Not long ago I was asked to provide a critique of a proposed position paper on the Insider Movement. As I looked at the paper, I realized that this would likely be one of many samples of new winds of doctrine that would blow my way for the rest of my life.
I decided that I would construct a grid-work of twenty-two questions that would allow me to analyze this and other future documents that would come my way. In fairness to any position paper, what we might observe at times is a mixture that could include orthodoxy, slightly skewed emphases, tendencies to error, and downright heresy. It is also worth noting, that just because someone comes across with orthodox words, that does not mean that their heart is necessarily there. Usually what one talks about the most, is a good indicator of their real heart commitment.
Think of the following statement. “I just want to show the children that the Heavenly Father has given you, the way of Jesus Christ.” Sounds orthodox. Yet coming from the mouth of a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, each of the words has been recast with different meaning.
1. What is the most basic commitment of the heart of the author: what is it and how does this show up?
2. Methods of argumentation: are they by the rules of “Godly disputation”?
3. Breadth of interaction: are sources wide, varied and include opposing views? How are opponents treated?
4. DÃ©jÃ vus : other material, other authors? Is originality exhibited?
5. Blind spots: if any?
6. Supreme confidence: in who or what? What about future?
7. The spirit of the age: how does this affect the presentation?
8. Description vs. Prescription: are they intermingled, separated or inform each other?
9. Fallacies: does the presentation contain logical or exegetical fallacies?
10. Biblical interpretation: are there evidence of eisegesis or exegesis?
11. Whole counsel of scripture: evident, absent?
12. Ecclesiology: appreciated, depreciated or other?
13. Church history: appreciated, depreciated or other?
14. Theology of suffering: appreciated, depreciated or other?
15. Biblical anthropology and view of non-Christian religions: humanist, Christian or other?
16. View of revelation/epistemology: humanist, Christian or other?
17. Soteriology: what are the carnal sins portrayed in the presentation, what is view of sin and its solution?
18. Christology: is this the whole Christ of the whole Scriptures for the whole person?
19. Law: does the formula “do this and you will live” enter into the presentation?
20. Fear of humans or fear of God: how does this show up in the presentation?
21. Is the gospel declared or assumed?
22. Methods or message? What is front and center?
As I used this gridwork on one of my own papers, I came to realize that John Newton’s “Guide to Godly Disputation” was a good way to keep my heart in check. That, along with the late Roger Nicole’s “Dealing with Differences” has taught me much about how to contend for the faith without being contentious, and the challenging job of being a diplomat in a truly Christian way.
Perhaps you are waiting for my report on how I analyzed the paper I was given to critique. It is amazing how quickly a triumphalistic and self-righteous spirit can jump right into the task of the analysis of whether something is truth or error. May we continue to have tough minds and tender hearts, that reflect the words of Jan Hus [ca. 1372-1415] who did die for what he believed: “Therefore, O faithful Christian, search for truth, hear truth, learn truth, love truth, speak the truth, hold the truth, defend the truth till death.”
Just for information, the paper’s bibliography said it all. Its sources were skewed in one direction, consistent with the rest of the paper.
In the spirit of “Godly disputation” I would most appreciate your input, as to whether you think the gridwork is too Western, too cut and dried or too doctrinaire. Thank you for your commitment to developing a truly Biblical missiology.