I will confess that this post will probably raise more questions than provide answers. And it is specifically to raise the question of how much time and energy do we need to spend refuting troubled ideas or erroneous teaching or what we perceive to be troubled or erroneous. So, I don’t necessarily mean defending Christianity but defending certain positions within Christianity.
What I am talking about are web-sites, ministries and individual activity that devotes a significant amount of resources in articulating error of a certain position or platform of particular teachers. The thrust of the activity to point out what is wrong. Some are referred to as discernment ministries. In some cases, it is to highlight error against particular teaching. Or it may be that individuals are engaged in a line of defense or sermons delivered from the pulpit. But I am increasingly questioning the fruitfulness of such activity, especially when it consumes a significant amount of resources.
Now, you may be objecting by now with 1 Peter 3:15 and the charge to give a defense of the hope of the Christian. Yes, that is true. But is this verse commending a proactive engagement of defense or having the ability to defend the Christian faith when confronted with questions? It seems that Peter refers to the latter because the entirety of his letter commends living out our Christian faith in the presence of persecution. It seems like the focus should be living out the Christian faith rather than defending it but I’ll get to that in a minute.
I do believe there are legitimate concerns with teaching and ideas that are contradictory and counter-productive to the historic and biblical witness of the Christian faith and particularly when they seep into the fabric of evangelical churches. I do believe in the legitimacy of confronting such error. But I also think it has to be examined according to relevance of essentials to the Christian faith.
Michael’s post here highlights a chart of order of importance. It seems to me that activity of defense should be commensurate with this order. The problem I find is that defensive tactics target topics that don’t necessarily warrant the level of defense activity. Is Calvinism, Dispensationalism and Egalitarianism really destructive to the Christian faith? These are just some examples of an extraordinary amount of energy that goes into a ‘defense’ in refutation of supposed error. Michael is right – we need to do a better job of distinguishing between essentials and non-essentials.
The internet is an unfortunate pawn in the program of defense. With it, we can wield a broad ranging wand to address whatever concerns us (well I’m doing that now, right?). Unfortunately, that means it can multiply the seeds of discord with positions we disagree on. Now I am all for discourse and understanding points of deviation. I appreciate the amount of well articulated and well researched information that will make us consider various topics. But when deviation becomes fodder for an apologetic agenda, there has to be the question raised of its significance and more importantly to the edification of the body.
I think the same is true of our individual activity. I think it is prudent to ask these questions.
- How much time and energy do we spend on refuting error?
- Is there an evaluation of time/energy to importance?
- Have we really understood fully what the disagreement is or is it just reactionary?
It amazes me how much I encounter that is reactionary rhetoric typically based on poor research, mis-characterizations and misunderstandings. What some may deem heresy may be nothing more than an alternate interpretation of scripture but does not necessarily uproot Christianity.
And this leads me to consider the biblical witness for the basis of our activity as Christians, which primarily focuses on exaltation of Christ, and individual and corporate maturity; serving Christ and serving others; and representing Christ to the world. Our time, energy and resources should be spent in relation to that activity. That doesn’t mean we don’t engage in refuting troubling or erroneous ideas or teaching, but there has to be an examination of fruitfulness of such activity. Moreover, there should be consideration of taking on roles that we should not. The charge to refute error is directed towards a pastoral capacity in order to protect the local assemblies against error that would seep in (1 Timothy 1:3; Titus 1:8; Jude 3). But even then, Paul commends Timothy to ‘point these things out’ and that the body should be nourished on sound doctrine not on a diet of what is wrong with everything else (1 Timothy 4:6).
This does raise the question with the existence of parachurch ministries and internet activity, of what role ministries and/or web-sites play in the refutation of error such that activity is primarily targeting a particular teaching or position. No, I’m not talking about the wealth of resources that provide information and examination of various topics. I’m referring specifically to activity that is exclusively engaged in refuting a particular position, and especially with internet interaction on blogs and such. How much time is spent to make someone else see our point of view or the error of their position as opposed to providing instruction and edification to the body of Christ.
Friends, on an individual basis, this does highlight a stewardship issue. There is only so much time we get to live out our faith here on earth. There is only so much focus that we can devote to challenging disagreement, and especially if that disagreement does not uproot the essentials of the Christian faith. Otherwise, I think defense is problematic when it becomes the driving force for Christianity rather than loving the Lord, with all our heart and all our soul and all our mind…and our neighbor as ourselves.
But I would love to hear your input on how much focus should we place on refuting troubled ideas or contradictory teaching. Surely, there is a place for it. But how much is too much?