Choosing Our Battles

On doing what we are called to do:

All Christians should do what God has called them to do. In one sense, that is clear enough, especially because God has already told us in his Word what he wants us to do – at least in terms of all the big-ticket items. But of course many believers will still want to run with a particular, individual calling they feel God has given them.

Some believers for example will be public figures with public ministries. This can often mean teaching and speaking out on various things, and even getting into various battles with others on various matters. While controversy for the sake of controversy is never a virtue, controversy for the sake of the gospel is – or can be.

It partly depends on what battles we think are paramount, and what areas we must defend to the death. And different believers will have different views on these things of course. It all can get rather tricky – and contentious. In the numerous fights over theology for example, some Christians want nothing to do with theology and doctrine.

Others are convinced that their pet beliefs are 110% right, and anyone who dares to differ is a rank heretic. Still others are so put off by all the incessant and often uncharitable arguing, name-calling and attacks that they will never dare to say in public what they believe. It is just safer and more peaceful not to say anything!

Anyone familiar with me and my website knows that I have discussed these topics plenty of times. Here – once again – is my take on some of the ways we should think about the many theology wars that we find all around us. Some basic propositions in outline form are these:

-Theology matters.
-We are all fallen, finite and fallible creatures, so that will impact all of our lives, including our theological understanding.
-Some core theological truths must be championed.
-But with lesser truths there can be some room to move.
-Admittedly sometimes it is not always clear which is a primary doctrine and which is a secondary doctrine.
-What can be won by the arguments and reasoning of some believers in defending their preferred theology can easily be lost by their arrogance, nastiness, anger, and complete lack of Christian grace.
-We are told in Scripture to look after both our doctrine and our life carefully (1 Timothy 4:16).
-Some believers who will fight to the death for their pet theology show little or no evidence of Christ and his love.
-Humility, prayer and being on our knees will take us MUCH further than simply engaging in theological and intellectual pugilism alone.

I say all this because of what one social media friend has been doing of late. Many of you would know him – a real champ. For many years now he has been a tireless warrior in the culture wars, especially defending the biblical view on homosexuality against its many detractors. He has countless Christian supporters who so appreciate this work of his.

But I notice that of late he has been spending a fair bit of time moving into some hot and heavy theological debates – and long-standing ones at that. In making his criticisms of one particular theological view – in this case Calvinism – I simply wonder if all the good work he has done elsewhere might be undermined. Perhaps many of his fans will now turn on him or turn away from him because of this theological row.

Now presumably this great Christian champ feels he should engage in these battles. Presumably he does feel called to engage in this new battlefront. We can hope that this is indeed the case. If this is what God is pushing him to do, then he better do it! But let me say a few further things about all this.

There is nothing wrong with saying you think that Calvin was wrong – and saying it loudly and proudly in public. Or for that matter, that you think Arminius was wrong. Or Augustine. Or Pelagius. Or Whitefield. Or Wesley. They all can be critiqued and assessed in light of Scripture. None of them had all the truth. None are immune from criticism and close scrutiny.

I guess part of my concern is that these battles of course have been fought for centuries now – ad nauseam, ad infinitum. Kazillions of words have been spoken and written on these debates, and oceans of ink will undoubtedly continue to pour forth on them. Sometimes these debates seem to just drag on and on.

Sure, presumably new angles and nuances and insights will come out of new discussions. But… Some of these battles can become so heated, so divisive, so embittered, so polarising, and so interminable, that one wonders what is the best way forward.

By all means argue for what you believe in – especially if you are more or less certain it fully aligns with Scripture and that they are battles God specifically wants you to fight in the here and now. But as I have tried to point out, that is the real trick, isn’t it?

Is God really calling you to do battle in this area at this time and in this way? I am not for a moment saying otherwise as to this well-known believer. But for myself at least, I must always keep in mind that not every fight must be fought. Not every issue must be challenged. Not every person that I differ with must be engaged with. Not every seeming heretical dragon must be slayed.

Part of all this of course is just knowing where and when one must speak out and take a stand. The issue at hand may well be an important one and an issue that – generally speaking – can and should be dealt with. But sometimes God might call us to remain silent in a particular time and place.

Sure, some believers will never speak out about anything, even when they should be speaking out. Cowardice or fear of what others might think may hold them back. But then there are some other believers who will ALWAYS go on the attack. They cannot seem to refrain from any battle. They just need to go for the jugular at all times.

For portions of my life I am sure I have been much more like the latter. I have been quick to go on the attack, and quick to point out where others are wrong. But thankfully God has been patient with me, and in my old age I guess I am learning to hold back just a bit. At the very least, I am learning to pray a bit first, and then shoot from the hip, or spray from the lip.

I am learning that some battles I can just pass by. I may be very grieved and upset by some of the things I see some people saying and doing, but sometimes just biting my lip and committing matters to God in prayer is the far wiser path to follow. Discernment and wisdom are always needed here.

As to this fellow I mentioned above (and many of you would know who I refer to), I will keep him in prayer. I can only assume he is doing what God wants him to do. But JUST in case he is not, I will pray that he gets a nudge from the Spirit on this. But either way, I will thank God for the man and his ministry.

In sum, and in response to the title of this article, yes, we should choose our battles carefully. More specifically and more correctly, we should let God choose the battles he wants us to engage in. But being imperfect creatures, it is not always so clear as to what those might be. Or when and how they should be engaged in.

All the more reason to proceed with caution, to proceed with prayer, and to proceed with humility.

For more on all this, including some biblical material, see this related piece:

[1344 words]

4 Replies to “Choosing Our Battles”

  1. Certainly, there are areas of theological interpretation where I don’t agree with you, Bill, but that doesn’t mean I do not respect you any less for the excellent work you have done, particularly when it comes to pro-life issues like abortion and euthanasia. And you’re right, we do have priorities and we do have different emphases in our walk of faith That’s because the Body of Christ to which we both belong has many different areas which handle different aspects of its collective being. Because I’m a retired trained nurse and widow, I am able to use my mostly still active body and mind helping to provide pastoral care in urban mission work. Because you are such a forthright and gifted communicator, you write influential and insightful books on issues of merit. It’s the same with aspects of our Christian life- some do God’s work through theological discernment, others through focusing on social issues and still others through pastoral care. These areas are no less valuable. For me as a Catholic, I consider that I’ve learnt a great deal from my evangelical sisters and brothers in Christ like you.

  2. Thanks Bill, I just read both articles on choosing your battles, wisdom I certainly need to take on board, as I have been known at times to speak or act before I should, cheers!

  3. Thanks Bill a well constructed piece….there are many challenges and battles , they seem to be coming in thick and fast….and choosing to engage or not and how We engage …i agree with you ..proceed with prayer and humility first. I am reminded from the book of Acts chapter 6 where the Apostles said that they must be given given to prayer and the ministry of the Word… was the general MO of the early church , continuing in the steps of Jesus ..who was noted as praying , time with the Father, then He acted and taught and preached.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: