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Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

On Quoting Others

Nov 6, 2017

OK, another rather odd-sounding article. ‘You are writing an entire piece on quoting others?’ Well yes, I am. And there is a reason for it. You see, I get into trouble quite often when I quote folks, and I get rather tired of having to explain yet again why I do quote some folks.

So in order not to have to keep repeating myself, let me lay things out here. Sure, this will likely still not please some of my critics, but at least I can point them here, and not rewrite once again my rationale for doing what I do. At the risk of belabouring all this, let me begin with something I recently posted on the social media:

Bill’s face palm of the day: Hmm, I am beginning to think that some Christians are convinced that if I quote from someone I must therefore agree with him 100% of the time on every issue. Sorry, but if I only quoted from those I fully agreed with, I would likely end up quoting from no one! Truth can be found even in those we may have various differences with! That is how life is in a fallen world! OK?

Indeed, I have already said a few words about this issue in another article, so I might as well quote myself on this as well:

Just because I happen to quote someone does not mean I necessarily agree with everything else that person has ever said. I do not mind quoting truth from someone who may have other views which I may not be so crazy about. All truth is God’s truth, and within reason one can even quote from non-believers and those of other religious traditions.
If Gandhi for example had a high view of Christ, I can acknowledge and quote that, even though I of course do not buy most of his non-Christian worldview. If an atheist such as the late Christopher Hitchens says some terrific stuff on Islam and violence, I am more than happy to quote him. That of course does not mean I endorse his atheism.
billmuehlenberg.com/2016/01/07/six-theses-on-truth-error-heresy-and-disagreement/

I would have thought all this is obvious enough, and it is nothing to go to war over. Yet I still routinely find folks coming to me, wishing to pick a fight on this. They think I am way out of line to quote someone that they happen not to like.

And they foolishly think that if I do quote from someone, that must mean I endorse every single thing they have ever said. They think I am endorsing their entire set of beliefs. Um no, I am not. I am just sharing some of their good stuff when I think it is worth passing on.

Let me give just one example here. I recently had some folks criticise me for daring to quote from American preacher and teacher John MacArthur. They were convinced this guy was somehow bad news and therefore I really should not be sharing anything by him.

Of course if folks think this way about him, they are implying they think the same about me, since I had the nerve to actually share his stuff. So if they think he is bad news, they are indirectly saying they think I am bad news as well – at least in this regard! Hmm, that is not exactly how fellow Christians make and keep friends!

I tried to reply to these folks by saying that I of course do not agree with everything someone like MacArthur says. Not to go into overkill on this, but since he was specifically named, let me spend a bit more time on him. He, just like every other Christian leader, thinker, or pastor, is a mixed bag.

He has some good stuff and some not so good stuff. In other words, in a fallen world, there are no perfect teachers or perfect preachers or perfect anything. Thus, as I always tell my students, we must treat everything we hear or read as a good fish dinner: we enjoy the meat but pick out the bones.

I do this all the time, be it with MacArthur or anyone else. We all must do this. We must be like the Bereans, who daily compared what Paul had said with what is found in the Word of God. As Acts 17:11 puts it: “Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”

But getting back to Macarthur, let me say that he is quite good on a number of things. I have a dozen of his books (and often his critics admit to not having read even one of his books!), and they are mostly good, but some I can strongly disagree with. Consider just one area where he has done an excellent job.

There has been in certain circles a theological war over what came to be known as the Lordship Salvation debate. Some have taught that a believer can make Christ Saviour but not Lord. I think this is woefully incorrect and clearly unbiblical. So does MacArthur. So he penned at least two excellent volumes refuting this nonsense.

I highly recommend these books to you. For more on this controversy, his books, and the biblical data, see these articles:

billmuehlenberg.com/2013/02/09/on-lordship-salvation-part-one/

billmuehlenberg.com/2013/02/09/on-lordship-salvation-part-two/

But in other areas I do indeed disagree with MacArthur, and rather strongly. For example, some years ago he wrote a book telling Christians to basically have little or nothing to do with political involvement, as it was more or less a waste of time, and it conflicts with the gospel and its presentation.

