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. Déjà 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.


  1. Salaam-Corniche on

    Thank you Foilbled for your suggestion. I would like to hear what ideas you might have.
    On judging preaching, I have to think of what Tim Keller said about the 3 subtexts of a sermon. They can be:
    1. Look how great I am. (that is to say, the pastor is showing everyone what a great scholar/communicator/whatever he is.)
    2. Look how great we are. (that is to say, the pastor structures his sermon to tell his audience that they are better than most people on earth.)
    3. Look how great He is. (that is to say, look how great Jesus is.)
    I have run this grid by some of my own sermons, and some are too close to number 1 as I think about it.

    Blessings and look forward to hearing from you

  2. I like the idea of a grid.

    Two observations:
    – In the West, most new winds of doctrine a discussed and sometimes taught for quite a while before ending up in a paper or book.
    – Outside the West, new doctrines are preached or propagated be “believers” and may never be written down.

    How about a version of this grid adapted to judging preaching or other oral sources?

  3. 1.Carl Medearis says:
    January 2, 2011 at 12:57 pm .John “Missions exists, because worship doesn’t.” This Piper
    quote has been my favorite since I first read it in “Let the
    Nations Be Glad” many years ago.”

    This comment from Piper which Carl qoutes. . . . seems out of date. Besides what record has hedonist Piper on mission? The Great Commiision has to be obeyed in between times. . . and teaching models the final goal (Revelation 7) as a western-European type Church worsip pattern falls short of that goal and , really, kind of discourages others to go on mission


  4. John “Missions exists, because worship doesn’t.” This Piper
    quote has been my favorite since I first read it in “Let the
    Nations Be Glad” many years ago. Note that I didn’t say that we
    “exist” to lead Muslims to Christ. I simply said that in that
    respect, I think we have the same goal. You’d find it odd probably
    to note that I have been an outspoken critic of “contextualization”
    for years. As you now know, I don’t like to refer to myself as one
    or as an Insider proponent – for exactly the reasons you suggest –
    it sets the bar too low. It focuses us on the Mission rather than
    The Missionary (Christ, Himself). I’m also a skeptic of the whole
    Missions enterprise for the same reasons…. That’s why I think
    that any “side” in this whole debate can easily get off-track. And
    be too “pro” a certain methodology leads the the same place as
    being too “anti” a certain methodology – it takes away from the
    Greatness of Jesus and his ability to use any and all of us. Trying
    to “set the bar too low” as you say the IM and C-5 guys are doing –
    might, in the end, be the same as you trying to “raise the bar.”
    Both are focused in the wrong place. No?

  5. A response to the responders. Thank you Douglas and Georges
    for your kind words. On reflection, I realize that post-modernism
    really does not like to be scrutinized. It prefers to keep things a
    bit slippery. Maybe it comes from a lack of commitment to really
    submit one to another. I wonder what you think? Carl. Thank you for
    your kind words. As to your doubts as to the use of a grid, I can
    appreciate it to a point. I hear you loud and clear that looking at
    presuppositions is vital. I will add that to the grid as well.
    There is one area where I would like to give you a
    counter-challenge, and where you reminded me of another area that
    should likely be added to the grid. In your words: “I’ve said it
    now many times – we all want the same thing: we want to see Muslims
    (and everyone else) to submit themselves to the full revelation of
    the Biblical Jesus Christ. How that happens is what’s up for
    debate. We disagree on how it looks and where it leads, but not the
    essence. ” A while back I read a similar statement, and it said,
    “The goal of Muslim evangelism is to get converts.” I think I have
    heard you right when you say roughly the same thing. Do you know
    that the church growth movement says the same thing in so many
    words as well? It says, “the church exists for evangelism.” Now you
    might respond, “so what is the problem?” The problem, as I see it,
    both from your statements, the quoted statement above, and the
    church growth movement, is that all of you shoot far too low. Again
    you might ask in incredulity, “but how can you say that when I and
    the others have just said such a wonderful motherhood statement?”
    Consider this with me. When the church growth movement says that
    the church exists for evangelism, and then turns around and says
    that we need to do everything to avoid offending the
    sensibilities/sensitivities of unchurched Harry and Mary, then it
    is not long before we remove the offense of the cross, sermons that
    touch on the idols of their culture, the judgment to come, church
    discipline, holiness and so forth. The gospel has been gutted.
    Inadvertently, by shooting too low, the church growth movement has
    opened itself up to all kinds of ungodly methodologies and
    ultimately compromised the gospel.. This is ditto with the parallel
    Muslim-friendly–to an extreme—missions movement. Might I suggest
    that we take the church growth movement phrase and reword it to
    read, “The church exists for the glory of God.” Then perhaps the
    quoted person would no longer say “The goal of Muslim evangelism is
    to get converts” but would rather say, “The goal of Musllim
    evangelism is to glorify God.” That would also challenge your
    statement, and show that we do not actually all want the same thing
    at the presuppositional level.. Some want so called evangelism at
    any cost. Others want the glory of God at all costs. The first
    opens one up to pragmatism and any novel methodology that comes our
    way. The second puts rigorous controls on any or all methodologies.
    Carl, might you be shooting too low. What do you think? All said, I
    think I need to add the following lines to the gridwork: #23. What
    are the presuppositions of the author? How do you know? #24.
    According to the author, the church/missions exists for

  6. John

    This is good. I would like to use the same grid. But it doesn’t lead the debate that you’re having anywhere new. Because you will enter and exit the discussion with the same viewpoints. It’s a much deeper issue then how you read a paper. It’s about what’s behind your theology. What’s behind how you read the Bible.

    I’ve said it now many times – we all want the same thing: we want to see Muslims (and everyone else) to submit themselves to the full revelation of the Biblical Jesus Christ. How that happens is what’s up for debate. We disagree on how it looks and where it leads, but not the essence.

    So to lay out a rubric like this for discussing this paper you’re referring to, while a good idea, won’t actually change anyone’s mind – not yours, not mine.

    But I appreciate the effort….

  7. Thank you John for providing help in examining any method or idea. It is not easy these days to remain faithful to the biblical truth. Too many winds of doctrine have been blowing. You are one who is a rock and have not allowed those winds to blow you away.
    Blessings as you press on

  8. Douglas Pirkey on

    Hi John,

    Your grid-work is a great tool and method, efficient. I can see how its application could both render a more fully developed context and clarified specifics of what is being critiqued. Thank you!

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