It pains me to admit it, but I used to be this guy. But, by the grace of God, I got tired of it. Controversy doesn’t get me going like it used to. I’m losing the formerly-urgent desire to have my say about the latest hot topic. I’ve lost interest in blogs that thrive on controversy. I seldom engage in internet forum debates anymore. I no longer rush to buy the latest books on the popular heresies of the day. I would rather think on things that are true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, and of good repute (Philippians 4:8).
Well, I kind of feel that way. To be honest, though, there is still a part of me that is spoiling for a fight. There are two reasons for this: first, as a fallen sinner, there is a desire to shut the mouths of idiots and demonstrate my own brilliance; second, there is a legitimate desire to stand up for the truth, to be “destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ“ (2 Corinthians 10:5). But I have difficulty engaging in controversy without allowing the former motivation, which is none other than pride, to come to the forefront, exalt my own cleverness, and steal God’s glory.
In short, I have difficulty speaking the truth in love. John Piper shows how Francis Schaeffer, a man who did not shrink from controversy, addressed this problem:
One of the swans who sang most sweetly in the twentieth century was Francis Schaeffer (1912–1984), the founder of L’Abri Fellowship. He was a wise and humble apologist for the Christian faith, and the model for many of us. In 1970 he wrote an essay called The Mark of the Christian. The mark, of course, is love. He based the essay on John 13:34–35 were Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.“ Schaeffer spent most of this essay exhorting the church to disagree, when it must, lovingly. Schaeffer’s view of biblical truth, like the swans in this book, was so high that he would not let the value of truth be minimized in the name of a unity that was not truth-based. Therefore, he dealt realistically with two biblical demands: the demand for purity and holiness on the one hand and the demand for visible love and unity on the other hand. The Christian really has a double task. He has to practice both God’s holiness and God’s love. The Christian is to exhibit that God exists as the infinite-personal God; and then he is to exhibit simultaneously God’s character of holiness and love. Not his holiness without his love: this is only harshness. Not his love without his holiness: that is only compromise. Anything that an individual Christian or Christian group does that fails to show the simultaneous balance of the godliness of God and the love of God presents to watching world not a demonstration of the God who exists but a caricature of God who Exists. Schaeffer knew that, in general, the necessary controversies and differences among Christians would not be understood by the watching world. You cannot expect the world to understand doctrinal differences, especially in our day when the existence of truth and absolutes are considered unthinkable even as concepts. You cannot expect the world to understand doctrinal differences, especially in our day when the existence of truth and absolutes are considered unthinkable even as concepts. We cannot expect the world to understand that on the basis of the holiness of God we are having a different kind of difference, because with are dealing with God’s absolutes. This is why observable love becomes so crucial. Before a watching world, an observable love in the midst of difference will show a difference between Christians’ differences and other people’s differences. The world may not understand what the Christians are disagreeing about, but they will very quickly understand the difference of our difference form the world’s differences if they see us having our differences in an open and observable love on a practical level. Therefore, Schaeffer called controversy among Christians “our golden opportunity” before a watching world. In other words, the aim of love, in view of God’s truth and holiness, is not to avoid controversy, but to carry it thorough with observable practical love between the disagreeing groups. This is our golden opportunity. As a matter of fact, we have a greater possibility of showing what Jesus is speaking about here, in the midst of our differences, than we do if we are not differing. Obviously we ought not to go out looking for differences among Christians; there are enough without looking for more. But even so, it is in the midst of a difference that we have our golden opportunity. When everything is going well and we are all standing around in a nice little circle, there is not much to be seen by the world. But when we come to the place where there is a real difference, and we exhibit uncompromised principles but at the same time observable love, then there is something that the world can see, something they can use to judge that these real are Christians and that Jesus has indeed been sent by the Father. —John Piper, Contending for Our All, (Crossway, 2006), 163–166
As Christians, we are entrusted with the truth of the gospel. It is our duty to stand for truth, and against all enemies of truth.
