Tag Archives: christian arguments


There have been several articles lately referring to the idea some call “hyper-grace.”  It appears to me that the discussion started with an article in Charisma magazine and has branched out to other venues and teachers.  I may take a stab at answering some of their criticisms in future posts, but I would like to discuss this word, “hyper-grace.”

It is a negative word, meant to put people down.  The prefix “hyper” comes from a Greek word that means “over.”  Someone who is hyper-critical is overly critical.  A thyroid gland that is hyper, is over- producing.  The idea is that it is too much, more than necessary, more than what is good.

When connected to the idea of grace, the word apparently means “over the top grace” or simply “too much grace.”  But can you have too much grace?  How does that make sense?

There have been those who have said that we must maintain a certain level of law or performance in our message.  Maybe 90% grace is okay.  Maybe 80%.  After all, grace is nice; but there are still rules and expectations and sins to deal with in life.  Even in the Christian life.  We are still responsible for teaching believers how to behave.

I believe and teach that everything God does for us is grace.  Grace is the activity of His love.  Law, I suppose, is what God asks of us.  That certainly fits with the idea of Scripture and with the teaching of most of those who think that we still need to teach law.  God does His part and we do ours.  Right?

But the whole message of the gospel begins with the understanding that we have failed to do our part.  (God knew we would fail, of course.)  So the plan from the beginning was not that we would do our part and He would do His.  It was that He would do His and He would do ours!  God does His part and God does our part.

Jesus said that He had come to fulfill the law (Matt. 5:17)  Paul said that Jesus was the end of the law (Romans 10:4)   The law had become a curse for us and Christ delivered us from that curse (Gal. 3:13)  The story goes on, but the point is that God in Christ has done our part.  There is nothing left for us to do but accept what He has done.

So let’s think about this word again.  If it is all grace—salvation, justification, righteousness, glory, Heaven—and we have done nothing (law) to achieve any of it, then how can any teaching of grace be over the top?  If grace goes all the way to the top, how can it be wrong to go all the way with it?  There is no such thing as

Now, I know there is error taught among some of the grace teachers.  There is also error taught among the law teachers.  That’s the way things are and always have been.  Error does not negate truth.  Error simply exposes lack of understanding or compromised motives in expressing truth.

When someone comes against what you believe with words like “hyper-grace” or “cheap grace” or even “antinomianism” (yeah, you probably won’t have to worry about that one), remember that this was the basic charge leveled against Jesus by the Pharisees and Paul by the religious leaders of the Jews.  The idea that God would do it all, that we would be saved and kept saved entirely by His initiative and action, goes so strongly against what the legalist teaches that he has to attack with false charges and nasty words.

David Martyn Lloyd-Jones said it so well:

There is thus clearly a sense in which the message of "justification by faith only" can be dangerous, and likewise with the message that salvation is entirely of grace. . . . I say therefore that if our preaching does not expose us to that charge and to that misunderstanding, it is because we are not really preaching the gospel.

For the whole quote, which is worth reading, go to this page.

Just because some don’t understand or some misuse the teaching of grace doesn’t make it wrong.  In fact, understanding grace makes everything right.


Filed under Grace 101, Grace definition, Legalism, Theology and mystery

Avoid them


What good is having a blog if you can’t use it to rant just a little? 🙂  I have been in a discussion on another site with someone who is arguing against the grace and love of God by telling believers they should be focused on sin and condemnation.  It is frustrating, time consuming, and fruitless to get into these arguments.

You know the people I mean.  They just can’t stop.  Their logic is stretched and their words are cutting.  These guys pull out verses and claim certain Greek skills and ignore any real challenges to their ideas.

Paul met these folks, probably much more often than you or I do.  His advice?

