An Open Letter To Online Polemics Fans

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I get the attraction to polemics, I really do.  In fact, I am a huge fan of polemics done well; I love God and love the truth about Him and I hate when errors about Him and how He works are propagated.  I am immensely thankful for polemical works like Matt Waymeyer’s Amillennialism and the Age To Come.

The reason why I mention Dr. Waymeyer’s work is because in many ways it is archetypal of what polemics should be.  It is thoughtful in the way it seeks to accurately understand and portray the position it is critiquing.  It is focused on theological ideas not on persons or individual local churches.  It is learned. It is driven by the text of scripture. And it is gracious in tone.

Whether you agree with his position and conclusions or not, you can’t argue with how he argued for his position and attacked the opposing position. And attack it he did, he pulled no intellectual punches.

Sadly, many, if not most internet “polemicists” do the very opposite things.  They are not thoughtful, but rather regularly misrepresent their opponents. They focus on people (or churches) not theological positions.  They are very rarely learned (in fact an internet polemicist with any kind of advanced theological training is a very rare thing).  Because they very rarely interact with ideas, they very rarely (correctly) use Scripture. And their tone, let’s just say it is usually less than gracious.  In fact most internet polemicists, it seems to me, are not much more than gossip columnists focused on the church.

Let me give you an example.  One of the loudest if not most popular internet polemicists has loudly decried a Texas pastor for performing pet funerals. He has said and written that this man (who I am not naming because I don’t want to further this slanderous gossip) is part of the modern-day downgrade. (A reference to the Downgrade Controversy.  A 19th century dispute in the Baptist Union of Great Britain in which Charles Spurgeon played a key role.)

Aside from the question of whether or not a Montana pastor ought to be concerned with the internal workings of a church nearly 1500 miles away, there is some very important information that is left out when this man and his pet funerals are discussed.  First and most importantly there were no pet funerals.  There was a municipal memorial service for a police department K-9, as required by Texas state law, that was killed by a criminal in the line of duty.  Secondly this pastor spoke at the memorial at the request of the police officer who was the dog’s handler, who is a church member.  Thirdly because this faithful pastor spoke at a  municipal service many heard the gospel for the first time. (And by the way, I know these things because I actually asked those involved.)  The reality is a far cry from a pastor doing pet funerals as a part of the modern-day downgrade.

And this isn’t an isolated incident.  Perhaps you read about the deacon in a Baptist church who built an abortion clinic, untrue. Maybe (and this is the hot one right now) you heard about the prominent Christian apologist who is being mentored by a radical jihadi imam and is blurring the lines between Christianity and Islam, untrue. Maybe you heard about the hipster church that held a booze and tattoo fundraiser, untrue. Sadly I could go on and on.

And even if these things were all true, they are not polemics, because there is no interaction with thoughts or ideas.  According to Merriam Webster the definition of a polemic is a :  an aggressive attack on or refutation of the opinions or principles of another. b :  the art or practice of disputation or controversy —usually used in plural but singular or plural in construction.  That is simply not what is found on most internet polemics blogs or podcasts.  (And some other things that do not qualify as polemics include making fun of people’s names, calling people names, giving out non-public figures contact information, speculating about what occurred in church counseling and intentionally misrepresenting others.)

Some time ago Tim Challies published a blog post “The Seven Marks of a False Teacher.” And while I am not saying that any particular (or all) internet polemicists are false teachers I couldn’t help but notice how many of them share some of the marks that Challies associated with false teachers like being man pleasers, focusing on minutia, attacking faithful proclaimers of the gospel, seeking to gather a following, and exploiting their followers.

And people pleasers need an audience (even if it is relatively small one).  So, I ask you to prayerfully consider whether reading and sharing the output of these internet polemics mavens is glorifying to God, advances the cause of Christ and is actually good for these “polemicists” themselves.

Rather than giving them the attention they crave, I urge you to step out of their audience and to pray for them to humble themselves and allow godly leaders to come alongside them and disciple them not just in doctrine, but in Christian love as well.  I know some of these sites are right about somethings sometimes. And I know that even a broken clock is right twice a day. But I also know I wouldn’t use one to tell time, in fact if it was a clock worth saving, I would want it to see it taken down off of the mantle so it could be repaired.  And as long as these sites and podcasts have an audience I fear the men and women behind them will never mature and become healthy and mature Christians.

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This entry was posted in Christian Living, Loving the Church, Theology by John Chester. Bookmark the permalink.
John Chester

About John Chester

John serves the saints of Piedmont Bible Church, a Grace Advance church plant in Haymarket Virginia, as their shepherd, a position he has held since 2012 and hopes to serve in the rest of his life. Prior to being called to ministry John worked as a lacrosse coach, a pizza maker, a writer, a marketing executive, and just about everything in between. John is a graduate of The Master’s Seminary and The Grace Advance Academy. He hails from The City of Champions, Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, and is unbelievably blessed to be married to his wife Cassandra.
  • johntjeff

    Not to be polemical, but I think the first word in the title of your post should be “An” rather than “On.” And, to agree with you, your assessment of Matt Weymeyer’s book is spot on!

