Caleb’s Rules of Theological Debate

The title says it all. Here they are in no particular order with no particular rhyme or reason (all of tweetable length).

  1. No matter what the topic, there is a Christian way of thinking. When we forget this, or more commonly never learn it to begin with, we mess up politics, theology, and so many other things.
  2. Listen to your neighbor’s argument as you would have your neighbor listen to yours.
  3. In all debate and discussion, give your interlocutor the benefit of the doubt.
  4. Before attacking any argument or view, try sincerely to defend it to yourself.
  5. The mind of Christ is not divided. We must always be ready to learn from each other.
  6. Attack positions and arguments as needed, but not the people who use them.
  7. Except to ask a question, don’t respond to an argument you do not fully understand.
  8. If a statement can be interpreted non-heretically: innocent until proven guilty.
  9. Use the label “heresy” sparingly, and avoid it whenever possible.
  10. Even heretics can have great insights: don’t assume everything they say is bad.
  11. Even the best teachers are fallible: don’t assume everything they say is okay.
  12. Just because something’s not heretical doesn’t mean it’s not a big deal.
  13. Just because someone believes something heretical doesn’t mean they are damned.
  14. Experience and education affect your perspective on evidence…
  15. …But experience and education do not magically alter the soundness of an argument.
  16. Just because you haven’t heard of a view doesn’t mean it’s crazy.
  17. Just because a view seems obvious doesn’t mean it’s right.
  18. Analogies, including in Scripture, can’t be stretched beyond their relevant intent.
  19. The apparent “plain meaning” of a Bible verse is not always the right one…
  20. …But the opposite of the “plain meaning” of Scripture is even less likely.
  21. Someone is not wrong just because they quote someone you dislike.
  22. Godliness and good theology don’t always correlate. Devotion outperforms doctrine.
  23. Every doctrinal position affects other doctrinal positions more than you think.
  24. Inconsistency is not heresy, and heresy is not inconsistency.
  25. Just something looks inconsistent to you doesn’t mean it actually is inconsistent.
  26. Many charges of inconsistency come from a small rational imagination.
  27. Generally, you can’t rule out theological positions on some a priori basis.
  28. Sarcasm is only worth using if it makes an important point in the argument.
  29. If I have all the arguments and all the truth, but do not have love, I have nothing.
  30. Charging your debate opponents with improper motives is bad form and bad love.
  31. Treat debate opponents like Jesus. He might be more on their side than you think.
  32. No doctrine should still make sense if you subtract Jesus.
  33. Avoid as much as possible saying “God couldn’t/wouldn’t do X.”
  34. Not everything that looks like a slippery slope is one.
  35. Never debate in such a way that you couldn’t go off together for ice cream later.
  36. If you form opinions about your interlocutor during a debate, keep them to yourself.
  37. Don’t change the subject with questions hanging.
Caleb’s Rules of Theological Debate

A Quick Thought from Russell Moore: Something to Remember about People

Here’s something worth keeping in mind from Russell Moore’s new book, Onward:

The next Billy Graham might be drunk right now. That’s a sentence I remind myself of almost every day, every time I feel myself growing discouraged about the future…That’s what the elderly theologian taught me, as I stood there and wrung my hands over the pragmatism, the hucksterism, the liberalizing tendencies I saw in the Christianity around me, and wondered, “Does gospel Christianity have a future in this country at all?” He looked at me as though I were crazy. Of course gospel Christianity had, and has, a future. But the gospel Christians who will lead it may well still be pagans. He was right. Christianity is not like politics, rife with the dynasties of ruling families. God builds his church a different way.

The next Jonathan Edwards might be the man driving in front of you with the Darwin Fish bumper decal. The next Charles Wesley might be a misogynistic, profanity-spewing hip-hop artist right now. The next Charles Spurgeon might be managing an abortion clinic right now. The next Mother Teresa might be a heroin-addicted porn star right now. The next Augustine of Hippo might be a sexually promiscuous cult member right now, just like, come to think of it, the first Augustine of Hippo was.

