Science in Christian Perspective
Coping With Controversy:
and Freedom Within Evangelicalism
D. GARETH JONES
Department of Anatomy
University of Otago
P.O. Box 913 Dunedin New Zealand
Although we are surrounded by controversies within the Christian community, little attempt appears to have been made to ask how Christians cope with disagreements. In this paper, attention is drawn to a number of relevant biblical principles, including the significance of unity in the Body of Christ and of humility, how to act when disagreement arises, and the place of judgement. These principles are then worked out in relation to evangelicalism, including its scope, the role of public polemic and serious debate, the dangers of dogmatism and of censorship, and the importance of freedom of expression and of mutual interdependence within evangelicalism.
From: PSCF 40 (March 1988): 32-42.
Controversy is inescapable; it is a sine qua non of human existence. To attempt to shield ourselves from it is to flee from one of the most basic realities of our world. On the other band, to revel in it is to walk a path of destruction and divisiveness with grievous consequences for individuals and even whole communities. Remarkably, however, we are amazingly ill-equipped to cope with it, both at the individual and group levels. My emphasis in this article is on controversy at the group level, in particular on the way in which we cope with a divergence in beliefs and attitudes within Christianity and especially evangelicalism. This is one of the most difficult areas of conflict for Christians, because it calls into question the nature and extent of our commitment to Christ.
Such controversies surround us, and yet all too often we attempt either to ignore their existence and back away from them, or we confront them with a relish difficult to reconcile with being followers of Christ. Either way, one of the tragic results is a desire to isolate ourselves by becoming aligned with like-minded people in homogeneous groups. This, in turn, may lead to censorious attitudes as the group battles for existence against competing groups perceived to be a threat to the purity of our group. Controversy is then inevitable since it has become part-and-parcel of the group mentality.
Everyone is capable of quoting some controversy or another. I shall quote one, in which I was intimately involved. I do this, not because it was worse than many others, but simply because it is I who have had to come to terms with it. The focus of my interest in the present context is the nature of controversy-what it is, what it leads to, and how we respond to it.
Wednesday, 6 June 1984 marked the beginning of the furore over my book Brave New People, a book principally devoted to a consideration of the new reproductive technologies.1 It was in the chapter on therapeutic abortion that I had apparently transgressed all the principles of evangelicalism, by allowing for abortion under certain circumstances. According to my critics I was the arch-proponent of abortion on demand, and a leader of the pro-abortion forces within evangelicalism. No justification, it seemed, was required to support this assignation, in spite of the fact that Brave New People only incidentally dealt with therapeutic abortion and hardly dealt at all with abortion in general terms.
I found that my "heretical" views had earned me notoriety within evangelical circles. Not only this but, in the eyes of some, my views were so dangerous they had to be censored. And they were, since Brave New People was withdrawn from the American market. The censorship was carried out by a few self-appointed guardians of evangelical morldity, who conducted a vociferous and concerted campaign against the book, myself, and the publishers. I shall not spell out the details of the accusations, since I have already done so in my article: "The View From a Censored Corner."2
The crucial point is this: the criticisms and condemnations were all made in the name of Christ and were, I imagine, intended to bring honour to Him and His church. By its very nature, however, controversy of this nature becomes polarized. The critics are right, the condemned are wrong. Even stronger than this is the claim that the critics are God's true representatives, Whereas the condemned are unworthy of Him and are probably not Christians at all. What we need to note is the certainty implicit within this polarization-or rather a set of certainties: regarding the validity of one's own set of beliefs, the purity of one's own attitudes, and the authority to act as sole judge of the standing and integrity of other Christians. It is these certainties that I wish to question, since they lie at the heart of so much conflict within Christian circles.
In order to explore this matter further I shall turn to a number of principles found in the New Testament.
1. Unity in the Body of Christ
This is the bedrock principle to be affirmed by Christians when confronted by individual and group interrelationships within the church. This was attested by Jesus in His high priestly prayer (John 17:20-23) and by the repeated emphases made by the writers of the New Testament letters (Ephesians 4:1-6). Paul, in writing to the Ephesians, urged them to make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3).
The picture presented by this concept is of a body: all the parts of which are essential for its normal functioning. In exactly the same way we all need each other within the Body of Christ. It is in these terms that we are to view the gifts of the Spirit, since the various gifts given by Christ to His church are to be used for the strengthening of the Christian community. To keep them to ourselves is to deny them to other Christians and weaken the Body of Christ. Similarly, Christ's Body is weakened when we prevent a Christian from ministering to other Christians, and much more so when we deny that this other Christian is even a member of Christ's Body.