9 But avoid foolish disputes, genealogies, contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and useless. 10 Reject a divisive man after the first and second admonition, 11 knowing that such a person is warped and sinning, being self-condemned. Titus 3:9-11

17 Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. Romans 16:17

Avoid them!  Don’t let them suck you into their traps.  It’s hard.  I find that I want to speak out against their lies and errors.  But it is a trap.  It distracts you, upsets you, and you don’t win.  They will have the last word, no matter how stupid it is.

Yes, sometimes I do speak up.  I seem to think that I can get a word in as a teacher.  But I have learned that it will be unfruitful.  The best I can do is help others see the foolishness of the other’s position and statements.  I confess that I almost always come away feeling used and dirty somehow.

In the discussion I have been in this morning, the arguer referred to the pain and struggles of those who have come out of legalism as “dog poop” and “dog piles.”  I shouldn’t have been surprised.  When logic fails, be prepared for the jabs and depersonalization.  Like the narcissist, the legalist will use whatever means he can to “shut you up” so it can look like he has won.

Then, if you ever do manage to paint him into a corner, he cowers and cries and wonders why you are so mean.  He ignores his own attacks and cruelties and projects that on you.  By trying to counter his statements, you are hurting him.  And, again, he wins.

So Paul says to avoid them.  That makes a lot of sense to me.


Filed under grace, Legalism

Free from the Law!

Are you still under the Law?  Well, what are you doing under there?

It is fascinating to me how many people believe that pastors should preach about the law at church.  Considering how few unbelievers there are in the local evangelical church (few, right?) that means that the preacher is preaching law to the saved.  I have heard too many people say that we need the law in order to stay true to the Lord—even as believers.

Sorry, I don’t agree.  The law has value in revealing the truth of the unbeliever’s condition.  The law condemns sin and shows that the unbeliever is under condemnation.  But the believer has been redeemed from sin and the law.  We are no longer under sin’s dominion and therefore no longer under the law.

Paul makes it clear that it is the law that holds us under bondage and condemnation.  Jesus came to set us free, to pay the price of our redemption.  In other words, He bought us out of bondage by the price of His own blood.  This is what it means when we say that we are redeemed.  We are free from the law and therefore free from the legal consequences of sin.

For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace. Romans 6:14

But preachers continue to tell us that we should heed the law.  What does Paul say to that?

Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law. . . Romans 3:19

The purpose of the law is to communicate guilt to the unsaved world, to challenge their self-righteousness, and take away any hope they have in eternal life apart from God.  They are under law because they are still in their sins.

If you are no longer under law, you don’t need to hear law from the pulpit.  Instead, you need to hear what it means to belong to Jesus, to be redeemed.  The Christian is no longer led by the law, but now is led by the Spirit.

But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Galatians 5:18

When will the church get this right?  Only when church leaders begin to understand what has truly happened for them in Christ.  Only when the self-serving flesh is taken out of leadership in church life.  Only when we believe what the Lord says.




Filed under grace, Grace definition, Legalism

Ad Hominem


Ad Hominem is a Latin term that means “against the man.”  It is used to refer to a logical fallacy that subverts the argument by focusing on the person rather than the idea.  Here’s an example:

Esau:  I think lentil soup is better when made with venison.

Silas:  How could that be true?  You are just a hairy loser!

Silas dismisses the assertion of Esau on the basis of what he thinks about Esau.  Rather than discuss the idea Esau presents, Silas sidesteps the argument and attacks Esau personally.  This is a logical fallacy that is seen very often.  Nothing positive is gained from the argument.

Usually the comment isn’t so direct, of course.  Here’s another:

Esau:  I think lentil soup is better when made with venison.

Silas:  Just because your Canaanite wives don’t know how to make anything better doesn’t mean that’s the best way.

This time Silas attacks the associations of Esau.  Esau is discredited, Silas believes, because of his wives.  We often see this in arguments, particularly in political and theological discussions.  Certain opinions are dismissed without real discussion because of the associations of the one who states the idea.  This is also an ad hominem argument, “against the man.”  One more:

Esau:  I think lentil soup is better when made with venison.

