Ask the Editor: Boldness, discernment, humility, and courage

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Monday, December 4th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from member-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Last month New Growth Press released a new book by WORLD Editor in Chief Marvin Olasky. It’s called World View, and it’s a compilation of some of his best columns over the last 25 years.

REICHARD: Today, we bring you a column Marvin wrote in 2010. He notes that no one had to sign a statement of faith before tossing British tea into the Boston Harbor in 1773—or before joining a Tea Party demonstration in 2010. He says Christians can learn a lesson from that.

MARVIN OLASKY, EDITOR IN CHIEF: As Christians we oppose abortion and defend marriage because the Bible speaks clearly about them. But other issues are not so clear. Take health care. History and human nature tell us that expanding government power is a bad idea, but nothing in the Bible forbids government-controlled health care—or even monarchy. We get in trouble when we band together as Christians and speak dogmatically on policy matters when God has not spoken. On those policy matters we should speak as citizens, not churches.

Look at Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. Listen to the phrases he uses—quote—“Now as a concession, not a command, I say this . . . I say (I, not the Lord) . . . I have no command from the Lord, but I give my judgment . . . in my judgment.” If Paul, an apostle who wrote under God’s inspiration, is this cautious, how much more careful should the rest of us be?

WORLD uses a whitewater rapids metaphor to help us navigate these matters. Class 1 and 2 rapids are easy to navigate. Class 1 issues are those on which the Bible explicitly takes a position. For example, murder and adultery are wrong.

Class 2 issues involve an implicit biblical position. For example, parents should give their children a Bible-based education.

Biblical clarity decreases as we paddle through more difficult rapids. Class 3 issues are those in which partisans of both sides can quote Scripture, but careful study allows biblical conclusions. Christian proponents of welfare spending rightly cite verses about helping the poor. But it’s also important to bring out biblical teaching about the challenging, personal, and spiritual way in which compassion should be applied.

With Class 4 and 5 issues we apply biblical teaching about human nature and lessons from history. Class 6 issues are those where there’s no clear biblical warrant and little applicable wisdom from history or human nature. Christians may take diametrically opposed positions. Technical economic issues and questions of international diplomacy are in this category.

Here’s one more complication: The Bible for the most part is not an instruction book. It is a narrative history of particular actions at particular times. The book of Joshua reports wars of extermination: Are we to go and do likewise? We have to learn to differentiate between descriptive passages that tell what happened and prescriptive passages that tell what ought to happen.

Many liberal Christians think every issue is a Class 5 or 6—the Bible has little or nothing to say. But conservative Christians make a second error: believing the Bible speaks clearly on every issue. We need to speak out on many issues, but not claim God’s warrant when it’s only our own thinking. We need boldness and discernment… humility and courage.

For WORLD Radio, I’m Marvin Olasky.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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