Saturday, January 07, 2006

The Quest for Biblical Blogging, Part II: Avoiding Extremes


The original post entitled “The Quest for Biblical Blogging” was one which embraced a very convergent and simple thought, and it is this: whatever we say or do, let all be done to the glory of God.


Well that’s easy enough isn’t it? That’s a wrap...


Or is it? We would all affirm that serving God’s glory and His pleasure is the supreme privilege that we have as His children, however I can assure you that how we apply that principle is where the rubber actually meets the road. It is important to remember that we are all creatures of weakness and thus we require the constant flow of God’s grace and truth in our lives for daily living; otherwise we will be left with our own “strength” and “wisdom” which is nothing short of a dead end and steep precipice. Part of our weakness is that we all have the tendency to embrace more biblical knowledge in our heads than than we apply; in other words, we academically “know” more than we do. To some extent, such disparity between mental learning and practice is part the natural learning process indeed (what we learn from the Word, we then seek to apply), however, we must be careful to be diligent to keep both disciplines in close proximity, in order to avoid a vast separation of knowledge and practice:


James 1:22-26: 22 But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; 24 for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. 25 But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man shall be blessed in what he does. 26 If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless.

With this said, it especially becomes a deluding moment when those who wax eloquence on the doctrines of grace subsequently do very little to evidence such grace in their relations to others - yes even on the internet. It is with this thought in mind that I offer yet another post on the subject of weblog discussions. In fact, as a follow up to the original article, I will offer this 2nd post and even a 3rd next week in order to bring some sense of completion to this important discussion. In this 2nd post, we will briefly address the importance of avoiding extremes in communication, and then in the final post, we will look at those touchy subjects of humor, sarcasm and strong language (I say final post - Lord willing).


Avoiding Extremes: I find that believers can enter into one of two extremes when considering such principles of biblical communication. We’ll either tend to guard our tongues so much that we refuse to critique anyone or anything...at any time. The credo of such thinking is: “just live, and let live.” On the other hand, we may be so loose with our principles of communication that we might want to pretend that we are Samuel and treat everyone who disagrees with us as King Agag (1 Samuel 15:20-33) - and so our opponents are quickly hacked to pieces simply because they don’t see things our way. These extremes are not of the Spirit, but are of the flesh. On the one hand, it is fleshly to try to avoid any conflict with anyone, because the truth of God’s Word is itself is a great conflict in this world, and the Scriptures are worth fighting for. On the other hand, if we are not careful to select our battles with the Spirit’s leading, then we may become recreational combatants who gladly slaughter anything that moves - period! Tim Challies has had a recent taste of this kind of contention. These pendulum swings take brethren away from the Biblical center in which we find the mature soldiers of Christ who battle for the glory of God rather than for the pleasure of their own flesh. The following thoughts are offered as extremes to avoid:


1. Beware of the Blog Battle Buccaneers: I don’t like the expression “blog war,” but most people certainly know what I am talking about when I ask, “what is really worth a blog war anyway?” This is a question that ought to enter our mind, since as noted in the previous post, some debates are not worth engaging in at all (2 Timothy 2:23, Titus 3:9). Using a recent example: if you wanted to have a heated contest over whether to use the expression “merry Christmas” or not, then that’s one debate that I simply won’t enter into. Whatever I will be doing instead will be more important, I can assure you. But there are other controversies which enter into the domain of the Scriptures themselves, but should not be made into a contentious war - for example, eschatology. It is not that eschatology is unimportant; no, however it isn’t a doctrine that is essential for salvation. In fact, most eschatological systems of thought have nothing in them that would inherently call into question a person’s salvation or discipleship. But when we speak of the doctrines of theology proper, anthropology, harmartiology, ecclesiology or bibliology, then you have entered into an arena that is worth battling in, because these latter doctrines do affect the question of a person’s salvation and discipleship. Thus there should be a difference in our approach when battling on behalf of core doctrines of Christianity, versus entering into debates which do not affect the Gospel directly. An example of this can be seen in the example of the Apostle Paul whose multifaceted rebukes to the Corinthians changed according to the doctrine that he addressed. His confrontation of their gross butchery of spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12-14) was more tempered than when he confronted the false teachers and false apostles in their midst:


2 Corinthians 11:13-15: 13 For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 15 Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their deeds.