Silas:  Well, you also thought that your birthright was worthless.

Again, Silas dismisses Esau’s statement, but this time on the basis of previous opinions held by Esau.  Because Esau believed something that proved to be foolish at one time, Silas attributes that foolishness to the current idea.  This is also widely used in political debates and can be heard almost every day during election season.  The only problem is that it is again the ad hominem fallacy.  Esau’s opinions on the birthright might cause someone to question his judgment but they do nothing to establish or negate his opinion on the quality of his soup. 

In theological arguments, the ad hominem fallacy is an easy way to avoid real discussion.  If the goal is understanding and the proclamation of the truth, attacking the man is not helpful.  In fact, ad hominem arguments may be the cause of much of the division seen among believers.

The discussion of an idea is appropriate and beneficial for the community.  But it is never good for us to disrespect a brother or sister.  If the idea is wrong and hurtful, someone should say something.  Attacking the character or reputation of another believer should not be part of that discussion. 



Filed under Relationship, Theology and mystery

Because of Love


Some years ago cards were written that were to be used for sharing the faith with friends and family.  I remember the outside of the card more than the inside.  It said, “Because I care…”  Why do we tell people about Jesus?  Because we care about them.  Love moves us to step past our discomfort or even past the lines of their comfort to share the things we feel are important.

Now, I know that is used as an excuse for all kinds of legalistic judgments.  “Because I love you I want to put you under condemnation and into bondage.”  Well, maybe it isn’t that honest.  But the misuse of love as a motive does not negate it as an appropriate motive.  I have been attacked by people who disagree with me “in love.”  I doubted that love was the motivation.  It seemed much more that they wanted to defend their own way of thinking.  They wanted to “straighten me out.”  It wasn’t love.

Yes, there are risks to this.  But there is more to love’s motivation than a single person when the error comes from a teacher.  What about love for all those who are being taught?  Is there no responsibility or desire to protect them from the error?  Because of love, we have to say something.  If we do not, it appears that we agree with the teacher.  At least we don’t see an error worth correcting in the teaching.  Love seems to be a right motive for saying something.

On one hand, we don’t want present ourselves as superior or become judgmental toward others.  On the other, we care about them and want them to find joy and avoid error.  Most of us become uncomfortable when we hear error, but are stymied by this dilemma.  So we don’t say anything.

Help me out on this.  What do you think? 


Filed under grace, heart, Legalism, Theology and mystery

Good People can have Bad Ideas


The Presbyterian Church is going through a hard time these days.  In one recent mailing from folks who are critical of the movements in that denomination I found this line:

“…it is difficult to critique ideas without being accused of criticizing the people behind the ideas.”

No kidding!  How many times have we questioned ideas presented by a teacher only to be chastised by his supporters for daring to criticize “such a good man”?  A few years ago I dared to mention my disagreement with a certain teacher in an email newsletter and received a scathing rebuke from a woman who claimed that the teacher had helped so many people and I was unchristian to say anything against him. 

Well, I need to address that way of thinking.  First, it is not “unchristian” to disagree with wrong ideas.  Duh!  (Oops, a little sarcasm is creeping in.)  Wrong ideas should be challenged.  If those who know the truth don’t speak up against error when they hear it, who will?  And, listen, good people sometimes have bad ideas. It is more than possible that a well-intentioned believer, even a quality teacher, could have certain ideas that would be dangerous for the people of God.  Who is supposed to say something about that? 

In chapter 2 of Galatians, Paul acknowledges the leadership of the apostles, particularly Peter.  Then he tells about a time when he had to stand against Peter to challenge an error.

Now when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed; Galatians 2:11

Peter was wrong.  Paul said something.  That was the way it was supposed to be done.  He didn’t disrespect Peter or stop loving him.  He simply pointed out that what Peter was doing was wrong. 