The unity of the Body of Christ implies that we are to be open to having fellowship with all others who acknowledge the saving work of Christ on the cross and who demonstrate that work in the quality of their lives. These other Christians will undoubtedly include those with whom we have profound disagreements on a whole range of matters apart from those central to Christian belief. Nevertheless, if we have a high view of the unity of the Body of Christ, we can neither downgrade nor ostracize other Christians on the ground that we differ from them over political, ethical, or even certain theological questions.3
The unity of Christ's Body should constitute the prime impetus to a resolution of conflict between Christians. This is because nothing is of sufficient importance to cause schism within the church, as long as the essential integrity of the gospel concerning the person and work of Christ is maintained. Everything else should be regarded as peripheral in nature and open to honest debate.
Nothing is of sufficient
importance to cause
schism within the church, as long as the essential integrity
of the gospel concerning the person and work of Christ is maintained.
It is only when the unity of Christ's Body is accepted that we are in a position to learn how to live with one another, and such living in turn entails learning how to disagree with one another in love. Disagreeing "in love" involves entering into dialogue with one another, while retaining respect for the integrity and spirituality of the other. It involves praying for those Christians with whom we disagree, speaking with them, reading their books, and sincerely seeking to learn from them. It involves being prepared to test all our views on social and spiritual matters against the general principles found in Scripture. Sometimes, we will be wrong and then we must admit that we have been wrong. But even if convinced that we are correct, we may still have a great deal to learn from our adversaries, and we always need each other within the Body of Christ.
One of the foremost obstacles to an outworking of these principles is the existence of factions (Galatians 5:20); groups of people who narrow down what they have in common to one issue or one area of agreement. The motive for this may be exemplary, and vet all too easily this move becomes associated with a party spirit, with selfish ambition, with dissension, and with envy. Very readily, what becomes important is allegiance to the group, and outward impressions become crucial (Galatians 6:12). It is in this spirit that secondary matters are elevated so that they become issues of primary concern. This occurred in the early church with regard to circumcision, and it can happen today with any secondary issue. If, for instance, we are prepared to be separated from fellow believers on questions such as those of nuclear warfare, feminism, apartheid, or abortion, we are claiming that these questions are more important than the work of Christ on the cross. We are making a peripheral issue, no matter how important it is in its own right, into a central one, and in doing this are displacing Christ from the centre of Christianity.
Few themes are as dominant in the New Testament as that of humility (Luke 14:7-14; Romans 12:3,4; Philippians 2:3,4). We are not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought (Romans 12:3). We are to be realistic, and remember that what we are comes from God. Whatever we have in the way of abilities, gifts (both natural and spiritual), and position in society comes from God. To think highly of ourselves is, therefore, a contradiction in terms for Christians, who are to realize their dependence upon God's mercy. Consequently, it is entirely inappropriate to strive to advance our own interests; rather, we are to live for others-acknowledging their interests and seeking to advance them.
In a conflict situation, therefore, we are to put the interests of our antagonist first. This does not mean we are to demean ourselves and our arguments, as though our arguments are worthless and our antagonist's valuable. It is, rather, a matter of seriously considering the stance and attitudes of the other person, and seeking to understand why he/she holds that particular position. It is an attempt to put ourselves in the shoes of our antagonist, so that we can begin to appreciate the essence of this alternative perspective.
We are no longer living for ourselves but for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), and therefore, for His people including those of His people with whom we disagree in certain areas. Even more generally, we are to love our neighbour as ourselves. Such principles lead inevitably to the concept of servanthood, a concept demonstrated by Christ who came to serve and not laud it over His fellow beings. (John 13:4-17). His supremacy lay in the quality of His self-giving, in the extent to which He put the claims of others above the claims that were rightfully His. He lived, not for His own satisfaction, but in order to bring fulfillment and wholeness to others.
The life of Christ was the essence of humility, and it is to be clearly expressed in the arena of conflict and disagreement. As we find ourselves in opposition to others, our chief concern is not to win an argument but to see that truth prevails and that the welfare of those opposing us is upheld. These were the points stressed by Paul as he instructed the Ephesian Christians to speak truthfully to their neighbours, to be kind and compassionate to one another, and to forgive one another, because God had forgiven them in Christ. (Ephesians 4:25,32). Moreover, Paul warned against any talk that would destroy others and that failed to build them up (Ephesians 4:29). James warned us, in considerable detail, against envy and selfish ambition and diagnosed the cause of fights and quarrels as self-centred desire (James 3:9-4:3). A poignant illustration of self-centred ambition is provided by Diotrephes, who sought leadership in the church at all costs (3 John 9,10). His ambition led to malicious gossip and lies, and an unwillingness to welcome and accept fellow Christians. Diotrephes loved to be first, and inevitably this desire led him to ostracize other leaders in the church. The end result of such desires is the institutionalization of unresolved conflict.
