Saturday, May 31, 2014

A Compulsion for Clarity

2 Timothy 2:15
Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth
Blurring God's truth gives everyone a headache and nausea 

Unquestionably false teaching is unacceptable. This we would all agree on. How we then define false teaching and which false teachings are cause for removal is going to vary greatly among Christians of all denominations - even among people who believe virtually exactly what I believe. But chances are if you are reading this blog, you are not one to tolerate false teaching so I will save my breath and energy in railing against that at this time.

What I do believe is worthy of discussion is the issue of clarity. I know this needs addressed because I am guilty of it and will be guilty of it again in the future. I love being as precise as I possibly can be when discussing theology. It is very important for me to leave no room for doubt as to where I stand on a particular doctrine. But I do not always do that.

I need to be as clear as I can be prior to publishing a strong stance on something. This is common sense, yes? Of course it is. I never want someone to read something I write and walk away clueless as to what I believe. This is Teaching 101. Where I fail is not my lack of desire to be clear it is my unintentional lack of perspicuity. I never set out to muddle a verse or a topic but I do muddle verses and topics.

Failing to prepare is an obvious reason for not producing clear teaching so we can skip that for this post though it’s worthy of significant discussion and something I must preach to myself regularly. There are times when we can unintentionally leave people confused and that is not a problem of false teaching or immorality but a problem of wisdom and humanity. Let’s dive into some scenarios and see if you get my point.

“I believe in the inerrancy of Scripture but not the inerrancy of man.”

What does that mean? I agree with that statement if it means that Scripture is inerrant and completely separate from Scripture that man is errant. But what if someone, and it’s not unrealistic many might, interpreted that as me saying I believe Scripture was inerrant but errant man messed it up.

“I believe in the inerrancy of Scripture.”

No room for doubt there, right?

“Christian marriage is one man and one woman.”

We all agree. But someone will look at that and think just Christian marriage is defined that way. They may assume that if a couple is not Christian, they need not meet such a standard

“Marriage is one man and one woman.”

No honest mistakes to be made there.

Here is an instance where it is helpful to add qualifiers to enhance clarity because the topic has been so confusing for so many:
“The gifts of tongues and prophecy are not for today.”

I would know what someone meant when he said that but many people would not. They would look at a Charismatic friend and his/her speaking in tongues or maybe know of a prophet and not know how to appraise the statement.

“The sign gifts as defined by the Bible are not for today.”

Now the person must examine how the Bible defines the sign gifts and then compare those gifts to what people are claiming the gifts do today and then come to a determination.

I am not sure how many times I have been ambiguous, which is why I must be so careful with my use of language. I must pay close attention to grammar, spelling and word choice. Recently I was in a study at my church and the word “conservative” came up. If we went around the room it would have conjured up something different for each person. To be honest, I was not sure how the person was using the word as it seemed to have been used as a pejorative. When he defined what he meant and how the word conservative had been defined to him, it made sense why he used it. It was a fascinating example of the importance of diction.

Another example: I was listening to the local Christian radio station one morning and heard something really confusing. This is a very solid Christian station and I highly recommend it to anyone but the problem arose when a woman was being interviewed about a fictional Christian book she wrote. She made a statement equating her fictional stories to those in the Old Testament. This immediately raised my eyebrow because I didn’t know if she meant that most Old Testament stories are fictional (not an uncommon view in American Christianity) or if she meant that the Old Testament is full of riveting, true narratives. For her sake and for the sake of the listeners the interviewer should have pushed the woman on her statement. I do not want to falsely think that she thinks the Old Testament is just a bunch of stories, if she does not. I also do not want her to be allowed to spew false teaching on a solid Christian station. It was to everyone’s benefit for clarity to be pursued in this instance.

Needless to say things can be muddled regardless of what we do. People will always twist and manipulate things that are said. They did it to Jesus in regards to what He said about rebuilding the temple in three days (Outstanding sermon by Steve Lawson on that). We cannot concern ourselves with that inevitable fact. We also cannot deny that a small sample of what we say can also leave people confused. I was talking with my friend one day about how funny/not funny it would be if the only John MacArthur sermon someone heard was him preaching on God’s love for His children and the blessing of being His elect. They, based only on that sermon, might associate him with the likes of TD Jakes or Joel Osteen. It is hilarious to think about and sadly probably somewhat realistic.

