Reading and Error

A couple of years ago I did a three-part series of posts for the Sola Scriptura Ministries blog titled “Reading and Error.” The purpose was to advocate for what some friends of ours call “Reformed Irenicism”—though I don’t use that term. You can check the posts here:

Part 1

There is a famous Latin maxim on theological controversy that has been attributed to Augustine (though he may not have said it) that warrants thoughtful consideration: In necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus autem caritas. In translation this roughly says, “In necessary things, unity; in doubtful things, liberty; in all things, charity.” Without wanting to debate the universal truthfulness of the entire statement, the last definitely merits consideration. Augustine himself demonstrated charity in his dealings with those in error—one thinks of his early treatment of Pelagius as an example. Whether in truth or in error, we must deal carefully at all times.

Part 2

As an aside, have you ever noticed the footnotes in books that you read? In many books, those footnotes demonstrate that your favourite theologians read error in order to combat it. Pick up a book like Christianity and Liberalism by J. Gresham Machen and you will quickly discover that he was intimately involved with the writings of his liberal opponents.

Part 3

The best way to respond to erroneous teaching is to deal with the best of a person’s arguments, not the worst. Sometimes it can be easy to take an outlandish statement and punch holes through it. Little work is required and the desired effect of repulsion can easily be acquired. Rather, consider the strong-points, deal with them honestly, and it may be that the opponent is convinced by your godly response, but others reading your work may be drawn to your position. If you fail to do this, others will see and it will be easy for them to dismiss both you and your argument because of your lack of charity.