Frankly, we are supposed to do this for each other.  The more we love someone, the more we care about the way they think.  Love and truth are never separate in the heart of God. 

What do you think?

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Filed under Church, Freedom, Theology and mystery

What if it is heresy?

What should you do if you believe someone is teaching something that is not only wrong, but dangerous to the body of Christ? 

Well, let’s start by saying that there are lots of heretics out there.  Why would this one bother you?  What motivation would you have to oppose this one when you haven’t opposed all the others?  If you don’t have an answer to that, then don’t worry about it.  God may not be calling you to be involved in that debate.  On the other hand; if people you care about are affected; or if a body of believers you care about is being pushed to division; or if you are in an official leadership position with the charge of caring about these things—then you may have a good reason to become involved. 

But how?  What are you supposed to do?  Here’s what I think:

First, your goal is to expose the error, not destroy the teacher.  Check your heart.  Personal vendetta, which almost always factors into church disputes, really should not be a part of dealing with heresy.  Other concerned people, who don’t have a personal stake in any feud, should come around the parties involved and make sure that the discussion does not degenerate into hate.  If you can’t deal with the issues apart from personal anger or animosity, then trust that the Lord will lead others. 

Second, while it is natural to want to convince the errant teachers to turn back from their error, it is not necessary.  In the past, people who chose error were put to death.  But even that strong response didn’t solve the problem.  The errors, some of which we accept as truth today, continued and those who died are remembered as martyrs.  The point is that the Spirit alone convinces our hearts, not the arguments of people around us.  Pray for the teacher.  If possible, try to discuss the issues.  Expose the errors publicly.  Do what is necessary; then realize that you can’t force someone to agree with you.  Not really.

Third, as I said a few days ago in another blog article, let the circle of the original teaching be the circle of your exposure.  I mean that you can answer a blog with a blog, a FB comment with another FB comment, a book with a book—but your public opposition may introduce people to the error and they may become intrigued.  If your attack is beyond what is necessary, they may see you as the negative one and be even more open to the error.

Fourth, there is a time to separate from the error.  Sometimes we are connected to error by associations.  Many denominational splits have come about because of people on one side of an issue desiring to be seen as different from those on the other side.  That might be acceptable, depending on the issues.  A public policy on abortion or homosexuality, would be an example of the cause of separation in our day.  If you believe that your ministry will be harmed or that your message will be compromised by the error of those close to you, you may have to separate from them.

According to the old story, the apostle John went into the public bath one day only to find that Cerinthus, the Gnostic teacher, was there.  John ran from the building and encouraged others to do the same lest, when the roof caved in through God’s judgment on Cerinthus, they should be caught in the collapse. 

Finally, and this is important, you don’t have to win.  Maintaining the purity of the church and its message is the Lord’s responsibility.  He may call you to do something, but He never requires the results from your hand.  Instead, you simply do what He has called you to do and leave the results up to Him.  Many may follow the error.  That’s not your responsibility.  Seek to teach truth.  Expose the error.  Then, when it’s over, let it be over.

There is such a thing as heresy.  There is heresy that is so contrary to the gospel that it perverts the message.  There is heresy that endangers the people who accept it and compromises their message.  Some are called to speak up when heresy is revealed.  Not everyone.  But those who are called shouldn’t enter into the battle with either fear or hatred.  We are better than that.

Thoughts?  Anything to add?  Disagree?

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Filed under Church, Theology and mystery

Can I be friends with both sides?

Can I be friends with both sides?

 Why not?  Oh, wait, I know.  You find it hard because one side wants to claim you as theirs and so does the other; and, if you choose one of them, the other will disown you.  But, if you choose neither side, both will see you as a potential enemy.  Nice.  What are you supposed to do when people on both sides are your friends?

