CultureWatch

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

Do Your Homework First – Then Speak

May 16, 2018

In many areas of life people will do a lot of careful research and undertake detailed investigations before they launch into something. Certainly if they are planning to spend a lot of money on something (a new house or a new car, eg.) they will do their homework first.

Even when going on a brief vacation or buying a new microwave, the sensible and prudent person will check things out first before rushing ahead. If you want to send your child to a good school, you look into the options and do a thorough investigation.

But many Christians do NOT do their homework in so many vitally important areas. They will simply run with all sorts of hooey, and they will not take the time to test things, investigate things, and get a good understanding. This can happen in at least two main ways: they can just run with the latest non-Christian nonsense, and they can lash out at other Christian beliefs while not having a clue as to what those beliefs actually entail.

As to the former, I find this happening all the time. Christians will just regurgitate all the worldly wisdom they have heard on any number of issues. Instead of thinking biblically, they just rehash what the surrounding secular culture says about things.

For example I have heard far too many Christians running with all the lies, falsehoods and misinformation of the radical homosexual lobby. Instead of looking at this issue through the lens of the biblical worldview, and instead of doing some actual research on this, they just parrot what the world says about it.

Thus they repeat the falsehoods that homosexuals are born that way, that there are zillions of them, that they cannot change, and that the biblical view on these issues is hateful, bigoted and intolerant. Hmm, with Christian friends like that, who needs secular enemies?

Or they will be utterly clueless about the real nature, history and beliefs of something like Islam. They really know nothing about it, and yet they will just repeat all the misleading and dangerous myths that the world runs with on this. They have never read the Koran, the hadiths or the siras, yet they pontificate as if they are some mini-expert on Islam.

Most have not done an ounce of careful research on this issue, and they are happy to go along with the worldly wisdom on this. This is a recipe for disaster of course – simply ask any Christian living in a Muslim majority country who is struggling to just stay alive.

But this is equally true of believers who are so happy and so quick to attack other Christians over their beliefs and/or theology, when often they know very little about what they are attacking. They so readily run with caricatures, misinformation, and off-the-wall stuff from heresy hunter videos.

This happens all the time, and it is especially a major problem on the social media. People post all kinds of foolish nonsense, and it is clear that they have very little understanding or knowledge as to what they are talking about, or what they are condemning.

Sadly, examples of this are legion. It could be those who obviously know nothing about translation theory, textual criticism, the history and development of the Bible, etc, but they are dead set certain that unless you use the KJV you are of the devil. They are a blot on the church and the cause of Christ.

They should just stay quiet until they actually learn something here. And by learning I do not mean running to more bogus videos, or discredited conspiracy theory booklets. There are so many other issues where Christians are ignorant, uninformed and clueless, but that does not stop them from pontificating on these things non-stop.

And then we have all the self-appointed heresy hunters who seem to think everyone plus their uncle is a heretic, and only they and a handful of others are theologically pure. They too can be a censorious, judgmental and Pharisaical bunch. I have written before about such folks: billmuehlenberg.com/2014/04/09/on-heresy-hunters/

As I have said so often, yes there is indeed such a thing as heresy, and there are real heretics. But so many uninformed and theologically shallow Christians will condemn anyone as a heretic for the slightest and most ridiculous of reasons. They see anyone who does not line up with them 100 per cent as being some sort of agent of Satan and a false prophet. Good grief.

If I see a social media post claiming that this or that person is a false teacher, or this or that leader is a heretic, unless I actually know something about those being condemned and have read or heard some of their stuff, I usually will not like or share those posts.

I do not want to be guilty of bearing false witness. When and where possible, I prefer to do my own homework first. Scripture tells us to test all things, and to be diligent in comparing what we hear with Scripture, just as the noble Bereans did. Sure, we can’t know everything about everything and everyone. Often we have to rely on others in these areas.

Thus if I know the folks who are sharing these things, or are warning about some teaching or teacher, and I consider them to be knowledgeable, reliable, reasonable and solidly grounded in biblical and theological truth, then I may well run with what they are saying. So even I do not and cannot check out everything, but I seek to be cautious here. And sometimes I must rely on the sound judgment of those I trust and respect.

Let me offer just one rather common example of this. I have lost track of how many times I have heard or read a Christian informing us that Calvinism is a heresy, is of the devil, and should be avoided like the plague. But of course I have also lost track of how many times I have heard or read a Christian informing us that Arminianism is a heresy, is of the devil, and should be avoided like the plague.

