Influence Is Not > Than the Truth

Erik Raymond —  November 6, 2013

If you are a Christian then you have convictions. If you are a Christian who knows other Christians then you probably have realized that we don’t all agree on everything. As a result, it is incumbent upon those who name Christ to consider how we engage with those who have different doctrinal foundations and ministry expressions. The two loudest arguments we hear are those who tend to be overly critical and those who tend to be overly accepting. On the one side folks want to limit their full affirmation and support of a teacher and ministry to those within their “tribe” (referring to people just like them). Others, resisting this, build a big tent and welcome as many people in there as they can.

As I have thought about this more and more I find it ironic that both sides are after the same thing: influence. One side wants to protect people by minimizing it and others want to influence people by expanding it. It is truly fascinating to watch and observe.

Because I care about truth and influence I have attempted to think through the issue a bit by providing some basic reminders. I realize these could be greatly expanded but I don’t think they can be reduced.

1) Don’t elevate secondary issues but you better not forget them.

There are primary doctrinal issues and secondary doctrinal issues. There are truths that if we do not confess them then we cannot be a Christian (Resurrection, Trinity, Gospel, Return of Christ, etc). Then there are other doctrines that, as Dr Mohler has said, are “secondary doctrinal issues.” Some of these items may be forms of church government, age of the earth, eschatology, etc.

Good gospel-loving brothers can unite and have good fellowship together while disagreeing strongly about something like Baptism (cf Ligon Duncan of the PCA and Mark Dever from the SBC). At the same time we should not act like these things are not important. We shouldn’t feel embarrassed about our eschatological conclusions, beliefs on church polity, or cessionist/continualists conclusions. If you hold these views then you have (hopefully) formed them through careful study of the Scriptures. You make your conclusions and convictions based upon truth.

The truth, of course, should never be benched. This is my concern over the gospel-centered movement and the prevailing tolerance tide that is rolling in on the shores of younger, gospel-bumping guys like myself. If you are embarrassed by your doctrinal convictions, and you believe that they are truth, then it is not a reach to say that once the gospel falls out of vogue then you will be ashamed of that too. Don’t think for a second that all minimization of secondary issues is solely done out of love for the gospel. There is a unhealthy amount of fear of man mixed in too. I know because I have to check myself.

2) Remember bridge-building is not > truth.

Isolationism may not help the truth but bridge-building doesn’t always either. Just because someone is being a nice guy and is not calling people out doesn’t mean that he is super mature, loving, and faithful. I want my dog to behave when company is around but when someone’s trying to break into my house I want her to bark. If she is going to lap a burglar’s hand she, at the least, isn’t doing her job. Bridge-building must always serve the truth it can never be at the expense of the truth.

3) Influence goes both ways.

I was thinking about this as I read Tim Challies recent review of Mark Driscoll’s new book A Call to ResurgenceThe ever-charitable Blog-Father of the Reformed Movement says the following:

I genuinely appreciate Driscoll’s desire to have Christians work with others beyond their tribe, but I believe he errs too far in the other direction and neglects to call out some false teachers and neglects to give clear criteria that will allow us to do so. His desire for unity is commendable, but even while we reach across the aisle to some we will need to be willing to unflinchingly reject and condemn others. I can hardly overemphasize the danger that may come here. I believe wholly in the value and necessity of working across tribal lines, but we must never do this at the expense of the primary doctrinal issues of the Christian faith.

Tim commends unity and a desire for influence while at the same time asking what will be tolerated or worse, lost in the process. This is an important question.

I’ll take it a step further, how will this intentional doctrinal diplomacy impact Mark Driscoll? It would be completely arrogant for anyone to think that they can partner, affiliate, or otherwise fellowship with people and not be influenced by them. Influence goes both ways, even for mega-church pastors and best-selling authors.

A little small “p” prophecy

When I look ahead to the next 25-30 years I am not so concerned with the folks who are bunkering down in their tribe and taking shots at the other side. They are who they are and in 30 years they will be doing the same thing. But, rest assured, they’ll be still clinging hard to their doctrine. It’s who they are.

