Every lofty opinion: Preaching that prepares for Monday

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As evangelical preachers, we say that the word of God is our sole authority for all matters of life and doctrine (Prov. 30:5-6) and that we can hold to that belief because the One who ultimately wrote that word to us is also true (Romans 3:4).  My question is whether or not we end up teaching the exact opposite of that on Sunday morning, simply by the way we interact with the controversial issues of our day?

 We do that, I think, when we are teaching on the questions and “lofty opinions” of our day, and give in to the temptation to either hedge our bets or, worse yet, knowingly present opinions that oppose what we believe to be orthodox, in their weakest forms. Consider a pastor who leans toward a Complementarian position, but who teaches a mediating view on biblical eldership to avoid conflict with the strong Egalitarian voices in his church.  Or a pastor who presents a view that homosexuality is always and only a personal choice when teaching a biblical sexual ethic.

Is this truly humility? An admission that we simply don’t have omniscience?  Or is it, rather the knocking down of straw men, to make ourselves and our congregations feel better, and to conceal the truth that – while we may doctrinally hold to the authority of Scripture –  functionally we are as liberal as the “liberals” we condemn?

In his excellent book entitled Exegetical Fallacies, D. A. Carson describes the fallacy of an Appeal to Selective Evidence as, “so selective a use of evidence that other evidence has been illegitimately excluded.”  He then adds,

“As a general rule, the more complex and/or emotional the issue, the greater the tendency to select only part of the evidence, prematurely construct a grid, and so filter the rest of the evidence through the grid that it is robbed of any substance.” (p.90)

The fallacy is easy to fall into, particularly when one is faced with a topic or a question where the opposing opinion has strong emotional appeal or enjoys wide support within the prevailing culture you are in.  The temptation towards straw-man-building and deck-stacking can be very strong.

But we must decide as preachers – before we are ever even confronted with the temptation – not to give in.  This strategy for overcoming an opposing viewpoint is, at best, only a temporary, short lived victory and, at worst, setting up our congregations for greater defeat (as well as greater distrust of us) in the future when our facile arguments are shown to be what they are.  In other words, we’re not “equipping the saints” in an Eph. 4 sense at all by winning the battle on a Sunday morning, only to leave them to the wolves on Monday.

As ever, Tim Keller is helpful here in giving us a strategy to interact with opposing viewpoints on a Sunday morning in a way that will actually educate and equip your people to head into their work/school week on Monday.  He says in his book Centre Church in a section entitled “Gospel Polemics” (p.372-3),

1. Never attribute an opinion to your opponents that they themselves do not hold.

2. Take your opponents’ views in their entirety, not selectively.

3. Represent your opponents’ position in its strongest form, not in a weak ‘straw man’ form.

4. Seek to persuade, not antagonize–but watch your motives!

5. Remember the gospel and stick to criticizing theology–because only God sees the heart.

 To simplify, Keller is exhorting preachers to interact with opposing viewpoints both in their strongest form as well as in a way that those who hold that view point would say, “Yes!  That’s exactly what I believe.”  Only then are we truly teaching on that subject and equipping our congregations for Monday morning.

Paul says of his ministry in 2 Cor. 10 that the weapons we fight with are not of this world and that they have divine power to, “destroy strongholds” and to “destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God.” (2 Cor. 10:4-5, ESV)  He had such confidence in the word of God (“knowledge of God”) and the message of the gospel (Romans 1:16) that he could confidently stand before Athenian scholars (Acts 17) or kings (Acts 26), certain that the Scriptures were more than sufficient to stand up against any opposing view or opinion raised against them.

As ministers of that same gospel, may we have Paul’s confidence in the strength of the word of God.  Poor logic and shoddy argumentation when interacting with the “lofty opinions” of our day, only belie the true level of our confidence in the Scriptures, and also teach the people God has put under our care to have the same lack of confidence.

My brothers, these things ought not to be so.”  James 3:10

??? The question that’s not being asked ???

Missing-the-PointHave you ever heard a discussion or watched an interview and wondered, “Why didn’t they ask them that?!”  And then, felt that in not asking that question(s) the whole point of the subject being discussed was missed?

missing the point

I don’t claim to always think of such things in the moment myself (yet another way i am not like Jesus).  But, it struck me very firmly between the eyes the other day as i read this article in our local news paper about a 9 year old girl (now 11) who “identifies” as a boy and so is now seeking to (slowly) become one – a decision now fully supported by her parents (which on one level – as a parent myself – i get what they’re trying to do) and championed by society.

Now, surely, it does take some deal of courage to pursue this course – admitting (surely) that this *is* a very different day and age when such things are not nearly as shocking as they once were.  Nor do i doubt that this child is sincere in her beliefs.

But here’s the question that’s not being asked in this whole deal (nor do i ever see it in any  articles like it):

Why is pedophilia wrong?

Not the question you were expecting?  Follow it through.

We say pedophilia is wrong because we (rightly) say a child does not have the emotional or physical maturity to grant any form of consent to an adult for the purpose of engaging in sexual activity.  So even if they really felt strongly that they did consent to sexual activity with any adult, we would rightly restrict such a desire; claiming that they had not the capacity to make such a choice, nor any frame of reference to discern the consequences of such a choice – how could they?

But here’s why this is precisely the question that needs to be asked when we read an article like this one or any other like it:

Because although gender identity is not solely about sexuality (it isn;t) the two surely cannot be divorced from one another; they are inextricably linked together by design.  And so, in asking the question, “Why is pedophilia wrong?” we unveil a devastating disconnect in our thinking today.

For here, we have a 9 (now 11) year old girl – who we would rightly restrict from any sexual activity with an adult b/c we would rightly say she is not capable of consenting to such a choice however she may feel about it – but that we also say in the same breath can understand her sexuality to the point where she can know that she is not truly a girl, but a boy!  Huh?

We rightly respect one standard (for now anyways) and yet in the same breath discard it on the altar of present cultural attitudes.  This is nothing to say about the fact that 30 years ago (surely much less than that even) this was not even a question that was being asked by children, “Do i ‘feel’ like i’m the sex i am biologically?”  And, no, this is not b/c we’re so much more “enlightened” today. (Opportunistic reasoning perhaps?)

The Word of God, psychology, even our own experience tell us that – in North America – having any clue who the heck you are at any level that we would call mature and well reasoned, does not come until much later in life; not to mention the literal phone-book of mitigating factors along the way that also shape that identity – that shape who we are as people.  What sex we are is not supposed to be one of the hard ones to get.  It’s supposed to be one of the ones you get earlier on just sitting in the bathtub and looking down.  Beyond this, the whole point of parenting is based on the premise that children are not capable of making adult decisions and, thus, need a responsible adult to lead, guide, teach them, etc.  To discern their hearts and ask basic, age-appropriate questions like, “What does it mean to you to be a boy, and not a girl?” or visa versa.

Have you ever been about to do something incredibly dumb, and then had a moment of clarity just before (either internally or externally imposed on you) and thought, “Whoa, whoa, whoa!  What the heck am i doing?”  

Though i am a deeply committed Christian, i assure you, this is not a religious argument i’m making primarily.  We’re in straight up logic-world here.

When it comes to the subject of 9 year olds “deciding” what sex they really are and parents abandoning their kids to make decisions they are hopelessly incapable of making: someone needs to ask the question: “Why is pedophilia wrong?”  It will absolutely evoke the very same reaction above in your own minds:

What the heck are we doing?