(Trigger alert! It is NOT my intention here to get into yet another WWIII debate on this topic. OK!? There are a zillion other sites, books, and places where this debate can be found, so I do not want to rehash it all here thanks. For what it is worth, I tend to lean to the Reformed side of things, but I am not a hard-core anything when it comes to various theological systems.)

My point here is this: I have found over the years that those who are the most vociferous when it comes to denouncing Calvinism – or Arminianism – are often the ones who know the least about it. They simply rehash what they have read or seen somewhere, but likely have never actually read anything from those in the other camp.

Thus rabid anti-Calvinists have often never read a word of Calvin’s Institutes or other basic works from those in the Reformed camp. And often rabid anti-Arminians have never read the works of Jacob Arminius or, say, John Wesley. But they are more than happy to lob potshots and hand grenades at what they think these systems actually teach.

So they have not done their homework and they are being intellectually and theologically lazy and irresponsible. And that causes all sorts of needless friction, factionalism, and in-fighting in the church of Jesus Christ. I am not saying these matters are unimportant – they are. But we really should try to do a bit of research before speaking out on these matters.

And of course all this can be said of so many other hot potato issues. Often gung-ho cessationists know very little about the non-cessationist position, and vice versa. Often those who denounce a certain Christian leader have never listened to one of his sermons, or read one of his books.

This is just not good enough. It becomes an easy means by which Satan can come in and sow discord among the brethren, cause all sorts of divisions, and destroy the unity of the Body of Christ that the Bible sees as being so very important.

Once again, I am NOT saying theology or doctrine does not matter. I have written dozens and dozens of articles saying that these things most certainly are important and vital to the Christian. But what I am saying here is this: there are way too many believers attacking other believers when they do not know the first thing about what they actually teach or believe.

So often they go off half-cocked, completely clueless as to the position they are attacking. They have not done their homework, they are not well-read, they do not have a good grasp of basic theology, and they do not have a gracious and Christlike spirit as well.

These folks need to stop the mud-slinging and stop stirring things up, and actually do some study and research first. As Paul said, we are to ‘study to show ourselves approved’. Too many believers do not study – they are too busy attacking others and throwing around the H word.

Let me conclude with some wise advice found in one helpful volume. And once again, I must offer another trigger warning here, since some people’s blood will start to boil when I mention the book. Roger Olson is an American theologian who happens to also be an Arminian.

In 2006 he wrote a book entitled Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities (IVP). Overall, I have found it to be a useful volume. He seeks to be fair and even-handed in his discussion, and is quite irenic throughout. Of course some Calvinists will disagree with me here!

But again, it is not my purpose to once again go to war on this 500-year-old debate. I simply want to quote a few words of his that I think apply not just to the Calvinist-Arminian debate, but to many other debates as well. He offers us four “rules of engagement” or “rules of discourse” which I think are helpful and much-needed:

First, before speaking or writing about another theology, we must be sure we have read it and are able to describe it as its own best representatives describe it. In short, before saying “I disagree” we must be able to truly say “I understand.”…

Second, critics should always be sure they are not assaulting a straw man….

Third, both Calvinists and Arminians should admit the weaknesses of their own theologies and not pretend that the other one alone contains tensions, apparent inconsistencies, difficulties explaining biblical passages and mysteries. We should strictly avoid double standards….

Finally, both Calvinists and Arminians should strictly avoid attributing beliefs to adherents of the other side that those adherents explicitly reject.

Those seem to be wise and fair rules that could apply in so many areas where theological disputes take place. Needless to say, I am not applying this to everything under the sun. If, for example, a Satanist or an obvious cultist gives you a book, I do not think you need to carefully read it and study it first (unless God calls you to specifically do that). It is probably best just to toss it into the trash.

And a final reminder: simply because I have quoted from an Arminian here does NOT mean I have now betrayed the Reformed faith, gone over to the dark side, lost my salvation, or become a spawn of Satan. Had a Calvinist written similar sorts of ground rules I would have been happy to run with them as well.

So for those ready to condemn me at the stake, or cast anathemas at me, please find something better to do thanks! But for those who do think theology is important, that theological discussion is necessary, and who seek to defend the faith as best they know it, these rules should be helpful to all of you.

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14 Responses to Do Your Homework First – Then Speak

  • Great article. Thanks Bill.

