Controversy and doctrinal disagreements are not new. They have been with us since the beginning, and will continue until that Day when all will be revealed. The Church’s understanding of the truth has greatly benefited from them, as only by opposition have we been driven to a greater understanding. Two beliefs are essential for continuing improvement in doctrinal understanding, to which the Church has held without compromise:
- Due to the depravity and imperfection of man, no believer this side of heaven can attain a flawless understanding of the truth of God’s Word;
- Although a perfect understanding is unattainable, a better understanding (at any point) is attainable, through a systematic, well-reasoned study of Scripture, illuminated by the Holy Spirit.
Have you noticed how the postmodernism of the world has affected the worldview of even the conservative Church? The trend is to deny that second belief, that a better understanding of the truth is attainable. This explains the current tendency to jump to being offended merely because one’s view is called “wrong.” On what grounds would any reasonable person object to you calling their view wrong? Their objection can only be grounded in the idea that there can be no valid basis for claiming that your view is closer to the truth than theirs. In short, they are offended at your critique because (in their assumed worldview) certainty in such matters is unattainable, and without certainty any view is as valid as any other—and no one has the right to claim that their view is superior.
It wasn’t always this way with doctrinal disputes. Not only did the Church view the truth as attainable, but the unending pursuit of a better grasp of the truth was held as an obligation on all. The attitude that, “No one can know for sure anyway, so I’ll just settle for whatever position suits me best,” is “relatively” new. The old way was to diligently compare opposing views side by side, weighing their reasoning and their support from Scripture, to see which view was the most consistent, reasonable, and most Scriptural. Such diligent comparison was first by personal study and then by reasonable debate. But the end goal was always to understand the truth better, and then to teach that better understanding to others.
However, today many people choose views based on very little study and objective weighing of opposing positions. The diligent study that should have prepared them to teach and debate the issue—as well as give them valid ground to do so—are missing, and so they lack full assurance that they are correct… but that doesn’t stop them from “choosing” a position. And since they have found little certainty in their own understanding, they will not afford you the benefit of the doubt in finding any certainty in your own position. So they are offended at the confidence of your assertion that they are wrong.
A further result of this new relativism in Christian theology is that theological movements, such as the “Traditionalists” in the SBC, seek the kind of power that comes through numbers, whether numbers of signatures on a doctrinal statement, or numbers of leaders/teachers in seminaries and authoring teaching materials, or numbers of speakers at conferences who agree with them. It used to be important to determine which view in a controversy had the best handle on the truth, through vigorous, reasonable debate and a close examination of Scripture. Theological influence went to the system or argument that could be shown to be more consistent, reasonable and Scripturally sound. But that has given way to the seeking of political influence. The gate of reason and Scripture is being bypassed as proponents openly seek to jump the fence through numbers. Rather than earning a seat at the table by demonstrating a worthy position, they simply demand one based on numbers alone.
But where is the well-reasoned argument? Where can we view the fruit of their labors in substantively and thoroughly pursuing the truth in the light of opposing positions? Is there any written evidence at all that the leaders of the Traditionalist movement care about the pursuit of truth, rather than merely being concerned with promoting their movement, advancing their cause, and increasing their numbers? By written evidence, I mean more than an affirmation. I mean the evidence of having dealt with these differences in an objective, honest, and thorough way, through the production of a rigorous, closely reasoned, systematic argument that establishes not merely that they have a significant group who hold their beliefs, but that those beliefs are to be taken seriously based on a demonstrated validity.
Ken Hamrick, 2012