Friday, June 11, 2010

The Other Side

Have you ever had something that you believed, or perhaps even taught, that has been misrepresented by another? If so, join the crowd. The apostle Paul experienced this when he taught justification by faith. Some of his opponents reported that Paul was teaching that the grace of God was given so freely that the more one sinned, the more grace would come. "We are slanderously reported and as some claim that we say, 'Let us do evil that good may come'" (Romans 3:8). This was a gross distortion and misreading of the great teachings on grace by Paul. Nevertheless, he had to fight this corruption of what was truly taught throughout his ministry.

In my early years as a Christian I was presented with some teachings by those who are called Calvinist. They believe that God selects some for salvation and others for eternal condemnation. Those who propagated those views tried to discredit the opposing view, usually called Arminianism, which teaches that God desires to save all, but that the choice is left up to us. (I am oversimplifying this to make a point. I am not trying to enter into a discussion about either view.)

I decided to investigate these claims concerning Calvinism and studied the Scriptures to find whether these things were so. I was also discussing these issues with some Calvinists who were prominent in our college fellowship. They represented their own view very well, but it seemed to me that they were rather biased against the Arminian view. So I read what the Arminians had to say and I found that my suspicions were correct. The Calvinists, probably unintentionally, were not properly or fairly representing the other view. I was finally convinced that Calvinism was not the Word of God.

At a later time, I heard some speak negatively about a theology called Dispensationalism. At the time, I had no clue what that was, but it was presented in a rather poor light. By this time I was enough of a skeptic that I immediately began to read up on what Dispensationalism was. (It is, generally speaking, a particular view of interpreting the Bible especially in regards to the End Times.) You can guess what happened. I became a Dispensationalist.

One problem that I found with an introduction to it by one its opponents is that the particular Dispensational minister that was quoted was quite on the extreme of the movement. He did not represent everyday, mainstream dispensational thought. To me, this is a rather cheap and all too common trick to discredit something that you disagree with. We should deal with any subject, not by looking at some extreme version of it, but by examining what the mainstream proponents of it teach.

Besides misrepresenting (perhaps unintentionally) another view because you disagree with it, there is something becoming very common that is even worse. And that is publicly condemning a teaching that you have not really researched or understood. I hear this all the time. I can usually tell when someone has not done their homework when the criticism leveled against a teaching is grossly inaccurate or even the opposite of what is actually taught.

I will give an example of this from a current controversial teaching. (Once again, I am not bringing this up so that we can argue the pros and cons of this teaching, but only for illustrative purposes.) There is a teaching that is often called the prosperity gospel. From this teaching, it is considered the will of God that His people prosper in every area of life including finances. I read an opponent of this teaching say that the prosperity gospel encourages people to go deeply into debt to finance an expensive lifestyle. This critic has little or no understanding of what the prosperity gospel is. If he had done some basic research, he would have known that this teaching is generally against any kind of indebtedness, often to an extreme. Probably the most prominent prosperity teacher, Kenneth Copeland, falls just short of calling the borrowing of money a sin. He continually affirms that neither he nor his ministry has borrowed any money for anything in more than 40 years. And he is not alone in this. Fred Price, another prosperity teacher, preaches against Christians loading up on debt to finance a fabulous Christmas and then paying it off all year.

So why does this critic say these things. Because he has not bothered to actually examine these teachings and just jumps to all shorts of bad conclusions since he is convinced, without much evidence, that this teaching produces certain kinds of results. This is the same thing that Paul's opponents were doing with his teachings. They did not sit down and listen to Paul and get the whole picture he was trying to paint. They heard a certain part of it, or someone's version of it, and assumed that Paul was trying to give us a license to sin.

How should we react when we hear or read something that strikes us as wrong? How about a little fairness, objectivity, and calm, rational thought. We should do our homework before we condemn any teaching. Also, we should do our best to not misrepresent what anyone is saying.

One other thing. When I was studying Calvinism, I learned quite a lot from them. I find that you often can learn from those whom you have deep disagreements with. God may have actually revealed some things to them that you need to hear. But if we just shut our ears to our 'opponents' then we may be missing some very important things.

For my part, I have learned much from Calvinists, non-Dispensationalists and even prosperity teachers. And this is coming from a very opinionated person. Few people will battle for his point of view harder than I will. But I hope it is never said that I have misrepresented anyone or treated any view with a jaundiced eye.

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