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The glorification of doubt and questioning is part of the deconstruction aspect of the emerging church. They aim to deconstruct traditional theology with the objective of reconstructing something different, something allegedly more fitting for “these times.”
Rob Bell says that God gives men “the invitation to follow Jesus with all our doubts and questions right there with us” (Velvet Elvis, p. 28). He says, “We sponsored a Doubt Night at our church awhile back. People were encouraged to write down whatever questions or doubts they had about God and Jesus and the Bible and faith and church” (p. 29). He says, “Questions bring freedom” (p. 30), and, “Questions, no matter how shocking or blasphemous or arrogant or ignorant or raw, are rooted in humility” (p. 30).
Tim Condor, pastor of Emmaus Way and member of the coordinating team for Emergent Village, says there must be a “climate of theological openness” to allow people to express their doubts (An Emergent Manifesto of Hope, p. 106). He says there should never be a punitive consequence or exclusion for expressions of doubt and questioning of even the most cardinal of doctrinal truths.
Adam Cleaveland says that churches should be “open to critique and deconstruction” (An Emergent Manifesto of Hope, p. 125). He says there should be safe places “where people can come and be involved in the process of deconstructing ideas and practices, all while remaining open to the new movements and new waves of the Spirit.”
Barry Taylor says, “Christian faith is open to discussion. Historically it always has been. It can be questioned and reinterpreted. In fact I would argue that it is meant to be questioned and reinterpreted” (An Emerging Manifesto of Hope, p. 167).
Brian McLaren says that we should welcome “the disillusioned and the doubters” (A Generous Orthodoxy, p. 172).
WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY?
The emerging church’s position on doubt/questionings is refuted by the Bible’s distinction between sincere and foolish questions.
Believers should entertain honest questions from seekers, but foolish questions are to be rejected.
“But foolish and unlearned questions avoid, knowing that they do gender strifes” (2 Timothy 2:23).
“But avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain” (Titus 3:9).
We wholeheartedly support the idea of giving unbelievers “space” for expressing their questions and doubts as they are coming to the Lord. The man who led me to Christ spent a few entire days with me patiently teaching me the Bible and answering my questions. I was chock full of Humanism, New Age, Hinduism, Christian Science, and other errors, and I had a lot of questions and challenges to what the Bible taught. I believed there were many ways to God, that reincarnation was true, that a man can find the truth by following his heart, that God would not send people to Hell if they had never heard the gospel, that Christ had learned wisdom in Egypt during the “hidden years,” and many other false things. The man who led me to Christ knew little to nothing about the things I believed at the time, but he did know the Scripture, and as I expressed my views to him, including my doubts about the Bible, he patiently listened and then replied with Scripture.
In our church planting work in South Asia, many unbelievers visit our public meetings and home Bible studies and village meetings, and we deal with their many questions and doubts. Sometimes their questions are as ridiculous as whether or not we baptize people in cow’s blood (some of the Hindus have actually said this behind our backs) or as substantial as why we believe that Jesus Christ is the only Saviour and why He died on the cross. As we deal with their questions, sometimes they go on to saving faith in Christ and sometimes they turn away, but we deal as best as we can with their all of their issues.
After people are saved, they still have many doctrinal questions, of course. I thank the Lord for those who patiently taught me the Scriptures and set my thinking straight when I was a young believer. For example, soon after I was saved I found a book by a Seventh-day Adventist at the public library and became confused about the sabbath and whether or not people go to Heaven or Hell at death and such things. The pastor of the church where I was a member showed me what the Bible said and his help and my own prayerful Bible study resolved those doubts. The same thing happened in regard to Pentecostal-Charismatic doctrine. Having been led to Christ by a Pentecostal, I was confused about whether tongues-speaking is for today and such things, but by studying the Bible privately and receiving help from sound teachers, those issues were resolved. I asked sincere questions and received honest Bible answers and the problem was settled. I recall my late friend and former pastor, Gary Prisk. He had lived a roving lifestyle before he was saved, hitchhiking, using drugs, and he didn’t know anything about the Bible. Not long after he came to Christ he went to Bible College, and one day soon after arriving he saw a book with the title “Is Jesus God?” He thought to himself, “No, God is God.” He wasn’t a heretic; he was simply ignorant; and after he was taught what the Bible says about Christ’s divinity he accepted it readily and defended it for the rest of his life.
Foolish questions, on the other hand, are not to be entertained. A “foolish question” is a question that is asked insincerely by a heretic with the goal of confusing people and leading them astray from sound doctrine. This is the immediate context of Titus 3:9-10. A heretic is someone who is self-willed and has rejected sound doctrine in favor of his own opinions and perversions of the truth. The terms “heretic” and “heresy” refer to the willful choice of false doctrine, a willful alignment with error. The heretic is not content with the plain teaching of Scripture but pursues his own agenda. This is exactly what we find in emerging church circles. A foolish question is one that is used in an attempt to overthrow plain Bible teaching, such as questions about the Trinity or Christ’s bodily Resurrection and virgin birth or biblical inspiration or the eternal suffering of Hell or separation from the world.
It is good to ask sincere questions in the honest search for the truth, but it is evil to entertain questions that deny Bible truth. If the Bible says all unbelievers will suffer conscious eternal torment in fire, which it does, we must not entertain questions that speculate if this is a just punishment. If the Bible claims to be the infallible Word of God, which it does, we are not to question how this could be possible. If the Bible says we are not to love this world, which it does, we are not to question whether this might be a narrow, “legalistic” position.
