Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Doctrine and Discussion, Part 2

Ready for round 2?

Yesterday I posted about the discussion surrounding Rob Bell and his latest book Love Wins. (Not about the book itself, if that's what you're looking for - but stick around anyway!) In watching the discussion online, I noticed an accusation that was disconcerting. Many people questioned whether there was heresy or an admission of universalism in the book. That wasn't my issue. My concern came when some commenters started hitting back accusing critics of placing more importance on doctrine over love and relationship.

My previous point was the repetitive admonishment in the books of 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus over teaching sound doctrine. Paul stressed that over and over again in those books, so I don't think it is out of line for people to actually question whether there are doctrinal problems in any author's work.

I had another point though, the subject of today's post. Again, I go to the pastoral letters for support.

"Did not!" "Did so!"
 Paul repeats another theme for Timothy and Titus: avoid quarrelsome speech (Titus 3:2, 1 Tim 3:3, 2 Tim 2:14, 24). This idea is suggested several times, also in the form of controversies, dissensions, or myths.

I've seen this in many arenas, from Christians fighting amongst themselves to politicians tearing each other down. This has frustrated me for a long time. A person can spout fully orthodox positions, be clearly speaking God's word, but they do it in such an ugly manner that it totally demeans the very point they're trying to make.

People on both sides of the Rob Bell debate have been guilty of this. Whether they're angry, smug, sarcastic, condemning, or just plain nasty or rude, they are violating another key point of the pastoral letters. "And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to everyone, an apt teacher, patient, correcting opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant that they will repent and come to know the truth." (2 Tim 2:24-25).

How we react in such things is just as important as the what and why! We may be speaking the truth, but if we do it in the wrong spirit, then we are also disobeying the Lord and walking in sin. I've been very disturbed to see televangelists or a conservative Christian politician tear down opponents of their positions. That, to me, is not the Spirit of Christ.

Don't get me wrong. Titus 1:9 tells us that an overseer must "be able both to preach with sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict it." Mature believers have a responsibility to examine an idea from a book, a teacher, a church, and to see if it matches up with sound doctrine. But the heart of the matter can be lost if it is done in anger or putting someone down.

Romans 12:20-21 says: “'If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.' Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." OK, so I don't think this passage should be considered to be calling Rob Bell or his detractors "enemies" or "evil." The principle is moving in the opposite spirit. Shouldn't Christians be able to speak with grace and gentleness, especially with issues involving other Christians?

I've really enjoyed studying the letters of 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus lately. I've had to step up into a new leadership position at my church, so I figured Paul's advice here would be valuable. The dual emphasis on teaching sound doctrine but doing so without quarreling/with gentleness in these letters has been a poignant reminder in what I've been reading online lately. My hope for anyone reading these two posts is that they continue to seek the truth, but speak it in love.

1 comment:

  1. Well said, Jason. Your post brings to mind "Speak the truth in love." Sometimes we're so focused on speaking the truth that we forget we are to communicate it in love.

    I'd never thought about the dual themes running through Paul's letters to the young pastors he was discipling. Very interesting.