How to decide on matters that are secondary (or less!)

What to do when the bible is silent, by Don Carson: Man o man, what a sermon! I had heard a summary previously but had never listened through it. 

Thanks very much Mikey for pointing me to it as I keep thinking through NT baptism and and the practice of infant baptism!

It got talked about a lot for its references to 'centre bounded unity'. But there's lots more in here we need to hear, I reckon. I listened to it twice through and almost wanted to go again.

I’d like to thoroughly recommend, to everyone, to listen or re-listen (!) to this sermon.

One warning - it's over an hour long: Bring the pot of coffee!

I was really helped by the following points:

  • We first need to ask, whenever the bible is ‘relatively’ silent on a matter: What is the theology which the bible itself attaches to that subject?
  • Nothing exempts you from your obligation to do the exegesis yourself - When discerning what is theologically attached to a subject to which the bible is relatively silent; the first thing we need to do is study scripture for ourselves, not read the debates, the arguments and our favourite authors (Obvious, but not always done)
  • The pragmatics of ministry require decisions and the chances of what side you will come down on with debatable issues will inevitably be affected in large part by what Biblical College you studied at.
  • Eventually all graduates will need to make up their minds but on some doctrines it is ok to agree with ‘varying’ or ‘differing’ degrees of tenacity.
  • Most decisions in these disputable areas have both good and bad defences; not all those defences on the same side of the matter as you will be without embarrassment
  • Most decisions have entailments down the road – part of thinking things through is to project into the future what will be the implications for your future, the church’s future, successive generations, by making this decision on this matter?
  • Most decisions are grounded in reading a variety of biblical texts a certain way and part of humility is to recognise there are other ways – and your ways are rarely without dispute. (Most decision turn in part on where we lay the maximum emphasis, or on our own personalities, or where we see the priorities for us and our context in the present; so our decisions are not infallible and we need to have humility)
  • Some decisions turn on competing values and that means being forced to hierarchicalise those values. E.g. if our priority is evangelistic outreach we may be more flexible on some ecclesiological ideals. Some of our disputes turn on competing and complementary values from scripture.
  • Be very suspicious of guru solutions. Nobody has all the truth. If you latch on to one school of thought, you rob the church of other complementary truths. Deal with principle, deal with text, deal with theological reflection, but be careful of accepting/following the school of ‘calvin’ or ‘Reformed theology’ or ‘Piper’ or ‘Driscol’ – this is worldly wisdom.
  • Try to think strategically in thinking through unforeseen consequences – what is likely to be the implication of this decision? The danger of unforseen consequences is huge. You are never dealing with today alone. Whatever you do today will get magnified in your subsequent generations. Somewhere along the line your congregation will be accepting the social structure you’ve introduced but have forgotten the reasons why, and eventually after them, your children’s children will deny the basis for which you introduced it, but still uphold the practice!! You need to keep working out how you can keep the main thing the main thing.
  • Centre bounded unity is the way to go (Versus boundary bounded unity). We need to define ourselves at the centre, not at the boundaries. You make sure all your leaders are on board with the strong and well defined centre, and you discipline in relation to agreement with the centre. Otherwise you drift around with rules and legalism about the boundaries and there is always pressure to include more and more by extending the boundary out further and further. We need to maintain the centre and define ourselves by the theology that is tight and based on genuine exposition.
  • Ask God for wisdom; Christ himself offers it to us and God loves to give it - Sometimes it’s better to slow down and ask God to spare us from our own follies so that we might be wise as well as bold in the proclamation of the truth.…” 

    To listen click here: