I missed a post by Kevin DeYoung a couple of days ago. In this post he decries those that…
“claim to transcend old polarities. The ones that always claim to be above all the silly nonsense that used to drag us down. The ones that keep their noses clean by putting them high into air. The ones that are never dirty enough for the trenches.”
He freely admits that he has no desire to “turn every skirmish into a war” but there are battles that need to be fought and won. It’s cowardice to take to higher ground when there is a legitimate battle going on down below.
I’ve written a fair amount in the past about being slow to engage in controversy. Yet, I also identify with what DeYoung is saying here. If I am reading him correctly he is saying much the same that Richard Sibbes said 400 years ago:
And yet often we see a false spirit in those that call for moderation. Their doing so is but to carry their own projects with greater strength; and if they prevail they will hardly show that moderation to others which they now call for from others. And there is a proud kind of moderation likewise, when men will take upon them to censure both parties, as if they were wiser than both, although, if the spirit be right, an onlooker may see more than those that are in conflict. (Sibbes, The Bruised Reed, 30)
If there is a legitimate battle that needs to be fought then the gospel demands that we suit up and contend for the faith. The problem is we often take swords into an arm wrestling match. It takes wisdom to discern when there is a legitimate high-road and when silence is the best course. It takes wisdom to know if the battle is yours. And it takes wisdom to know what if you should bring a knife, a smile, or a grenade.
I do think that DeYoung takes this a little far when he says, “I am skeptical of those whose first instinct in the midst of theological, political, or cultural controversy is to plead with everyone that there doesn’t have to be a controversy.” There will be many that are wired in a similar way to Kevin that will give hearty amen’s to this sentiment. Some are wired to have a first instinct of “fight”. They will err on the side of getting in fights that they shouldn’t.
But then again there are also those that could say something very similar to DeYoung but from a different perspective. John Newton often spoke of controversies and distinctions being against his nature. His disposition probably would have been similar to what DeYoung responds to with skepticism. Consider his posture with regards to Andrew Fuller’s newest book which was causing great controversies.
Indeed it costs me but little self-denial to decline books of controversy, which though well written and even upon important points, seldom (I fear) are very useful. Especially when the opponents are known and avowed, and the debate is not merely about sentiments, but Mr. A is engaged against Mr. B. Then it is fighting not merely for truth but for victory; and they usually push each other to extremes. Whereas if they would explain and qualify there is perhaps a [common ground] in which they might meet at once and be at peace. (From Wise Counsel, 217)
Newton was skeptical of those whose first instinct was to do battle. His natural instinct was to “flight”. And it is no accident that one of the great questions of Newton’s life is that there were controversies that he probably should have engaged in but did not. Whereas those whose first instinct is to fight will err in getting into fights they shouldn’t, those like Newton will err in taking the “high ground” when they ought to get in the trenches and do battle.
Yet, I don’t think the error is in “first instincts” but in the actual response (or non-response) to controversies. At the end of the day those that are wired to be quick to battle will probably look at those like Newton and wonder, “Why isn’t this nancy-boy joining the fight”. And those that are wired like Newton will look at those that are engaged in many controversies and wonder why they are not more marked by a peaceful and loving spirit. It would do us well to consider the disposition of our brothers and sisters in Christ and do battle with our own disposition well before we graciously do battle with theirs.