Someone on my team recently asked me why, of all the people I quote when explaining a passage or a topic, I mainly quote dead people. I don’t exclusively quote dead people. And I don’t reference other’s thinking in all my sermons and definitely not in every point I am attempting to make. But it is true; I tend to reference dead theologians and Bible teachers much more than ones who are still living. So why? I have thought about it and lived long enough to be intentional about it, so here are three reasons I mostly quote dead theologians in writing or speaking.
1. They can’t destroy their lives.
I don’t have to worry about a dead theologian having an affair or stealing from the church. They were not perfect but they finished well. They passed from this life to the next with their ministries and their integrity above reproach. I have seen far too many men and women shipwreck their families, their ministries, and their reputations through an implosion of character. When one’s character proves not to match their words, the lack of character greatly diminishes the great things they have said.
2. They can’t drift from orthodoxy.
I don’t have to worry about a dead theologian changing his or her view on the Bible, on salvation, on the character of God, or any other essential doctrines in the Christian faith. Their body of beliefs has been crystalized and finalized. When I quote a dead person, I am less likely to get an email with a link of an article of something foolish the person said. Dead people just save me more time.
3. Their struggles have been overshadowed by their contributions.
Here is the reality: If some of the most helpful and insightful theologians lived today under the scrutiny of social media, where every word is parsed and debated, they would likely not be as revered as they are. We love our instant communication but our sanctification is not instant. And social media allows for imperfections to be captured quickly and permanently. When you look at all Martin Luther said, clearly not everything he said was great. In fact, he said some really bad things. Tozer’s incredible work may not be as quoted if someone had been there to blog all his imperfections. But because these dead theologians lived in a different time, their struggles have been overshadowed by their contributions. I hope this proves to be true for those of us living and serving now, but I am not so sure. We seem to enjoy tearing down others too much.
I don’t always quote people, but when I do, I tend to quote dead people.