3. When Disagreement Comes
Whatever our ideals may be, we rarely live up to them. We fail; we fall into sin, and sometimes we are wrong. Inevitably, therefore, there will be disagreements among the followers of Christ. When we fail to understand each other, or resolutely adhere to our own position, difficulties ensue.
Christ was well aware of this possibility (Matthew 18:15-17). According to His advice, if you consider that your brother has offended, speak to him quietly and point out where you consider he has erred. In our society this may simply be a matter of phoning him, writing to him, or sending him a carefully written critical review of what he has said or written. There are numerous expressions of this first step at reconciliation, depending entirely on the circumstances, and this informal, one-to-one approach may prove adequate. He may listen to you, agree with you, and determine to change his ways or modify his views. Of course, the person in the wrong may be us, and it may be we who are approached to change our lifestyle or attitudes.
Failing a response, the second step is to approach the erring person accompanied by one or two others, who also consider than an error has been committed, More specifically, these others should be leaders in the Christian community or, at least, people who are respected by those within the community. If such leaders are not prepared to back you up, the matter should be laid to rest, since there are never to be personal vendettas within the body of Christ and the only reason for approaching fellow Christians whom you think have erred is to attempt to assist them. Bringing in other responsible and respected Christians is what we might refer to as group consultation, and is the next level at which debate is to take place. When Paul was confronted by the warring Euodia and Syntyche, he pleaded with them to agree with each other in the Lord, and he asked one of the church leaders to help heal the rift between them (Philippians 4:2,3).
If the supposedly erring Christian is still adamant, the matter should then be brought before the church at large. This is when the debate becomes public, and occurs out in the open. Even at this level though, there is to be discussion. If the general opinion of the church is that the brother is at fault, and if he refuses to repent or change his views, he may then be considered as having placed himself outside the fellowship. In a similar vein, when there are issues of disagreement within evangelicalism, major church leaders should be brought together to discuss matters and to engage in serious dialogue. There needs to be considerable agreement at this level before a person or viewpoint is condemned as lying outside evangelicalism.
Group dialogue was the function of the Church Councils in the early years of the church, as with the council in Jerusalem in Acts 15. In that instance, Paul and Barnabas disagreed sharply with some others in the church on the role of circumcision. As a result they, with some other Christians, went to Jerusalem to discuss the matter with the apostles and elders. There was dialogue and ardent debate, as a result of which agreement was reached. Subsequently, a course of action was adopted to let other churches know the decisions that had been reached.
As we find
ourselves in opposition to others,
our chief concern is not to win an argument but to
see that truth prevails and that the welfare of those opposing us is upheld.
These ways of dealing with disagreements all involve discussion and dialogue, commencing at the personal level and working up to public discussion. All are characterized by a desire to find the mind of Christ, and all treat the erring party as a responsible participant. There is never autocratic condemnation. If agreement appears to be impossible, the parties may have to go their separate ways, as happened when Paul and Barnabas disagreed (Acts 15:36-41). Even when this occurs, however, respect for the other party is essential, with an acknowledgement that, as far as one is aware, the other party is seeking to be faithful to the Lord.
Implicit within the previous principles is a refusal to judge others. Even if we consider other Christians to be in error, guilty of sin, or promulgating heresy, it is not our prerogative to judge them by ourselves. The reason for this is two-fold: God alone is judge, and we are sinners (Matthew 7:1-5). Whatever errors we may detect in others are likely to be small compared with the errors that characterize us, even if these errors are in a totally different area from the one in dispute. In other words, we, too, may be wrong. Under no circumstances, therefore, are we to set ourselves up as judges of others within the Body of Christ. This does not mean we can do nothing about sin or error within the Church; rather, we have to adopt the appropriate procedures, namely, employ consultation rather than indulge in judgementalism.4
There are never to be personal vendettas within the body of Christ and the only reason for approaching fellow Christians whom you think have erred is to attempt to assist them.
A fascinating approach to rivalry was provided by Paul when dealing with those Christians who were preaching Christ, and yet in doing so were attempting to embarrass Paul himself. Even though he considered their motives suspect, he still rejoiced because Christ was being preached (Philippians 1:15-18). He could well have condemned those people, judged their motives, and entered into public conflict with them. However, because they were making Christ known, he acknowledged the positive rather than negative aspects of their preaching. In doing this, he recognized a major difference between those particular people and the many false teachers, who were distorting the essence of the gospel and preaching a false Christ. In a similar vein, it behooves us to distinguish between differences that strike at the heart of the gospel and those that are not central to it.
