Jon Moffitt: Hi, this is Jon. Today on Theocast, we talk about how to disagree agreeably. There seems to be drawing of lines in all areas of theology and even politics. Christians seem to get really upset and don’t know how to disagree, and when they do get behind the keyboard or a phone, they seem to lose something called the fruits of the Spirit. Jimmy and I have a lively conversation about theological disagreements between different denominations.
That also leads into the members’ podcast where we discuss politics, Christians, and disagreement. We hope you enjoy the conversation today.
Through the history of Theocast, this is something we have learned as we have grown as a podcast, and as we’ve brought different hosts on: our podcast is where we talk a lot about what we disagree about and things that we point out that we think is wrong.
One of the things that Jimmy and I were discussing before we came on the podcast is that disagreeing with someone agreeably is a lost art. Especially when someone gets behind a keyboard or behind their phone, they dehumanize the discussion and they will say and do things that you would never do in person. They even would take up arguments or positions that they probably don’t hold, but they want to make a point so bad that they desired it to be right. I’ve even seen comments from people I know personally that they would never say in person.
One of the things we wanted to talk about is where we, Jimmy and I, disagree with broader evangelicalism, and how it is that we can agree with them even though we disagree—to find some agreeableness around theology.
Then we’re going to talk a little bit about where we have struggle, where there are points that really bother us and those tend to turn up the heat on us a little bit.
Jimmy, start us off. Broadly speaking, we partner with a lot of people. We disagree with them and I think we do it agreeably. What is it that centers us and where do we find ourselves in certain areas saying that we wouldn’t agree on those grounds?
Jimmy Buehler: Right now, in my world religions class, we’re walking through Christianity. Even though I teach at a Christian school, I never want to assume that the vast majority of my students understand the basic things of the Christian faith. So we’re walking through core tenants of Christianity right now, and this is a conversation that we’re having.
In really large letters on my whiteboard, I wrote the word “nuance”. Something that social media has done is it has removed our ability to have a nuanced conversation. We’ve lost the art of having a conversation with somebody in a way that’s kind and generous and gracious. I was just texting with some friends the other day and we were just talking about the ninth commandment: don’t bear false witness. Often in a conversation, that’s all we do. All we do is break the ninth commandment and we bear false witness. It’s like we begin the conversation with the goal to obliterate our opponent rather than to reach mutual understanding—and when our goal is to merely obliterate our opponent, one, we’re not seeking to understand those who have been created in the image of God and give them the dignity and respect that we should as people. Two, again, we’re bearing false witness. We’re not understanding them on their terms.
Jon, you and I have had some passionate conversations on the phone, I think specifically on your porch—we just sandbag everything until we get together and then we let it all out. But the thing is, what centers my relationship with Jon Moffitt and what centers my relationship with Justin Purdue, even though we are three pastors at three churches that are similar but not the same, is the gospel.
I know that at Jon’s church, he and his elders preach Christ and Christ crucified from all of the Scriptures. They’re seeking to help their people find rest in Jesus Christ in Jesus Christ alone. I know this is the same for Justin. I believe that these guys say the same thing for me.
Our worship at all three of our churches looks different. We have different convictions of how things go about, but at the end of the day, this is why we can partner with people. I’m just going to name a few: guys like Chad Bird. Chad is a Lutheran. Certainly, Chad and I doctrinally disagree on some things. Yet I know and I trust that at the end of the day, Chad can preach a gospel of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, on the count of Christ alone. That is the center of what grounds us and what holds us together. Even something as ecumenical as reciting the apostles creed, that these are the truths that the Christian church has recited throughout centuries, and if we can recite these, believe these, and trust these wholeheartedly, then we can jive together. That’s where I would begin—is really the gospel.
Jon Moffitt: I think that’s good that you mentioned the Apostle’s Creed because it does create so much unity within. If we’re talking about those to whom we are going to partner with at Theocast, and we have partnered with, and we have had on our podcast Lutherans, Presbyterians, Baptists, and non-denomination. We’ve had a good, broad perspective of people that are on here. The three of us are 1689 confessionally Reformed. This is a conviction that we hold to.
One of the conversations that I wanted to have is that within Christianity, one of the issues that really bothers me is that we get so concerned on what I would say are the second level or even third level issues. We begin to argue and fight about them, and denominations get really heated. There are these ongoing conversations. We have people who are not understanding the gospel, who don’t understand assurance, and justification has been lost in the wind. It breaks my heart. I have strong convictions and disagreements with a lot of different denominations, but we have to remember what the primary mission and goal of Christians is: it’s the advancement of the gospel.
