Sunday, September 10, 2006
The Art of Polemics
As the saying goes "if all you have is a hammer everything starts to look like a nail".
Without a nuanced approach to different kinds of errors and different kinds of people who are influenced by them you'll wind up smashing the church to bits.
A sincerely ignorant Apollos, needed Priscilla and Aquila to teach him the way of God more accurately. They didn't smash him or oppose him. For his part Apollos was teachable and willing to be corrected. On the other hand Paul distinguishes between the Cretan believers who need rebuking and the false teachers who are unregenerate and must be silenced.
But without clear definitions and an attempt to understand others it is easy to treat all errors equally and to handle people who hold to them as if they came out of the same box of nails.
And there are great models for doing this. John Owen wrote strong polemical works and priceless pastoral theology.
The following quotation is taken from Iain Murray's five point summary of principles found in the ministry of Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones in the 1970s:
"...the negative should never be allowed to displace the positive. This principle implies no criticism of the negative. As we know, he believed that much of the existing confusion had arisen because ministers had declined to be forthright in opposing the wrong and the erroneous. But it is possible for the negative and the denunciatory to begin to take the chief place in a man's thinking and message, and when that happens the result is never profitable".
Iain Murray, D. M. Lloyd-Jones: the Fight of Faith, 1939-1981, p. 680