A major obstacle to moving in this direction is that we readily erect rigid rules encompassing details of beliefs, attitudes and practices. Those who obey these rules are accepted; those who reject them or disobey them are judged and rejected. Quite apart from the fact that rules can readily detract from the freedom and responsibility found in Christ, they all too easily lead to judgementalism, since they are the basis on which judgements are made. It is no wonder, then, that Paul instructed the Colossian Christians not to "let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a new moon celebration or a Sabbath day" (Colossians 2:16). All these rules are based on human commands and teachings, and will disappear. They appear to be wise, but in the end are valueless (Colossians 2:21-23). Tragically, they enable people to judge one another. Not only is it unjust, since it implies higher standards for others than we accept for ourselves, but it also demeans all that Christ has bestowed upon us, replacing His wisdom by sinful human standards. For Christians, judgement is to be replaced by accountability; we are accountable to each other, just as we are all accountable to God. It is in accountability, rather than in judgement, that we learn to discern the mind of Christ.
Coping With Conflict
In this section, I shall explore ways in which these biblical principles might be applied in current controversies.
1. Scope of Evangelicalism
Classic evangelical affirmations centre on the nature of the biblical revelation, the person and work of Christ, and justification by faith alone.5 Other affirmations, no matter how important in their own right, have been excluded as central ones. And so it is that beliefs about church government, God's sovereignty in election, baptism, and the gifts of the Spirit, are not central to evangelicalism, in that differences of opinion and conduct in these areas can be accomodated within its framework.
Nevertheless, we are having difficulty in accommodating differences on many social questions, since certain stances are regarded by some as the only acceptable expressions of evangelical thought and action. These stances have, therefore, been incorporated by them within the core of doctrines they consider essential to evangelicalism. Examples of such stances within contemporary debate are particular conservative views of the status of the embryo and fetus, and of many economic, defense, and evolutionary matters. To deviate from them is, we are informed, to court spiritual and moral disaster; such deviations being as serious as deviations on doctrines concerning the person and work of Christ.
For those who hold views such as these, a person can only be considered an evangelical if he/she is a strident anti-abortionist, is opposed to most forms of biomedical technology, believes in a free market economy, and is an advocate of the nuclear deterrent. The question confronting us is whether we have adequate grounds for making issues such as these theological watersheds. These areas tend to be ones where there is a great deal of uncertainty and unease within evangelicalism. Consequently, if they are allowed to assume theological significance, evangelicals will have allowed their uncertainty on these matters and their lack of theological expertise in them to control their thinking. What is required is serious theological reflection, not short-term criticism of individual items of concern or the perceived short-comings of other evangelicals.
This raises a broader question. namely, whether there is a legitimate place within evangelicalism for those who are professionally trained in areas other than theology, and capable of honest - and openly- exploring these other realms-whether science, medicine, economics or politics. Without such interdisciplinary exploration, the response of evangelicals will owe more to conservative attitudes) than to serious biblically informed assessment. As evangelicals. we should be sketching out the common ground there is between those of us in different disciplines. With this as our basis, we can begin the task of serious dialogue on those issues that divide us.6
2. Public Polemic and Serious Debate
Issues of public concern have long posed difficulties for evangelicals. After many
years of neglect, they have recently realized the importance of a Christian voice in political and social matters. This is all to the good, signifying as it does a return to the realization that we are to exercise our ministry as salt and light within society (Matthew 5:13-16). Nevertheless, social involvement has its dangers, and one that is evident at present is the drive for a "unified evangelical voice" on a range of issues within society, including biomedical ones such as abortion, homosexuality, the status of the embryo and fetus, and also various economic and political issues.
Regardless of the merits of these evangelical concerns, it has led to a pressure group mentality, according to which there is only one stance on these issues acceptable to evangelicalism. Any deviation from this rigid position is considered a betrayal of the evangelical cause. The result is that no distinction is made between public polemic and serious ethical debate, and evangelicals are not allowed to discuss in the public arena controversial topics that have public implications. Once such a distinction is made, practically all forums for debate have been removed. Public speaking, writing, and publishing are all-to some extent-public activities. The desire for a unified evangelical voice implies that what is spoken, written and published must express only one viewpoint-the authorized one.
Certain stances are regarded by some as the only acceptable expressions of evangelical thought and action. These stances have, therefore, been incorporated by them within the core of doctrines they consider essential to evangelicalism.