If I can partner with people that I know are preaching a true and pure gospel—they are leading people to truly rest in Jesus Christ and him alone and are not placing the Law and burden on people, they’re separating the Law from the gospel, and on the secondary issues of how the function of the church and eschatology and even modes of baptism—I may never serve in their church, and they may never serve in mine, but I have no problems promoting their message and encouraging them to continue what they’re doing because the gospel message is going forward. I don’t think the Baptists are the only ones who got it right. I know some denominations have really strong opinions on that.
What this conversation is about is I think Christianity has lost its way. I’m not saying we should all be one denomination. No, I think the nominations are helpful. People have convictions and conclusions about the Bible and I think they should hold to those. But the reason why Theocast is not going to ever isolate ourselves is because we think there are good men and good ministries doing good work, and we should partner with them, promote them, and make sure that work continues because more people are going to rest in Christ if that is true.
Jimmy Buehler: I want to summarize a couple of things that you just said. When we talk about Scripture and the gospel, we want to be mindful of clarity. We want to be clear. We want to be clear about the things that we mean and the things that we’re teaching. Whenever we’re chasing after clarity, that necessarily means that we’re going to create some categories. Whenever we necessarily create categories, that is where we begin to draw some distinctions. Don’t hear us say, as you just said, that we’re aiming for just one big, lovey-dovey denomination.
Now, when we recite the Apostle’s Creed, what do we say that we believe? We say we believe in the holy catholic—that is the universal church. Certainly we want to aim for catholicity, meaning we keep in mind the universal church, and we want to be in partnership for the gospel, moving forth to all nations, to every tribe, tongue, language, and nation. However, when we create these categories or when we seek clarity, we have categories, we create distinctions, there is a difference—and here it comes nuance. There is a difference, in my mind, between distinction and division. Distinction allows me to be defined by categories, and through the process of seeking clarity, from my Lutheran brothers and sisters. There’s a distinction. However, that doesn’t mean that I have to be divided from them.
We live in such a binary time where you’re either Democrat or you’re Republican. You’re either right or you’re left. You’re either conservative or liberal. You’re either this or that. Again, we’ve lost this ability to have nuanced, helpful, and generous conversations.
Do I have distinctions from Lutherans? Do I have distinctions from Anglicans? Do I have distinctions from Presbyterians and so on and so forth? Absolutely. They would say the same things about me and one another. But do I have to be divided with them? No, I don’t think that that’s actually very helpful.
Jon Moffitt: That’s very helpful. I like the distinction versus division.
One of the things that I experienced growing up in the denomination that I was in, and I still see it today, is that we create wrong dividing lines. Jimmy and I would agree that there are Baptists, Presbyterians, Anglicans, and Lutherans that would say, “I don’t even know if you’re evangelical.” We are going to drop the hammer of division going, “No, you missed the gospel. Where the Bible is clear saying, you’re saying it’s not. That’s not evangelical. We’re going to have to divide over that.” This is where people come in and ask where the dividing line happens. At what point do you drop the hammer?
There are primary doctrines where Theocast—Jimmy and I—have no problems partnering with as long as we can agree on these primary doctrines. We’re talking about the doctrine of God, the doctor justification, the doctrine of depravity—these are doctrines, we believe, that if you remove one of these primary doctrines—the trinality of Christ, the Trinity—you remove these and you actually are messing with the gospel at this point.
We have to be very careful on these primary doctrines, where we look at them and say we agree. We may even explain them a little bit different, we may even have different language, but we’re all coming to the same conclusion. We might say certain ministries are more helpful than others. Some more clarifying than others. Not just because we agree on the primaries are we going to say they’re clear on all our other areas. Part of Theocast, we would say there’s a lot evangelicals out there that we disagree with and we think are unhelpful, which is where I’m going next.
There are secondary and third issues. For instance, if Jimmy has a man in his church that desires to be an elder, but there are some massive disagreements on the function and role of an elder or even women in ministry—there are some that are very hard for the church to get unified between Jimmy and a separate elder who are leading the church in two opposite directions, and we’re not talking about small opinions like “I like guitar” and “I like piano.” We’re talking about massive understandings of how the gospel ministry goes forward. On a personal level, on a church level, those become a little bit more important because we need to have as much unity as we can when it comes down to a local body. This is why there are denominations. People look at Scripture, they do their best to interpret Scripture, and they find themselves leaning towards a denomination that they think has the best interpretation. That creates unity. At Theocast, we’re not anti-denomination here. Some people think denominations are bad. In a sinful world, I think they’re necessary.
