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.