I think that’s a fair question… one that I’ve been thinking about for some time. So, I thought I’d “re-boot” the blog with a modest attempt at articulating an answer.
I am a student of history. Or at least a product of the History Department of a Christian liberal arts college, a frequent reader of history and a person with a life-long interest in the ebb and flow of “what-has-gone-before” us. In addition to history generally, I have grown up with a love of the history of the Church. I love this not merely culturally, but because it is the Bride of Christ – He laid down His life for it, He loves it, He will glorify those in it. I think that anyone who gives up on the Church really misses the heart of our Lord.
But things aren’t going so well for the church in America these days – and especially for the Evangelical church. Watching it, participating in it, praying for it, grieving for it… You’ll note that I focus on this frequently, and this is the heart of the question I’ve gotten: Why focus on what’s wrong – why not just talk about what is right? Why be “negative” anyway?
J. Greshem Mechan was faced with this same question early last century. If you don’t know him, you should… at least read his book Christianity and Liberalism. Here’s his take on the question:
“...men tell us that our preaching should be positive and not negative, that we can preach the truth without attacking error. But if we follow that advice we shall have to close our Bible and desert its teachings. The New Testament is a polemic book almost from beginning to end. Some years ago I was in a company of teachers of the Bible in the colleges and other educational institutions of America. One of the most eminent theological professors in the country made an address. In it he admitted that there are unfortunate controversies about doctrine in the Epistles of Paul; but, said he in effect, the real essence of Paul’s teaching is found in the hymn to Christian love in the thirteenth chapter of I Corinthians; and we can avoid controversy today, if we will only devote the chief attention to that inspiring hymn. In reply, I am bound to say that the example was singularly ill-chosen. That hymn to Christian love is in the midst of a great polemic passage; it would never have been written if Paul had been opposed to controversy with error in the Church. It was because his soul was stirred within him by a wrong use of the spiritual gifts that he was able to write that glorious hymn. So it is always in the Church. Every really great Christian utterance, it may almost be said, is born in controversy. It is when men have felt compelled to take a stand against error that they have risen to the really great heights in the celebration of truth.” [“Christian Scholarship and the Defense of the Faith," in J. Greshem Machen: Selected Shorter Writings (Pages 148-149, emphasis added).I’m not comparing myself to Machen, mind you. But I share his understanding of the authority of the Bible, and the clarity of its message. But is it possible today:
- Even with all of the talk about “humility” in our theology, that there is much that God has revealed clearly - and that the Evangelical church obscures it by alternative views on every possible theological issue?
- That the Bible really is God’s word to us and that He intends for us to know it - and that the Evangelical church dilutes it through a variety of means (from Archeology to bad hermeneutics) which undermine the practical authority of Scripture?
- That somewhere, deep in our sinful hearts, we rejoice in the confusion some find in Scripture because it gives us an excuse to “wriggle off of the hook” of the conviction we’d experience from a clear presentation of Scripture?
I'm no longer surprised by teaching which seems to “darken counsel by words without knowledge” (Job 38:2), which is so prominent in pulpits and Sunday School classrooms (that's in the rare cases where adult Christian education even exists anymore). I am surprised though that so few Christians seem to want to stand against it!
Loving Truth requires me - no, all of us - to recognize that it is wrong to obscure the truth of God's Word by make disputable that which God makes clear in the Bible. The results can be seen in tolerating broken relationships, abusive and disfunctional authority structures – and most clearly in lack of sound, Biblical doctrine taught.
To acknowledge the existence of this type of error in many Evangelical churches is one thing - which seems undisputable to me. It is heart-breaking when you see it in your own community of faith. It cries out for someone to stand up and point it out.
It's interesting to me that I usually don’t get much push-back on the existence of the problem… In fact, the people I’ve found myself in debate with seem comfortable to agree that things aren't what they should be, but they assume that things always have been this way, and that they will always continue. The argument I most usually get is that even though these problems exist, we shouldn’t focus on them because to do so is "negative."
So what does the Bible intend for us to do with calls to “contend for the faith once for all delivered” (Jude 3)? How ought we rightly emulate the Berean attitude towards teaching (Acts 17:11)? The answers - however uncomfortable - seems clear to me.
Those are the question I’m wrestling with in this blog… and the reason I write. And in light of the usual reaction received, I've been slower to post lately as I have been asking this: When "contending for the Truth," what should our heart attitude be? I love John Piper’s words in this regard, in setting the stage for the great battles for truth in the lives of Athanasius, John Owen and - coincidentally - J. Gresham Machen:
“Some controversy is crucial for the sake of life-giving truth. Running from it is a sign of cowardice. But enjoying it is usually a sign of pride. Some necessary tasks are sad, and even victory is not without tears—unless there is pride. The reason enjoying controversy is a sign of pride is that humility loves truth-based unity more than truth-based victory. Humility loves Christ-exalting exultation more than Christ-defending confrontation—even more than Christ-defending vindication. Humility delights to worship Christ in spirit and truth. If it must fight for worship-sustaining truth, it will, but that is not because the fight is pleasant. It’s not even because victory is pleasant. It’s because knowing and loving and proclaiming Christ for who he really is and what he really did is pleasant.” (John Piper, Introduction in Contending for Our All, page 17.)So why do I blog? Because the Truth of Jesus is far better, far more desirable, far more profitable than the error… even today. I long to see the day – even in my lifetime – when the error is confronted appropriately and dismissed, Christian unity is based on a common Truth rather than merely a shared program and where real love is embraced and displayed – even (or maybe especially) in how we pursue the Truth.
I may fail in the process of contending well, but I'll go with A. W. Tozer when he says that "what comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us." A.W. Tozer, Chapter 1 of Knowledge of the Holy, page 9.) And that's my heart behind these musings. Perhaps you'll help in dialogue, leading to a more Biblical understanding of God and His Truth.