Thursday, September 13, 2007

Keep your friends close but your enemies closer

Whilst books dealing with malevolent theological trends and movements are helpful there is no substitute for personal reading of the primary texts. Naturally a minister seeks to read for the good of his own soul for the sake of his people. In pursuing that aim it is again understandable that a minister chooses books that he agrees with. There is real value in having an author explain and unfold the very same truths that you love and need to know.

Yet if this is all that a minister reads he will be neglecting his own need to maintain theological sharpness, and his ability to defend truth against error. First hand aquaintance here, alongside some helpful secondary literature, has several benefits. It will mean taking false teaching seriously on its own terms. This forces you to grapple directly with the issues and arguments. It helps to prevent laziness and a dulling of the critical faculties. On the positive side this can only be good for that ongoing discipline of spiritual discernment. There is a degree of credibility in doing this that a reliance on secondary literature cannot supply.

Of course there is an important caveat here. As Phil Johnson once commented, some people only seem to a hold to a view for about eighteen months before they change there mind and embrace something else. In order to responsibly critique an opposing position you need to have a worked out theological framework to begin with. That takes time, reflection, reading (of doctrine, exegesis and history), discussion, debate, prayer, meditation, and suffering. From this, a position of real strength can emerge. And from this framework false teaching can be read, probed, and responsibly critiqued.

To quote from Michael Corleone, that unlikely source of theological wisdom, "keep your friends close, but keep your enemies closer."


Guy Davies said...

I agree, Martin. I've been reading a bit of Barth recently, both primary and secondary literature. I published reviews of these books on my blog, only to be accused of going Barthian by one commenter. As if!

It's sad that for some evangelicals simply reading books by people with whom we disagree is suspect in itself. But how can we meaningfully engage with people who are being influenced by, say, Barth, if we have not read at least something by him?

Nice to see that you are allowing comments again!

Martin Downes said...

I found it striking that John Owen's library was very diverse. He was clearly well acquainted with a whole range of contemporary and classical authors. I found that to be a good challenge to my own book buying habits.

Guy, you can expect the comment facility to be intermittent depending on the nature of the post.