What is comforting to me about my home church and its example of clarity is that we just finished a series entitled “What We Believe” and I highly doubt many people ever left thinking to themselves, “We believe that???” The pastors have always been clear and it is immensely refreshing to sit under their leadership knowing where they stand. Our church website has a detailed description of the core doctrines we stand by. This is vital for any ministry. I never will give to or support a ministry if I do not know what they believe. I also think it speaks volumes to the integrity of a ministry if they are open about their beliefs. I do not understand why a ministry would not want to make it known what they believe, but maybe that’s just me.

Finally, let me address a uniquely interesting aspect of being clear. Voddie Baucham is a Reformed Baptist preacher and a Covenant theologian. His teaching is undoubtedly influenced by this. He isn’t in the closet about it. He boldly proclaims it. I love Voddie. I’ve learned a ton from him but we would disagree on certain aspects of Covenant theology and some of his other teaching. That doesn’t make him or me a false teacher. One of us has to be wrong, though. The point is that I know where he stands and I know what he’s influenced by. I can listen to him or read him and walk away understanding what his stance is and I’m not confused. In other words, he’s not trying to be sneaky. My only response is to dig deeper and determine if I am right and judge how strong my case is. I appreciate so much his willingness to be so fervently for things and to be so black and white in an age where being gray is perceived as a virtue even though we disagree. That is iron sharpening iron.

I urge us all to be clear. Be clear for your sake. Be clear for my sake. Be clear for the sake of mature Christians so you don’t cause them to question your doctrinal purity. Be clear for the sake of immature Christians so you don’t cause them to be confused. Be clear for the sake of non-believers so as not to put an unnecessary stumbling block between them and the Truth.


  1. I have no idea about what you were trying to say in this article. (This is dad humor)

  2. Great Article Tim!! What would you say to people who allude to the teaching of Jesus being intentionally vague. For example Matthew 13.10, People wondered why Jesus was speaking in Parables, people apparently couldn't understand what he was saying, and his response is interesting. There are several examples where Jesus could have been more clear, but he seemed to be cryptic intentionally. Was that just because he was Jesus? Or 2 Peter 3.16, where Peter points out that Paul's writings are hard to understand. Ignorant and unstable people tend to twist what Paul says. I agree with everything you say, but perhaps this could be an opportunity to provide more clarity to your position. You know...Iron sharpening Iron.

    1. Jesus gives His reason for confusing people, does He not?
      His disciples were confused for a few reasons and it explains why we probably understood the parables pretty quickly in comparison: Jesus had not died and rose again yet. They did not have the Holy Spirit. We learn about the resurrection before we read the parables (typically) and so we have that immeasurably important piece of knowledge and we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. As the parables were taught prior to Pentecost we know the disciples were trying to understand with a considerable handicap.
      Also, Jesus has the right to confuse whoever He wants just as He has the right to save whoever He wants. We are not given that right though we are told to not cast our pearls before swine but I don't think that means we are permitted to intentionally confuse people.
      There's also wisdom in Jesus teaching (obviously) in making people really, really work for the answer. He always could have put things in pristine order but chose an alternate route to bring His followers to an understanding.
      Romans is hard to understand for sure but that doesn't mean it isn't clear. He's communicating deep truth to people very shallow in their faith. We can only take this call to clarity as far as is reasonable. Can you clearly articulate Jesus being fully man and fully God? No. At some point we must accept the fact that we've received divine knowledge and are processing it through mortal, finite and sinful minds (our own) and then attempting to teach others, who presumably know less than we do, what we just learned.
      I guess my main objective is that we communicate all that we do know in as clear as terms as we possibly can.

    2. Typical Tim B. response. I also wonder if the meaning of "difficult to understand" could mean more than just engaging our intellectual abilities. I think the hardest truths are not just difficult to comprehend in a logical sense, like calculus. Spiritual truths are hard to understand because we have to overcome our depraved, sinful nature which tends to go against many of the truths Christ presents us. It also highlights the essential nature of the Holy Spirit in aiding us in being able to grasp such huge concepts. And why it feels so impossible at times to get non-Christians to understand the Gospel we are presenting to them. Apart from the Holy Spirit no one can grasp the truth. It is frustrating to know end when I hear vague ambiguous teaching that people consider "deep" because it really makes them think. "Deep" teachers do not make concepts more confusing things. They make confusing things much more simple. Thanks for the response Tim. I love reading your blog.