Debate on many complex ethical questions involves unresolved ethical quandaries. As a result, serious debate does not take the form of a political pamphlet aimed at advocating one particular viewpoint, since contending viewpoints need to be examined on their own merits. it is my contention that a serious Christian assessment of issues cannot, and indeed must not, conform to a precise political platform. The dilemmas of life and death rarely conform to the niceties of black-and-white political debate, and Christians should be the first to realize this.
Evangelicals need to beware of forming pressure groups to advocate the rights and wrongs of single ethical (or other) causes. Even should they succeed in wielding some political power in this way, it will be at the expense of oversimplifying issues and of becoming identified with a particular cause as much as with Christ. The trouble with pressure groups is that while they readily identify one's "friends," they also convert non-supporters into "enemies," even when those non-supporters are fellow Christians who may agree in large part (if not entirely) with the cause in question. Pressure groups, therefore, lend themselves to becoming schismatic, dividing the body of Christ for the sake of individual causes.7 The question confronting us is whether any cause (however worthy in itself) is of such importance that it is justifiable, in attempting to forward it, to destroy the unity of the body of Christ.
3. The Dangers of Dogmatism
Dogmatic pronouncements on complex issues assert the infallibility of those making the pronouncements, and stem from their certainty about the correctness of their interpretations and conclusions. Dogmatism is the antithesis of humility, since it allows no room for error. And yet, as finite and fallen creatures, all our understandings are subject to error. For instance, we can never be absolutely certain we have not misunderstood God's word. Kenneth Kantzer, in drawing a distinction between scriptural infallibility and human fallibility, has written: "Holy Scripture is, indeed, infallible; but our interpretations and our applications are not. To confuse scriptural infallibility with human fallibility robs Christians of their ability to work effectively both with other believers for the kingdom of God and with unbelievers for the good of humankind."8 James Sire has expressed a similar viewpoint in rather different terms: "As we read Scripture, practice it, live in community with other believers and involve ourselves in worship, we grow, change our minds, modify our theology. Even what we learned yesterday needs to be subject to change as we check it out on the nerve endings of our life and as we hear our friends comment on our insights."9
This is not an argument for indecisiveness or for a subjective, ever-changing theology. But it is an acknowledgement that we may be wrong on many complex matters we have to face in modern society, and we may have to modify our opinions. Our authority is still Scripture, but where Scripture does not point unequivocally in one direction, we have to take seriously Christian tradition, the contributions of contemporary Christian thinkers, and even debate within society. Moreover, all these insights need to be informed by the Spirit of the Living Lord.
Some disagree. For them Christian tradition alone is correct, and our culture-when it disagrees-is inevitably incorrect. For example, one writer has argued that there is a danger in allowing debate on abortion in Christian publications.10 This is based on the view that abortion is seriously wrong by biblical standards, that it is a departure from "the accepted views," that "new" positions ought not to be promoted as guidance for other people to follow, and that "new moral positions" are accommodations to cultural change. The outcome of such criticism is that it is only "traditional moral principles" that are worthy of consideration. By definition, no discussion of abortion is allowable. In these terms, traditional moral principles are, without question or debate, regarded as being totally true to Scripture.
Such a stance as this is an assured one. The true way is known since Christian tradition is correct. Unfortunately, it overlooks one possibility, and this is that Christian tradition may be wrong. What is then required is a change in the direction of evangelical culture. It is only when this possibility is accepted that we are in a position to learn from Christians with whom we may disagree on theological matters, and even to learn from non-Christians.
Dogmatism elevates individualism and downgrades the community. It refuses to accept the pluralism of the evangelical world, let alone the pluralism of society. It insists that agreement on the basic tenets of the faith is not enough. Agreement is also required on complex contemporary issues, whether these be the use of force in keeping peace, economic matters, divorce and remarriage, the role of women in the church, homosexuality, abortion, euthanasia, and many other issues. Faithful followers of Christ do not agree on any of these applied issues, and to insist otherwise is to impose upon evangelicalism the sort of dogmatism and authoritarianism totally foreign to the life and example of Jesus. The result is that arbitrary cultural norms are imposed on evangelical groups, norms that rapidly come to assume more authority than Scripture, since they are neither derived from Scripture nor subject to it.