But the Spirit of God can turn all that around, and seems to delight to do so. The new birth doesn’t just transform lives, creating repentance and faith; it also provides new leadership to the church, and fulfills Jesus’ promise to gift his church with everything needed for her onward march through space and time (Eph. 4:8–16).

Remember this next time you have a problem with anyone, and next time you fear for the future of Christianity.

A Quick Thought from Russell Moore: Something to Remember about People

Love the Trumpers, Hate the Trump

(Before I say anything, I just want to point that I would never actually condone hating anyone, Donald Trump included, even usually in jest. But it was the best title idea I had.)

I believe that Donald Trump is an awful person, doesn’t know what he would really be doing in the White House, and has no business being President of the United States. I do not believe it would be appropriate to vote for him, especially as a conservative Christian, to whom the competence and character of our leaders should matter. (As John Adams said of the White House, “May none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof.” Donald Trump is neither one.)

Nonetheless, I am not happy with the way many people treat and speak of Trump supporters, who make up a third of all Republicans, not to mention more-than-insignificant portions of other groups. There are a lot of people out there who want to vote for Mr. Trump, and I think the whole “these people are the scum of the earth/what’s wrong with America” mentality is arrogant and uncharitable. Assessments of their motives and feelings like that of Rachel Held Evans strike me as fundamentally misguided and overly judgmental. Are we really to believe the reason so many people support Trump is that they just want to be easy winners who abandon the downtrodden instead of bearing the Cross with the least of these?

What so many people seem to be forgetting is that, even though Trump is obviously a one-percenter, his supporters are mostly not. They are not the privileged (despite the fact that they’re mostly white), they are not the well-off, but they themselves are in fact the poor, needy, and oppressed. Trump’s supporters are mostly white working class people, not the most destitute on earth but neither quite the comfortable middle class. They’re generally ignored or maligned by the socially acceptable, progressive, upper middle class, as well as the donor class which power the government, and the non-white lower classes to boot. They have no friends or allies in politics, media, or the respected blogosphere. People dismiss them as privileged, racist, and bigoted (and certainly at least some of them are), and feel justified in giving them no voice or sympathy.

Many people have already written more and better on this than I can. Rod Dreher, for example, has shared an enlightening letter from a Trump supporter and an interesting article about why Trump matters to his main constituency. Similar articles abound, though I can’t find some of the other good links I was looking for. I recommend you reading and contemplating them if Trumpmania confuses or interests you.

The plights of people who support Donald Trump are real, and I want to make this point in direct opposition to people like Evans (above) or the media folks who just “can’t even” at his supporters. Most of these people love to preach tolerance, inclusion, and doing good to the least of these. Even when people as a group tend to statistically share certain negative characteristics, a root cause is sought out with empathy and slowness to judge. Except for people like Trump supporters. No charity is extended to them. Despite the struggles, poverty, and frustration of the white working class, they are simply scolded for their vulgarity, racism, and bigotry (whether real or imagined for each) and told to join in the progressive love-fest for all of the other suffering people out there.

My challenge is for people to take the progressive rhetoric seriously. Do you want to reach out to the poor, the neglected, and the disenfranchised? Is that essential to your Gospel? Then, however you feel about Donald Trump himself, be kind to his supporters. They’re real, normal people with concerns and aggravations that Trump is willing and unafraid to address. Do you find Trump’s deport-them-all ideas racist? (I find them mostly absurd.) Instead of judging his supporters as such, try empathizing with the frustration of rural Jim Bob whose son can’t get a job doing farm work because it’s cheaper to hire José who snuck into the country. Trump speaks to Jim’s struggle, so ponder the solution rather than condemn him.

Basically, feel free to oppose Donald Trump. But if you hate the Trump, don’t forget to love the Trumpers. (Though if you have a stable friendship or family relationship with one, by all means feel free to [gently] rebuke him.)

Love the Trumpers, Hate the Trump

Will We Apply “Love Thy Neighbor As Thyself” to Our Wallets?

“This is the most important,” Jesus answered:
Listen, Israel! The Lord our God, the Lord is One. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.