    • johntjeff

      John: Also, you might want to correct the spelling of Matt Waymeyer’s last name since now you have me misspelling it as well! Yikes!

  • Abraham Armenta

    Thank you brother…enjoyed your article. In Mexico, we have a word for people who engage in these types of behavior –
    “chismosos” and “entrometidos”. I appreciate the need for polemics, fighting for the faith, and calling out error. At some point, people cross the line and become busybodies and gossips – behavior that’s unbefitting a minister of the gospel.

  • Vic Christian

    Just wondering – the scriptures warn of false teachers, and does give direction for the warning of and discipline of false teachers within the church. Today, false teachers may be on the internet or in a far location. What is your advice regarding those false teachers – or should we just remain silent and not really care about all those being led astray? Thanks

    • I think in many ways you answered your own questions. Scripture does tell us how respond to false teachers and false teaching in the church. And it tells us not to partner with them (2 John 7-11). But it never tells us how to denounce pagans (You would think Paul would have touched on it in 1 & 2 Corinthians or Ephesians if it was important) even though the NT letters were largely written to churches in predominantly pagan cities.

  • This is a very good article John Chester. What is much needed with the controversies going on

    • Thanks for the encouragement. Truthfully I wouldn’t have written it, if some of these things weren’t stirring up some people I minister to. This isn’t an internet only issues, it affects real people in real churches.

  • hal

    “And their tone, let’s just say it is usually less than gracious.”

    I think I’ll stick with MLJ’s exposition of “speaking the truth in love”:

    “If
    you want to be regarded as [gracious]…you must not criticize, for to
    criticize is to deny the spirit of Christ, and to be entirely devoid of
    love. “Speaking the truth in love” has come to mean that you more or
    less praise everything, but above all, that you never criticize any view
    strongly…

    We must therefore ask the question, Is this a right
    and true interpretation of Paul’s statement? Is this what is meant by
    “speaking the truth in love”? I answer immediately that it cannot be,
    for the reason that the Apostle does not simply tell us here to speak
    lovingly. What he says is “speaking the truth” or “holding the truth”.
    We are not told by the Apostle to cultivate a vague, loving spirit, but
    to hold “the truth” in love. The very word truth, in and of itself,
    makes the modern popular exposition of the statement obviously and
    patently wrong. Furthermore-and this is where the context is so
    important-if the phrase merely denotes a loving spirit, how is it
    connected with what the Apostle has said in verse 14? If “speaking the
    truth in love”, “holding the truth in love”, means that we are
    to…never criticize and condemn and reject any views at all, how do we
    avoid being-children, tossed to and fro and carried about by every wind
    of doctrine? This supposed “loving spirit” makes it impossible to use
    terms such as “sleight of men” and “cunning craftiness” and “lying in
    wait to deceive”. The very text itself and especially the context, make
    that interpretation completely impossible; indeed it is a denial of the
    Apostle’s statement. To put life, or “spirit”, or niceness [or tone], or
    anything else, before truth is to deny essential New Testament
    teaching; and in addition it is to contradict directly the Apostle’s
    solemn warning in verse 14. It is to set up ourselves, and the modern
    mind, and 20th-century man, as the authority rather than the ‘called
    apostle’ Paul and all others whom the Lord has set in the Church to warn
    us against, and to save us from, this attitude which dislikes
    discrimination and judgment. Never was it more important to assert that
    friendliness or niceness [or tone] or some sentimental notions of
    brotherliness do not constitute Christianity. You can have all such
    qualities without and apart from Christianity without “truth”. So that,
    whatever else it may mean, “holding the truth in love” does not mean a
    vague, flabby, sentimental notion of niceness and fellowship and
    brotherhood.”

    So let’s pick apart what you’ve done here. First,
    you take snide potshots by making vague references to some “Montana
    pastor” who has decried certain things from 1500 miles away. Why don’t
    you let your “yes” be “yes and say “JD Hall” so that people are clear
    about who you are referring to?

    Second, you actually don’t do
    what you claim as the more preferred option for true polemics by
    refuting his claims. You simply say, “It’s not true” without actually
    refuting his positions or providing evidence that he is wrong. You make
    distinctions without differences, and you simply point back at him and
    say “No it’s not”, so that all we’re left with is your word against his
    rather than clear Biblical exposition and real, factual evidence.

    Third,
    you attribute motivations to him such as “people pleasers”, “gossip
    columnists”, etc. That’s kinda rich, given how he’s probably managed to
    isolate himself from just about everyone in the mainstream. Seems like
    if he were interested in people pleasing, he would actually “tone it
    down” just a bit…

    Finally, you actually insinuate, despite your
    disclaimer to the contrary, that he might be a “false teacher”. Using
    the same arguments, I bet I could pick you apart and make it seem like
    you bear many of the same marks as the Challies’ article you referenced.
    Seems a little intellectually dishonest.

    I’ll close by saying
    that I do not intend to defend JD Hall. I don’t agree with many of the
    things he’s done/said. But at the same time, I found this article that
    you wrote to be just as manipulative and off-base as the things that you
    accuse him of. It makes wonder who the real “man pleaser” is after
    all…

    HAL