Regarding soteriology, I am a Calvinist, but I've never read The Institutes of Christian Religion.
Regarding apologetics, I am a Presuppositionalist, but I've never read Bahnsen or Van Til.
Regarding gender roles, I am a Complementarian, but I've never read Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood by Piper and Grudem; although I've read portions of the work while studying for a book I was writing.
Regarding eschatology, I am a Futuristic Premillennialist, but I've not yet read MacArthur and Mayhew's primer on the subject. However, many years ago, as part of my Greek Exegesis classwork, I conducted a detailed study of the Parousia (Second Coming of Christ), in I and II Thessalonians.
I share these factoids to say two things: 1) I am not as well read as many of my fellow Christian bloggers and those who are seen as online scholars; 2) I read my Bible a lot. This is not to say I read my Bible more than others do. Nor is this to say all I or any other Christian needs for his or her theological education is a well-worn and read Bible. I've met those who claim that the Bible is their only teacher. In each instance I can recall, the man or woman subscribed to one or many heresies and they made the Pharisees look like altar boys. Like you, the reader, I can thank God for many godly men who have taught me well from the pulpit, sitting next to me in the pew, over a burger or a cup of coffee, through their books, or through their online audios and videos.
My point: I study, but I'm not an expert in any particular theological discipline. While my areas of expertise have served me well in my previous profession, my day-to-day life, and my evangelistic ministry, and while I believe the Lord has given me a modicum of wisdom and discernment in 50 years of life (almost half of which I was unsaved), I'm just a man of average intelligence, limited skills, and a passion for preaching the gospel.
How I Blew It
On August 27, 2014, I went off on a bit of a rant on Facebook and Twitter (I have since closed my Facebook account), sharing some thoughts off the top of my head (occasionally a dangerous proposition), about a theological construct known as "Theonomy."
This is what I said on Twitter:
The reaction was immediate and impassioned. I knew it would be. I knew it would raise the ire of my Theonomist friends. But I did it anyway. I was wrong to do it. I threw darts. They found their marks. I blew it. I hurt the feelings of friends and I offended others. Like I said, I blew it.
So, on August 28, 2014, I apologized:
For some of my friends, my apology fell short. While only one friend contacted me to let me know, it was clear he was also speaking for others.
So, the same day, I apologized again:
Some of those hurt and offended accepted the apology straight away. Others said they accepted my apology and then proceeded to call me out to answer for my "attack on Theonomy." Still others could care less that I apologized and were going to exact from me the proverbial pound of flesh, using Straw Man arguments as their butcher knives.
I'm not complaining. No whining or sniveling, here. I brought it on myself. Whether or not I had all of it coming to me, none of the negative blow-back would have happened if I had simply not tried to make an eschatological argument in 140 characters or less. None of it would have happened if I hadn't let my sinful heart rule the moment.
I first heard the term "cage stage" when I read Greg Dutcher's excellent book, Killing Calvinism: How to Destroy a Perfectly Good Theology from the Inside. Dr. James White explains it this way:
"I’ve seen it many times. The Cage Stage. A believer’s eyes are opened to the majesty of God as the sovereign King of the universe, and their entire life is turned upside down. And for a while, they have more zeal than they have knowledge. We call it the 'cage stage.' That period in the experience of the new Calvinist where they would be better off kept in a cage until they can gain enough maturity to handle these vitally important topics aright. That time when they are more likely to hurt themselves, and others! You know, when they are all running around smacking someone upside the head with Pink’s The Sovereignty of God? Yeah."I went through the Calvinism "cage stage" about 25 years ago. I went through the Cessationism "cage stage" about the same time. It was a double-whammy. I went through the biblical evangelism "cage stage" about ten years ago. I know "cage stages." I know how ugly they can be for the person in the cage (people like me) and for those who come in contact with the "caged" theologian.
The latest "cage stage" is an eschatological one--the Theonomy Cage Stage. Even though I've been through a few "cage stages" of my own, instead of trying to reason with my Theonomist brethren who find themselves in a "cage stage" (and I am not speaking of all Theonomists), I rubbed raw, accusatory meat on my shirt, walked up to their cages, and repeatedly poked them with a sharp, social media stick.