Postmodernism is simply the latest expression of worldly unbelief. Its core value—dubious ambivalence toward truth—is merely skepticism distilled to its pure essence. There is nothing virtuous or genuinely humble about it. It is proud rebellion against divine revelation. In fact, postmodernism’s hesitancy about truth is exactly antithetical to the bold confidence Scripture says is the birthright of every believer (Ephesians 3:12). Such assurance is wrought by the Spirit of God Himself in those who believe (I Thessalonians 1:5). We need to make the most of that assurance and not fear to confront the world with it. The gospel message in all its component facts is a clear, definitive, confident, authoritative proclamation that Jesus is Lord, and that He gives eternal and abundant life to all who believe. We who truly know Christ and have received that gift of eternal life have also received from Him a clear, definitive commission to deliver the gospel message boldly as His ambassadors. If we are likewise not clear and distinct on our proclamations of the message, we are not being good ambassadors. But we are not merely ambassadors. We are simultaneously soldiers, commissioned to wage war for the defense and dissemination of the truth in the face of countless onslaughts against it. We are ambassadors—with a message of good news for people who walk in a land of darkness and dwell in the land of the shadow of death (Isaiah 9:2). And we are soldiers—charged with pulling down ideological strongholds and casting down the lies and deception spawned by the forces of evil (1 Corinthians 10:3–5; 2 Timothy 2:3–4). Notice carefully: our task as ambassadors is to bring good news to people. Our mission as soldiers is to overthrow false ideas. We must keep those objectives straight; we are not entitled to wage warfare against people or the enter into diplomatic relations with anti-Christian ideas. Our warfare is not against flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12); and our duty as ambassadors does not permit us to compromise or align ourselves with any kind of human philosophies, religious deceit, or any other kind of falsehood (Colossians 2:8). —John MacArthur, The Truth War (Thomas Nelson, 2007), 24–25.
I would make a horrible attorney. I hate to argue. Obviously then, apologetics is not my bag. I like to state my case once, and leave it at that. If you don’t agree, fine. Just stop arguing about it.
I’m a presuppositionalist. In fact, you could call me a hyper-presuppositionalist—more roto-tillian than Van Tillian. What is, is, and it’s obvious. All truth is based on a few self-evident facts that are as plain as the nose on your face, and if you can’t see that, I probably can’t help you.
I’ll give you a couple of examples of how my arguments go. Let’s pretend I am a college professor . . .
There once was a scholar from Esser Whose knowledge grew lesser and lesser It at once grew so small He knew nothing at all And now he’s a college professor
. . . One morning, as students are filing into the classroom, I am regaling some of my more manly students with riveting tales of my hunting adventures around the globe, when in walks Ms. Teensy Eyequeue, who has just come from professor Hillary Steinem’s Obnoxious Liberalism 101 class.
Teensy: I think killing all those beautiful animals is horrible. Me: If you don’t kill them, they won’t lie still on the grill. Teensy: I’m a vegetarian. Me: If God didn’t want us to eat animals, why are they made out of meat?
It’s as simple as that.
And then there are those who think there has to be a winner of every argument.
Me: As I was saying . . . non curat de minimus lex . . . and, as Socrates said, . . . and so, . . . hypotenuse . . . cogito ergo sum. Pug Blowhard: Dude, . . . blah blah blah blah . . . yer just, like, totally bogus. Me: Adversus solem ne loquitor.* PB: No way. Blah blah blah blah . . . blah blah blah blah . . . Me: “ ”
Because I have gone silent, PB now believes he has won the argument. Later, observing that I am continuing as before, unchanged in spite of his stunning rhetorical victory, he resumes the attack.
PB: So, you’re still going to do that even though you know I’m right? Me: I never said I agreed. I just stopped arguing. AP: Dude, yer like so passive-aggressive. Me: Call it what you want, Dr. Freud. One of us knows when to shut up and stop arguing, and the other is a moron. Which one do you think you are? AP: Alright, wiseguy . . . Me: Age. Fac ut gaudeam.†
There you have it. Apologetics for curmudgeons. It won’t make you any friends, but it will save you a lot of time.
