A Quarrelsome Person? Response to The Gospel Coalition
Someone sent me a story recently written by Kevin DeYoung of The Gospel Coalition. DeYoung is a pastor and a PhD Assistant Professor at Reformed Theological Seminary. For such a highly educated individual, and a professor at a well known seminary, I was surprised by the lack of quality in this piece.
Here I will quote the article, point by point, and give my response.
Right off the bat, the title caught my attention. I hear a lot of talk in Churches these days about “unity” and “division.” But often these terms are twisted to mean the exact opposite of what we find in Scripture. In Romans 15, for example, we are called to be of one mind:
Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus, so that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Whenever the Bible calls Christians to be of one mind, we are being called to have minds that are unified with Jesus Christ. But far too often I hear Christians declaring the opposite, saying that you can believe whatever you want to believe and still call yourself a Christian, and we will sit around and sing songs together.
The latter is not unity in Christ, it’s unity in Babel. This is something I talked about in one of my YouTube videos. It becomes a form of political correctness, in which all Christians are accepted, except for those who believe what the Bible actually says. You can believe whatever you want about God, Creation, Sin, The Fall, Heaven, Hell, Death, and Salvation, as long as you do not say that the Bible is objectively clear in its teachings.
Statements to the effect of “I feel this way…” or “In my opinion…” are accepted as the norm, but any confident statement on clear Biblical Orthodoxy is regarded as heresy.
Don’t get me wrong, there are areas of Theology and Ethics that Christians will rightly struggle with and disagree on until the LORD returns. With things like Halloween, do we avoid the celebration, or seek to baptize the holiday? Perhaps we dress up and hand out Bibles to the kids, along with candy? Or perhaps we create alternative costume parties at Church and call it something else?
In matters of Theology, people may have intellectually honest debates about how salvation works (Soteriology) or who the author of The Book of Hebrews was. But by and large, what we see in churches today is the tendency to throw the Bible away in order to cater to people’s feelings, especially to the Biblically illiterate or sinful within our midst, all in the name of “unity.”
With that in mind, let’s continue with DeYoung’s article and see what we can find in terms of substance.
Quarrels don’t just happen. People make them happen.
Yes, but the mere fact that two parties have a conflict does not indicate guilt towards one party or another. In World War II, the Allies fought against the Axis Powers. Attempts to have peace with Hitler failed miserably when he invaded surrounding nations, and movements toward disarmament left the United Kingdom with little defense. A “quarrel” happened in the form of a war, but one side stood for Freedom and Justice, while the other side stood for Tyranny and Social Justice.
Of course, there are honest disagreements and agree-to-disagree propositions, but that’s not what the Bible means by quarreling. Quarrels, at least in Proverbs, are unnecessary arguments, the kind that honorable men stay away from (Prov. 17:14; 20:3). And elders too (1 Tim. 3). These fights aren’t the product of a loving rebuke or a principled conviction. These quarrels arise because people are quarrelsome.
Sure, starting a fight for no reason is sin.
On a personal note, however, I never “agree to disagree” — it is a weak-minded cop-out statement for people who are too afraid to ever have a healthy debate. People in our culture have been taught to avoid discussion of disagreements. What they should have been taught is how to disagree, while showing respect to another person’s human dignity.
So what does a quarrelsome person look like? What are his (or her) distinguishing marks? Here are twelve possibilities.
You might be a quarrelsome person if . . .
Okay, so this is going to be some distinguishing marks of a quarrelsome person, as stated by a seminary professor. Let’s see if we are going to be shown what the Bible says about this issue, or if we are just going to be given vague opinions and smoke.
1. You defend every conviction with the same degree of intensity. There are no secondary or tertiary issues. Everything is primary. You’ve never met a hill you wouldn’t die on.
The accusatory wording of this article is what took me aback the most. The author could have positioned himself as a guide and asked questions that focus on the heart. For instance: “Do you ever find yourself doing X?” “How often do you feel the need to argue, even when it is something that is not important?” “Is your concern to seek the Truth for the love of the Truth, or is your concern to prove that you are better than someone else by winning an argument?”
But instead of a guide to seek the heart of the matter, the words seem to yell at the audience. I suspect that this might be directed at one person in particular, and disguised as an article, but who knows?
2. You are quick to speak and slow to listen. You rarely ask questions and when you do it is to accuse or to continue prosecuting your case. You are not looking to learn, you are looking to defend, dominate, and destroy.
That sounds pretty accusatory.
Who is the author talking to? Granted, we’ve all seen people like this, and the vast majority of us have probably “been there” ourselves, but this amounts to a vague generality and an accusation, rather than an honest attempt at helping one to grow out of their own flaws.
