I had a couple of exchanges with Tim Margheim, a Christian brother from Texas, on a comment thread of the Team Pyro blog a few weeks back, and his comments were so helpful I asked his permission to re-post them here, which he graciously gave. Tim occasionally blogs at Through A Glass, Dimly.
In his Open Letter to George Barna, Frank Turk links to Tim Challies’ review of George Barna and Frank Viola’s book, Pagan Christianity. In that review, one of Challies’ points is:
2. I dislike the way Viola and Barna put forward their argument. They leave no room for discussion on the issue. If you disagree with them, you must love the traditions of man more than God. It becomes impossible to enter into honest dialogue because of the way they have set up the predicament.
But where the Scriptures are clear, we’re not to be discussin’, but teaching the Word, right? It’s not bad that Barna/Viola spoke forcefully, but that they departed from Scripture.
I don’t think Challies was objecting to forceful, confident conclusions about what Scripture teaches. He objected to the way Barna & Viola portray the motivations of people who disagree.
An analogy would be “If you’re not yet a Calvinist, you’re not willing to submit to God’s sovereignty”, or “If you believe in continuation of miraculous gifts, you care more about flashy signs than God’s word”.
Or an example relevant to today’s post (which Frank and Dan avoided): “If you’re a proponent of small house churches, you just want to avoid accountability to mature qualified leadership.”
To which I replied:
Thanks for the examples. I’m less convinced than ever though. We need men making strong statements like this — not baseless ones of course– but if I make such a case and I’ve erred, is it not my rightful expectation that a brother will confront me and say, “You’re wrong, brother, and here’s why.” How has my strong statement left no room for discussion, unless my brother is afraid to tell me I’m wrong? Why is he afraid? I only said what I did because the love of God compelled me to warn my brothers from the Scriptures–I don’t like to look like a fool more than anyone else. If I’ve erred, what prevents him from stepping up to correct me?
And if he can find no basis on which to correct me, he needs to consider the possibility that I’ve spoken the truth and that his fight may not be with me but with God’s truth. How would I be serving the Lord and my brother better by toning down my assertions so that he was never forced to such a decision? Or what godly men through church history would we point to as our examples in this?
No, we need to learn to be men, both in giving and receiving those pointed, life-giving words.
Tim answered this way:
I’ll make a distinction that I’m not sure was clear in my first comment, and see if that affects your answer.
I absolutely agree with you that we need to learn to give and receive pointed, life-giving words, which will sometimes include “You’re not willing to submit to God’s sovereignty”, and “You care more about flashy signs than God’s word”, and “You just want to avoid accountability to mature qualified leadership”. Sometimes, it’s apparent that those are indeed people’s motivation, and love demands that we call them out on it. (Though we have to guard against pride & irritability in ourselves when we do it, and against making that judgment too quickly.)
The problem in the examples I gave is that they’re universal accusations, which Scripture doesn’t justify. When we say such things, they have to be judgments, not assumptions.
Unwillingness to submit to God’s sovereignty will certainly prevent someone from accepting Calvinism–but it’s not the only thing. So will “I haven’t delved into the relevant passages”, or “My traditions are twisting my interpretation; I haven’t yet succeeded in setting aside my preconceived ideas,” or “I’ve been fed bad information”. (Someone from an Arminian background might be entirely willing to accept Calvinism, without having clearly seen the biblical testimony yet. God can give us humble hearts before he fixes our soteriological understanding.)
On the house church issue, DJP handled it very well up above in his 6:13 AM, August 31, 2011 comment. He spoke pointed, convicting words, without presuming that the criticism univerally applies to all “house churches”.
We have to show discernment, and knee-jerk generalized accusations are anything but. That’s how I read Challies criticism of Barna and Viola.
A personal application
“The problem in the examples I gave is that they’re universal accusations, which Scripture doesn’t justify. When we say such things, they have to be judgments, not assumptions.”
Ah, this is good. The care and wisdom needed when discerning where a particular person stands in relation to the Scriptures is not at odds with our responsibility to speak the truth of God clearly and unashamedly.
We do not speak forcefully simply for the thrill of speaking forcefully. We are not merely playing with words — this is not sport. This is the truth of God, and we want to understand it for the purpose of submitting to it ourselves and for the edification of the body. Clear speaking and writing and vigorous contending for the truth help toward that end.
I have sometimes received forceful words condemning my forceful words, saying that they leave no room for discussion. The funny thing is, I have sometimes felt that these forceful words about my forceful words left no room for discussion. But I was wrong. Rather, I need to manfully address the points raised, if I can! This is iron sharpening iron, and my brother and I both benefit from challenging each other from the Word.
AT THE SAME TIME, when addressing a particular person, I must be careful not to jump to conclusions.
Thanks to Tim for helping me to see this latter point better.