A PLEA FOR EVANGELICALS TO MAJOR ON THE MAJOR’S
By David P. Craig
The recent John MacArthur “Strange Fire” Conference compelled me to write this article. I don’t want to address Cessationism vs. Non-Cessationism so much, as to wrestle with why major on issues of disagreement in the Body of Christ when we have larger fish to fry? What would happen if evangelicals were known more for our love, cooperation, and unity than for our disagreements? What would happen if we worked more on understanding one another than attacking each other? What would be the results of a Church that is known by our love rather than our animosity towards those who believe differently than we do? What if we were characterized by civility and humility rather than pride and arrogance?
It’s been awhile since I’ve read C.S. Lewis’ classic Mere Christianity – but its basic thesis is something I long for in the Evangelical Community around the globe today. Lewis was trying to get at the core or essence of Christianity. To this day perhaps few thinkers or writers have built as many bridges as Lewis in pointing people to Christ for both believers and non-believers.
In my own journey I have been a follower and lover of Jesus Christ since I was six years old. I have three degrees in theology and have been involved in church ministry since I was seventeen: in Brethren Churches, Baptist Churches, Evangelical Free Churches, Reformed Churches, Charismatic Churches, and various non-denominational churches. I have wrestled mightily, agonizingly, emotionally, subjectively, and objectively with issues of theology and methodology. Here are some of the positions I’ve wrestled with over the years:
Theology Proper – Process Theology? Open Theism? Augustinian-Calvinist? Modified Calvinist? Simple-Foreknowledge? Classical Free Will? Middle-Knowledge? Molinism?
Creation – 7 Literal Days? Young Earth? Old Earth? Day-Age View? Theistic Evolution? Framework Hypothesis? Gap Theory? Restoration View?
Bibliology – Infallibilist? Inerrantist?
Anthropology – Monism? Dichotomy? Trichotomy?
Soteriolgy – Pelagianism? Semi-Pelagianism? Augustinianism? Arminianism? Calvinism?
Predestination and Free Will – God Limits His Power? God Limits His Knowledge? God Ordains All Things? God Knows All Things?
Atonement – Christus Victor? Moral Government? Penal Substitution? Healing? Kaleidoscopic?
Justification – Deification? Traditional Reformed? Progressive Reformed? New Perspective?
Eternal Security – Classical Calvinist? Moderate Calvinist? Reformed Arminian? Wesleyan Arminian?
Sanctification – Wesleyan? Reformed? Pentecostal? Keswick? Augustinian-Dispensational?
Christology – Classical View? Kenotic View?
Eschatology – Amillennialism? Postmillennialism? Dispensational Premilillennialsm? Historic Premillennialism?
Hell – Annihilationism? Purgatory? Metaphorical? Conditional? Literal?
Pneumatology – Reformed? Dimensional Charismatic? Wesleyan? Catholic? Pentecostal?
Baptism – Symbol of Christ’s Saving Work? Sacrament of the Covenant? God’s Baptismal Act as Regenerative? Believer’s Baptism as the Biblical Occasion of Salvation?
Lord’s Supper – Christ’s True, Real, and Substantial Presence? Spiritual Presence of Christ? Christ’s Presence as Memorial?
Apologetics – Classical? Evidential? Cumulative Case? Presuppositional? Reformed Epistemology?
Law and Gospel – Non-Theonomic? Theonomic Reformed? God’s Gracious Guidance? Dispensational? Modified Lutheran?
Biblical Theology – Principalizing? Redemptive-Historical? Drama of Redemption? Redemptive-Movement?
Systematic Theology – Charismatic? Pentecostal? Dispensational? Progressive Dispensationalism? Covenant? Epangelical?
Destiny of the Unevangelized – Pluralism? Inclusivism? Particularism?
Women in Ministry – Egalitarian? Complementarian? Plural Ministry? Male Leadership?
Church Government – Episcopalianism? Presbyterianism? Single-Elder Congregationalism? Plural-Elder Congregationalism?