On the other hand, I am quite concerned with the gospel-centered movement that seems to eschew any type of ripple in the water not caused by that which is of first importance. I’m afraid that with all of the talk, handshakes, and bridge-building we might lose our love for the truth. This makes me nauseous just thinking about it.

The truth of the gospel is big enough and powerful enough to provide a model and motivation for forgiveness and grace amid disputes. It can bear the freight for robust theological discussion and debate. What it can’t support is being shelved in favor of other things, even under the veil of gospel influence.

(note: this post is not about Driscoll’s book or his ministry. I simply reference it because it is relevant news in the blogosphere and the storyline relates to my concern without being my concern.)

Erik Raymond

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Erik has been writing at Ordinary Pastor since 2006. He lives in Omaha with his wife and kids while pastoring at Emmaus Bible Church. Follow regular updates on Twitter at www.twitter.com/erikraymond

13 responses to Influence Is Not > Than the Truth

  1. It’s an interesting topic and finding a balance takes some serious thought. I’m curious as to what has been the stand of Christians throughout church history. Certainly the idea of unity isn’t exclusive to the current wave of young reformed leaders. Or, if we dig deep into church history, will the recurring theme be burning ‘heretics’ at the stake?

    I’ve read up on Martin Bucer and it seems he was Driscoll or James McDonald of his times (in terms of seeking unity above all else).

    • I think it goes both ways. Look at the guys who hammered out the WCF.

      My issue today is with the minimization of doctrines as not important just because they are not of first importance.

  2. It’s a small part of your article, but is it scripturally accurate to list belief in the Trinity as a requirement for being a Christian? I expect my church officers to affirm this truth, but it can be a hard thing for the layperson to find in scripture and then wrap his head around. I was a Christian for years before I found scriptural support for the Holy Spirit’s membership.

  3. Good words brother.

  4. What are your thoughts about the “Strange Fire” fight that MacArthur started?

    • I only read Challies’ write ups of it. I have not listened to them yet. Three thoughts though:

      1) The topic is, in my view, totally fair-game to talk about.
      2) Dr MacArthur has been talking about this for years (Charismatic Chaos was published in the 80’s)
      3) As always people get upset about tone. If you’re going to do something polemical you have got to (in my view) work really hard at not coming across like a bully. (Again, I did not listen to the audio, so I don’t know about what the content was).

      These are my “thoughts”

  5. Hello, thanks for this article, it had some excellent points that I appreciate. One thing that I did see though was that although you are right in saying that we can’t ignore the primary theological issues when talking about the Gospel, I am not sure it is made clear where to draw that line. As far as the issues that churches or “tribes” may have disputes over, it is nearly impossible to draw a line in the sand as far as what is essential, and what is not. Augustine says “In the essentials; unity, in the non-essentials; liberty, in all things; charity.”, but in what degree do we have say in what is more important than others. There are the obvious ones, such as those you mentioned (Resurrection, Triune God, etc.) but what about things that are very important to certain denominations but not others (such as speaking in tongues for Pentecostal groups). I just wonder whether you have any thought beyond what you have stated above. Do you think it is our responsibility as Christians to decide which Doctrines are more important than others? If not, how then do we know?

    • This is how I think about it:

      What things do we have to have in common in order to be brothers and sisters? Ok, these things are primary.

      What things are secondary but still important? These things can be discussed and disagreed upon and still be friends. We can say, “We have a different view and that’s OK to disagree about.”

      It comes down to elevating the secondary things to the arbitrator of conversion or fellowship that becomes a problem. But let’s not run the other way and act like it’s not important.

      • Thanks Erik, I completely agree with you. I guess my question comes in the confusion of exactly how we are to discern what is to be considered primary and what is considered secondary. For example, Baptism. For some, this is a very important issue and cannot be overlooked, but for others it is a completely open-handed issue. What do you think of said issues which aren’t obviously on one side or the other?

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