand.

If a leader confesses actual sin, actual guilt, we put a scarlet letter around his neck and drive him from the pulpit soonest.

One we call humility. The other we call hypocrisy. What is the difference? One guy is being honest. Our reactions to REAL guilt reveal our fraud.

The only reason this schizophrenia exists is precisely because we lay down our minds and tolerate such absurdities–we willfully participate in the fraud.

Make no mistake. The reason the leader uttered the words had one goal: getting you to embrace theoretical guilt. He wanted you to accept utter personal fallibility so that you will overlook what he says next. As I said, his words are a calculated moralistic slight of hand against intellectual scrutiny. He wants a pass on his intellectual sloppiness because he cannot provide due diligence to advance his ideas. The words are platitudes and worse than lies because it is really moral exhibitionism designed to perpetrate a potent manipulation.

Remember at the beginning of the article I said run? I said that for a reason. This is just the beginning. The path he is leading you down is even more insidious. If the leader can get you to buy into your theoretical guilt, your implicit unworthiness, he will soon be holding out his hand…The word sacrifice will be on his lips.

And the sacrifice will only benefit one person–HIM.

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    1. 21

      Building on Steve’s comments, it seems clear that when Paul talks about our identity in Christ we are saints and not sinners.

      Paul addresses many of his letters “to the saints in…” and in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 he writes:

      “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.”

      Key phrase here: “such were some of you”. The implication is that the new birth has fundamentally changed who we are. Even though sanctification is on going and we not perfected (yet), the church is not to identify themselves as sinners. This is why Christ came: to free us from the power and slavery of sin.

      Whenever a pastor says that he (and we) are all sinners, it encourages a powerless Christianity. And, as John points out, it’s a great way to control the congregation and prevent dissent.

      If we are “sinners”, we need a spiritual guide to help us find the way (never mind they he/she is a “sinner” too).

      If we are “sinners”, then dissent will be equated with sinful rebellion.

      If we are “sinners”, then Christ didn’t really set us free.

    2. 22
      John Immel

      Hey Jeff,

      I don’t think you have posted here before so I wanted to welcome you. You are correct in your observations: if we are no different after the new birth, then the only logical conclusion is that man needs someone to compel him to moral action.

      And this is exactly what the reformers taught and exactly what the modern day Calvinists are teaching. And we can see how that is working out.

    3. 23

      Hi John,

      Thanks! This is my second time commenting on the blog (I wrote a comment on your review of Elysium last year). I was only 5+ years late to the party on this post :)

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