The Fuzzy Thinking Is Strong in This One

On the need for biblical and theological clarity:

I could fill a book or two with all the bizarre, weird, nasty, obtuse and angry comments that have come into my website over the years. For the record, there are now well over 89,500 published comments on my site. But many thousands have never been posted, usually because they do not meet my commenting rules.

These include the need to provide a full name, not using abusive language, staying on topic, and so on. Sometimes a comment comes in – from friend or foe – that takes the machine gun approach. That is, in a few short sentences, a number of objections or criticisms are raised, and you are expected to answer them all in your short comment response.

There are at least two main problems with this. One, and often when it is an angry atheist thinking he has made some knock-down assault on your position, they seem oblivious to the fact that these common objections and complaints have been answered countless times already over the centuries.

And two, as just mentioned, sometimes to deal with these points properly, doing them justice, you need much more than a short comment to provide the necessary answers. You need an article-length reply. And that is what I sometimes end up doing, as in this piece as well.

The context to this article is this: I had recently penned a piece, mentioning the heresy of Marcionism. So one guy comes along with a comment that raises a number of points, but that seem to be quite confused and unhelpful. Often I just ignore such comments, but now and then a reply can serve as a teaching opportunity for others, so here I go. His comment was this:

Who decides what is heresy? Dogma is highly subjective, which is why Christianity is split into so many denominations and sects, all squabbling with one another over doctrinal and theological issues that are ultimately of no importance. Human vanity and conceit are at the heart of these differences – “You are wrong, I am right” etc. We need to put aside our personal opinions and focus on the basic creed. That is all that matters for salvation.

Most thinking Christians would easily see that there is a fair amount of fuzzy thinking here, confusion, and even contradictory thoughts being put forward. So let me go through this comment and deal with the various points that were raised.

As to the opening question, the short answer is easy enough: God decides. He has made clear in his Word what is sound or orthodox teaching and belief, and what is not. The opposite of orthodoxy is heresy, and believers must be aware of both.

And Scripture even uses this term. For example, in 2 Peter 2:1 we read these words: “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.”

The KJV renders the phrase “destructive heresies” this way: “damnable heresies”. If something is serious enough to damn someone, we all had better sit up and take careful notice. So we go to God and his Word to see what is orthodox and what is heterodox (heretical).

This applies to his remark about dogma being subjective. Well, no, it isn’t. God’s Word is highly objective. When Paul for example tells us that those who preach another gospel than the one that he is preaching is accursed, that is a pretty clear and non-subjective statement (see Galatians 1:6-9).

Sure, because we are all fallen and finite, we can have subjective and at times mistaken understandings of what is found in Scripture. So we need to keep humble here, but some things really must be affirmed, or we move into the realm of heretical teachings. The deity of Christ, the Trinity, and so on, would be included here.

So when he speaks of “doctrinal and theological issues that are ultimately of no importance” he clearly is not aware of what Scripture says throughout. These core teachings really are a matter of life and death. Get the basic Christian teachings wrong and you are – as already said – damned, and for all eternity. That is serious business.

But are there some issues that believers can argue about which are of little or no importance? Sure. Some Christians can get all bent out of shape over non-core matters. It might be the colour of the carpet to go into the church, or whether guitars and the like can be used for worship.

And secondary doctrines and teachings, such as some of the finer points of eschatology, we CAN agree to disagree on. Having differing views on some of these things is NOT going to cause us to be separated from our Lord throughout all eternity.

Can pride and vanity enter in here? Yes of course. That can account for not just some theological spats, but all sorts of other things. It can even result in folks commenting on other people’s sites with rather unhelpful and mixed-up thoughts!

As to “You are wrong, I am right” – well yeah, that is how life works. If you say 2+2=5 and I say 2+2=4, then you are wrong, I am right. If you say Jesus never claimed to be God, and I say he did, then you are wrong, and I am right. Being right or wrong on some of these matters is very important indeed. As I keep saying, it can determine our eternal destiny.

What he says next is the most bizarre of all. So we need to put aside our personal opinions here? OK, but then what exactly was this guy doing when he commented on my article? Um, he was putting forth his own personal opinions! So which is it? We cannot say no to all personal opinions while using them at the same time.

He then says we should focus on “the basic creed”. But what basic creed is that? Without telling us which one, if any, he means, he has said nothing of help here. Now, if he was referring to the early church creeds, such as the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene creed, I agree that they offer us a good solid set of basic core doctrines.

They are not infallible nor inspired of course but they do offer a good summary of basic Christian beliefs. And in the New Testament we also find some creedal summaries, such as 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 and 1 Timothy 3:16. But see more on these matters here:

And of course in all these creeds and creedal formulations, we have clearly stated biblical truths which are being affirmed, and it is implied that NOT to believe them and affirm them puts you in the category of being an unbeliever, if not a heretic. So there we go again: Good doctrine matters, and so too does heresy.

He finishes by saying that this “is all that matters for salvation.” But what is all that matters? The creeds, and their affirmation? If so, as I say, which creeds? And if it is the classic biblical and early church creeds, then they are based on sound doctrine versus false doctrine. In other words, on truth versus error. On orthodoxy versus heresy.

Even if he got that bit right, we know that salvation is NOT just a matter of proper mental understanding and assent. In addition to believing the right things – as opposed to the wrong things, or the heretical things – there are a few other things also needed, such as faith and repentance. It is a package deal: right belief and right practice must go together.

So all up this fellow’s comment is a confusing, muddled and not very helpful remark. At the very least, it was far too unclear and puzzling, and at worst, it was full of contradictions and the like. Whether this fellow is or is not an actual Christian, this comment reflected some rather mushy thinking and sloppy biblical understanding.

The long and short of it is this: sound doctrine really does matter, and there is such a thing as heresy. Given that heresies can be damnable, we had better make sure we get our biblical and theological understanding correct.

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4 Replies to “The Fuzzy Thinking Is Strong in This One”

  1. I have found when you strive to uphold biblical truth and doctrine, your always going to get people who object, disagree or just get flat out angry (im talking within church circles, folks who claim to be christian)
    They themselves dont realize, when they say something like “why do we need creeds? Why do we need systematic theology? We just need to be more like Jesus and just love everyone” theyve just made a theological statement! Theyll claim we shouldnt speak in absolutes but yet, this is what theyre doing themselves!
    Ive seen this within our church as of late. Our pastor has been doing a series on ephesians, the man only touched on election, and weve seen half a dozen people complain and leave.
    A pastor once said to me, christians are in the minority, biblical christians even more of a minority!
    I love what ephesians 4:15 says, we are to speak the “truth in love”
    This is what i strive for when i uphold biblical truth.
    I used to get very hostile early on when it came to the doctrine of election. I was opposed to it, but, thank God, i had some very patient, loving christian brothers, who helped me understand this biblical truth over time, and i came to my senses. I love this verse

    “24And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, 26and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.” 2 Tim 2:24-26

    I try to remember this each time i have opportunity to witness, or, when im debating a brother or sister in Christ.
    But then, there are those clear cut cases where some people are just being downright rotten and mean.
    Thats where i part ways with these type folks

  2. Hosea 4 is a pretty sobering warning for a people who have forsaken truth, knowledge and understanding; applicable to the need for sound doctrine.
    The Holy Sprit has been given to lead us in understanding, wisdom and knowledge. And listening/reading to sound biblical teaching will help keep us from being “carried away by every wind of doctrine”.

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