Every pastor who has been through a church split or has lost a significant number of people due to a disagreement has noticed that people who are not part of the disagreement also leave the church.  They don’t necessarily go with one group or the other, they just go.  Why?  Because they can’t handle the stress.  They just don’t want to be in the middle anymore.  They want to find somewhere else to worship so they don’t have to get pulled to the sides.

The Scripture talks about peacemakers.  Sometimes you are placed in the middle so that you can remind both sides of the call to love and of the centrality of Jesus, rather than the disagreement.  We often become blinded by fleshly emotions when we get into disagreements.  Feelings of anger, bitterness, betrayal, and pain become strong motivators in our attitudes and actions.  We do and say dumb things.  We overstate our position; we demonize the other side; we hurt people who were our friends.  Maybe you can help.

But be careful.  The peacemakers are blessed in Matthew 5 because their efforts often go unrewarded and unappreciated in this life.  Sometimes both sides turn against the peacemaker and you lose all the friends.  But the work is important and the effort is rewarded by the Lord. 

You see, confrontation and friendship are hard to keep together.  If one person disagrees and disagrees enough to confront, that is seen as conflict.  When we encounter conflict we naturally (in the flesh) pick up our weapons to defend ourselves.  When you get in between the opposing sides, you can get hurt.

Here’s something to consider: many people enter into peacemaking with the idea that the issue just isn’t that important.  They maintain their middle position partly because they can’t see what the big deal is.  But, if you tell either side that their concern isn’t a big deal, you will probably get slapped down. Both sides have already invested themselves into their concerns.  The issues are big enough to lose friends and hurt others.  They won’t walk away from the concerns easily.

Instead, show them that the issues they are fighting about are not the center of their faith.  There is no requirement for believers to agree on every point in order to “be of one mind.”  We must be of one mind toward Jesus.  In other words, our minds/hearts should all point to Him.

I knew a man who had great success in working with churches in dispute.  He would gather the sides together and write down the issues, the concerns of both sides, so that each had to listen to the other.  Then he would give them an hour for prayer.  He encouraged them just to take all of these concerns to the Lord, to open their own hearts before Him.  Very often, when they came back together, they found that the Lord really did supply answers that brought peace and healing. 

Yes, you can remain friends with both sides and maybe, just maybe, you can help both sides find their way back to their friendship/oneness in Jesus.



Filed under Church, Freedom, Theology and mystery

When do we stop?

 Even though I tend to use words like “fight” or “argue” without negative connotation, the truth is that the more polemic (my side vs your side) the discussion becomes, the less value it has.  If the discussion is causing you to hate, you need to stop.  There is a more important issue for you to deal with.  If you find yourself wanting the other person dead or desiring his hurt, you are hating.  If you call him names without regard to whether or not those labels are right, you may be hating.  If your goal is to discredit your brother, rather than to have your side of the disagreement heard, you may be very near hating.  I think this is the gist of Matthew 5:22.  You don’t want to hate.

Very often the evil one uses our flesh to manipulate our actions and attitudes.  When you find that the current argument dredges up old feelings and thoughts, so that you feel toward your brother the same things you felt toward someone else that hurt you, you may want to step back.  If the issue is important, the Lord will lead others to continue the discussion.  You may have reached the point of your compromise, when you no longer will be effective.  Trust that the Lord will solve the problem. 

Now, read this carefully: it is the flesh that needs to win.  You do not need to win this argument to honor the Lord or to protect right doctrine.  If you find that you simply must win, step back.  Sometimes the argument goes long past the point of fruitfulness.  When both sides have presented their views and there is no place for agreement, then it is over.  Sell the building and split the proceeds, agree to minister in different places and with different groups, let your opposing books do their work—but end it.  Find the way to let it go.  Letting it go is not compromise.  It is simply acknowledging that there is no value in going further.

What about all those mean things the others said about you or did to you?  Well, forgive them.  Forgiving them does not mean that you think they were right.  In fact, forgiveness means you think they were wrong, but you choose to give the offense over to the Lord.  Forgiveness is a good thing.  You will feel better and be more effective in future ministry when you find the way to it.

