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: https://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.