Monday, February 04, 2008

Seven Habits: 5. They are uncorrectable

[Last week was too busy for blogging. Here is part five from my paper The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Heretics]

The Christian world is filled with churches that promote idiosyncratic interpretations of Scripture. Such novelties will always be damaging and unhelpful. They may arise out of a sincere but limited knowledge, a failure to see a particular text in context or in proportion to the whole counsel of God. These aberrations need correcting. And at this point the intellectual and pastoral dimensions of handling truth and error are woven indelibly together.

When you arrive at a point of doctrinal understanding, a point where you have become convinced that Scripture teaches doctrine X, there is a desire to articulate, explain, disseminate, and defend that view. But what happens if our understanding of doctrine X is wrong? What if there is no doctrine X at all? At this stage what we need, obviously, is correction.

This task is all the more difficult if we have become quite persuaded of the truth of our wrong interpretation. The plausibility of error then is no longer a passing matter for us but something that has been set in concrete. In fact it can become an obsession, the sun around which the Christian life now orbits.

There are other factors that can exacerbate this problem. Is it not the case that errors can gain traction when the alternative is never offered? Are they not bolstered when the truth is dressed up like a straw man? Don't you know that Calvinism discourages evangelism? Have you not heard that absolute sovereignty makes God an aloof monarch playing with robots?

There are two things to note here:

1. It is vital for us to understand that one of the functions of Scripture is to correct us (2 Timothy 3:16). If our thinking is wayward then it will be Scripture, rightly understood, that should bring our theology back online. This is why it is so important that those who preach the Word are properly equipped for their work. Training is necessary in didactic and polemical theology.

Pastoral wisdom is also needed. We need to assess the errors and the people who hold to them. This will involve us making assessments about character and behaviour. Are they humble? Teachable? Submissive to Scripture? The way in which bad theology can entrench itself in someone's thinking (and praying, and influencing of others etc.) can be exasperating for the pastor. Nevertheless, correction is to be done with gentleness and prayer.

2. It is also vital for us to understand that being wrong views, and uncorrectable attitudes, are an indication of moral corruption. Timothy (who was of course not timid), is not only warned of the false views of his opponents in Ephesus (1 Timothy 1:3-7) but also of their perverse behaviour. Their failure was not only hermeneutical, wrongly relating law and gospel, but involved devoting themselves to myths and endless genealogies that promoted speculation. They desired to be teachers (not to teach but to have the status of teachers?) but did not understand what they were saying or "the things about which they make confident assertions."

Paul draws out the moral dimensions of error in 1 Timothy 6:3-5:
If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.
What would you rather deal with, a church member who has sincerely misunderstood a particular doctrine, but who is teachable and open to correction, or one who has misunderstood and stubbornly holds on to those views?

The answer is a no brainer.

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