09 April 2013

Our binary Bible

by Dan Phillips

When I was earning a Microsoft certification back in the late 90s, I had to study IP addresses, which took me into the world of binary numbers. In that world, everything is a 1, or it's a 0. There's no 2 and no 9, no 5 and no 3. Everything is represented by the 1 and the 0, and the place each holds.

The Bible is very binary, in a great many ways.

If you've read the Bible much, you can fill in this next part for yourself. In God's Word, you're either saved, or  you're lost; you're in the darkness, or you're in the light; you're a believer, or you're an unbeliever; you love God, or you hate Him; you're alive in Christ, or you're dead; you're preaching truth, or you're preaching error; you're forgiven, or you're in your sins; you're a slave of God, or you're a slave of sin; you're on the narrow way that leads to life, or you're on the broad path that leads to death; you're a sheep, or you're a goat; Christ knows you, or He doesn't; you're a saint, or you're an "ain't."

While it could be argued correctly that there are degrees of this and that, it isn't in grey areas that the Bible lives and thrives and does most of its business.

So doesn't it follow that, to the degree we're believers (and not unbelievers), to the degree that we're faithful (and not unfaithful), we will give ourselves to affirming and exploring and exploiting those sound words — and not turning aside to vain jangling and fruitless discussion?

If that's the case, then why are so many highly-respected, high-visibility, popular speakers and organs and sites and bloggers so adoringly fascinated with exploring and exploiting the blurs and the fuzz and the vapor around the edges?

Taken seriously, it seems that the Bible would produce knowledge, faith, confidence, assurance, certainty — and categorical boldness and insistence.

But these leaders seem obsessed with enabling and modeling and producing uncertainty, doubt, timidity, daintiness, nuance, overcaution, and (on many pivotal issues) murmury vagueness, or complete silence. When what we need to hear is a trumpet blast, all we get is a tremulous little kazoo-wheeze, or the vague sound of someone mumbling to himself.

Is that a good thing?

Or is it bad?

Dan Phillips's signature


Tom Chantry said...

Of course it's a good thing! Trumpet blasts hurt the ears; sometimes even to the point of shattering eardrums. At the very least they shatter the peace. Have you ever tried to sleep through a concert in which there's a trumpet blast? Or to daydream? It's almost impossible. Give us some irenic mumbling any day.

JackW said...

Boolean Theology. I like it. What is true is not equal to what is not true.
Spirit AND truth. No NAND, OR, NOR or OR about it.

threegirldad said...

If that's the case, then why are so many highly-respected, high-visibility, popular speakers and organs and sites and bloggers so adoringly fascinated with exploring and exploiting the blurs and the fuzz and the vapor around the edges?

There are only 10 kinds of people in the world: Those who understand binary, and those who don't. The growing list of particular individuals and organizations who apparently don't continues to baffle and bewilder.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post....and it's good, of course. In Adams "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," the philosophers demand "rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty." Thank God that is NOT the case with Him!

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the biggest element of confusion in the church is recognizing the binary between the lost (somewhat of a euphemism for hell-found) and those that are found. It's rare even a conservative preacher will tell someone they're hell-found, even when the evidence is strongly for it. These preachers are "loving" them straight to hell.

Kerry James Allen said...

I was read 1 Samuel 3 just this morning, and after Samuel receives word that God is going to judge Eli and his house, it says in v. 15, "Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli." However, in v.18 it says, "Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him." Isn't that what this is about, overcoming fear of man and loss?

As men climb the ladder of ecclesiastical success there is more to lose (money, friends, position, speaking engagements, future opportunities) and their words and positions are mostly issued with a view to that.

Great post, Dan, and may God give us more Samuels!

"I believed, therefore have I spoken..." Psalm 116:10

Robert said...

The thing is, we have forgotten that one of the reasons that the OT is there so that we can learn from the mistakes of Israel. They kept assimilating with the culture of the world around them instead of separating themselves. People in churches are having the same problem today and don't think to look at the disastrous results of that for Israel and think to see any parallel between then and now. The funny thing is, so many people today are quick to wrongly claim for themselves all of the blessings that God promised to Israel in the OT, but never do you hear any of them turn around and claim the curses He promised for their disobedience. And they don't seem to read in the NT where it talks about how we are supposed to learn from what all went on with Israel. I guess that is what you get with all of the positive thinkers and the word-faith prosperity gospel type stuff going around. People have to tickle ears and all to fill up their stadiums, you know...

Bill said...

Couldn't help but think: Luke 9:26, For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.

Kerry James Allen said...

Robert, that was real insight. The replacement boys want all the blessings of Israel but none of the curses. So much for Deuteronomy 28! They sound a little dispensational in their selection!

Nash Equilibrium said...

Answering one rhetorical question with another, I can't remember God telling anyone to go stand close to the lake of fire but not in it. So the binary nature of judgment requires a trumpet blast (or vuvuzuela, air horn, etc)!!

Doug Hibbard said...

Ack! The vuvuzela returns!

This is where our ease of access in America has hurt us as a church. We've confused public approval with God's blessings, and so there is a running expectation that the two go together.

And they really should not do so, not in a pagan culture like ours.

Nash Equilibrium said...

Doug, good comment - also, thanks for pointing out that I mis-spelled vuvuzela. I guess I got vuvuzela and Venezuela kind of mixed together.

Daniel said...

Did these leaders not learn this habit when they attended their seminary? Isn't it commonly agreed that it is the height of arrogance to hold an objective opinion about scripture?

What amazes me is not that leaders are wishy washy, it is that the people are leaders.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Jesus: “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”


Jesus: “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more."


James: "For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment."

Jesus gave mercy to the adulterous woman. Monergistic. Praise God!

Michael Coughlin said...