* Don’t speak against the sun (don’t waste your time disputing the obvious). † Roughly, Go ahead. Make my day.
Phonity noun: superficial unity for which fundamental differences are ignored.
I wrote several introductions to this article, but each time I found myself politely beating around the bush, which, as you will see, goes exactly opposite my purpose. So I’m just going to skip the howdies and handshakes and spill it:
As long as Reformed—which I assume to be cessationist (Sola Scriptura)—and Charismatic Christians continue to pretend the differences between them are minor and sweep them under the couch, their unity is fake, false, phony, fraudulent, and fraught with failure. If a movie was made about it, it might be called Irreconcilable Differences. Here’s why:
Positively, we (Cessationists) believe that God has given his Word in full, therefore, prophesy (in the divine revelation, “thus saith the Lord,” sense) is ended; the gifts of tongues and healing were given to authenticate divine revelation, therefore, since revelation is finished for our time, so are tongues and healing.
Negatively, we believe that if you “speak in tongues,” you are faking it, under some kind of hypnotic influence, or under demonic influence; when you say, “God told me . . .” without following with a Scripture reference, you are delusional, fatuous, or making it up; all “faith healers” are frauds.
In view of all that—and setting aside who is right and who is wrong—I can understand how Cessationists can lovingly bear with Charismatic brothers, though I cannot see how they can quietly “agree to disagree.” The latter does not seem loving at all. What really boggles my mind is how Charismatics can brush aside what Cessationists believe about those things that identify them as Charismatic—that is, that they are all fake—as though it is no big deal.
But my bewilderment is of no importance to you. How this can be is less important than the question, “Should this be?”
I know the current rapport between Charismatic and Reformed Christians is very fashionable and celebrated, but is it, as it stands, a good thing? Is a unity based on near silence a genuine unity? Regardless of which side you are on, you must agree that these are very serious disagreements. One of us is terribly wrong, and in serious need of correction. If we sincerely aspire to any kind of genuine unity, we need to talk about this.
That is why both Cessationists and Charismatics, rather than becoming pugnatious, should welcome events like Grace Community Church’s Strange Fire conference as an opening of constructive dialogue. Charismatics should listen when the sessions become available online, and by all means, respond intelligently. (Note: “Shut up and stop ‘quenching the Spirit’” is not an intelligent response.)
And if we can’t talk about it, we should stop pretending and call it quits.
With the Strange Fire conference comes the predictable complaints. “It makes me feel bad”; “But my experience says . . .” followed by the hilariously ironic “Quoting Calvin? Sola Scriptura!” and my favorite, “This is not helpful!”
Then there are, of course, the inevitable Matthew 18 trolls who think John MacArthur should be having coffee, or at least a phone call, with every charismatic who wants his ear. Well, folks, here’s how it works (and I’m pretty sure you already know this, so knock it off). Matthew 18 does not apply. First, public actions require public responses. Second, private interaction is just not practical. Finally, this is how scholars have always hashed out disagreements: public debates, lectures, journal articles, and books.
So all you “MacArthur should take the time to talk to charismatic leaders” people, he is talking to them. Right now, as I write this, as a matter of fact. And they are free to respond. Is it too much to expect that they respond seriously and honestly, or should we expect the kind of dishonest obfuscation and slander we get from the likes of Michael Brown?
I’ve said before that we need to talk about this. So let’s talk, but like adults, without whining, and without slander.
Addendum: This is relevant, I think.
It's interesting to me: Driscoll makes fun of Cessationists & people laugh. MacArthur calls out Charismatics & people get angry #strangefire— Erik Raymond (@erikraymond) October 17, 2013
Sometimes it’s just a difference of opinion, and everyone is politely respectful. Sometimes, in this postmodern age of undervalued truth, people are too willing to “agree to disagree.” But then there are the times when someone is just obtuse and really gets under your skin. What to do then?
