Often a lot of good folks' good time is wasted in responding to the wrong question, to no good result.
Among Christians, I see this most frequently and specifically when someone robustly affirms the sufficiency of Scripture with nary a squish. Few things flush out the false paradigms today more surely than really-really believing that God really-really has said all that needs saying for our day.
For instance, if you announce, "I believe Scripture tells us absolutely everything we need to know about the will of God," someone is going to retort "That sounds like deism," or "That leaves out the ministry of the Holy Spirit."
Or if you say, "Prayer is you talking to God. God talking to you is prophecy. Today, God talks to us in the Bible, period," you will hear "How is that a relationship? Where's the Holy Spirit in that?"
And usually, people who aren't me (and there are so many of them! bless their hearts!) will patiently try to respond at interminable length and — here's they key word — will defend the Biblical position, shore up and repair the damage done by the challenger's premise.
As you might have guessed, I have a different sort of response, and it goes something like this: Well, then...
- If the Bible teaches Deism, then by all means let's all of us be Deists!
- If the Bible leaves out the Holy Spirit, by all means let's all of us leave out the Holy Spirit!
- If the Bible tells us we don't have a relationship with God, then by all means let's all of us not have a relationship with God!
So, when someone affirmed the Bible's teaching, and the Bible's teaching clashed with your paradigm (which you may or may not have cadged from the Bible), you smacked the Bible's teaching with the implications of your paradigm. It didn't fit your ideas, your model; so it had to change.
That's a serious problem. Don't you see that? No? Ask yourself: what does the Bible call it when we fashion an image of God (literal or conceptual) and worship that image? "Ohhh," you say. Yep: that's a step in the direction of idolatry.
Let me try to be even pointeder. You said, in effect, "I know what a relationship is: one person talks straight into the other person's ear, then the other person responds straight into the first person's ear. The other person doesn't just write stuff down and say 'There, look at that, it'll tell you what you need to know.' I know that is what a relationship is. Therefore, that must be what it's like to have a relationship with God!"
And there you went. No matter what the Bible teaches about having a relationship with God.
Or you said, "I know what 'spirit' is, it's a mystical ineffable Something that mysteriously moves in a fluttery, non-rational manner, in our feelings and hunches and such. So that's what the Holy Spirit must be like. And since it is the Holy Spirit who gives feelings and hunches and low-grade semi-revelations and ineffable senses of God's nearness, to deny any of that is to deny the work of the Spirit."
And there you went. No matter what the Bible teaches about the person and work of the Holy Spirit.
Or you said, "Deism is where God isn't giving some kind of constant flow of direct personal kinda-revelation anymore. Deism is bad. Therefore, denying that God gives some kind of direct personal kinda-revelation is Deism, and it's bad."
And there you went. No matter what the Bible teaches about the power and life and majesty and completeness and perfection of the Word of God, and its role in the believer's life.
So with this latter example, above. The premise is, "Unless God dribbles mumbly semi-revelation directly into my quivering ear, He's dead and inactive and we don't have a relationship." Rather than defensively try to answer such questions, instead we should say "Where is your authority for that understanding of 'relationship'? Specifically, where is your Biblical authority for that model of our normal relationship with God?"
To take another popular area of faithlessness that enjoys more respect than it should: "I know what dignity means, and I know that for women to have dignity, they must be able to do A, B and C." So we take that premise to the Bible, and (depending on what formalities of faith remain) come up with a rationale for either disregarding or disfiguring the parts that don't fit our premise. The problem, once again, is the premise, and a Genesis 3-like unwillingness to allow God to define what is and is not feminine dignity.
With all such misbased, badly-premised challenges to Biblical faith and life, we should take the premise to the Bible and brutalize it (and its adherents) for non-compliance. Remember: faith is embracing God's Word (Gen. 15:1, 6; Rom. 10:17), lack of faith is sin (Rom. 14:23), and sin is to be put to howling, shrieking death (Rom. 8:13) — not negotiated with and treated as an honored guest.
And if we don't want to be prayerless Deists who quench the Spirit and have no relationship to God, we will believe Him.
(PS — for related thoughts, I warned over a half-decade ago about the Delight and de danger of de metaphor.)