A few recent encounters, and the coming of a new year, has me reflective on the state of American Christianity vis a vi apologetics. Paul warned the Galatians of infighting, we are told to mark those that cause divisions among us, and the heretic (at this time, the term meant a divisive person) after the second admonition was to be rejected. There are of course admonitions that are equally important about the need to “earnestly contend for the faith,” but this will be an issue for the next piece.
One of the big problems the church has today is that we are often fighting the wrong battles; there are discussions of Calvinism and Arminianism, or issues involving textual criticism; battles over millennial positions and many others that are not the primary matters of the faith. I am not suggesting that these theological topics are unimportant, far from it. A pastor, in his training must, if he has any intellectual credibility at all, come to conclusions on these issues. Churches will ultimately settle on positions as they are a part of the regular teaching and preaching from the pulpit, and from the needs to come to organizational positions. My concern, then, is not for the interior of an Evangelical church, but for how our churches interact with each other. We live in a world where the new atheists have declared renewed hostilities against His church, ministering in an increasingly anti-Christian culture trying to reach men for Christ; my problem is not that we have secondary discussions, but that they have become the main points of discussions in our dialogs with each other; I like my wife’s green beans, but I would not use them as a substitute for Turkey on thanksgiving or Ham on Easter. And yet, this is precisely what we have done in our intellectual life as a Church in many quarters.
There are issues that are clear, and to depart from them is an issue of Biblical fidelity, but in many other issues, there is perhaps a spiritual problem interfering with the intellectual discussion. I am not an expert in Textual Criticism, I do find the eclectic position to be persuasive after a significant period of study in my younger years, most notably because of FA Hort’s 8 conflate readings, an analysis of the methodological errors employed on certain issues by majority text advocates, some statements in Jerome about the ending of Mark, and some of Gordon Fee’s work. And yet, I find I am far less aggressive and far less absolute than in younger years when I was a majority text advocate; I’ve since learned a bit about the issue and grown a little wise, in part by being wrong at the top of my lungs. In fact, some of the most extreme “experts” on Greek Texts cannot read Koine Greek, or have never had the pleasure of collating a transcript of a manuscript. In other cases, conspiracy theories have replaced thought. In all cases, these inexperienced experts are precisely the sort we should marked as dividers of the church.
Nor do I mean to pick on majority text activists with undo haste, they are simply an obvious example, those who are constantly quarreling about the superiority or heresy of Calvinism (or Arminianism), or a particular eschatological opinion is equally unbalanced, and likely to be, in my experience a trouble maker. Ironically, these thinkers often lead to the very heresies real believers should be concerned about. Majority text advocates morph into King James Only advocates, hyper-calvinism birthed the primitive Baptists and Methodists and the new light Presbyterians, and Arminianism has led to work based salvation and universalism. Emphasis of one controversy can lead to a dark path.
In other areas, the various social issues are huge. Whether it be issues that were big decades ago (such as movie attendance, playing cards – whether one was gambling or not, and the question of women wearing trousers) and still have a following today or issues that still are contended (such as the consumption of alcohol). In many cases there are issues of conscience involved, in which case both the weak and the strong should remember Paul’s admonish to them about their relationships with each other. In such cases, care should be taken before labeling someone a “legalist” or “worldly,” both statements are usually made in a manner that is disobedient to the reminder that we stand or fall before our master, Christ, and not each other.
I am suggesting then an out with the old – focusing less on secondary and tertiary issues and more on “earnestly contending for the faith; for saving our ammunition for the real issues and more civil discussions on secondary points; less on the mash potatoes and more on the main course.