Some arguments don’t end with a happy solution.  That’s okay.  The day of truth is coming when you will know who was right and who was wrong . . . and in that day it won’t matter.



Filed under Church, Theology and mystery

Do I have to go to the teacher first?

 Very often, when Christians disagree with a popular teacher, someone will bring up the “Biblical requirement” that the accusers should have gone to the person before publically stating their disagreement.  They refer to a couple of verses in Matthew 18. 

I want to look at this passage, but let’s note a couple of things before we do that. 

First, this standard, in my experience, is used selectively.  People criticize you for not going to their favorite teacher, but they are quite willing to disagree with other teachers publicly without a previous personal contact.  It seems to make a difference who you disagree with.  In both politics and religion, this double standard seems to rule the day.

Second, public teachers are notoriously difficult to contact.  They post, publish, or proclaim their teaching then become almost reclusive.  Not all, of course, but many.  Enough so that it is very likely you would have difficulty getting an answer concerning your disagreement.  You can understand this.  A teacher writes a book or posts to a popular blog.  Let’s say that 10,000 read the book or blog.  If only one percent of those people disagree, the author would have to respond to personal contacts from 100 people.  It’s easy to see why a teacher might not want to get started in that much correspondence.  But does that mean that those who disagree have to keep quiet, since they had no personal contact? 

When an author writes a book or a blog, he or she must understand the concept of “going public.”  It simply means that the ideas are now out for the world’s examination.  Almost all authors understand this.  There will be reviews, criticisms, endorsements, or maybe protests—most without personal contact.  Those who disagree will use the author’s name and possibly even try to discredit the idea by discrediting the author.  Some of us might find that distasteful, perhaps even immoral, but authors and teachers who publish their ideas to the public have to understand that this is how the game is played.

So, let’s go back to Matthew 18:
“Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. 
But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’  
And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.  Matthew 18:15-17(NKJV)

Interesting, isn’t it?  Where, exactly, does it say that I have to contact an author or teacher before I publicly disagree?  Does the doctrinal concern he presents constitute “sin against” me?  I don’t think of an error as sin.  Even if I did, the sin wouldn’t be against me.  If the teacher named me and misrepresented or misquoted me, it might be sin against me.  But, if he simply teaches something with which I disagree, I don’t think that’s sin against me.

I have never really understood how this verse could be used in the situations we are talking about.  It’s an important verse about relationships.  It is certainly right to confront someone who has sinned against you and deal with that person through this process.  But I would not be so quick to call a simple disagreement on doctrine sin—in any form.

Over the years I have encountered this admonition with supporters of legalistic teachers or preachers.  They engender a considerable loyalty among their followers.  Pointing to Matthew 18 has usually been a way of telling me or others to “shut up.”  Disagreement with the teacher is not acceptable, apparently.  Sometimes I have seen this used in church disputes and sometimes it is appropriate.  Very often church problems become intensely personal and there is sin committed against fellow members.  When we sin against each other, we should be ready to deal with the offense and the pain it caused.

Perhaps it will be helpful to look at Paul’s example.  He names some of the people with whom he disagrees and there is little to indicate that he talked with them first (1 Cor. 1:11+; Phil. 4:2; 1 Tim. 1:20).  In fact, Paul makes some fairly strong statements about these people—based on their teaching.  John does a similar thing in 3 John 9-10.  Now, I don’t know for certain that there was no personal contact.  That must be said.  But there is no statement about a personal contact before the negative assessments are given. 

Look: if you can contact someone to discuss your concerns before you publicly state your disagreement, by all means do it.  You may be the tool God uses to bring them back (or they may help you to see God’s truth.)  But if this isn’t possible, you can challenge public teaching publicly. 

Matthew 18 is a wonderful passage.  It shouldn’t be misused.



Filed under Church, Theology and mystery