Bad move. Dumb move. Sinful move.
A Perfect Storm
There's a storm brewin'. It's sizing up to be a "perfect storm."
"A 'perfect storm' is an expression that describes an event where a rare combination of circumstances will aggravate a situation drastically. The term is also used to describe an actual phenomenon that happens to occur in such a confluence, resulting in an event of unusual magnitude."The "perfect storm," the rare combination of circumstances that is drastically aggravating the situation, the confluence of phenomenon that is producing an event of unusual magnitude, is the coming together of eschatological debate, social media, and sinful hearts. Instead of hearing the blaring sirens that warned of the coming storm, and instead of taking shelter in the shadow of my Lord's wings and keeping my mouth shut unless I had something positive (edifying) to contribute, I allowed myself to become yet one more unstable hot-air mass--adding to the unfruitful confluence of uncharitable rhetoric.
Well, I've decided I no longer want to be caught up in the storm. I certainly don't want to further add to its intensity. I'm done seeding the storm clouds with pithy one-liners and radio show segments.
I'm not conversant on the subject of eschatology. Some will undoubtedly use my admission against me. So be it. I know what I believe, but I have not taken the time to study the subject to wade into the deeper waters of the discussion. I do have serious misgivings about Theonomy, which are not to be confused with my feelings for Theonomists--at least the ones I know and respect. But before I speak again about those misgivings, I need to spend time studying my own position. When and if that time comes, then I will begin to study what my Theonomist brethren believe.
However, as I told a friend on the phone earlier today, I cannot invest 40 hours a week to the study of eschatology--my own position or the position of others. I have a gospel to preach. As a wise and respected pastor said today on Twitter (a tweet worth reading), "Some are so caught up contending for the faith they forget to spread it." I've allowed myself to do this, more than once--to get so caught up contending with other Christians about aspects of my faith that I've taken my eye off the ball--the spreading of the faith--the proclamation of the gospel.
Abandon Sinful Behaviors without Abandoning Theological Convictions
I humbly ask my Theonomist brethren to consider if this has become or is becoming true of them. Dear brothers and sisters, have you (like I have) allowed yourself get so caught up in contending for Theonomy that you're spending less time sharing the gospel? You don't owe me an answer. But please be humble enough to at least consider the possibility. Are you stuck in an eschatological "cage stage?" If you are in a "cage stage" (of any kind), it doesn't mean you have to abandon your commitment to your eschatological position. But you do have to abandon the uncharitable way in which you interact with people who disagree with you. You do have to abandon the haughtiness with which you defend your position. You do have to abandon the way you marginalize people who disagree with you by leaving them feel spiritually and intellectually inferior. You do have to abandon the way you intimate that you question the validity of the salvation of others because they do not subscribe to an eschatological point of view you yourself embraced only a short time ago.
Look: I know I have to do the same thing. I have to abandon sinful behaviors without abandoning theological convictions (unless, of course, my theological convictions are, according to Scripture, in error).
It's inevitable that someone will try to comment on this blog or on Twitter and accuse me of accusing them of a bunch of nasty stuff. Such an accusation would be a lie. Hey, if nothing I wrote above applies to you, great! If it does, all your venomous speech toward me won't change a thing. It will only serve to bolster my case regarding the existence of a theonomic "cage stage."
So, with that, and for the time being, I have nothing further to say about Theonomy. Now, I am not suggesting that everyone else should stop talking about Theonomy. As for me (and I'm speaking only for and about myself), I've got a gospel to preach, and this subject has proven to be a stumbling block for me. Maybe the day will come when I will talk and write about it again. I don't know when that will be or what will necessitate me talking about it again. Until then, I will continue to study to show myself approved--not to win the next debate, but to be further conformed to the image of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
There are plenty of enemies of Christ out there--enemies who need to hear the gospel. So, I will try to keep my fights limited to fights for their souls. As for this perfect storm--the combination of eschatology, social media, and sinful hearts--it's time for me to stop being a lightning rod. It's time for me to pray the storm will end. It's time for me to serve as a calming presence for those who seek to get out of the storm. Lord, help me.