So I’ve noticed that pretty much whenever somebody in the evangelical world negatively critiques somebody else in the evangelical world, a few bad arguments are sure to follow from folks who seem to be allergic to any sort of sharpening confrontation. Whether these arguments rear their well-worn, played-out, ugly heads in their own follow-up blog post or just in the comment threads of the original critique, we’re sure to be paid a visit from these uninvited rhetorical guests.
Things were no different on Monday, as Clint offered quite a response to Mark Driscoll’s recent ridiculous comments regarding cessationism. Now, I have no desire to throw my hat in the ring regarding this present discussion. Both Clint and Nate have done extraordinarily well, and, to be quite honest, Frank Turk hit it out of the park in his Open Letter response last Wednesday at PyroManiacs. What I hope to do is to alert us all to the existence of these five unwelcome leaps in logic, and hopefully see them turn up less and less as the blogosphere continues to go round and round. (Hear me now: I’m not saying any commenter is uninvited or unwelcome, just that there are some bad arguments that I could go without seeing for the rest of my life.)
The Call for Private Discussion
First, the “You-should-have-spoken-to-him-privately” argument wouldn’t have missed the opportunity to drop by. People wielding this argument just don’t seem to understand the nature of public discourse. You know: public statement, public evaluation, public discussion. Besides, one also wonders whether Clint was approached privately before such comments made their way to the combox. A word to the wise: if you think the only proper way for Christians to express disagreement with each other is to meet privately over coffee, a blog comment isn’t the place for you to express that disagreement.
The Accusation of Disunity and Division
Second, accusations of failing to foster Christian love and unity were sure to make an appearance. It’s always struck me as quite sad that when someone is touting bad doctrine and propagating error, it’s always the one who sounds the alarm that’s labeled as divisive. In the New Testament, a factious man was someone who advocated a different doctrine and didn’t agree with the sound words passed down from the Apostles (1Tim 6:3; 2Tim 1:13). The person who calls for the correction of error is not creating disunity, but only drawing attention to the disunity that already exists by virtue of the defection from sound teaching. And that warning is sent out as a call for a return to true unity, which is defined by a common commitment to the truth, not a common commitment to never discuss our disagreements in public.
The Reverence of Form over Content
Then there are the Tone Police, who care disproportionately less about what someone says than they do about how they say it. I gotta say, it took longer than I expected for them to drop by. I attribute that to having awesome readers and commenters here at The Cripplegate. But they eventually showed up just as they do elsewhere, and were sure to let us know that, regardless of the content, they didn’t like the tone of the post. The irony is rather astounding. The same people who get so distraught over this horrible, needless, uncharitable infighting, are themselves willing to engage in some uncharitable infighting—not over anything substantive, like one’s philosophy of ministry or the place of the miraculous gifts in the contemporary church—but over their tone. Form is revered over content. I’ve decided that I don’t like the tone of commenters who don’t like other people’s tone. I’m hoping that’ll keep them busy for a while.
Free Pass by Association
A fourth bad argument often in attendance might be labeled, “Free pass by association.” This is actually the argument that grieves me most, because it’s the most plausible and therefore the one most likely to lead people astray. This is the notion that since other men whom we respect seem to approve someone’s ministry, that someone must be above reproach. We’ve heard countless times regarding Driscoll that older, godlier guys like Piper, Mahaney, and Dever are in his life and working with him in ministry, so everyone needs to just back off. We’ve also recently heard it regarding Rick Warren and John Piper’s inviting him to speak at the Desiring God National Conference this year.
Now, like I said, this argument is the most plausible, because we trust these other men. By the biblical faithfulness demonstrated in their own ministries, they have earned our confidence as faithful shepherds. But even that doesn’t mean they can’t make foolish decisions and be sincerely wrong in their evaluation of and participation in someone else’s ministry. Perhaps their endorsements should give us greater pause than normal about dismissing someone out of hand, but each man’s work must be tested on its own merits. So the next time someone picks on Driscoll or Warren (or whoever) for something, don’t use his credible associations as an excuse to not evaluate the issue on its own merits. Evaluate what he’s said, test it against Scripture, and honor the Word more than you honor the opinions of your spiritual heroes.
The Pragmatic Argument
This last bad argument is the worst uninvited guest of them all. This argument is so biblically baseless and logically vacuous that it was what motivated me to write this post in the first place. Even if you disagree with me on the previous four and will continue to brandish those terrible arguments with impunity, annoying everyone who crosses your digital path, please summon whatever shred of self-discipline you have in order to refrain from saying, “But God is obviously using him, so it must be OK!”
You heard this line of reasoning back when everybody was flipping out about Piper inviting Warren to speak at Desiring God. “Maybe God is providentially using both of these men to work something good in the end.” Others castigated those who were critical of Warren because, “Many people are getting saved through his ministry,” and “He has planted a church and seen thousands come to the Lord.” And you hear this all the time with Driscoll. “God is using him to save tons of people in an extremely dark area of the country.”
The reason that this is such a bad argument is that God uses everything to accomplish all His good pleasure (Ps 33:10–11; Isa 46:9–10; Rom 8:28; Eph 1:11). In His infinite mercy, God declares that nothing is off-limits for Him to use as an instrument in bringing about His wise and most holy ends. To be sure, this should cause us to rejoice that God can use sinful human beings like you and me to accomplish His will. And it should humble us greatly. But it should not be a reason given as evidence for God’s stamp of approval.
For example, God used the sinful intentions of Joseph’s brothers to preserve a remnant of His people in the earth (Gen 45:5–7; 50:20). Is their wickedness to be excused because God used it? There is no question that God used Balaam’s donkey to accomplish His will (Num 22:21–35). But I hope I’m not the only one who thinks it’s a bad idea to sit at the feet of donkeys for biblical instruction. God used Assyria to bring His wrath against Israel (Isa 10:5–15). But in the same sentence in which He prophesies of Assyria’s involvement in accomplishing His will, Yahweh pronounces a curse upon them for their wickedness. God obviously does not approve of Assyria despite the fact that He was using them. Further, God used the people’s wicked, faithless demand for a human king (1Sam 8:5, 7, 19–20; 10:19) to establish the monarchy in Israel from which Messiah would come. No King Jesus without King Saul. Should we excuse Israel’s faithless disobedience because God used it?
Additional examples abound throughout Scripture, yet none is more convincing than the murder of the Son of God. There can be absolutely no question that God used the wicked desires of Annas and Caiaphas, the cowardice of Pilate, the treachery of Judas, and the bloodthirsty godlessness of the Romans to accomplish the crucifixion of Jesus (Ac 2:22–23; 4:27–28). Not only did God use these men for His own ends; He used them to achieve the greatest act of love that will ever be accomplished: the salvation of innumerable souls from eternal damnation. Yet which of those evil men get a pass because God used them? Which of their sins would it be OK for us to imitate on the grounds that God used them for His own good purposes?
Our infinitely wise God uses everything—from the most wicked of sins to Balaam’s jackass—to accomplish what He will. Therefore, whether they be worldly preachers or worldly methods, the argument that God uses something has nothing to do with whether it is legitimate for His people to emulate or approve. That God has sovereignly ordained certain events does not automatically mean that they’re not unwise or even sinful on the part of men, who are responsible even in view of God’s sovereignty.
- No more calls for private discussion of public matters.
- Remember that unity is based on truth, not on whether we can agree to disagree.
- Don’t dismiss content for the sake of tone; what is said matters more than how it’s said.
- Evaluate a ministry by Scripture, not by association.
- And for the love of the truth, let’s put the pragmatic argument to rest.