I want to suggest something you might not have considered. While you’re considering whether this is a Proverbs 26:4 or 5 situation, stop and pray for the other guy.* Pray that he will be softened, convicted, whatever you think he needs. Pray that your response, if you give one, will be truthful, wise, and loving. I can’t promise any change on his part; he will very likely go on being the jerk he is. But I can promise you that you will not be quite the jerk you were before.
By the way, it works in the real world, too.
* No, I’m not sexist. Everyone knows that little girls are made of sugar and spice and everything nice, so this doesn’t apply to them.
By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another. —John 13:35
The principle here has become a source of both grief and irritation as an observer of internet discourse. I'm all in favor of open discussion and debate, and I'm no fan of beating around the bush in avoidance of straight talk that might offend the poor, sensitive, effeminate souls that seem to be so abundant these days. Straight talk is no indicator of a lack of love; indeed, it is often the opposite.
But there are some who seem to delight, with chest-thumping bravado, in delivering snide judgments of others—I am not referring here to legitimate condemnation of false doctrine and clearly shameful behavior—whose primary sin is failing to be like them. This they would cloak in the disguise of “speaking truth in love,” but there is no love in it, and often little truth.
Brotherly love, Jesus exhorts his disciples, is more than just the fulfillment of a command. It is the most fundamental characteristic of our witness to the world. Before we can preach the gospel, we must, at least, have love for one another.
Have you ever had an argument with your spouse (If you aren’t married, replace “spouse” with anyone else)? I don’t mean the good kind of argument, in which there is a free and civil exchange of opposing opinions. I mean the kind that devolves into irritation, anger, and possibly, unkind words. If you have—just admit it, you have—you know how difficult it can be to clean up the mess. And you know that the difficulty is not usually some external obstacle, but rather is an internal conflict with pride—yours, the other party’s, or quite likely, both.
I like it best, naturally, when I’m not at fault, when I’m able to restrain myself and behave decently when everything in me is urging me to release my passions and strike back. It’s still unpleasant, but at least my conscience is clear. Even then, though, it’s almost impossible not to feel some unexpressed outrage over the injustice I’ve been dealt. Then there is the pride that often accompanies the knowledge that I’ve controlled myself and been “good.” I don’t always feel that way, but too often, I do. And hidden sins are still sin.
The easiest conflicts to resolve are the ones in which I alone am at fault. Once I come to that conclusion, it’s a relatively simple matter to confess it and say, “I’m sorry.” I still hate it, but I can do it. I must do it, and I will not be happy until I do. I can resolve those conflicts, because it’s entirely in my hands to do so. And it’s difficult to go away proud.
The hardest conflicts to resolve are those in which I believe the fault is shared, especially if I didn’t start it (yes, that’s as juvenile as it sounds). Yes, I know I did wrong, but I (maybe) didn’t start it, and after all, I was provoked. I’m not the only one who owes an apology. I’m offended, too! So I sit and stew over it. Yes, I know I should confess, and yes, I even want to, but it’s not fair! What if I’m the only one who admits my fault? What if I don’t receive an apology in return? I’ve worked hard to avoid making phony “I’m sorry, but . . .” statements, and I don’t think I’ve done that in a very long time, but time and practice have done nothing to change how much it absolutely kills me. I want to say “but.” I want to explain myself, to mitigate my guilt. Yes, I was wrong, but it’s perfectly understandable, don’t you see? Alright, I’m sorry, but where is my justice?
It seems natural in those situations to think of myself as only half of the problem, bearing only fifty percent of the blame, but God doesn’t see it that way. He looks at me and what I have done independently from what anyone else has done. He didn’t see two people cooperating in a sin; he saw two people sinning independently against each other and against him. That leaves me with one hundred percent of my own guilt. It’s only when I see that, when I can separate my sin from another’s, that I feel its full weight. Only then will my pride be killed. Only then can there be sincere confession and genuine repentance. Only then can I take the full weight of my guilt to the cross, and leave it there.