Where I want to go next is that Jimmy, Justin, and I—one of the struggles that we have is that even in this primary doctrine, this first level, one of the problems that’s happening in today’s world is that primary issue—that primary doctrine of justification, the doctrine of God, the doctrine of the Trinity, the nature of God—all of this is becoming questionable in how people are presenting these doctrines. I would say they’re being careless. They’re not using a historical theology to help govern them, which is why we’re big fans of confessional theology.
A good example of this is final justification. That doctrine that’s come to be plaguing all kinds of denominations right now is a good example of a primary doctrine where they aren’t necessarily fully heretics teaching it, but they are being very careless in what they are presenting.
Jimmy Buehler: A lot of times, where a lot of these things happen to go back to clarity, categories, and distinction, is that these distinctions—and I would say even these categories—get collapsed into one another. We see a collapse of the doctrine of the Trinity, an understanding of the one essence of God, that distinction and role and function, and yet we’d collapse all of these things. Where were most of the heresies in the early church? What were they around? They were around the Trinity or Christological heresies. We’re just recycling old heresies, to use that language.
Again, particularly when it comes to the gospel, if we’re thinking about what’s the most important question that a person can ask in their life—which is most likely, “How can I be saved?”—we want to be able to give them a very clear, assuring, and comforting answer that we find this good news of the gospel.
This is what I’m preaching on this week in my church: 1 Corinthians 15,that Jesus Christ has died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was an historical person, and that he rose from the dead for our justification and that there were actual eyewitnesses to this truth.
When we begin to take the gospel, as you said, Jon, we begin to become reckless or muddy with it where we are no longer giving a clear approach to how it is that people can find rest in Christ. We can no longer find what it means to be forgiven of our sin. This is when you start to see the guys that Theocast—and many others—become really fiery. I can just speak for myself of the damage that it really does to people, the damage that it can do to an individual who, even though they might have the Jesus fish on their car, are just inwardly tortured by their own sin because the gospel has never been truly explained to them. That’s where I personally get really fiery.
I always find it interesting that the people who kind of get on my case for being—in their language—divisive over stuff like this are the same people who have no problem changing churches because they don’t like the worship style.
Jon Moffitt: Or children’s ministry.
Jimmy Buehler: Exactly. I say we need to have a conversation about primary and secondary doctrines.
I don’t know if you want to speak into that as well, Jon.
Jon Moffitt: I do. This is where the longer people listen to Theocast, they start picking up what really does become most important. I think Christianity needs to be working more and more on clarifying the gospel, and bringing greater amount of clarity, because the clearer Christ is to the believer, the more they can rest and the more joy they can find. Instead, I feel like a lot of what Christianity is built around is building bridges to sell righteousness. We tend to push Christology and the, uh, the gospel to, “Okay, but that’s what God is saying. We really need to get down to the crux of what’s going on here.” We begin to mold and mix in together justification, the way in which our standing is before God, and sanctification, that which God uses to transform us into His image. Those get pressed in together.
I just want to make an example here. I love guys like Michael Horton. I love our Lutheran brothers who understand the role of justification, sanctification, the Law and the gospel, and they keep those things separate, and they press in sola fide into the believer. That is someone that I absolutely want to read, to listen to, to be shepherded to, to encourage people to listen to and be shepherded by. They are making primary the gospel. In all of the other areas, they become secondary.
Where my struggle is, to go back with what Jimmy is at, is that sometimes we draw lines and disagreements, and we begin to call people heretics. The things that will be said are unbelievable. It’s just pure, old-school fundamentalism. It’s all it is. If you don’t agree on every single point, on every single doctrine, they will not only refuse to promote or recommend you, but they won’t give you a platform with their people. It is so inclusive and divisive that it is confusing. Every doctrine becomes a primary doctrine. Everything becomes an issue. I’ve seen this in the Presbyterian world and in the 1689 world, where the most ridiculous doctrines that should never make it to a primary level, Christians are fighting over, dividing over, will not associate, and won’t even talk with each other because there’s a disagreement on a particular doctrine that is not a primary and has never been a primary in the history of the church.
We have to be careful in making sure that we look at what Scripture procures as a primary. For instance, do you have services on Sunday morning and Sunday night? Maybe not. I’ve seen people being called liberal heretics because they don’t have church on Sunday night. Have you lost your mind?
