I love the God of the Bible. He is weighty, glorious, powerful, terrifying, sovereign, beautiful and big. Over the last 15 years I have had to wrestle quite a bit with a good portion of God's self-disclosure. The Truth and truths unpacked in those 66 books are thick, beautiful, difficult and life altering. The scriptures truly are "profitable for teaching, reproof, correction and the training in righteousness so that we might be competent and equipped for every good work." The question I want to try to answer in this post is "Does it matter how we go about doing all of that teaching, reproving, correcting and training?" Absolutely it does!
There is a big difference between shepherding people to truth and wielding it over others. I have been grieved lately with people whose doctrine is correct but whose methodology in engaging others with those beautiful truths has been nothing short of wicked. Let me explain the difference between shepherding to truth and wielding truth as a blunt force tool. In 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Paul, coaching Timothy through the Ephesian Controversy, says "And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth."
"Must Not Be Quarrelsome but Kind to Everyone"
I like to watch college football. To me it's far more innovative and fun to watch than the pro game and for whatever reason (probably my own aptitude) I love fast, angry, violent defenses. To watch a linebacker blitz off the edge running full speed, untouched and slam into a quarterback's blindside is a thing of beauty. It brings a smile/smirk to my face every time. As beautiful as it is on the field, the theological linebacker whose whole being is a spring wound tight ready to explode onto the next unsuspecting Arminian he comes across is a fool and is acting contrary to the very scriptures he is adamantly defending. Paul tells Timothy not to be that guy, not even in the face of what Paul called "foolish, ignorant controversies." Instead he commanded him in the face of real heretical idiocy to be kind to everyone, to be gentle, respectful and compassionate.
"Able to teach"
One of the things we are learning over and over again at The Village is that the people who attend here don't know all that we think or hope that they know. A lot of men and women, including those who have been in church for decades, have never been exposed to what the scriptures say about the character and nature of God and what Christian living is. Their theology has been formed by scripture-less musings on "right living" and proof texting by well-meaning teachers. The Lord's servant needs to not only be kind but able to, in that kindness, gentleness and compassion, teach others the "full counsel of God." It's not that we don't engage people with the truth found in scripture, we dogently.
"Patiently Enduring Evil"
I have been called a lot of names over the last seven years. Here are some of my favorites:
- "Lesser brother" (still confused on this one)
- "Fundamentalist" (I don't think that was a compliment)
- "False Prophet" (someone used to send me unsigned 3x5 cards with OT Scriptures on them decrying me as the false prophet God was talking about in the text)
- Had a professor make up a few lies about me and spread them around the graduate department
- Had a woman scream at me during a sermon on Total Depravity (proved my point though)
- Had a pastor lecture me about preaching "so seriously" to teenagers
I could go on and on here but the truth is if you are going to explain the scriptures, even if you do it gently, you are more than likely going to be labeled, attacked, misunderstood, misquoted and misrepresented. How do we respond? By going Terry Tate on them, right? Wrong. Patiently. I try, when dealing with difficult, aggressive people to always keep Ephesians 6:12 in the front of the situation.
"Correcting His Opponents with Gentleness"
One of the things I learned from John Piper very early in ministry was that when it comes to theology, don't start with your texts. Start with theirs. I heard him talking about reformed theology once and he started his message with 1 Timothy 2:3-4. He didn't beat up on or take jabs at people who used that verse out of context; he just gently and passionately explained it in light of a bulk of other scriptures. Off the stage, I have learned that asking questions can teach just as effectively as making statements can. In fact, the right question at the right time can diffuse tense situations and correct misquotes and proof texting. Of course you can always belittle and name call but I haven't seen a lot of fruit flow out of that methodology...dumb dumb.
I'm going to do a part two on "Shepherding to Truth" in a few days. In that post I will unpack some real practical ways to do this and talk about when we can unleash our inner linebacker!