Results tagged “Polemics” from Reformation21 Blog

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Quite a number of contemporary theologians have made the observation that J. Gesham Machen's Christianity and Liberalism is every bit as relevant today as it was when it was first released in 1923. Machen explained that he had written this work in order "to show that Christianity is not a 'life,' as distinguished from a doctrine. It is not a life that has doctrine as its changing symbolic expression. It is the other way around. It is a life founded on a doctrine." In the introductory section, Machen asserted that many of the modernist theologians "preferred to fight their intellectual battles in...a condition of low visibility." Explaining the dire need we have for clarity in definition, Machen wrote:

"The purpose of this book is not to decide the religious issue of the present day, but merely to present the issue as sharply and clearly as possible, in order that the reader may be aided in deciding it for himself. Presenting an issue sharply is indeed by no means a popular business at the present time; there are many who prefer to fight their intellectual battles in what Dr. Francis L. Patton has aptly called a 'condition of low visibility.' Clear-cut definition of terms in religious matters, bold facing of the logical implications of religious views, is by many persons regarded as an impious proceeding." 

There is no more pressing need that we have at present than the need to define our terms. As clarity is the vehicle of truth, so ambiguity is the vehicle of heresy. When someone plays fast and loose with theological terminology, the Gospel is lost or perverted. When individuals level charges against others on the basis of social constructs and accepted terminology--rather than on the basis of fact and clear-cut definition of terms--polarization and power structures abound.  

While modernism has morphed into postmodernity and postmodernity has provided a platform for intersectionality, the failure of so many--in both the world and the church--to clearly define terms has resulted in the widespread propagation of error. As a result of the cultural redefinition of terms and socially constructed agendas comes the need to defend and protect whatever narrative is being bandied about. Erica Jong takes all of these control structures back to their origin, namely, controlling words in order to control conversations. She writes:

"Language matters because whoever controls the words controls the conversation, because whoever controls the conversation controls its outcome, because whoever frames the debate has already won it, because telling the truth has become harder and harder to achieve in an America drowning in Orwellian Newspeak." 

Therefore, as we seek to navigate the waters of our often-times volatile cultural climate--desirous of seeking to advance the truth--we must be as clear as possible with our words. Let's make it our aim to clearly define what we mean when we use terms like "Gospel issue," "reparations," "rights," "love," "hate," "racist," "bigot," "homophobe," "nationalism," "patriarchalism," "white supremacist," "chauvinism," feminism," "cultural Marxism," "Social Justice Warriors," "Gay Christians," etc. Not to do so leaves us open to the criticism that we are merely seeking to "fight our intellectual battles in a condition of low visibility." 


What You're For, What You're Against!

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"Be known for what you're for rather than what you're against." This statement--in various forms--has become something of a Christian cliche over the past decade. Nearly every time I hear it, I wonder if those who so often state it understand the irony of the potential false dilemma that they have inadvertantly created for themselves. Insisting that we should want to be known for what we're for rather than for what we're against includes being known for being against being known for what we're against. You may actually be making a statement akin to that which almost every unbeliever makes when they, in opposition to the Bible's condemnation of sin, misuse the only verse in the Bible that they know, "Judge not..."--which, ironically, is a quite judgmental response.

To be fair, I strongly sympathize with the well intentioned sentiment behind the adage, "Be known for what you're for." I want to be known as a pastor who is for the gospel, for the church, for the Kingdom of God, for life, for marriage, and for a whole list of other God-ordained, and spiritually beautiful things. I'm also for gourmet food, all natural ingredients, and fancy restaurants. But for the good of humanity, I'm against kale chips and turkey bacon. Likewise, for the good of souls and for the good of the church, I'm against false gospels, false worship, false doctrine, and false teachers. Being for biblical things means that we must necessarily be against non-biblical ideas and practice.

Some people have made a career out of controversy. Watch blogs, conspiracy theory websites, and gossip media are all the rage. While the feel-good news stories get circulated around social media with comments such as, "THIS is real news," or "It's about time we see something positive," anyone looking at blog statistics can tell you the most read articles aren't filled with heartwarming testimonies or affirmations of true doctrine. Humans like drama, and even if we say we don't, our Netflix history proves otherwise. It's why the Bible warns us to, "Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths" (1 Timothy 4:7). Those who devote the better part of the life determining what everyone else is doing wrong and saying improperly are a danger to their own soul--and, I would add, aren't much help to others. More often than not, the controversies we allow into our hearts don't serve the great end of conforming us to the image of Christ.

However, in 2017 we celebrate 500 years of protest--something for which I and deeply thankful. The Protestant Reformation was perhaps the most important era of church history since the founding of the church, and it was an era of incredible opposition. Just as the Apostle Paul wrote, "If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed" (Galatians 1:9), it was good and right that men like Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli took on the Roman Catholic Church with its false gospel and practice in order to recover the truth. Yet, the writings of the Reformers weren't entirely polemical. Today, the five Solas of the Reformation are positive affirmations of truth thrown against the background of falsehood. There were certainly times when Luther needed an editor (for instance, the time he wrote against some of his opponents with words like, "For he is an excellent man, as skillful, clever, and versed in Holy Scripture as a cow in a walnut tree or a sow on a harp"1) Nevertheless, the best the Church has offered throughout history has rightly balanced being for what we're for with being against what we're against--rather than to the exclusion of one or the other.

Those who believe that Christians too frequently voice opposition often make reference to the tone or manner in which certain matters are addressed. We cannot forget the biblical imperative to, "Be kind to one another, tenderhearted..." (Ephesians 4:32) and to remember that our speech (and writing) should be, "Good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear" (Ephesians 4:29). We must speak "the truth in love" (Ephesians 4:15). I confess that I have hammered out emails, blog articles, and social media posts that--while even today I can say were true in content--were a far cry from living up to what Paul exhorts in Ephesians 4. This is the case not just in how I wrote what I wrote, but more grievously, in the intentions of my heart.

The Bible is filled with warnings and prohibitions, and sometimes the best way to understand what is true is to understand and reject what is false. The Church has solidified much of orthodoxy by standing against false teachers and their doctrine. While the Western world moves further down the road of insisting that tolerance (read: "as long as you agree with me") be our battle cry, the growing temptation for Christians is going to be to win friends and influence people by only stating what we're for. However, faithful, God-glorifying Christianity isn't frilly and soft, and our spokesmen aren't supposed to be motivational speakers pumping us full of positive sunshine. I love preaching peacetime sermons full of true, positive affirmations from God's Word. But sometimes the reality of war is present in the text, and if we don't get in the trench and fire back, we're going to die.

[1] Martin Luther, Luther's Works, Vol. 41: Church and Ministry III, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 41 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 219.