Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Excerpts from Carl Trueman's "Minority Report"

... there is an awful lot of junk out there in the church-world, and therefore one must always use discernment in deciding which battles to fight. One simply cannot fight them all. One must have some criteria for selection, and whether or not it has an immediate impact upon one’s immediate constituency would seem to have a decent claim to being one of the most important.

Second, all Christians have a responsibility to help build up their local church. Part of that involves positive actions: for example, encouraging each other and bearing one another’s burdens. Part of it also involves refraining from certain actions which might lead others astray; and one such action would be introducing certain errors to people who would otherwise be blissfully unaware of them.

... This leads to my final observation. I sometimes wonder if the reason so many theologians, amateur and professional, like to engage in online theological controversy has as much to do with them wanting a piece of the action as desiring to help the church. Like those people who stood around weeping and wailing after the death of Michael Jackson and yet who had no personal relationship with him at all, so I suspect many make themselves feel important by engaging in theological controversies which, by the criteria above, are none of their business. Once, for example, someone has written a good refutation of Rob Bell’s use of Scripture or historical sources, there is really no need for the rest of us to do anything but refer others to such. At least, that is the case until someone has exposed the refutations themselves as weak or inadequate.

Many find theological controversy to be a fun hobby. That is a very naïve view. For those who have been involved in such where reputations, livelihoods, and, at certain times and places, even lives have been on the line, it is a nightmare. We should engage in it only when it impacts the small patch of the kingdom in which we have responsibility, and only to the extent that our abilities allow us to do so with competence. Limitation in polemic, as for Goethe in art, is the secret of true greatness.

As someone who used to participate a lot on php discussion forums that involved theology at my old church Trueman pretty well knocks it out of the park with the last two paragraphs I've cited. The emphasis added is mine, not Trueman's. I used to know a fellow who I haven't seen in years who got into a theological debate. I ended up in the debate. The debate was ... I think about whether or not the concept of supercessionism was inherently anti-Semitic and the proposal was that it was and dispensationalistic "two-covenant" theology was proposed as the only possible alternative to anti-Semitism inevitably arising from anything remotely like the idea that the new covenant fulfills and supercedes the old on matters like, say ... dietary laws or whatnot.

The fellow did not exactly win the argument and I was more concerned to have my non-dispensationalist position not cast as anti-Semitic than to "win". He wanted to "win". He even said, "I'd like to win a theological argument for once." I replied, "Winning isn't the point, though. The point should be to help people in the church learn more." I have been a young man eager to win theological arguments to get in on the action, far, far more than I would like to say and in any event far more often than I even could say!

Having been one of those guys who got involved in theological disputes about things that didn't matter and/or don't matter I know that "you" are not going to follow my advice because I'm not Carl Trueman. I'm a nobody. I'm not a pastor or a widely known author, though I just quoted a pastor. :) Can I say in my defense that at one point I was entrusted with answering theological questions on behalf of Mark Driscoll? Well, that's not necessarily a meaningful credential either and in any case I was one of probably dozens of people who had that role at one point or another.

All that is to say that there have been times where I have had to assess whether or not a theological debate was worth jumping into and I made the wrong call by jumping into something that doesn't effect me, people I love, or the church I'm at. I only heard about the Rob Bell stuff because some people I know from Mars Hill brought up Rob Bell as the new big controversy. Wait ... I thought five years ago the big controversy was something like N. T. Wright and the New Perspective on Paul and him denying double imputation or something.

As a certain blogger I liked and respected sometimes hinted at, the trouble that can happen in the land of the truly Reformed is that this need to be out looking for a fight so as to contend for the faith delivered to all the saints means you get to fighting fights that, strictly speaking, do not concern you. Bloggers can imagine that what they say matters because they have to say something so they matter to themselves and their fan clubs. Someone could make this charge about Slice of Laeodicea. Okay, well, they could make this charge about Mark Driscoll, too. They could make this charge about Steve Camp. They could make this charge about me or any other blogger who is a Christian. And in many, many cases the charge could stand because that's our real temptation, to write about something so as to be able to look at that and say "I made this."

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