“What’s your opinion on whether or not our wills are free”.
The question wasn’t quite as polished but that was the core of this young man’s question. Had he asked it 7-8 years ago I would have jumped for joy assuming that God was mightily working and this dude was really interested in the really important aspects of our faith. That was then, though.
Now when I hear that question…especially from a young man that hasn’t been a believer for even a year…I cringe a little, answer him as simplistically as I can, trying to divert his attention.
I’ve come to believe that such controversial questions aren’t automatically the work of the Lord. It’s quite possible that it comes from another camp altogether. Controversy destroys new believers. In his excellent work, A Christian Directory, Richard Baxter offers three reasons* why new believers shouldn’t “plunge too soon into controversies”.
- It will be a great loss to you, because it will distract your souls from what is far greater. It will be more beneficial to your soul—and more pleasing to God—for you to drink deeper in the fundamentals of the gospel than spending your time in controversy.
- It will corrupt your minds. In place of humility, love, holiness, and heavenly-mindness it will feed your pride, and kindle a heart of division. Controversy will quench your love for others and grow in you a contentious spirit. You will ignore these sins because you assume your doctrine is sound.
- It can lead to such a deception that you will eventually become erroneous and heretical. You are not yet mature enough to judge of these things because you have not gotten a firm enough foundation in the gospel. Therefore, you are undertaking a work that you cannot do. You will undoubtedly end in error.
What this means for discipleship
I wish that I could say that Baxter was a goober and that he is largely over-reacting. Sadly, I have seen the ill effects of new believers too quickly plunging into controversies. I have witnessed (sadly, even in my own heart) a propensity to pride and division. Early on I believe I cared more about whether someone was a Calvinist than whether they were a good husband and father. That’s just silly.
Because I have learned the hard way from what Baxter is saying I have changed the way I do discipleship. I try to focus on the majors and minimize the minors. I will still share my opinion on various controversial matters but I will do everything in my power to bring back the conversation to the sufficiency and importance of gospel basics.
I want the people that I disciple to know theology because I believe it is the fuel to worship. But I also want them to know be more attuned to their wife’s favorite flower than the difference between infra and supralapsarianism. I’d rather they be able to name every character on their son’s favorite television show than be able to name every millenial theory. That happens by asking tough questions of life and love instead of just theological true/false questions.
Controversy doesn’t usually make good disciples. So let’s be sure that new believers aren’t distracted right out of the gate.
*I’ve tried to update and simplify the language as best as I can.