On September 30, 1938, the Prime Minister of England, Neville Chamberlain, came back to his country after a tense meeting in Munich with Adolf Hitler. The UK was concerned about Germany’s aggressive stance on its neighbors. Chamberlain, however, was relieved that Hitler had signed a treaty with Great Britain. He optimistically declared “Peace for our time!” to a jubilant crowd in London, as he held the peace treaty up high for all to see. Less than a year later, Hitler invaded Poland, launching World War II.

Many evangelicals look at Chamberlain’s moment in the sun as the height of naiveté. They argue that compromise with anyone who is different from them plants the seeds of their own destruction. The problem is, analogies prove nothing. Compromise with an evil dictator like Adolf Hitler is a far cry from compromise with other Christians over internal matters. Analogies always break down.

All of us compromise if we have any friends at all. Every marriage involves compromise—and on a massive scale—or else it ends in extreme tension or divorce. No one who attends a church agrees with everyone else there with whom they fellowship. Yet, we have no problem with this sort of compromise. The question is, Where do we draw the line and what sort of lines should we draw?

Some evangelical leaders are calling out for ‘No Compromise’ as a battle cry for the faith. But if this is not nuanced, if there is no definition of what we should not compromise, the application of this principle can be too rigid and even unloving—that is, unchristian.

We could look at the Christian faith from two poles: love and truth. In one sense, love is all about compromise. Paul told the believers at Philippi to consider each other as more important than themselves (Phil 2.3). That is the height of compromise; it is unselfish living, living for others and for Christ and forsaking one’s own desire and ambitions for the greater good. On the other hand, the Christian faith is all about maintaining a standard—a standard of conduct and a standard of belief. In this sense, truth—or a common creed—is the thing that should never be compromised. But here’s where things get messy.

Many have heard the joke about extreme separatism among Christians:

I was walking across a bridge one day, and I saw a man standing on the edge, about to jump off. So I ran over and said “Stop! Don’t do it!”

“Why shouldn’t I?” he said.

I said, “Well, there’s so much to live for!”

He said, “Like what?”

I said, “Well… are you religious, agnostic, or atheist?”

He said, “Religious.”

I said, “Me too! Are you Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, or Buddhist?”

He said, “Christian.”

I said, “Me too! Are you Catholic or Protestant?”

He said, “Protestant.”

I said, “Me too! Are you Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, or Baptist?”

He said, “Baptist!”

I said, “Incredible! Me too! Are you Baptist Church of God or Baptist Church of the Lord?”

He said, “Baptist Church of God!”

I said, “Me too! Are you Original Baptist Church of God, or are you Reformed Baptist Church of God?”

He said, “Reformed Baptist Church of God!”

I said, “Me too! Are you Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1879, or Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1915?”

He said, “Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1915!”

I said, “Die, heretic!”, and pushed him off.

Many evangelicals would smile at this joke: “That’s the trouble with fundamentalists!” It’s an extreme parody on fundamentalism; yet, evangelicals often draw the lines where they ought not as well. When we think of Christianity in terms of love, compromise is key. When we think of it in terms of truth, compromise is often a dirty word. But since truth does not exist in isolation—since there is no such thing as a Lone Ranger Christian—believers must combine truth with love. And that means that just as Christianity involves certain standards, compromise must also constitute a part of what it means to be a Christian—even when it comes to truth, or more precisely, perception of truth.

This is an opening volley on the issue of compromise, so I won’t dwell on the matter too much. But let me ask some questions for you to ponder:

  1. When does one’s humble commitment to truth transgress the border of arrogance?
  2. How should we define fellowship—that is, with whom can we have fellowship? Do they have to cross their t’s and dot their i’s exactly the same way we do?
  3. Is fellowship the same as friendship?
  4. Is there anything we can learn about compromise from the disciples whom Jesus picked to be his apostles?
  5. What must one believe to be saved? Does the person have to be evangelical? Protestant? Believe in the deity of Christ? Believe in the bodily resurrection of Christ? Be premillennial? Embrace inerrancy? Use a Mac? Be a Republican?
  6. Should we distinguish levels of certainty when it comes to our credo? Are there things that scripture bears greater, more explicit witness to, or are all doctrines treated alike? (And since I am a dispensationalist, I must of course end with a seventh question, or else I will be charged with heresy.)
  7. How does our culture view conservative Christians today? Is this perception something that we have contributed to? Is it a good perception? If not, what can we do to change it—and are we willing to go there?