4. Freedom of Expression
The argument I have just set forth has an inevitable concomitant; this is that differences of opinion are to be expected within evangelicalism, and that we have to learn to cope with such differences. This, in turn, is based upon another fundamental assertion, an acceptance of the necessity of freedom of thought within Christian circles. In these terms, it is imperative that we learn to distinguish between criticism of ideas and criticism of the people holding those ideas. Strong disagreement with the views of a fellow Christian does not give us the "right" to question that person's motives or assault his or her character and reputation. This is character-assassination, an activity that always emanates from the supposed superiority of one person over another. It is the opposite of the Christian virtues of servanthood and humility, denigrating as it does all that the other person stands for.
Dogmatism is the
antithesis Of humility, since it
allows no room for error.
It is imperative that we learn how to disagree with one another in a positive and supportive way. This attitude is essential for the emergence of genuine tolerance, by which we are enabled to take seriously the sharply conflicting views of another. We need to beware of turning friends into enemies because we cannot agree on everything, and of fragmenting the Body of Christ because we cannot agree on some matter peripheral to the essentials of our faith in Christ. This is schism, no matter how important the matter may be in its own right.
Within Christian circles, the principle of dialogue based on respect for each other's position and integrity is crucial. When this is lost, it is replaced by an unyielding harsh legalism that is prepared to destroy people and institutions in order to win a political battle. Even when confronted by notoriously difficult dilemmas, constructive ways forward are possible for those who have been redeemed and made new in Christ. This is one of the outcomes of the new life in Christ, and hence should characterize the life in the community of the redeemed. Constructive ways forward are based on debate and serious dialogue. The only alternatives are piously packaged solutions that have t he appearance of providing assured answers, and yet will be ignored by ordinary Christians when confronted by difficult choices.
Debate over complex ethical issues, therefore, not only has a place within evangelicalism. but is essential for the health of the evangelical community. There is no other way of tackling issues over which no evangelical consensus has been reached. The presentation of representative evangelical viewpoints is the essence of any community based upon a belief in the priesthood of all believers. If this right of presentation is not safeguarded in the Christian community,. we have chosen dictatorship and have lost any semblance of the freedom and responsibility, that are found in Christ alone. Intellectual honesty and spiritual integrity are basic ingredients of a Christian community, and are integral to the moral burden placed upon us as Christ's representatives.
Difficult as it may be to allow and even encourage freedom of expression, it is made possible by the Christian's ultimate belief in the triumph of truth over error. This, again, should be one of the characteristics of the redeemed community. It is integral to the hope of the church, stemming as it does from Christ's triumph over death. We are made free in Christ, and we are to express this freedom in our relationship with others, and supremely with other Christians. Inevitably, there are dangers: we may misuse this freedom and exploit it, or we may impose rules as a means of ensuring safety. Despite these dangers, either in the direction of libertarianism or of legalism, we cannot ignore it. To do so is to turn our backs on one of God's richest blessings.
Censorship is the converse of freedom of expression. It is an unwillingness to allow ideas contrary to one's own to stand the test of public opinion, and is an attempt to protect those holding one's own viewpoint from exposure to conflicting ideas. The motives of the censor may be exemplary, but the result is likely to be a narrow, bigoted constituency.
In Christian terms, the need to screen out material with which one disagrees, including material emanating from fellow believers, is a denial that evangelical faith is consistent either with intellectual freedom or intellectual creativity. It asserts that we are unable to contend for the faith, and that we lack the resources for distinguishing good from evil. In contrast to this, Christians are to believe in intellectual freedom because the person redeemed by Christ has been set free and liberated by the gospel, and can trust in God's sovereignty and direction. Christians should realize that nothing is beyond the scope of God's concern and that all human endeavour is under the providence of God." Since it is our minds that have been liberated, we need never fear the truth because the framework of our thinking is now God's truth. As a result, we are enabled to face head-on the confusing array of contemporary beliefs, analyze them and their associated presuppositions, and respond with compassion and understanding.12
We have been created as thinking creatures. It behooves us, therefore, to indulge in serious thinking, and to decide in a responsible manner what to read and view. This, in turn, is not a matter of simply reading and viewing that which we know we will agree with, but that which is a worthy indicator of the thinking and attitudes of the society in which God has placed us-even if we strongly disagree with some of the contents. Our responsibility as Christians is to be faithful representatives of God within society, but this is impossible if we are uninformed about that society. We need to be, in the words of the Christian librarian Donald Davis, "open persons who are constructively grappling with the issues of real life as they are reflected broadly in the publishing world. "13 We are to be challenged by all facets of society and its ideas, never isolated from them.
If we acknowledge that all truth is God's truth, we should be confident in the ultimate victory of that truth. As God's people, we are to be agents for intellectual freedom. We should be life-affirming people, able to live with a wide range of ideas and concepts, even with those with which we disagree. This demands responsibility and judgement; it also demands a willingness to live with controversy, inside and outside the Christian community.