  • Great piece again Bill,
    The acid truth is how many hours do they spend reading their bible and a good concordance every week. These foolish Christians spend more time on social media and reading Fairfax MSM nonsense + the ABC tv rather than reading God’s word.
    Worldly wisdom does not equal Godly wisdom in most cases,
    God bless,
    Phil

  • How true Bill. Just mention Israel in a positive light and WWIII commences – I had to shut down a chain that turned rabid yesterday – a series of very aggressive responses from someone not FB friend, a sincere Christian and pro-Israel – as I am. However, he took on a personal friend of nearly 50 years who is neither a Christian nor uninformed. He posted his take as he is welcome to do. I have apologised to him as I had to remove the post which was a simple diagramatic presentation of the armaments of each side in the 6 day war. I must put my own hand up as I didn’t expect the very defensive responses and I didn’t personally verify the meme – it does stack up well but I didn’t check. Thanks for your timely blog. Blessings, Mark

  • Mark,
    I am fully expecting to the hatred against Israel will intensify over the next few years and Christians won’t be too far behind. A speaker from a Christian organisation ( I won’t state their name)’ noted that the persecution of Christians in Europe has now moved up to 70 on their world wide list so . This is a door into the future. Dear bill will probably cop even more aggro . God bless him and his family.
    On a side issue 2GB this morn noted that shorten will reintroduce safe schools if he is Elected PM. Woe is me.

  • That certainly was very useful wisdom that essentially says we need to know what we are talking about, if we choose to talk about it at all and that comes from knowing all sides of an issue. It is also another prod for me to do what I have always wanted to do and that is to read Lewis’ “Mere Christianity”.

    This commentary led me to “Heresy Hunters”, which somehow also led me to “This Sure Will Get You Into Trouble” even though the latter was written two years later. I one again sat down to read a commentary only to find out I was led to several others and what I thought would be 15 minutes well spent ended up being 2 hours spent even better. Thanks.

  • God bless you for a kind and loving consideration of the human as well as BELIEVING condition. Learning that we serve a SOVEREIGN GOD does much to reduce controversy among Believers. And, MEETING the Sovereign God changes hearts forever. Until we meet in our REALIZED GLORY before the Throne.

  • The infighting between Calvinists and Arminians demonstrates very clearly the wisdom of Jesus giving the first leadership of the church to a fisherman.

  • “Keep calm and do your homework.” is a motto very apposite to our times when sentiment too often counts for more than objective fact and reasoned argument. That noted Calvinist, George Whitefield asked in his will that those noted Arminians, the Wesley brothers conduct his funeral. They were honoured to carry out his request… We don’t need Job’s comforters in our times: We are not “the people” and “wisdom will not die with us”.

  • Very interesting post Bill,

    I love the four rules at the bottom. I will say thought that I think we are susceptible to forming opinions about things based on limited information. One of the real keys here to be humble and willing to acknowledge our ignorance and readily concede to much more informed opinions.

    The danger is when we dig our heels into the dirt on issues with virtually no rational basis and don’t have the wisdom or the teachable spirit to accept when we might be wrong, or at least, we need to do more research.

    We should be more willing to lend an ear when someone is clearly more knowledgable than us on an issue, no matter what side of the issue they fall onto.

  • Dear Pastor Bill, thank you for your very helpful advice and your many other helpful articles.

    This prompted me to ask your advice, to do my Homework First – Then Speak on something that has been worrying me.

    I was introduced by you some time ago to the website xyz.net.au – full of proud and unapologetic Christians and defenders of western civilisation and the values we hold dear.

    I was also introduced by you to Professor Jordan B. Peterson and I became an instant fan of his even though he isn’t Christian.

    Now I read xyz.net.au is at war with Professor Peterson and it is getting ugly.

    www.xyz.net.au/jordan-peterson-globalist-shill/

    I am torn. My church senior pastor and cell group leader say I should support the Christians against the non-Christian – what do you think is the correct biblical position, pastor Bill?

  • Many thanks Jane. Good question. First, let me say that I have penned several pieces on Peterson, and others who are sort of like him (that is, folks who are more or less conservative, but not entirely, and who are not Christians). Milo Yiannopoulos would be another case in point. See here for example:

    billmuehlenberg.com/2018/01/24/peterson-contra-mundum/

    billmuehlenberg.com/2017/02/21/i-am-praying-for-milo/

    Also, consider some non-Christians who are helpful conservative commentators, such as Andrew Bolt. I appreciate them all, and I think we can run with these folks, albeit to a limited extent. God can speak truth through Balaam’s ass, and he can also use various non-Christians to share truth where and when it is needed. See more on this here:

    billmuehlenberg.com/2017/12/01/time-rahab-awards/

    Those articles pretty well make my case. Because folks like this are not thorough-going conservatives, and more importantly, because they are not biblical Christians, I can only support them to a certain extent. Thus when they say good things I can and will support them at that point. It does not mean I agree with everything they have said.