Needless to say, I disagreed with him big time on that one! Indeed, I wrote an entire review of his book, critiquing his stance. See here: billmuehlenberg.com/2001/11/28/a-review-of-why-government-can%E2%80%99t-save-you-by-john-macarthur/

Also, he is a gung-ho cessasionist, which I am not. So I have interacted with him on that issue as well: billmuehlenberg.com/2013/10/18/on-strange-fire-part-one/

www.billmuehlenberg.com/2013/10/18/on-strange-fire-part-two/

So the point is, there may well be many areas where I disagree with the guy, but in many other areas I do strongly agree. Just because he differs with me on some key issues does not make him a heretic. Indeed, I tire of all the heresy hunters out there who accuse everyone who dares to differ even a little bit with them of being a heretic.

Satan is pushing that agenda, not God, so we must be very cautious here. See more on this here: billmuehlenberg.com/2014/04/09/on-heresy-hunters/

Speaking of heretics and the like, I mentioned above the idea of quoting from non-Christians, and those from other religious and worldview backgrounds. We must be cautious here. One area where real care is needed is when we are dealing with full blown heretics, apostates and cultists.

Now as is the nature of the case, the reason why these guys succeed is they rely on deception and falsehood. And they do this by mixing truth with error. Thus they will always have at least some bits of truth in what they say. But because it is so intermingled with error, they deceive many, and we must give them a wide berth.

For this reason, I usually will never quote from them, at least not approvingly of course. Sure, one can quote them to expose their error, lies and anti-biblical teachings. But I tend not to quote other stuff of theirs, even if it happens to be true. It is just too dangerous, and it effectively gives an endorsement to all of what they say.

Now this is different from quoting from a genuine Christian who mostly has solid truth, but sometimes may veer off into dangerous directions. As but one example, I would have quoted from an evangelical giant like John Stott many hundreds of times.

And I likely agree with him well over 95 per cent of the time at least. Yet sadly in at least one area he has gone down a path I simply cannot affirm or go along with. As I have written elsewhere, toward the end of his life he started to go down the path of promoting annihilationism.

Now I think that is a very dangerous and unbiblical position to hold to, and I wish he never did run with it. Do I think he is not a Christian therefore? No, I think he was a terrific Christian, but on this particular issue, I think he was quite wrong. But I will still keep quoting him approvingly on most other issues. See more here: billmuehlenberg.com/2011/07/28/notable-christians-john-stott/

Oh, and don’t get me started on how many people quote from me, even though they may well disagree with me on all sorts of issues! And to be honest, I don’t always agree with myself at times! So no one will have all the truth, and we all must use godly wisdom and discernment in what we read, what we believe, and what we share.

In sum, I will keep quoting others – within reason. It is rather silly to expect me to only quote from those I happen to agree with all the time. But truth is truth and for the most part I am happy to run with it. And in a fallen world that is how things are.

As a final example, I am clearly not a Catholic, but some of my favourite writers and thinkers are Catholics, such as G. K. Chesterton. I quote from them all the time. Does that mean I am a full-blown Catholic who has renounced my evangelical Protestant roots and crossed the Tiber? No, it just means if they say or write terrific stuff, I think it is well worth sharing.

Apologies again for belabouring all this. Some might say it is all too obvious, and think there is no reason to write such a long, drawn-out piece. I wish that were the case. But given how often this comes up and I have to deal with it, let this be my last will and testament on the topic! Hopefully I won’t have to repeat myself all over again in the future!

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7 Responses to On Quoting Others

  • My theory on this is that people have unknowingly imbibed the spirit of the world on this kind of thing. The world is caught up in different forms of hero-worship in lieu of the fact they have removed God from His rightful place of ruling on the throne of their lives. Nature abhors a vacuum, so Aristotle’s saying goes, and so some mortal hero takes His place.