Counseling – Levels of Explanation? Integration? Christian Psychology? Transformational Psychology? Biblical?
Charismatic Gifts – Cessationism? Open but Cautious? Charismatic? Pentecostal? Third Wave?
I actually have 75 books in my library that have 2-5 views held by professing Christians on these and many more issues. What troubles me about the Strange Fire Conference and forthcoming book by John MacArthur is the time and effort into issues that divide rather than unite the body of Christ. This is a time for bridge building among Christians, not blowing them up! With the onslaught of immorality, relativism, and persecution on Christians around the world it’s more important than perhaps any other time in history that Christians unite and major on the majors and learn to minor on the minors.
The reality is no two theologians will agree on everything. I have a Jewish friend that jokingly says, “If you get three Rabbi’s in a room to debate an issue there will be four opinions.” I think the same can be said among any three random Protestant Pastors. The reality is that when we all get to Heaven we will find out we erred in many of our views. It doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t seek the truth and give up on finding the truth, but it does mean that we should humbly pursue truth and be patient with those who disagree with us. It’s a good thing the thief on the cross didn’t have to pass a theological exam to get into Heaven. He simply acknowledged that he was a sinner, deserved to be punished for his sin, and believed on the Lord Jesus Christ to save him – and we’ll see that guy in Heaven one day!
We need to rally around “Mere Christianity” and work towards being united with those who love Christ, His Word, and pursue His truth in humble and prayerful discussion together. Let’s not shoot our own wounded, but take care of one another’s wounds. Let’s patiently and lovingly pursue the truth together and agree to disagree on minor issues. Let’s unite on the greatness of God, and the glorious gospel, and the return of His Son. Let’s be more concerned about our own sins than the sins of others. Let’s become grace bound, grace oriented, and err on the side of grace. Let’s exalt Jesus and make Him our King, Lord, Savior, and find our satisfaction, joy, and delight in Him.
There’s only one man who had it all down perfectly and that was Jesus. He is and ever will be the lone perfect theologian who has perfect theology. Until He returns or takes us home we need to learn to submit to Him, point others to Him, seek Him, pursue His truth, and learn to get along by majoring on the majors and minoring on the minors. Let’s pursue the big ideas and big doctrines in the Bible and unite around those. There’s too much against us in the world for us to turn on one another.
As a Dodger fan, when I go to the baseball games I don’t focus on the guys political shirt next to me – I don’t argue with him over our differences. There’s simply one goal – cheer for our team to win. When Puig hits a home run – I high-five the guy next to me and we are full of joy because we are focused on what we agree on. Let’s stop arguing about what we’re wearing, how we’re worshipping, what style of music we’re listening to, and work together to win! We have one great commission; one great Book; one great Savior; one great King; one powerful Spirit; one powerful message; and one calling to bring glory to God; and as Paul said, “This one thing I do!” Let’s get out there and do it…together!
The strangest thing about the Strange Fire conference is that it represents a strange Christianity. Christians according to Jesus Himself are to be known by their love, not by burning each other down, but by building each other up. I am grateful for the fellowship, friendships, and learning that I have received from continuationists and non-continuationists. I know that we can’t all be right about everything, but I do know that we can do more together for the sake of Christ and His glory than we can apart. I also know that the fruit of the Spirit never burns but soothes – He is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance. As believers, let’s build each other up, not burn each other, let’s be controlled by the Spirit not grieve the Spirit, and let’s proclaim the glory of Christ by the power of the Spirit for our own good and God’s glory. Ironically the closer we get to the Son – the less likely we are to get burned, or burn others.
