Archives For truth

Sic et Non, Yes and No

Greg Strand – June 24, 2013 Leave a comment

When we encounter theological differences from our own, how do we respond. Often there is an “all or nothing” approach. That is, we must avoid either accepting everything naively and uncritically or rejecting everything (or accepting nothing) critically and condemningly outside my own personal convictions.

J. A. O. Preus wrote an excellent article a number of years ago addressing this issue: “On Being a Seeker of the Truth: Sic et Non,” Modern Reformation 11/3 (May/June 2002), 52. Sic et Non was the Latin expression used by theologians meaning yes and no. It referred to a commitment to affirm that which was true, that which was good, and to say no to that which was untrue, that which was false, that which was bad.

This is the question Preus poses.

But what should we say when confronted by theological opinions different from our own?

In our assessment of contemporary theological or religious thinking, we too often demonstrate an undiscriminating approach. Either we reject every new way of thinking or speaking out of hand, or we embrace all new ideas with open, uncritical arms. Either way is wrong; we need a better way.

We must avoid the “all or nothing” approach. There is a better way: sic et non, yes and no.

Despite the “all or nothing” approach that seems to hold sway, I think we need to learn to say “yes” and “no” (sic et non, as the old Latin theologians used to say it) to the truth claims of others: “Yes” to what is good and right and true; “no” to what is bad and false and untrue.

Notice, I didn’t say “yes or no.” We need to say both as we assess the truth of what others are saying. We should learn to affirm what others are saying that is biblical and conforms to the truth of the gospel. But we also must reject what is unscriptural and contradicts the gospel. This is the only proper approach.

Sic, yes.

This means, first of all, that in our approach to contemporary claims we need to learn to say “yes.” We need to avoid an attitude of hyper-criticism, which assumes that if any idea is new (or, if we’ve never heard it said that way before) it is, ipso facto, false. No particular church body or theological tradition has all the truth. True, biblical ideas are also found, more often than we might think, outside our own circles.

Non, no.

Just as clearly as we must affirm the truths others hold, we must also reject their errors. Too many of us are extremely naive in our acceptance of the truth claims of others. Too often we allow ourselves to be misled by others’ false notions because we are convinced that their motives are pure, unaware of the damaging (and damning!) spiritual effects of every false doctrine or teaching.

This is not a milquetoast approach that results in no one holding a position strongly, but instead the only position that is acceptable is only an amalgamation of various perspectives of a theological position such that all feel theologically compromised. Instead we learn to say “’Yes’ to what is good and right. ‘No’ to what is bad and wrong.”

What I am suggesting is not that we should adopt a middle road, as if we prefer sitting on the fence and are unable to take a position on an issue. Truth is not found simply by merging two opposing positions and seeking the lowest common denominator. The truth is the truth wherever it is on the spectrum, and we only compromise it if we treat it as if it were merely a conflation of all viewpoints.

How do we do a better job of engaging the increasingly diverse religious opinions we are hearing today? By teaching our minds and our lips to say “yes and no.” “Yes” to what is good and right. “No” to what is bad and wrong. I am not pointing out an easy way or a shortcut. This will require that we use our critical facilities and actually listen to people as they speak. It will also require us to search the scriptures more carefully and fully to be in a better position to make a valid assessment of others’ truth claims. No, this is not a shortcut. It is the more difficult way-and the more excellent way. But, the truth demands it, if we truly wish to be seekers of the truth.

Instead of revealing one who is wishy-washy on theology, this response reveals the depth to which one understands a theological issue/position and the humility of the theologian who acknowledges that the full-orbed reality of the truth of a doctrine is often bigger/larger than my understanding of it.

The doctrinal centrality of the gospel is foundational to and leads inexorably to the functional centrality of the gospel.

The gospel focuses on the fulfillment of God’s plan for the redemption of His people through the Person of Jesus Christ. The gospel is something done! Full stop. But this is not all there is to say about the gospel. Rooted in what the gospel is, it also has entailments in how we think and live. This is not the gospel, but an entailment of the gospel. If we make it the gospel, then we have created another gospel (cf. Gal. 1:6-9).

It is vital to affirm and rest upon the centrality of the gospel of Jesus Christ in doctrine and proclamation. But it is also vital to live out the gospel in all of life and ministry. This is the functional centrality of the gospel.

So often people affirm the doctrinal centrality of the gospel of Jesus Christ, but then they press on to other things as if the gospel has no bearing on how we go about ministry thereafter. This undermines and sometimes denies, often not by design but by default, the truth of the gospel.

For example, it was the functional centrality of the gospel in ministry and relationships that Peter compromised when he pulled away from table fellowship with the Gentiles in Galatia. This is why Paul confronted him so strongly (Gal. 2:11-14). Peter’s functional response undermined the doctrinal centrality of the gospel.

It is vital that we affirm both truths, that we get the order right, and that we understand how they relate to one another. If not, we will end up with a dead orthodoxy (denial of its functional centrality), or we will end up with a different gospel (extending the meaning of the gospel to what we need to do).

As you ponder and pray about this, how are you doing?

The Bible – A True Story But Not Factual

Greg Strand – November 14, 2012 2 Comments

The statement below is precisely why the book Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith?, which was mentioned yesterday, needed to be written. This is one of many reasons for the need of such a book!

The Bible is a true story but not always factual. The truth of the Bible doesn’t come from the facts of the stories, but rather from the spiritual meaning of those stories. The true ideas the Bible teaches have little to do with history, geology, or any matters of the natural world, but have everything to do with the spiritual world and the things that really matter in our lives.

Amos Glenn, MINemergent: A Daily Communique (March 27, 2012)

Questions: What do you think of this statement? Where does it get it all wrong? If someone were to say that to you about the Bible, how would you respond?