    10 replies to "Compromise is not a Four-Letter Word"

    • C Michael Patton

      Wow! No comments. Dan, you must be too intimidating!

      Great blog. So many questions.

      You asked: When does one’s humble commitment to truth transgress the border of arrogance?”

      Well, I can personally say that I have seen this and been guilty of it so often. I usually see it of young Christians who finally come to know the truth and are ready to convert or condemn any and all who don’t agree with them on ALL the particulars. I have also seen this, sad to say, in many Calvinistic circles. Those of us who are Calvinists have less reason for arrogance than anyone, but, sadly, so many times, it gives forth to heavy handedness and arrogance.

      I also think that this is displayed in many well meaning Christians who hold the standard of orthodoxy too high.


    • C Michael Patton

      BTW: As to # five. Mac users are a funny group. They are non-conformists, which makes me think that they must be those who deny the traditional and popular out of pride and stupidity. Since they are so hard headed and don’t listen to reason, I think of the ramification of their damaged will with regards to Soteriology.

      Can a Mac user be saved. I guess so . . . hypothetically speaking. But we must be careful. Unreasonable non-conformists are very bitter and don’t really know how to think. God grace can overcome this, yes, but will God work outside of the secondary causes of our mind in order to do so? I don’t know.

      The only way to be safe is to reason with Mac users, helping them to understand that God wants us to be faithful and care for the weak, downtrodden, unstable, and isolated , but this does not exclude the essential engagement of our intellect.

    • reidc

      Ah yes, but the gate is wide and the way is spacious that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. But the gate is narrow and the way is difficult that leads to life, and there are few who find it.

      It’s tough sometimes being part of the non-conformist group of Linux and Mac users until we hear about the latest “features” of the “wide way”. 🙂

    • Dan Wallace

      Well, as a Mac user myself I must say that hard-headedness isn’t the provenance only of us! Some PC users are just as stubborn, won’t listen to reason, won’t think logically, and think they have all the answers. But generally speaking, the worst offenders in this group are Calvinists who are Oklahoma fans. Know anyone like that, Michael?

    • stevemoore


      Does that mean I’m synchronistic if I use: Mac, FreeBSD, OpenBSD, Solaris, Linux, and Windows?

    • stevemoore

      Oops. I think I meant syncretic. ;^) And instead, it probably just means that I’m a geek.

    • Dan Wallace

      Or maybe syncretistic. Yeah, you’re a geek.

    • stevemoore

      That’s it!

      Anyway, enjoy the blog – thanks for sharing here. I’d say my views on #5 have changed as a result the discussion and the info in TTP and from the Soapbox articles. Looking forward to more of a good thing. Now I’ll go back to my frien^H^H^H^H computers.


    • C Michael Patton

      Steve, you are right. While knowledge may be a deterrent to holding to some presuppositions, it is given by God and we must follow it where it leads. My views about such things are challenged all the time. While I am still not comfortable with where it leads, I am becoming more comfortable saying maybe I was wrong.

    • Dan Wallace

      I think that one of the most liberating moves a Christian can make is knowing where to draw the lines. What are the issues that are worth fighting for? What are the issues that are simply not worth our breath? Too many Christians simply have not thought through the difference between cardinal truths and peripheral beliefs. If we don’t nuance things, we end being pugilistic about idiosyncratic dogmas, reducing us to irrelevancy. But if we waffle on everything, we’re just as worthless for the sake of the gospel.

      I’m currently in Athens, getting ready to take a ferry to Patmos to photograph some manuscripts with three colleagues. I wish I could dialogue more with you all about these matters right now, but my internet access is limited. I will be spending time at the Monastery of St. John the Theologian. It’s Greek Orthodox and they have a fabulous collection of Greek New Testament and other manuscripts. I’m extremely grateful to the Orthodox for how they have preserved the scriptures for centuries. I think we could learn a lot from them as to how we should worship our common Savior.

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