“The second is: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other command greater than these.” 

The second greatest rule of Christian life is to love our neighbors as ourselves. Indeed, this rule is barely distinguishable from the first and greatest rule, since to love God is also to love those whom He has made and loves Himself. As Paul says, if we have everything else but do not have love, we have nothing.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the “as yourself” part, though. We’re not just called to treat our neighbors well, to be nice and kind, even a bit sacrificial, and not mean. More than all of that, we are called to love our neighbors with the same kind of interest and concern with which we love ourselves. The rule could be restated: “Whatever you do to benefit yourself, be sure to do that same kind of thing to benefit others.” And while this restatement may get “amens,” we usually fail miserably to actually implement and follow it in our daily decisions.

This seems to be especially the case when it comes to money and possessions. I don’t know about you, but I find that I rarely spend my money on other people in anywhere near the same way that I spend it on myself. Take one simple example. Say you have an old cell phone, and you want to upgrade. You buy a nice new phone, and give your old phone away to a friend. That’s nice, but what if you thought proactively about treating your friend as you would yourself? What if you did the radical opposite of this situation?

What if you did this instead? You think you want a new phone. But your old phone still works. You would just like a nicer phone. At the same time, you know your friend would like a nicer phone. So instead of buying a fancy new phone for yourself, you buy the phone for your friend and keep your old phone. That’s what you would do for yourself, so why not do it for others?

This kind of thing, spending money and using possessions for others as much as you would do for yourself, presses itself upon my mind often. Obviously, you can’t treat yourself and everyone else exactly equally, because your means can’t support every family on earth. You need to apportion enough to yourself to sustain yourself, otherwise you can’t give help anyone. But once you have what you need, what justifies spending more on yourself than others? What gives you more a right to your money and possessions than other people, especially those in need?

Loving other people as yourself means being willing to do for others things you would usually only bother doing for yourself. That includes the way you spend money. If you would buy a new car for yourself, then if you can truly afford it why not do so for someone who needs one even more than you do, or equally?

This is radical. This is hard. This is not something any of us will probably ever succeed in truly living up to. Yet we can take steps. Next time you want to go out to eat, why not give someone else a gift card? Next time you think about unnecessarily upgrading your phone, why not upgrade someone else’s? The possibilities are endless. It should all make sense if we really love our neighbors as ourselves.

Again, as always, I repeat that we don’t have to sacrifice all goods for ourselves. But still. Just think. Let both extremes plague you until you settle into a good pattern. I pray that for me as well.

Will We Apply “Love Thy Neighbor As Thyself” to Our Wallets?

Jesus Prayed, “May They Be One as We Are One” (My Growing Passion for Church Unity)

Unity. This word frequently presses on my mind in relation to the Church. There appears to be little unity these days. We’ve splintered into thousands of denominations. Even the large denominations and groups are internally divided in many ways. Churches split from churches for stupid reasons. Churches fall apart because of horrible, divisive people. So many groups make their distinctives as though they were the Gospel itself. Baptists condemn those who baptize infants, conservative Protestants in general condemn those who don’t follow sola fide, Pentecostals accuse other groups of lacking the Spirit, Catholics anathemize anyone who doesn’t follow the Pope, Calvinists accuse all others of compromising God’s sovereignty or even works-righteousness, many evangelicals (or more fundamentalist ones) condemn everyone who doesn’t subscribe to strict Biblical inerrancy, progressives accuse conservatives of bigotry, etc.

This is to our shame. Do we have the right to divide Christ? Of course we must stand up for truth, and rebuke and correct fellow believers when they go wrong, and rally around the Gospel of Christ as opposed to all false Gospels, but where is the line? I believe wholeheartedly that the line is Jesus Christ Himself, the Son of God and Lord of All. Those who trust in Him are all bound in a way that condemns and transcends their divisions.

I, alas, do not have all of the experience and eloquence to make the case I want to make, so I want to highlight an amazing series of blog posts by Alastair Roberts. I deeply agree with and resonate with almost everything he says in these posts about church unity and denominations. I’m just going to link to his posts on this and provide an excerpt from each.