As evidenced by this text, Paul clearly turned up the heat of his rebukes over the central message of Christ and Him crucified. Likening these false teachers to Satan, who disguises himself as an angel of light, is no small rebuke. His change in tone, relative to his rebuke over their abuse of the spiritual gifts, is dramatic. It is not that the spiritual gifts were not important - may it never be; however, Paul’s intensity of reproof increased exponentially whenever the central message of the Gospel was under attack. This is particularly evident when Paul’s ministerial hand went from a gentle touch to a clenched fist in the face of the Galatian errorists:


Galatians 1:6-9: 6 I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; 7 which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you, and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed...Galatians 5:12: As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!

The ferocity of the Apostle’s language is compelling - even alarming to some extent. But we must understand that this was not a wreckless statement given by an uncontrolled neophyte. These God-breathed warnings from the Spirit were given through a godly, sober and and serious minded saint who understood that when Christ’s sheep are in danger of “deserting” Gospel truth - then there is no time for genteel chit chats. The differences between Paul’s rebukes when dealing with the Gospel, or other doctrines, is very informative. By such distinctions, we can consider this important pattern of conduct: Over the central doctrines of the Gospel, and the revelation of that Gospel, believers must be ready to engage in the fiercest battles necessary; but over issues that are not central to the Gospel itself, then greater temperance is called for. Or we could put it in more familiar language by saying, “we must distinguish between those doctrines which are essential for salvation versus those that are non-essential for salvation.


It is this very distinction that seems to escape the notice of the Blog Battle Buccaneers. This is one area where the pendulum tends to swing too far in the direction which produces a lot of hot sparks but little useful energy. When Christians speak of other evangelical brethren as if they were wolves who deny the Gospel of Jesus Christ, then we have an extreme which yields no gain. In our weakness, it is too easy to engage in an escalation of name calling (whether implicitly or explicitly) and thereby treat a non-essential debate as if it were the end of the world. While naive zeal may even fuel such contentions, it is not any more excusable. As Christians, we must remember that we are at war - but before we throw our javelines, we need to make sure that we are aiming at the true enemy (Ephesians 6:12, 2 Corinthians 10:3-6). That which attacks the Word of God and the Gospel should be in our “war” sights. However, brethren who have erred in their doctrine ought to be handled with different care, after all, the Lord loves His children and reproves them for their good (Hebrews 12:5-6). Additionally, since we don’t possess God’s omniscient knowledge regarding the elect and the reprobate (Matthew 13:24-30), we should be very careful about how we approach those who seem to be marginal in their faith and doctrine - taking heed to ourselves as we do so (Galatians 6:1). We are not to avoid doctrinal contests, however, when we do enter into them, we ought to measure our words carefully - according to the need of the moment.


2. Conflict Cannot Be Avoided: If we were to resolve to hold hands with everyone who named the name of Christ, just for the sake of ”unity,” then we would prove ourselves to be the worst of heretics, for Christ will have no partnership with doctrine and teachers who mock His precious Word. Just because someone names the name of Christ does not mean that they are in Christ at all. Hence, our pleas for Christian charity and grace do not nullify the fact that we are in a battle over the truth, and that as the truth is proclaimed, the division that follows is often what the Lord uses to purify His church (1 Corinthians 11:19). The Corinthians had many more problems than the core message of the Gospel - they had numerous problems; more than you have fingers and toes with which to count. However, Paul did not throw up the white flag on other important doctrines concerning spiritual gifts, the fellowship of the church, his apostolic ministry or church discipline (to name a few). Paul’s steadfast determination to pursue the Corinthians with the whole counsel of God was without compromise, and we thank the Lord for it. But can you imagine if Paul had said, “on spiritual gifts, we can just agree to disagree.” To some, that might sound more gracious, but such a conclusion would have been cold and uncaring. Paul loved them too much to simply avoid conflict. This is the manner in which he ministered at Ephesus (Acts 20:17-38) and at Corinth - ultimately, everywhere he ministered the Word. Avoiding conflict, just to avoid the discomfort that it brings, is not what we are called to do. But if you are avoiding a debate on a weblog because you are concerned about the nature of the forum itself, or because a particular site is weak in upholding a clear Christian testimony - then praise the Lord. Caution such as this is in keeping with good wisdom.


