Correct views or warm Righteousness? (1)
I want to work with some questions concerning the importance of “correct views”. Must we choose between correct views and a life of warm righteousness? If a person has correct theological views but chooses to live unrighteously most of us would know where he is before God. If a person lives a life of warm generosity and uprightness should we say his theological views don’t matter before God?
Recently I’ve been reading quite a bit from an old writer called John Watson who laid great stress on character and righteous behaviour and he does such a good job that at times I’m tempted to think that doctrine is close to irrelevant. I need no convincing that correct doctrine if it’s combined with a self-chosen lousy lifestyle is more of a judgment than a blessing (see that in Romans 2:1-3:19).
If I had had to be away and needed someone to watch over my Ethel while I was gone I’d have to know that the one in whose care I’d leave her was someone of character as well as competence. I’d look for patience, compassion, gentleness and strength. I wouldn’t ask if they were amillennial or premillennial; I wouldn’t ask if they practiced a faith-baptism for the remission of sins or infant baptism; I wouldn’t inquire if they believed Jesus rose bodily from the dead or what their view of the atonement was. I wouldn’t even care if they were atheist or theist. In such a situation I would regard correct theology as irrelevant if I knew they had depth of character and would commit to taking care of my Ethel. I didn’t quiz the surgeons, cardiologists, GPs or anyone else on their theological positions when I agreed to them working to bring Ethel through a score of life-threatening experiences.
In short, there are times and circumstances in which theological convictions are completely irrelevant. They’re certainly no substitute for genuineness of character and a virtuous heart whether that virtue and moral fineness is found in a Christian, Buddhist or atheist.
So what are we to do? Dismiss theological truth entirely and insist that warm moral uprightness is everything?
If we say, “That depends on which theological truth we choose to dismiss” we seem to be saying that some theological truth must be maintained along with a virtuous life. Is that the case?
All biblical and theological truth is surely meant to fully equip us to live so as to glorify God (2 Timothy 3:16-17) so we’re not to isolate it from life—that’s obvious enough. Theological convictions can be worthless if they don’t transform the inner world in some foundational way but are we right if we dismiss them as irrelevant? All right, it’s better to have theological truth along with a virtuous life but, in the end, is it a virtuous life that is indispensable—is theological correctness dispensable fine-tuning?
To put it bluntly: In regard to the care of my loved ones theological differences would mean nothing. What difference does it make to your relationship with God if you’re a Buddhist, a Jew or a Christian so long as your life is warm and decent and generous? If the answer is that it makes no difference at all then it isn’t only NT ordinances (like Baptism and Holy Communion) that become dispensable—more critical by far, foundational truths such as “Jesus is Lord” become dispensable.
The temptation to sideline truth is real and powerful. How often have I been mocked by a critic with a text from Jesus? “What do you more than others?” he wanted to know of his followers. He didn’t but he could as well have asked, “Why don’t you do as much as others?” Of uncovenanted people Paul asked (Romans 2:26-29 along with 2:14-15); “If those who are not circumcised keep the law’s requirements, will they not be regarded as though they were circumcised?” Here we have uncovenanted people (that is, people outside the Jewish covenantal Torah) living better than those who were children of the covenant.
[This ought to put an end to the claim that only the elect can live in warm righteousness that pleases God!]
Yes! But does the fact that some Gentiles outlived some Jews give us grounds for dismissing God-revealed truth to his covenant people as irrelevant to their standing before God? Because some non-Christians live better than some Christians, does that mean the truth of God revealed in and as Jesus Christ is dispensable? [To be continued, God enabling.]
©2004 Jim McGuiggan. All materials are free to be copied and used as long as money is not being made.
Many thanks to brother Ed Healy, for allowing me to post from his website, theabidingword.com.
I have to think about this post from Jim. At the outset, I am not sure that I agree with what he says. Something bothers me about it. Perhaps it is the way it is phrased... like I said- will have to think about this one...