    I have not read any of the XYZ stuff, so I cannot comment directly and properly on that. From the little you said, it sounds a bit of a worry that they are going down that path, but until I look at what they are saying, I am not well-placed to comment any further. So time permitting, I may later take a look at their site.

    But I would say in general that it is not very helpful to throw the baby out with the bathwater. When Peterson for example takes on the feminists and the transgender loonies, he is utterly superb, and I love that he stands strong there, and I most certainly will run with what he says in those cases. In other areas that I disagree on, (his support of evolution, etc.), I will not share his stuff on those sorts of issues.

    So I am not an either-or guy here: either folks like Peterson or Milo have to be perfect on all issues, entirely conservative, and fully Christian, or we have absolutely nothing to do with them. I find that foolish in the extreme. I always associate with and work with folks I do not agree with in many areas, but I am willing to work with them on at least limited strategic battles. That is called co-belligerency. I have written on that often as well. See here, eg:

    www.billmuehlenberg.com/2010/09/02/on-co-belligerency/

    www.billmuehlenberg.com/2009/11/27/on-biblical-cooperation-and-separation/

    billmuehlenberg.com/2016/08/28/culture-wars-theology-working-together/

    As to your last comment about ‘supporting the Christians against the non-Christian’ it really all depends. If a particular non-Christian is making tremendous sense on say, abortion, while a particular Christian is running with pro-abortion baloney, then I will side with the non-Christian on that issue any day of the week.

    Also, if a Christian politician is pushing, say, many harmful anti-family policies while a non-Christian politician is pushing very strong pro-family policies, I will more than likely vote for the non-Christian.

    It is the same with more practical things. If I have to choose between a lousy, unqualified and dodgy Christian roof repairer over a good, qualified and expert non-Christian roof repairer, I will always go with the non-Christian!

    So simply being a Christian does not always mean we should support them in all things. It all depends on the context.

    I hope this helps a bit. Blessings.

  • I have to admit I love theology because it helps me understand who God is and what Jesus did. I do not find it tiresome to study in depth the great truths and beliefs that God has given us.

    I must have over a thousand books in my personal library and 25-50% of them are theological tomes that enable me to delve deeper into a God-inspired life.

    I don’t study them for intellectual purposes. I study them to find out what I need to know. God is a vast subject that needs a vast insight to really understand him. To not understand him is to say I want you in my life but don’t get too up close and personal.

    With the millions of books out there and I don’t think that is an exaggeration, written by Christians for Christians I cannot understand how any Christian can be shallow and so ill-informed.

    I guess a lot to do with it is how many TV programmes you watch every week.

  • Hi Bill,

    Thanks again for another great article.

    I have a lot of friendly debates regarding Christian theology. With topics such as Once Saved Always Saved, Baptism for salvation, Faith versus Works or Pre-Trib versus Post-Trib Rapture, I find opinions among Biblical Christians vary a lot, but we are all seekers of the truth and the conversations are usually stimulating and respectful. And as you suggest, there are some with strong opinions based on little research.

    I am not a Calvinist, and the concerns I have about this theology were actually confirmed by reading parts of Calvin’s Institutes of Christian Religion. Things such as most people being predestined to hell for God’s glory (being barred access to salvation), or that all things are predetermined and planned by God including all the evil in the world. This is not hyper-Calvinism as some will say – it is exactly what John Calvin wrote in his Institutes.

    I suggest the reason many non-Calvinists (like myself) get upset about this theology is that it maligns the character of God. Other Christian doctrines which get discussed and debated, like those I briefly mentioned above, do not attack God’s character. There is a reason why the Wesleys called it the “Horrible Decree”.

    I believe God is Sovereign, and I also believe man has a free-will. Putting these truths together has an obvious tension and this always makes a good discussion.

    Thanks Bill. Sorry to go a bit off topic. I love your work. God Bless.

  • Thanks Kyle. Of course it was Calvin himself who first called the concept of double predestination the Decretum Horribile (the terrifying decree), long before Wesley or anyone else, recognising it to be an admittedly difficult doctrine. But as I say, I will pass on getting into more debates about all this here. Thanks again.

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