#1: The Denominational Church

The Gospel itself is not as complicated as our various ways of articulating its logic are. The Gospel itself is remarkably simple: the declaration that Jesus is Lord and that God raised Him from the dead. It is this that is central. The central truths of the Christian faith are well summarized in the Nicene Creed. If these central truths are comparable to a language like English, the varying articulations of the Gospel that one encounters among the different denominations are like regional dialects. While there are better and worse ways of articulating the Gospel and some ways of articulating the Gospel that are at risk of becoming a different ‘language’ altogether, we must beware of so identifying our ‘dialect’ with the ‘language’ that we exclude some other ‘dialects’ altogether.

#2: Thoughts on Denominations, Church Union and Reunion 1

We can often take a posture similar to that of Jonah in relation to Nineveh. We see the liberal church and delight to pronounce divine judgment upon it, not thinking that God may have a purpose of surprising grace in the situation. The story seldom ends in quite the same way as we think that it will do. Our God is a god who adds the twist to every tale.

It has been almost five hundred years since the Reformation began and yet, despite numerous predictions of its imminent demise over the last centuries, the Roman Catholic church is still with us. In fact there are exciting signs of new life in many quarters. There has been a resurgence of biblical scholarship. Among the laity in many areas there has been an increased reading of the Bible. As Mark Noll has observed, with the new Catholic lectionary more Scripture is read in Catholic worship than is read in many Protestant congregations. Some of the finest theology of the last century has come from Roman Catholics. Undoubtedly many of the errors are still widespread. However, the story is far from over. I would not be surprised if God still has wonderful purposes for the Roman Catholic church.

#3: Thoughts on Denominations, Church Union and Reunion 2

I believe that one of the reasons why God has saw fit to split His Church is in order to ensure that various important perspectives and insights are not lost in a premature union. Rather than permitting the creation of a weak, unsatisfactory and compromised union between various parties, God wishes to preserve the insights that He has given to various parties intact, until the time comes when the Church as a whole is mature enough truly to take these insights on board. Among the various denominations God has scattered lessons that He wishes His people to learn. When the lessons have been learnt — and not until then — the denominations will cease to be necessary.

#4: Thoughts on Denominations, Church Union and Reunion 3

Theology is the Church’s task of narrating the itinerary that will lead us to God. Theology must retain both the simplicity and the complexity of the gospel. Theology should not lose us in the back alleys, but must always keep us directed towards our destination. Theology, when done well, will help us to see the finest details of the varied sights along our path, all the while identifying the path itself with the most wonderful simplicity and clarity.

The theologian should always recognize that the path is so much greater than his itinerary can ever be. Other guides might have noticed things that he has missed. Furthermore, the fact that another guide does not mention some of his favourite sights does not necessarily mean that they are directing people along different paths.

Jesus Prayed, “May They Be One as We Are One” (My Growing Passion for Church Unity)

Going out to Eat for Pure Religion

Ashley and I always feel compelled by the reality of the world and the grace of the Gospel to give.  We simply don’t see a way out. Scripture teaches generosity, and not only that. It also teaches care for those in need, justice for those oppressed, and mercy to those suffering. All of these causes can be advanced through giving as well, further prompting us to see generosity as an inescapable call.

Recently, we were looking for a place to give to, particularly one which helps orphans. After all, according to James, “What God the Father considers to be pure and genuine religion is this: to take care of orphans and widows in their suffering and to keep oneself from being corrupted by the world” (Jas. 1:27). If this is the case, how can we neglect to help them? But anyway, while searching for a good organization, we found the Global Orphan Project (or GO Project, for short). They do lots of orphan care around the world, both in the US and internationally. They connect with churches and do wonderful ministries. So we decided we should donate to them.

But then we saw an option to start a project. We had the option to start our own fundraising project to help orphans through their organization and website! How awesome! The project we started is called “Dine for Health.” Here’s the description from our project page:

In America, about 58% of families go out to eat at least once a week. In 2013, Americans spent over $700 billion at restaurants around the country. That’s a lot of money, averaging almost $7 per person per day. 