With a carefully thought-out world view, conflicting thought-forms can be approached with integrity. This is possible, because the intellectual freedom that Christians enjoy seeks to bring all ideas under the scrutiny of God, and all thoughts under the Lordship of Christ. These are not new ideas. They were expressed in 1644 by John Milton when he reacted to an ordinance passed by Parliament in 1643 calling for the licensing of the press. The basis of his opposition to censorship was the nature of truth. He wrote: "Truth is strong, next to the Almighty. She needs no policies, nor strategies, nor licensings to make her victorious-those are the shifts and the defences that error uses against her power. Give her but room, and do not bind her when she sleeps, for then she speaks not true." 14
Our responsibility as
Christians is to be faithful representatives of God within society, but this is
impossible if we are
uninformed about that society.
In the end truth will triumph over error, even if error appears to be victorious in the short-term. But how can we recognize truth, since it is so often mixed with error? James Sire has commented: "In a fallen world the possibility of error is the necessary condition for the entrance and triumph of truth."15 The two have to be seen together; they have to be compared, and to stand up to criticism. Again, as Milton wrote: "Assuredly we bring not innocence into the world, we bring impurity much rather: that which purifies us is trial, and trial is by what is contrary. That virtue therefore which ... knows not the utmost that vice promises to her followers, and rejects it, is but a blank virtue, not a pure.16
There is no room for censorship within Christian circles, where access to all kinds of thinking is essential. Otherwise, we shall foster a community in which people are unable to encounter opposition of any kind. In the long-term, censorship fosters weakness and not strength, and that is not the way of Christ's kingdom.18
6. Mutual Interdependence
Polemical writing, hot rhetoric, censorship, a pressure group mentality, individualism, authoritarianism, and loyalty to a political slogan work together to break these in its own way is a each of these places an ideal, a goal, or a person above loyalty to Christ. Independence, is fostered rather than interdependence, and the health of the Body of Christ is sacrificed at the expense of achieving some specific goal- no matter how worthy that goal is as an end in itself.
The concept of the Body of Christ leads inevitably to one indispensable Practical application, and that is mutual interdependence. We need each other, and we are therefore to support each other. Not only this, but we have inescapable obligations to each other, namely, to talk to each other, to uphold each other, and to respect each other.19 As we begin to treat each other like this, we will be in a position to cope with dissenting views within the community of the Lord's people. How, though, do we do this?
(A.) We are to realize that our brothers and sisters in Christ are indeed precisely that, whatever there may be that divides us. They are, in Donald MacKay's words, "front-line comrades," whose chief end in life is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.' If this is true of us, it is also true of a fellow believer for whom Christ died and who is earnestly seeking to be faithful as a Christian, even if there are issues that separate us.
(B.) Implicit in what I have just said is another set of obligations: we are to listen to each other, seeking to understand and appreciate what it is that the other is stressing. We are to seek that which is genuinely Christ-affirming in that position, however much we may disagree with its interpretation or practical outcome. Under no circumstances are we to caricature the views of a fellow believer, or insist that a fellow Christian is lying, is a hypocrite, or is guilty of foul motives. We are to be faithful to each other by expressing accurately and fairly those viewpoints with which we disagree. And of course, we are to talk to one another, discuss frankly our differences and the reasons for them, and assess our own faithfulness and the nature of our views. Together, we are to seek that which is true in each other's position, and then to affirm these truths.
(C.) We are to help and encourage each other, even when we differ on issues we consider to be of considerable importance. Help and encouragement are necessary because we are engaged in a common enterprise,
Under no circumstances are we to caricature the views of a fellow believer, or insist that a fellow Christian is lying, is a hypocrite, or is guilty of foul motives.
that of forwarding the cause of Christ and of being His faithful representatives in a pluralistic society. We act in this way by providing feedback for the other person, through carefully thought-out criticism of the other's position. Such feedback includes raising serious questions which the other person may not have asked, and which may help to throw additional light on the validity or otherwise of that position. In the same way, we are to be prepared to have our own position questioned and challenged in a similar manner. We must cultivate an atmosphere of mutual support in which we seek the other's good, and together with them seek the mind of Christ. Such a framework is an edifying and learning one, in which we submit ourselves to one another in the fear of God.