The author here comes off as yelling at the audience, while accusing some unknown person of yelling.
3. Your only model for ministry and faithfulness is the showdown with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. Or the only Jesus you like is the Jesus who cleared the money changers from the temple. Those are real examples in Scripture. But the Bible is a book, and sarcasm and whips are not the normal method of personal engagement.
These are not the only examples of this sort of thing in Scripture. Jesus’ harshest rebuke was for those who twisted and perverted the Word of God. He never tip-toed around peoples pride, or “agreed to disagree” with false teachers. The prophets and the apostles had writings that were filled with rebuke.
Then the disciples came and said to Him, “Do You know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this statement?” But He answered and said, “Every plant which My heavenly Father did not plant shall be uprooted. Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit.”
The men of God in the Bible spoke honestly and plainly about what they meant. In previous generations people spoke in the same way. Our “participation trophy” generation is the one out of step with the norm.
Sure, there are those who spend all their free time shouting at people on a megaphone, but that problem is not the norm in our churches and Christian circles. If John The Baptist were to walk in to any Church in America on Sunday, the vast majority would throw him out for disturbing their “unity.”
As for this statement about “the only Jesus you like is the Jesus who cleared the money changers from the temple” — This is the only Jesus in Scripture. This is the one that the Bible proclaims, and this is the only Jesus that can bring you salvation.
He is the stone which was rejected by you, the builders, but which became the chief corner stone. And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.”
But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!
4. You are incapable of seeing nuances, and you do not believe in qualifying statements. Everything in life is black and white without any gray.
Again, who is the author talking to here? If someone does not believe in qualifying statements, then their problem would seem to be the use of any human language. That said, there is a lot about reality that is black and white. To what is the author referring?
Something cannot be both X and not X in the same sense at the same time. The rules of logic still apply to reality. In that way, the universe is binary.
5. You never give the benefit of the doubt. You do not try to read arguments in context. You put the worst possible construct on other’s motives, and when there is a less flattering interpretation you go for that one.
I will answer this question in a personal way. I always try to give people the benefit of the doubt, and ask clarifying questions to understand their meaning. But for those who intentionally try to avoid clarification, and insist on speaking in riddles, I have good reason to suspect that they are an evil person. Good men are not generally afraid to make their words clear. It is those who want to muddy the waters who are afraid of clarification.
6. You have no unarticulated opinions. Do people know what you think of everything? They shouldn’t. That’s why you have a journal or a prayer closet or a dog.
Well, I guess that’s his opinion. Some people like to have opinions of a wide range of topics, and write about them on the Internet. This ought to be an educated, well informed opinion, however.
Why should people not share their views, and why is this author criticizing the exchange of ideas while writing on the Internet?
Also, where is the Bible in all of this? The author opens up with a few Bible verses about a quarrelsome person, but where is the Scripture to back up the rest of this?
7. You are unable to sympathize with your opponents. You forget that sinners are also sufferers. You lose the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.
What does he mean by sympathize? Human beings are not creatures to feel sorry for in the Cosmic scale of things. We are violent, evil criminals who have betrayed the Creator of Heaven and Earth. We are traitors who deserve the eternal death penalty.
When Jesus took that penalty on Himself for us, it was a great gift that we could never repay. We deserved the infinite wrath of God, but Jesus took that full penalty on Himself at the Cross. Being fully God and fully man, He was able to bear the punishment that the whole of humanity could not have born in all of eternity in Hell.
Yet Jesus also loved sinners. We had no value in and of ourselves, but God essentially said you have value to me. In what some would perhaps find counter-intuitive, we are creatures created in the image of God, with incredible value to God, yet at the same time we are creatures who chose to willfully do evil, deserving the wrath of God.
Notice the love of Jesus towards the Samaritan woman, or the woman caught in the act of adultery. Or how He mourned in how much He wanted to show love to rebellious Jerusalem, even while preaching against their sin (John 4, John 8, Matthew 23:37, Luke 13:34).
Yes, we need to love people, and have sympathy for other human beings, but if your idea of “love” is never telling other people about Sin, the Fall, and God’s mercy to us at the Cross, then you don’t love people.
8. Your first instinct is to criticize; your last instinct is to encourage. Quarrelsome people almost always see others in need of rebuke, rarely in need of refreshing.
Fair enough. But why so much open rebuke in this article, and no gentle hand of encouragement?
9. You have a small grid, and everything fits in it. You view life through a tiny prism such that you already know what everything is about. Everything is a social justice issue. Everything relates to the regulative principle. Everything is Obama’s fault. Everything is about Trump. It’s all about the feminists. Or the patriarchy. Or how my parents messed up my life. When all you have is a hammer, the rest of the world looks like a nail.