    So with most people conforming to this pattern of thinking, they just assume that you will only quote that from who you worship, and you will never quote someone you disagree with even a little. Hence the criticism. In my view, those who employ this criticism are revealing more about their own brainwashing and level of rejection of God than anything else. Someone who has God at the centre of course knows that every quote from a source other than God is compromised, but can occasionally be worth using. No matter what, God is still on the throne, and the accusation is an absurdity.

    I agree with you about avoiding apostates as sources. They are probably more dangerous to quote than a full-blown atheist.

    It’s actually funny you wrote this just now, because only a few minutes ago I listened to this quote written by Douglas Adams for the first time in years, from the original 1980 radio series The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Adams was an atheist, and the series (and subsequent books) is full of evolutionary assumptions (albeit from a comedic stance), but some of his observations of the madness of government bureaucracy were ripping. The following is my favourite, and echoes the reasons why the US Founders constructed such a successful Constitution – they did not trust in the goodness of man, which is of course a major theme of scripture. It also makes me think of Samuel’s warnings to the Israelites when they petitioned for a king to rule over them. Quoting guys like him and the embittered Orwell can/should be part of any Christian’s repertoire on the subject of limited government.

    The major problem—one of the major problems, for there are several—one of the many major problems with governing people is that of who you get to do it; or rather of who manages to get people to let them do it to them.
    To summarise: it is a well known and much-lamented fact that those people who most want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it.
    To summarise the summary: anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job.
    To summarise the summary of the summary: people are a problem.

  • Thanks again Bill. Well reasoned and presented. It would seem that some have difficulty in determining hay from straw. And did not the Apostle Paul quote from Epimenedes the Cretan poet in Acts 17. According to your critics that would count Paul out…….en agape

  • Gotta be the quote of the century… Gotta love Honesty…..

    …. i don’t always agree with myself at times…..

    CLASSIC Bill!

  • Meanwhile, I just skipped through the channels long enough to see all the guests on “The Drum” (ABC 1) being in agreement (surprise, surprise) that it’s OK for the government to overrule parents regarding sex education – complete with a whole stack of straw-man arguments and, or course, with no one there to refute their claims. How long we have to put up with constant Marxist propaganda on the ABC without the slightest attempt at balance, I do not know but something definitely needs to be done. How is it possible that they don’t even have to attempt to give an even slightly balanced picture? Surely this is completely illegal.

  • #babyoutwiththebathwater!

  • Sometimes, quoting a skewed or heretical thinker can be used to demolish the quoted person’s own arguments: Not even Roadrunner can continue running on thin air when the path he is speeding down takes him straight over the edge of a cliff or canyon!

    No one of Christian persuasion would entirely endorse D.H. Lawrence’s world-view. Yet I have heard Peter Hitchens most convincingly refer to Lawrence’s last-published work, an essay, during the course of an Oxford University debate on the relationship of government to the institution of marriage.

  • More on Douglas Adams.
    Perhaps he really did get it right! Just joking?!!?
    His statement “The answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything is 42.”
    This could indeed be correct.

    The number 42 in Bible numerology does not seen to have a clear or unambiguous meaning, but one meaning it could have is 6×7=42. The number 6 is generally understood to be the number of man, and the number 7 that of perfection. Jesus is the perfect man, so 42 could refer to him.

    In both of the clearest cases of “42” in the bible it is the number used for the immanent waiting time for the revelation of the Messiah. The first is for the incarnation and the second is for the second coming. Both are for the revelation of the perfect man, first, the beginning and then the consummation of his earthly plan.

    For from Him and to Him and through Him are all things.

    So, as soon as I get an opportunity to talk of Adams or the Hitchhikers Guide, I trot that quote out. And – of course I don’t agree with everything he said. Adams certainly doesn’t ask us to.

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