Varying views on the Sabbath is a great one. Sabbatarianism is another one that I see a lot of people fighting over, and it’s disheartening.
Jimmy Buehler: If everything is a primary doctrine, then nothing is a primary doctrine. If everything is primary and central to the justification of the believer, then nothing is.
I just want to throw this out there that praise be to the name of God that we are not saved by right doctrine. Praise be to Jesus Christ that we are not saved by perfect doctrine. Because frankly, to think that we have perfect airtight theology is rather arrogant, and I’ve been guilty of this. I think this is what should drive us, as we interact with people that we disagree with, is not this obstinate desire to be correct, but rather a spirit of humility and gentleness and respect, and also understanding.
I have a friend that I really respect. He asked great questions. He said something to me a while back where it just landed on me and impacted me. He said that when he approaches a dispute or a conversation that is of a lively manner, he said he tries to shift and begin with assuming that he’s wrong or he’s misunderstanding. He said that that has helped him as he’s interacted with different theologians and different people who he would disagree with, because it helps others to be humanized. Frankly, this is why battles on Twitter and Facebook are just so nonsensical because you can type something and walk away, and not have to bear the consequences of body language, hurt feelings, or whatever. It dehumanizes conversation. Frankly, it’s why we are so polarized today not just theologically, but politically. It’s because we dehumanize people. People just become subject of memes.
We have to be so careful that as we’re talking about things, we hold tightly that which God has given us to hold tightly, which is Christ and him crucified for the forgiveness of sins by grace alone, through faith alone, on the count of Christ alone.
And everything else—and when I say everything, I know a lot of people are going to throw up their hands—but when it comes to the things outside of what the church has confessed ecumenically throughout centuries—the Athanasian Creed, the Nicene Creed, the Apostles Creed—I think we need to win back or take back what Paul urges us in 1 Corinthians 13, that has less to do with weddings and more to do with how we talk with one another: in a spirit of love. It’s the spirit of wanting to aim for unity.
What if, when you approach conversation that had disagreement, your goal was unity and not to be right?
Jon Moffitt: Without giving up conviction.
Jimmy Buehler: That’s right.
Jon Moffitt: Because what Jimmy and I are not saying is lay down conviction.
Jimmy Buehler: No, unity and uniformity are not the same thing.
Jon Moffitt: Nope, they’re not. That’s absolutely true.
In Christianity, we talk a lot about being godly, holy, and pursuing sanctification. What is interesting to me is that somehow the fruits of the Spirit and holiness are getting separated -godliness and the fruits of the Spirit don’t go together. We’re talking about meekness, gentleness, humility, and being patient. These are all fruits of the Spirit.
Godliness is patience, it’s meekness, it’s humility. It’s preferring one another. When we get into these theological discussions, patience, meekness, humility, and preference go out the window. I’ve been in these discussions around certain topics before. I just have to sit back and ask, “What are we doing here?” Because you will hear arguments like Calvinism versus free will, or pedobaptism versus credobaptism, or different than not. You start hearing arguments get thrown out there. They go from having this gentle, loving, brotherly conversation to saying things that are mean, hurtful, and have no benefit in what was said or what was written.
One of the things that I think is lost is the art of discussion. We’re not able to have meaningful dialogue without there being offense and saying things that are frankly offensive.
Jimmy Buehler: I like that you talked about the fruit of the Spirit. Just last night at the men’s group, one of the guys in our group was emphasizing how the Christian life has extra nos—it’s outside of us. We receive the gospel outside of us. But also, Luther talks about this and the freedom of the Christian, that we also become extra nos as we walk with others, that we are freed by the gospel to love and serve our neighbors generously. Even the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control—tell me one of those that only benefits the individual.
Jon Moffitt: I’m going to be patient with myself.
Jimmy Buehler: Give yourself some patience. Who talks like that?
Jon Moffitt: Self-control, maybe.
Jimmy Buehler: Maybe, but if you’re married, self-control is really going to benefit your spouse.
Even those are extra nos fruits of the Spirit—they’re outward-focused. It’s not only that we receive the benefits, the goodness, and the grace of the gospel extra nos, outside of ourselves, but we also give it. Not that we become livers of the gospel. We don’t live the gospel—we receive it. Rather, we give the grace that has been given to us in Jesus and we give it freely to others.
I know other people are going to say, “You’re just a pietist now.” If that’s pietism then call me a pietist.
Jon Moffitt: That’s piety.