That’s quite a lot of mixed metaphor there. What exactly is the author trying to say? There are problems in this world, and there is a lot that needs to be done. MLK said that it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. I often fail in this regard. But I’ve got the darkness, a candle, and a match, along with about a million dried logs and a large can of gasoline. (This is a metaphor.)
Beyond this, the author really isn’t saying anything. There isn’t much substance here to respond to.
10. You derive a sense of satisfaction and spiritual safety in feeling constantly rejected. We don’t want to blame the victim, but some people are constitutionally unable to exist except as a remnant. They must be persecuted. They must be maligned. They do not know how to live in peacetime, only in war.
The author seems to speak as a man who has never dealt with a devastating rejection. My entire adult life has been one of being rejected by other Christians for seeking the LORD. There is nothing fun about this. It makes one question their whole life, and the goodness of God, and whether any of it is worth it. A person who thinks that someone can derive spiritual satisfaction in this has no clue what they are talking about.
11. You are always in the trenches with hand grenades strapped to your chest, never in the cafeteria with ice cream and ping pong. I remember years ago talking to a returning serviceman in my church who told me sheepishly that his job in Iraq was to drive an armed convoy for the ice cream truck. It was extremely dangerous, escorting the vehicle through bomb infested territory. This was brave, honorable work. And important: Even soldiers need ice cream once in a while. The amp doesn’t have to be cranked to 11 all the time. Seriousness about God is not the same as pathological seriousness about everything. Remember G. K. Chesterton: “We have to feel the universe at once as an ogre’s castle, to be stormed, and yet as our own cottage, to which we can return to at evening.”
Ice cream and ping pong in a cafeteria sounds like something at some college group’s retreat somewhere.
When Cody Libolt and I first met, this was a concept that we discussed. Who are you after the war? He shared the following article with me:
Who Are You After The War?
In the summer of 2008, my best friend and I packed my car to the brim and moved to Redding, CA. We had just graduated…
And sure, if someone is always hyper serious about everything, then that is an issue. But it’s also an issue if people ignore sin within the church. Like yeast in a lump of dough, it will spread and infect the whole thing.
12. You have never changed your mind. If you haven’t changed your mind on an important matter in several presidents, I wonder if you are a Christian or even alive. Of course, truth never changes, and neither should many of our convictions. But quarrelsome people stir up strife because, already knowing everything, they have no need to listen, learn, or ask questions.
If someone has never changed their mind, then that might be the sign of a problem. As for me, I change my mind surprisingly often for a man who turned 30 this year.
But I am rigid and stubborn when it comes to clear facts, until proven otherwise. I have had people make accusations that I am too rigid, because I would not change my mind about statistics when I had the data right in front of me, no matter how many times they insisted that I should. Often this was a case of people not understanding what the numbers meant.
For example, we are often told that “Women make 77 cents on the dollar, for the exact same work as a man.” and that this indicates sexism in our society. The problem is that when one looks at the data, the second half of this claim is simply false. Men and women choose statistically different career paths, and when women have children, they tend to take some time out of the workforce, and seek more flexible work hours. This is not a problem for them, because many can stay home with the youngest children, while their husband works full time.
In other words, doctors who work 60 hours per week on call are going to make more money than nurses who work 40 hours per week. Also, heart surgeons will tend to make more money than pediatricians. Men and women make different amounts of money because of different career and life choices.
This is not my opinion, economists established this decades ago.
A couple years back, I had an aunt who accused me of being very stubborn, and rigid, because I would not change my mind about the statistical facts of these data. When I sent her an interview from a (female) Harvard professor of economics, she dismissed it as being “Just her opinion” and said that she had no studies to back it up. This Harvard professor has several decades worth of peer reviewed studies in the mainstream literature that she has published on this topic.
So why am I so stubborn? Why won’t I change my mind, just because a relative tells me I should? Because I read, learn, and ask questions.
And in my case, I have sufficient training in statistics from my college coursework to evaluate the claims being made, and to see the logical errors in the claims.
As for not changing one’s mind on important issues, there are those who are highly principled, and who know what they believe and why they believe it.
In response to these questions, one wants to ask the author the inverse: Are you ever willing to forego “unity” with other Christians whom you really really like, because they are not willing to value what Scripture says above catering to people’s feelings?
Personally, I have lost some of my best friends, not out of petty quarrels, but because of unrepentant sin, including open and rampant slander and sexual sin. Because they insisted on going down a path of destruction, I had to step away from those friendships.
Hit close to home? Look to Christ. He has the power to change us and has made provision to forgive. By the death of the Prince of Peace we can be at peace with God and at peace with one another.
What did Christ say?
“Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household.
“He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.
-Matthew 10:34–39 (NASB)
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