Our questions must be controlled by the Bible, not the Bible by our questions. “The secret things belong unto the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deut. 29:29).
A foolish question is also a question that produces strife and contention among Bible-believing Christians. Titus 3:9 associates foolish questions with “contentions and strivings,” and 2 Timothy 2:23 says foolish questions “gender strifes.” When someone only wants to argue with the Word of God, he stirs up strife and doubt and confusion among others and causes trouble in the churches.
A heretic is not a person who is merely ignorant of sound doctrine. A true believer can be ignorant of sound doctrine, but the evidence that he is not a heretic will be seen when he responds to sound doctrine and rejects the error.
The mouths of heretics are stopped by refuting their questions and by putting them out of the assemblies (Titus 3:10-11).
It is impossible to keep the truth without separating from false doctrine and maintaining church discipline. False teachers must be dealt with and not ignored, and the scriptural way to deal with them is to put them out of the assemblies and to separate the believers from them.
The heretic is to be admonished two times (Titus 3:10). An effort is to be made to reclaim the heretic from his error. It is possible that he is not truly a heretic but that he is only teaching out of ignorance, but the effort is not to be long and drawn out. The heretic is to be admonished only two times (Titus 3:10). When it is obvious that he is set in his false ways, he must be rejected and put out of the assembly. Otherwise, he will corrupt others. “A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump” (Gal. 5:9).
The heretic condemns himself by his self-willed commitment to error. “Knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself” (Titus 3:11). There is something wrong in the heretic’s heart. “Subverted” is from the Greek word “ekstrepho,” which means to be twisted or turned inside out. Something has perverted that person’s heart so that he loves heresy rather than the truth. “Such a one is subverted or perverted--a metaphor from a building so ruined as to render it difficult if not impossible to repair and raise it up again. Real heretics have seldom been recovered to the true faith: not so much defect of judgment, as perverseness of the will, being in the case, through pride, or ambition, or self-willedness, or covetousness, or such like corruption, which therefore must be taken heed of” (Matthew Henry).
Consider an example of how to deal with a foolish question from Jesus’ earthly ministry in Luke 20:1-8 and 20:20-26. Observe that Jesus did not argue with the Pharisees, nor did He waste time giving detailed replies to their insincere questions. He answered with statements that got to the root of the matter and shut their mouths!
If a person asks a sincere question, it should be answered from the Bible, but if he is asking a question to try to spread rebellion and promote false doctrine and draw people away from the truth, it is not profitable to answer it.
Therefore, our first point is that we must make a clear distinction between sincere and foolish questions.
The emerging church’s position on doubt/questionings is refuted by the Bible’s requirements for church membership.
There are Bible qualifications for church members, and one of those is that they continue stedfastly in sound apostolic doctrine. This is the pattern that was set in the first church.
“Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:41-42).
Those who were saved and added to the church at Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost were Jews who were steeped in Judaism, but here we see that through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit they committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles and continued therein.
I am sure they had a thousand and one questions, but the teaching of the apostles settled every issue for them. This is the way it should be in every church.
If a church member asks a question about the deity of Christ or Hell or the sabbath, he should be taught in a patient and compassionate manner. If, though, he refuses to accept the Bible’s teaching and persists in his doubt and unbelief and chooses heresy over the truth, he must be put out of the church.
Thus, there are doubts that an unbeliever can express to us in our evangelistic work that a church member is not allowed to hold.
The emerging church’s position on doubt/questionings is refuted by the Bible’s exaltation of faith.
The Bible exalts faith over doubt. “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (Heb. 11:6). Jesus rebuked those who doubted (Mat. 6:30; 8:26; 14:31; 16:8) and praised those who had faith (Mat. 8:10; 15:28). He taught that faith is one of the weightier matters of the law (Mat. 23:23) and instructed the people to have faith in God (Mk. 11:22). Zacharias was judged for doubting (Luke 1:20). James says those who doubt can receive nothing from the Lord (James 1:6-8). Christian men are exhorted to praise God without doubting (1 Tim. 2:8). To doubt is sin (Rom. 14:23).
The Bible teaches that we must come to terms with doubt; it must be dealt with; it must be resolved. The Psalmist momentarily doubted in Psalm 73, but his doubt was resolved in the same Psalm and he saw himself as a foolish beast for doubting God. John the Baptist doubted when he was in prison, but Jesus settled his doubt by doing Messianic miracles and thus reminding John that He is the One who was promised and also warning that it is those who are not offended in him that are blessed (Luke 7:19-22). On the cross, Jesus cried, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Mat. 27:46), but this was not unresolved doubt; the question He asked is clearly resolved in Scripture. God the Father forsook the Son on the cross because He was bearing the sins of the world (Isaiah 53:5-6; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 1:4). Jesus’ question was answered.
The emerging church’s position on doubt/questionings is refuted by the Bible’s teaching on the source of faith.
Faith does not come through contemplative practices or ecumenical dialogue; it comes by God’s Word. “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17).
True faith, being founded upon God’s inspired revelation has substance and evidence (Hebrews 11:1). The believer’s faith is founded upon “many infallible proofs” (Acts 1:3). There is nothing blind about it.
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