So what if we could redirect just a sliver of that massive flow of cash somewhere…better? What if that kind of money could give orphans fresh water, health care, and a clean place to sleep? Well, it actually can.

Through the Global Orphan Project, my wife Ashley and I want to help out with these basic needs. How? With a plea and a challenge. We ask this:

Would you consider matching every dollar you spend eating out for the next month with a donation to our project?

Every penny of the proceeds will go straight to work. The GO Project’s Health and Safety fund works to provide village orphans in several countries with clean water, medical care, sanitary living conditions, and pretty much everything else the kids need to stay healthy and safe.

Well, that’s all I’ve got. I hope you’ll consider helping this project. It is a way to follow Christ, after all. For whatever you don’t do to the least of these, you don’t do to Him. And then there’s this:

“What God the Father considers to be pure and genuine religion is this: to take care of orphans and widows in their suffering and to keep oneself from being corrupted by the world.” James 1:27

Get the idea? Here’s what we’re asking. Every time you go out to eat from now until August 31, add up your totals. Then donate that amount to our project, which will go straight to the GO Project Health & Safety fund to provide for orphan care. Interested? I do hope so. Here’s the link:

Dine for Health GO Project

Going out to Eat for Pure Religion

A Better Reason to Work Hard

Work hard, make money, live the American Dream. Sound good? That’s the normal philosophy of middle class people in our rather rich nation. The point of work in our Western, individualist culture is to make money that we can use to get a nice house (eventually a dream house), fill the house with nice goodies, and live a comfortable life. This basic assumption is often carried over without second thought into Christian circles. But I want today to give two Biblical reasons to work, emphasizing one of them in particular.

As I can see, there are two main reasons to work from a perspective set on the Kingdom of God. The first is simple: to enable us with our money to maintain quiet lives for ourselves and our families. We have basic needs like food, clothes, and shelter, and if we want to do anything for God’s Kingdom these needs must be met. In God’s providence, He usually gives these to us through a job. So we must work. Proverbs is full of such affirmations of work as how we get our provisions (Prov. 12:11, 12:14, 16:26, 28:19), while Scripture is clear that even what we get from work is from God (Ps. 34:10, Prov. 10:3, Matt. 6:25-34). This especially important when you have a family to take care of, since God truly values family.

But there is another and, I daresay, a higher reason to work hard. What is this reason? I’ll let Paul explain:

The thief must no longer steal. Instead, he must do honest work with his own hands, so that he has something to share with anyone in need.

Ephesians 4:28

While the thief’s repentance is the first point of the verse, I don’t think saying this applies to us all would be a stretch. Why should we do honest work with our own hands? So we have something to share with anyone in need.

The significance of this cannot be understated in my opinion. I don’t know about you, but in practice I mostly work to pay my own bills, build my little guy a college fund, and save for a rainy day. All of these have something in common: they do not go beyond my own household, which is in no danger of real poverty. If all else failed, my wife and I have very awesome and supportive families to fall back on.

Not everyone is so blessed. Many people have no fallback. They are broke and alone. Around the world people starve and live in landfills. Many people are bound by slavery, oppressive governments, or excessive debt. Some people are in trouble by their own fault, some are innocent victims, though they are all in need either way. This world is filled with “anyone in need.”

So when we work, we can’t do so only concerned with ourselves, but also others (Phil. 2:4). When we earn money, we should not only spend our earnings for ourselves but for others. Our financial goals should not be just about our own families, but also about poorer families. Sometimes a penny saved should be a penny given, and instead of merely seeking to build up our retirement and vacation funds, we have to consider all the people out there who don’t even have funds for groceries.

Not only should we think of these things and do them, but they should motivate us. Paul did not say to work and to share, but to work so we can share. The kind of love God calls us to in the Gospel of His Son is so radical that it demands (and creates!) the transformation of our priorities and interests. Jesus says to become deeply concerned with others, not merely to act that way.

So let everyone work not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.

A Better Reason to Work Hard