On the subject of spiritual gifts, let me mention that Phil Johnson and Jonathan Moorehead will be submitting posts on the subject of cessationism & continuationism. Let me kindly say that these are important discussions, as noted by Paul’s example above. I can’t vouch for all the details of their views at this point, but I believe that the subject matter is a worthy one. Both series should be helpful, and it will be important for all contributors to make it a good, grace-filled, and Christ honoring discussion - rather than turning it into a war.


Finally...


3. Christ is More Important than your Blog Buddies: If I may be so bold to say it: at their worst, blogs are sometimes like irritating internet gangs. It makes me think of West Side Story, where we see that the Sharks and the Jets justified their existence by engaging in an occasional rumble here or there. Well, that’s par for the course for the world, but it doesn’t bode well for the warriors of Christ. Serious minded debate is crucial - in fact, I believe that we need more of it out there. But what I am expressing concern over has to do with those who seem to be looking for recreational scuffles rather than a sober and serious minded discussion about the Scriptures. I believe that such a combative culture is one of the reasons why brethren often avoid theological discussions on the internet altogether. With that in mind, I have far more respect for those who avoid internet contests which degrade into something less than a godly conversation. When blog owners and moderators tolerate verbal dirty-bombs and molitov cocktails in their discussions, then they become an accomplice to those acts. By analogy, if someone entered your home and interrupted your Bible study with coarse jesting, blue humor and coarse words, then you would most likely call on them to stand down. But on the internet, such things seem to be more tolerable, and no one has convinced me that this should be so - especially when your blog clearly names the name of Christ. Therefore, let me offer the following suggestion: if those who frequent your blog have a pattern of behaving badly, then I would recommend that you love them a bit more by directing them towards better conduct and better speech. After all, friends don’t let friends blog badly.


Conclusion: In the conclusion to the original post I said that “biblical errorists should be rebuked, but when such a need arises, we ought to be humble and very grave about the matter.” At the time, I did not defend this statement from Scripture since this was part of the conclusion, and the post needed to wrap up. But this statement, like any other, must either be supported from Scripture, or deleted as soon as possible. This will be the subject of the next (and hopefully last) post. In addition to this subject, I will address a very good question from tiffany, who said: “In the case of reading a blog which professes the name of Christ but whose words aren't matching that profession, what is our responsibility?”


In other words - “now what?”


That is a crucial question I believe. We have ourselves to worry about (in terms of a proper use of the internet) - but what about those situations where we see offenses taking place at other Christian blogs & discussion forums? I will address that matter next time.


On a final note, discussions like these have been spreading a great deal and I thank the Lord for it. With that in mind, many thanks to John Hendryx at monergism.com for his help by posting the original article on his site - it is good to see brethren taking this discussion very seriously. Additionally, John at Light Along the Way made an important point in his article “With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility” - reminding us why it is so important to measure our words:


James 3:1 Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we shall incur a stricter judgment.

The point which he made from James is very clear: Just because someone has a blog, this does not mean that they have the personal maturity, or the Biblical wisdom to instruct others. In brief, the conclusion is very similar - we ought to be very measured in our communications, knowing that we shall be held accountable for what we say.


May the Lord continue to sustain us such that we would not only proclaim His grace, but evidence it to others with whom we make contact.