(D.) We are to meet each other face to face. This is the ideal, even if it is not always possible. When impossible, we should write to each other rather than harangue each other in public. We should let each other know informally what we think, and not immediately criticize and condemn each other publicly. To meet one another, or at least correspond, is to begin to see each other as real people and especially as fellow believers. We can begin to appreciate what the other person is like as a human being, and not simply as a public face. We begin to see them as they-are before God. and not as representatives of a rival evangelical constituency. They are people for whom we are to pray, and for whose well-being we are to strive. As we love them as human beings, we become concerned for them. Even if we think they are on the verge of heresy, we I are to commit ourselves to support and aid them, not score points off them in a debate or heresy trial. The other person may be wrong and may need my assistance; but I also may be wrong and may need the assistance of my sincere opponent. Mutual interdependence is crucial, and informally and quietly meeting with one another face to face is a vital prerequisite.
(E.) The assistance of other Christians is frequently of enormous help when differences separate us. When we think someone is guilty of a serious error, we should solicit the advice of others, especially those who are knowledgeable in the area of concern, before acting or reacting publicly.21 Key Christians should be brought together to determine the seriousness of the position taken and wide-ranging dialogue needs to take place with evangelicals holding a variety of views. Dialogue of this nature is essential and is "a major vehicle for determining truth in a world where truth is so entwined with error.... This side of glory, we evangelicals do not possess the final truth."22 This is a provocative point, and yet it is also a fundamental theological premise. Mutual interdependence is not an optional extra for a Christian Community; it is fundamental to its integrity.
1This was InterVarsitv Press, UK, and is still available on the British Market. A follow-up book Manufacturing Humans: The Challenge of the New Reproductive Technologies (Leicester: InterVarsity Press, 1987) is on the British market.
2Jones, D. G. The View From a Censored Corner," Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation, 37, 169-177. 1985.
3I realize this discussion has implications for denominational matters, and for consequent ecumenical considerations. While these are of considerable importance, perceived difficulties in handling such considerations should not be used as an argument against the points being made in this section. Conversely, if denominational difficulties are being used to justify the existence the existence of divisive disagreements between Christians I would suggest that crucial biblical principles are being disregarded.
4In this paper I am not dealing with church discipline. Nevertheless this principle would appear to be revelant in that context as well as in that present one.
5I am not suggesting that these affirmations are the only essential ones. It is not my purpose in this paper to argue for what is the context of the gospel. I am suggesting, however, critical principles and certain peripheral matters. Disagreement over the precise details of each category does not affect the force of my argument.
6See my article: "Bioethics-Meeting Ground Between Theologians," Christian Arena 39 (3), 8-11, 1986. 'It has to be asked whether pressure groups, by their nature, are with the attitudes of Christ. This is undoubtedly an suggestion, and all pressure groups do not manifest the tics. It is, nonetheless, a serious query.
8Kantzer, Kenneth S., "Problems Inerrancy Doesn't Solve," Christianity Today 31 (3), 14-15, 20 February 1987.
9Sire, James W., "Brave New Publishers: Should They Be Censored?" In Evangelicalism: Sustaining its Success (David A. Fraser, ed.) (St. Davids, PA: The Evangelical Round Table, vol. 2, Eastern College and Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1987), pp. 128-147.
10Peffota, K., "Differences of Opinion?", Eternity 37 (1), 56-59, 70-71, 1986.
11Stott, J.R.W., Your Mind Matters (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1973).
12Barcus, N., Developing a Christian Mind (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1977).
13Davis, D.G., an unpublished paper entitled; "Intellectual Freedom and Evangelical Faith," 1985.
14Milton, John, Areopagitca in Complete Poems and Major Prose (M.Y. Hughes, ed.) (New York: Odyssey Press, 1957), p. 747.
15Sire, op. cit., p. 16.
16 Milton, op. cit., P. 728.
17Thomas, Cal, Book Burning (Westchester, IL: Crossway, 1983), pp. 34-35.
18These views are put forward as a general principle.are put forward as a general principle. Considerable discussion is requires to ascertain whether censorship is ever allowable, e.g. to protect minors. If it is, it will be an exception to the general rule opposed to censorship.
19MacKay, Donald M, "The Health of the Evangelical Body, "Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation 38, 258-265, 1986.
21op. cit. p, 13
22 p. 23.
D. Gareth Jones (M.B.B.S. University of London, D.Sc., University of western Australia) is Professor of Anatomy at Otago University in New Zealand. He has taught pre@ly at University College of the University of London and at the University of Western Australia. Dr. Jones has published numerous books and articles in neurobiology. He is the author of three books published by Interrsity PresslU.K., Our Fragile Brains (1980), Brave New People (1986), and anufacturing Humans (1987). The latter two deal with ethical issues related to the new reproductive technologies.