In the wake of recent Reformed ecclesial disputes one perturbed seminary professor (and ordained PCA minister) tried to take the bite out of the debates by, ironically, giving more than a few bites of his own;1 The heated rhetoric in Dr. Kidd’s Mutual Defenestration Means Self Annihilation is worthy of none other than Luther’s tongue. But for all the rhetorical heat, this seminary student is left humbly asking, “Where’s the light?”
Dr. Kidd’s argument proceeds along the following lines: A historical allusion is made to Sparta and Athens, two foes who joined together to defeat a larger common enemy. Against the backdrop of this historical analogy, a litany of the church’s common external enemies is rehearsed, the chief of which, according to Dr. Kidd, include Muslims, Mormons, and “angry” atheists. Then, a host of internal ecclesial disputes is rehearsed, including women’s ordination, Federal Vision, and the New Perspective on Paul. The point of the historical analogy is then made clear in Dr. Kidd’s conclusion:
Is it possible that Sparta and Athens understood better what was at stake in their time than we do in ours? Can we stop devouring our own? Can we make common cause against common enemies instead of against one another?
While the argument evidences a surface plausibility,2 the rhetoric looses its steam on account of its own question begging. For, the very foundation Dr. Kidd seeks (”common cause against common enemies”) cannot be attained by actions apart from beliefs in doctrinal truths. And the very process by which the church deliberates matters of truth and error3 is denied, downplayed, and bemoaned by Dr. Kidd’s arguments.4
In other words the conclusion to Dr. Kidd’s argument seeks to persuade us of the following non sequitur:
- (a) Because we have been arguing with each other over matters of truth, we must ground our unity not on beliefs but on action.
- (b) The true action everyone believes in is to fight Muslims, Mormons, and New Atheism.
With sincere humility and a clear conscience before God in a zeal for truth I offer this “faith-seeking-understanding” question: How is Dr. Kidd’s argument any different than 20th century liberalism’s pragmatism? Haven’t we 21st century Reformed folks learned from our 20th century forerunners who faced the same “praxis trumps dogma” argument?
I too feel–from the perspective of a new kid on the Reformed block, not as an experienced professor serving the church–the pain of brokenness and doctrinal divisiveness within the church. Infighting stinks like skubalon. But is the solution to cut off the doctrinal branch that the church stands upon by attempting to ground unity in action apart from belief? Upon what basis could such a standard meted?–That’s the very question the answer to which is unfairly being presumed.5
Listening to Luther On the Matter of Muslims
Looping back to an earlier part of Dr. Kidd’s argument in which he mentioned Islam as a key threat to Christianity around which Christians ought to unite despite doctrinal differences, I want to offer my own historical analogy as a possible upgrade. Luther faced a similar version of Dr. Kidd’s unity argument which Luther addressed in his letter, “To the Councilmen of All Cities in Germany That They Establish and Maintain Christian Schools.” In Luther’s context German Christian parents didn’t think it was necessary to train their children in Christian schools (i.e. Christian beliefs). Rather, these parents wanted their kids to learn skills that would put food on the table. In Luther’s colorful words:
“Tell us,” they say, “why should we send them to [Christian] school, if they are not to become priests, monks and nuns? They had better learn such things as will help them to make a living!”
Luther saw through the smoke of this “action trumps dogma” rhetoric and put his finger on the heart of the matter. He argued that we can give our children all sorts of skills, even uniting them to fight against Muslim terrorist “Turks.” But, all the skills in the world are worthless without being grounded in the truth (i.e. doctrine!). In Luther’s mind, if we are to give a dollar in skills to fight the enemies, we ought to give a hundred dollars to train the troops in truth:
No one believes what a dangerous design of the devil’s this [failing to teach our children Christian truth] is. It goes forward so silently that no one perceives it, and the harm is done before one can prevent it. Men fear the Turks and wars and floods, for in such matters they understand what is harmful and what is beneficial. But what the devil has here in mind, no one sees, no one fears, it proceeds so quietly.
And yet everyone who would give a gulden to fight the Turks, if they were at our very door, ought properly to give a hundred gulden to this cause, even if only one boy could be trained therewith to become a true Christian man; for a true Christian man is better and worth more than all men upon earth.
In raising kids and in evangelizing Muslims, the eternal value of Christian truth cannot be eclipsed by the glamor of action. Luther here weighs the scales in favor of truth 100 to 1. I wonder, then, if we can more effectively make “common cause” to unite in reaching Muslims with the truth of the Gospel not by lessening our grip on truth, but by following Luther’s lead in training “true Christian men” who, following the truth, will speak this very truth in love to Muslims, Mormons, and “new atheists.”
From first to last and at every point Christianity has to do with truth. For, the Christian God is Himself truth (John 14:6); accordingly, it stands written, “The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth” (Psalm 145:18 ESV). By this truth may God bring purity and peace to his church as even His undershepherds turn ever more to The Truth in repentance and faith, leading the flock likewise in the acts of charity that unavoidably flow from drawing near to God in truth.
- Dr. Kidd has since apologized for at least one of his “bites,” the one directed against R.C. Sproul. [↩ back]
- i.e. Isn’t it always better for Christians to “just love each other” and fight the bad guys “out there” than to debate and disagree with one another “in here”? [↩ back]
- i.e. In Dr. Kidd’s own denomination, the Presbytery and General Assembly operations of the PCA with its church courts, etc. [↩ back]
- See his choice words against the PCA’s Federal Vision study committee report, for example. [↩ back]
- Jim O’Brien, one of Dr. Kidd’s former student colleagues asks a similar question: By what standard does one measure whether or not one is whizzing inside or outside the camp? This is another angle at the same question begging to which I refer. [↩ back]