This sort of understanding of the Bible was common among liberals. But now this description of the Bible is on the lips and pens of those who call themselves Evangelicals. (I do not know if Glenn identifies as an Evangelical or not.) The Evangelical understanding of the Bible is that it is inerrant in faith and practice, history and science. And it is important to know/remember, this is the historical position of the church!

A humble forewarning. It is likely that someone will claim an archaeological discovery that will call into question some aspect of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. This is part of the popular media’s “liturgy” in light of the church celebrations (particularly Christmas and Easter). It is also quite likely that some pastor/preacher/teacher/leader will respond by saying that if the bones of Jesus were found, if it was determined that Jesus never rose from the dead, it would not change one aspect of his/her faith.

This is absolutely ludicrous. In fact, Paul bases his argument for the Christian faith, the gospel, on the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus. Paul writes (1 Corinthians 15:14-19),

And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that He raised Christ . . . For if the dead are not raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

Paul will not allow this nonsense of having a true, biblical faith apart from the literal and physical death, burial and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Those who claim that an unresurrected Christ would not affect their faith indicates they have no true saving faith at all. Because “Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor. 15:20), those “unbelieving Christians” (Christians by title or profession, but not in reality or confession), are most of all to be pitied.

The Puritans – Soul Doctors

Greg Strand – October 19, 2012 Leave a comment

I have for many years appreciated the Puritans for their sound exposition of the Scriptures and their keen application of biblical truth to the lives/souls of individuals. In fact, I will often explain that pastors are “soul doctors,” an expression I picked up from the Puritans.

Tim Keller wrote an article a number of years ago about how the Puritans have served as an invaluable resource for his own biblical counseling. His six reasons are the following:

  1. The Puritans were committed to the functional authority of the Scripture. For them it was the comprehensive manual for dealing with all problems of the heart.
  2. The Puritans developed a sophisticated and sensitive system of diagnosis for personal problems, distinguishing a variety of physical, spiritual, tempermental and demonic causes.
  3. The Puritans developed a remarkable balance in their treatment because they were not invested in any one ‘personality theory’ other than biblical teaching about the heart.
  4. The Puritans were realistic about difficulties of the Christian life, especially conflicts with remaining, indwelling sin.
  5. The Puritans looked not just at behavior but at underlying root motives and desires. Man is a worshipper; all problems grow out of ‘sinful imagination’ or idol manufacturing.
  6. The Puritans considered the essential spiritual remedy to be belief in the gospel, used in both repentance and the development of proper self-understanding.

Cf. Tim Keller, “Puritan Resources for Biblical Counseling,” The Journal of Pastoral Practice 9/3 (1988): 11-44. (The journal is now named The Journal for Biblical Counseling.)

Communicating Biblical Truth Contextually

Greg Strand – October 11, 2012 2 Comments

A Simple Communication Tip” by Greg Koukl (October 1, 2012)

Koukl is a gifted and capable apologist. He is the founder and president of Stand to Reason apologetics ministry. In his October 2012 Mentoring Letter, Koukl’s evangelism tip focuses on communicating truth in a way that is heard. It is not an attempt to soften the hard edges of truth, but rather to use expressions that enable one to move beyond the initial fence or obstacle encountered by those with whom we are speaking.

And it is not only an attempt to avoid some of the negative cultural baggage, such that only if one uses the right words to define sin, the listener will respond positively to the gospel. There is still sin that will make one repulsed by and defiant to the gospel, unless the Holy Spirit is opening ears to hear and softening the heart to respond.

It is important to use expressions that will better enable you to communicate biblical truth due to misunderstandings and incorrect definitions. Read on!

To solve the lingo problem, I’ve made it a habit to find (and use) substitute words—synonyms for religious terminology—to brighten my conversation and improve my communication.

For example, instead of quoting “the Bible” or “the Word of God” (both easily dismissed), why not cite “Jesus of Nazareth,” or “those Jesus trained to communicate His message after Him” (the Apostles), or “the ancient Hebrew prophets”?

These substitute phrases mean the same thing, but have a completely different feel. It’s much easier to dismiss a religious book than the words of respected religious figures.

When referring to the Gospels, try citing “the primary source historical documents for the life of Jesus of Nazareth.” That’s the way historians see them, after all.

Avoid the word “faith.” Substitute “trust” for the exercise of faith (“I have placed my trust in Jesus”)—which is the precise meaning of the original biblical term, anyway—and “convictions” for the content of faith (i.e., “These are my Christian convictions”).

For the same reason, don’t talk about your “beliefs.” It’s too easy to misunderstand this word as a reference to mere beliefs, subjective “true for me” preferences. Rather say, “This is what I think is true,” or “These are my spiritual [not ‘religious’] convictions.”

“Non-Christians” or “unbelievers” are terms that can subtly communicate an “us vs. them” mentality. Instead, substitute the phrase “those who don’t share our views.”

I’ve even found myself avoiding the word “sin” lately, not out of timidity about the topic, but because the term doesn’t deliver anymore. Instead, I talk about our moral crimes against God, or our acts of rebellion or sedition against our Sovereign. By contrast, abandon “blown it” and “messed up.” They don’t capture the gravity of our offenses.

The word “forgiveness” still seems to have power, but sometimes substitutes like “pardon,” “clemency,” and “mercy” can put a fresh face on it.

Rest assured, there’s nothing wrong with using replacement words. Biblical translation is always a matter of choosing English synonyms for original Greek or Hebrew terms. The goal isn’t to soften the original meaning, but rather to make it more vivid and powerful.

Help yourself to my substitute words, or make your own list of synonyms. Try to find down-to-earth ways of communicating your convictions to others (notice I didn’t say “share your faith”) so they don’t tune you out. Simply put:  Watch your language.