We are very shy nowadays of even mentioning heaven. We are afraid of the jeer about ‘pie in the sky’, and of being told that we are trying to ‘escape’ from the duty of making a happy world here and now into dreams of a happy world elsewhere. But either there is ‘pie in the sky’ or there is not. If there is not, then Christianity is false, for this doctrine is woven into its whole fabric. If there is, then this truth, like any other, must be faced, whether it is useful at political meetings or no. Again, we are afraid that heaven is a bribe, and that if we make it our goal we shall no longer be disinterested. It is not so. Heaven offers nothing that a mercenary soul can desire. It is safe to tell the pure in heart that they shall see God, for only the pure in heart want to. There are rewards that do not sully motives. A man’s love for a woman is not mercenary because he wants to marry her, nor his love for poetry mercenary because he wants to read it, nor his love of exercise less disinterested because he wants to run and leap and walk. Love, by definition, seeks to enjoy its object.
(Lewis, C. S. A Year with C. S. Lewis (p. 357). Harper Collins, Inc., excerpted from The Problem of Pain).
Aim At Heaven
Hope is one of the Theological virtues. This means that a continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do. It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither. It seems a strange rule, but something like it can be seen at work in other matters. Health is a great blessing, but the moment you make health one of your main, direct objects you start becoming a crank and imagining there is something wrong with you. You are only likely to get health provided you want other things more—food, games, work, fun, open air. In the same way, we shall never save civilisation as long as civilisation is our main object. We must learn to want something else even more.
Lewis, C. S. (2009-03-17). A Year with C. S. Lewis (p. 358). Harper Collins, Inc., excerpted from Mere Christianity).
This Famous Quote is Taken from The Book “Mere Christianity” – It is perhaps the most famous quote on Jesus outside of the Bible!
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would be either a lunatic — on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.” – C.S. Lewis
ABOUT CLIVE STAPLES LEWIS
*”Paging through 40 years of Christianity Today . . . one author’s books indisputably affected American evangelicals during this period more than any other. And that author was neither American nor quintessentially evangelical . . . C.S. Lewis.” (Christianity Today 9/16/96). Lewis had an enormous impact on more than a generation of readers who sought “practical wisdom, digestible theology, wit, verve, logic, and imagination.”
Clive Staples (“Jack”) Lewis was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on November 29, 1898. Raised in a bookish home, Lewis and his older brother, Warren, were more at home in the world of ideas of the past, than with the real world of the 20th century. Coping with the tragedy of his mother’s death when he was 10, Jack sought refuge in composing stories and studying. The rest of his life might have been a sad search for the security he felt as a child before his mother’s death, if not for the joy he experienced in his conversion to Christianity in September of 1931. After long conversations with J.R.R. Tolkien (a devout Catholic), Lewis records in his spiritual autobiography, Surprised by Joy (1950), “When we [Warren and Jack] set out [by motorcycle to the Whipsnade Zoo] I did not believe that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, and when we reached the zoo I did.”
In 1933, he published his first theological work, The Pilgrim’s Regress, a lively allegory detailing his flight from skepticism to faith and a parody of John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. In a varied and comprehensive career, C.S. Lewis wrote with three very different voices. There was Lewis, the distinguished Oxbridge literary scholar and critic; Lewis, the highly acclaimed author of science fiction and children’s literature; and Lewis, the popular writer and broadcaster of Christian apologetics. Although his most notable critical and commercial success is certainly his seven-volume Chronicles of Narnia, published between 1950 and 1956, he is at his most articulate, and winsome in his theological works: The Problem of Pain (1940), a defense of pain — and the doctrine of hell — as evidence of an ordered universe; and The Screwtape Letters (1942), a senior devil’s correspondence with a junior devil who is fighting Christ the Enemy for the soul of an unsuspecting believer.
During World War II, he emerged as a religious broadcaster and became famous as the “apostle to skeptics.” Mere Christianity is a compilation of his wartime radio essays defending and explaining the Christian faith. C.S. Lewis died on November 22, 1963, a week before his 65th birthday and on the same day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. His grave is in the yard of Holy Trinity Church in Headington Quarry, Oxford. The headstone bears the inscription from Shakespeare, “Men must endure their going hence.” All who read, both evangelical and skeptic, are richer for Jack Lewis having come.