Monday, 16 August 2010

Polemic against anti-polemic polemicists

It's in vogue to decry polemics. 'We don't like arguments: they're divisive.' We're all Trinitarian / we all believe in Jesus / we all believe we're saved by grace: why do we have to dredge up other details over which to argue? And somehow, everyone has a mental image of a man who'd hear of a tribe repenting and believing in Christ, and immediately ask questions until he found out that their missionaries were from the X Church of Y in Country Z, then issue youtube videos, podcasts and blog posts about how wrong they are on their interpretation of Revelation 20. I've never quite met such a man, but I'm sure if you spend enough time online reading comments in popular blogs, or message boards, you'll come across him before long - or someone who reminds you of him. No-one likes those who'll argue over the details.

It's not merely a contemporary feeling. My great-uncle, a missionary in China, objected to the presence of another missionary who didn't believe (or teach) that Jesus was God, nor that we have need of atonement for reconciliation with God. The missionary boards considered this nit-picking - who would be so un-Christian as to object to a brother who was so committed to a hard ministry in China? And of course, those in the 3rd Century who considered that the Son was less than eternally God, complained that the young hothead Athanasius and co. were nit-picking and even using non-Biblical words, in proposing that the Word was eternally God. When we now say, 'They're Trinitarian - stop fighting over the rest!', we're resting in the safe space provided by polemicists in the first place!

Yet, it still doesn't seem very British to fight over details. Surely we can accept differences? Surely unity is more important? How can we not be bullish and know what nits need picking? Carl Trueman writes a helpful article suggesting that the more Reformed or conservative evangelicals need not have so much self-loathing over a measure of polemics, for the health of the Church.
We must repent where necessary, where we have crossed the line; but, just as necessary, we must fight where we see the truth is at stake. We should be grateful for the truth that polemics have preserved so that we have a gospel to proclaim; and we should not allow a misguided commitment to being nice to allow us, in effect, to dump huge problems on the next generation by running up a massive theological and moral deficit in the church of the present. [Read more.]

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