Jimmy Buehler: Exactly. We’ve been walking through 1 Corinthians for a year. What’s Paul’s major concern in 1 Corinthians 1? The gospel to unity and love in the church. These are extra nos realities.
Jon Moffitt: As a matter of fact, I think that is the majority of the epistles.
Jimmy Buehler: Oh, hands down.
Jon Moffitt: Ephesians, for sure. Colossians, for sure. 2 Peter, for sure.
Jimmy Buehler: Galatians.
Jon Moffitt: Galatians, for sure. They’re fighting over the Law.
Jimmy Buehler: So unity is not this lovey-dovey liberal mindset. I think a lot of people hear ecumenical and what they think is they have to start wearing like rainbow vestments and becoming universalists. No, that’s not it at all. Rather, I think part of maturing as a Christian is you know where to draw distinctions without drawing division. We can draw a distinction about our views of baptism. We can draw a distinction about our views of liturgy. We can draw a distinction about our views of end times—and maybe we’ll talk about this in the members’—we can draw a distinction about our views of politics. But to divide over some of these things does not do anybody any favors.
Jon Moffitt: In my own experience, it took me longer to come to the Reformed covenantal perspective because of the way in which I was groomed to be so divisive in my disagreement.
Jimmy Buehler: Combative.
Jon Moffitt: Combative. Thank you.
It wasn’t until the Lord really broke me down through different circumstances, and just humiliated me theologically, that I realized I don’t know anything. I don’t even know what I don’t know. That’s the scary part.
I have had some of the most God-honoring, encouraging conversations with men from all kinds of different backgrounds that I definitely disagree with. In the end of it, I come out loving Christ more, knowing my brother better, and in some ways I shifted my thinking, and in other ways, it only confirmed that the position that I’m holding is, I think, the correct position.
Again, all of these discussions are centered around not justification or not gospel issues, but we’re talking secondary issues. We’re talking about church polity, roles, or how different things function, end times, etc. I’ve got a pastor friend who is a dispensationalist. We talk about dispensational theology and end times, and they’ve always been great dialogues because he and I know how not to be combative. We come together to understand each other, but really what we’re trying to do is ask ourselves if we really understand the Scripture fully. Am I really embracing all of Scripture as best as I know how? I honestly think he thinks he is, as a dispensationalist, and I know I honestly think I am, and yet we can still have community and union in our disagreement.
Jimmy Buehler: Somebody is going to say, “When I’m speaking the ‘truth’, I am being loving.” Frankly, because you have Paul say, “If I speak in the tongues of heavenly beings but have not love, I’m a banging cymbal.” Often, what combative mindsets will do or say is, “I’m speaking the truth, and if it sounds mean, it’s not mean—it’s loving.”
Jon Moffitt: The phrase actually says, “speaking the truth in love”.
Jimmy Buehler: Certainly there are going to be some degrees where that actually is true. When people say, “You can’t preach the exclusivity of Christ because that’s not loving,” no, actually that is loving. But when it comes to a lot of these secondary doctrines, when it comes to a lot of these secondary practices of the church, saying you’re speaking the truth is code for, “I’m just being a jerk.”
Jon Moffitt: They should be angry with what you said, not how you said it.
Jimmy Buehler: Exactly. I’ve really enjoyed this conversation. Where we’re sitting right now, even in our political climate, one of the hot button issues right now is we don’t even have to talk about baptism or vestments or liturgy or this or that. All you have to do is bring up the presidential election and people are going to flip. Maybe in the members’, we talk about how we should approach the idea of liberty of conscience—what our church confession in chapter 21 talks about. How do we approach liberty of conscience and politics? We’ve had some conversations about this.
Jon Moffitt: I preached a sermon this last Sunday on John 18 when Jesus says, “My kingdom is not of this world.” He was unlocking more than people could even imagine. I definitely have some thoughts on that. Our modern Christianity has placed so much hope in the American government thinking that God is using that to bring about His new kingdom and shocker: God doesn’t use Babylon, Rome, or America to accomplish His good pleasure. We’ll definitely talk about that.
For those of you that don’t know, if this is your first time listening to Theocast, we have a membership—really, it’s our partnership. It’s a way that people come and support us so that we can continue to create this podcast, books, and new classes. We have several new classes on covenant theology and Calvinism, and a lot of extra reading material. All of this is made available because of our monthly support. You can go to theocast.org to learn more about that. For those of you who are members, buckle up. I know Jimmy has got some good stuff waiting for you. I can’t wait to hear his thoughts.
We’ll see you over in the membership.