I wanted to call attention to two recent articles that in different ways highlight one of this generation’s fundamental obstacles to ministry and mission.
The first, “Let’s revive the lost art of Christian polemics” by Conrad Mbewe, says the church today is harmed by uncorrected error. He writes:
We should respond to (theological error) by deliberately engaging in Christian polemics. What does the word “polemics” mean? Polemics means a strong verbal or written rebuttal of someone else’s belief. It is an argument that disputes another person’s opinion and shows that it is not true.
Using the example of Christ, Mbewe argues for the recovery of Christian polemics that identify wrong teaching and correct it with strong language, logic, reasoning, and the clear statement of right teaching.
The second, “The Art of Imperious Ignorance” by Michael J. Ovey in the recent Themelios, responds to the recent phenomena of dismissing passages of Scripture as “unclear”:
Naturally (dismissing a passage as ‘unclear’) plays well with a postmodern mood that tends to value scepticism, but more than that it can offer the attraction of not needing to have a reason for my position. At its worst, I can declare something unclear and then pursue my own line without needing to provide reasons for it—after all the issue is unclear. Declaring something unclear can maximise my freedom of action because it tends to remove an issue from the field of common debate. In its way, it is strongly individualist.
More than that, some of the claims about unclarity or ignorance leave unspecified what counts as being clear enough for actions to proceed or decisions to be made. It is sometimes quite revealing to ask ‘how clear do things need to be?’ or ‘What would make things clearer for you?’ But without knowing what counts as ‘clear enough’ or what considerations would clarify, the task of discussing something with someone claiming ignorance or lack of clarity becomes remarkably thankless. Again, the tendency here is to remove an issue from discussion.
Do read both. Both articles, from different angles, describe the central problem. Generally, the church does not engage error, does not refute false teaching, does not equip people to weigh the reasoning for one interpretation in comparison to another. We don’t do polemics, and if we try to, they are ducked by non-arguments like “this isn’t too clear and I’m not a scholar or anything, all I know is (restatement of error).” So we have a petri dish for unhealthy Christians which lead to unhealthy churches which impedes the gospel’s progress to the nations.
The solution is for Christians to recover and practice and promote explicit exegetical logic that genuinely recognizes the authority of God through submission to the (clear meaning of the) Word of God. We may live in a crazy world, but we shouldn’t accept a crazy church.