Great post, good comments and just wanted to give threegirldad a shoutout and a "NICE!"

Anonymous said...


It's a learned behavior. Many young preachers start out passionate and God-centered, but it slowly beaten out of them.

A common scenario:

The US government enacts some horribly immoral law, such as making federally subsidized pills available to high school girls to kill their unborn babies.

Biblical pastor, John Naiveis, preaches a sermon against the pills and abortion, desparate to prevent the killing of unborn babies in his congregation.

Ungodly members of the church rally against Naiveis, accusing him of being mean and uneducated. Even his more conservative allies call him "sharp-tongued", even though agreeing with the gist of the Naiveis's message. Naiveis's shortcomings that otherwise would never have been mentioned are now at the forefront. Elders, browbeaten by various members in the church, eventually tell Naiveis he may be happier at another church, and hint that if he doesn't resign, he'll be removed.

Future pastors take note, and convince themselves that abortion is a side issue, nuanced and complex, and some of those unborn babies may have deserved it anyway.

Solameanie said...

For the record, I gave this post five stars. I'd give it seven if I could. I'm sure that will displease at least one individual. #CattyJoel

Nash Equilibrium said...

Paul Reed, that is probably very common, and saaaad as it gets.

Kent Brandenburg said...


I agree with your assessment, but it clashes with evangelicalism in general, if not all. It's good with the Bible, but lacks the nuance necessary for evangelicalism. You can't sustain a sizable coalition with binary thinking. Shades of gray keep everyone together. You'd be judging someone else to be wrong, which is a cause for division. That's heresy. If you are saying that the Bible says 'this,' but not 'that' about something other than the gospel, then you should know that you are undermining the gospel by moving from the center. On top of the former, you're on a slippery slope, because the next thing you know, you'll be separating Christians from other Christians, saying that, for instance, one's false teaching about the sufficiency of Scripture excludes him from cooperation with you. Some will be "in" and others will be "out," ruining the togetherness of everyone in, exclusion being both judgmental and unloving. Just sayin'. You'd be drawing lines. And where would that stop? It wouldn't. When you start drawing lines, then someone is going to have a different line than you and everyone will just be arguing about where to draw the line. Plus, things are hard to be understood. Peter said that. And if things are hard to be understood, how can you draw a line? You'd be saying that things are clear. It's obvious they're not or else Peter wouldn't have written that. And who are you to judge, when everyone's opinion is as good as anyone else's? And what will we do with "agreeing to disagree"? Binary thinking ruins "agreeing to disagree." And as long as someone has his own interpretation, and he's studied it out, you know, soul liberty, you've got to give him that. Except for the gospel. But even with that, you've got to give a certain amount of leeway, because people are going to see things differently.

Baptism: sprinkle and immerse, believers and children. Hermeneutics: dispensationalism and covenant. Eschatology: premill and amill. Sign gifts: continuation and cessation. Creation: young earth and old earth. Marriage: complementarian and egalitarian. Church Government: Congregational and Presbyterian. Grocery Store: Paper and plastic.

It's "and," Dan, not "or," if you are an evangelical.

Webster Hunt (Parts Man) said...

Your post was timely today. I engaged with a guy who was convinced that there are only a few truths to which the Bible speaks clearly - and the Trinity was one of the vague truths that was up for grabs - clearly a product of this BAD dedication to nuance and timidity. It's apparently become arrogant to say that certain truth in the scriptures, like the Trinity, are one way and not the other, and that there are severe implications for those who willfully ignore the facts because I was charged with that arrogance when I wouldn't say that modalists have a right to come to a different conclusion because the word "Trinity" was never used, and because it wasn't necessary for someone to believe that in order to be saved and therefore was a secondary matter.

DJP said...

You'll find that folks like this are absolutely crystal-clear on one area: they are furiously and bitterly opposed to the confident assurance of Biblically-faithful Christians. THAT is WRONG, period, and to be opposed and sneered at tirelessly.

Carl C. said...

I join Michael Coughlin in congratulating you for the winning geek-comment of the day. I give it 101 stars.

Carl C. said...

Thanks for making this programmer smile. You've successfully wedded two of my great passions: computers and Scripture. :-)

Carl C. said...

I can see Kent B.'s concern where it's problematic to look at all areas of doctrine equally with monochrome glasses. But I don't think that's Dan's claim by any stretch:
Dan: While it could be argued correctly that there are degrees of this and that, it isn't in grey areas that the Bible lives and thrives and does most of its business.
This followed a paragraph where he basically delimited categories derived straight from the Gospel, which Kent implies is nonnegotiable and Dan as where "the Bible lives and thrives and does most of its business". So up to that point it seems there is agreement.

But Kent, you lose me after that.
It's good with the Bible, but lacks the nuance necessary for evangelicalism. You can't sustain a sizable coalition with binary thinking. Shades of gray keep everyone together.
I can't tell whether you're advocating for freedom to disagree within 'evangelicalism', or more specifically within parachurch organizations. Since evangelicalism as a movement has become so devoid of meaning these days, I'll just assume you mean parachurch organizations/coalitions. In that case, since people in these orgs. will always have theological differences to one degree or another, how can "Shades of gray keep everyone together"? It sounds self-defeating, but maybe I just miss the point. Can you clarify what you mean?

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi Carl C.,

I wasn't praising evangelicalism, just describing how it clashes with what Dan wrote.

Carl C. said...

And while I'm opening the parachurch can o' worms...
Maybe Dan's point is not merely about parachurch orgs sounding trumpet-blasts, but they are at least a part of creating the high-visibility leaders he mentions. These coalitions can be wonderful or detrimental -- I have no problem with them per se -- but the measure must be how they affect the local church. They are good to the extent they equip, support and strengthen local churches. But when they and their rockstars begin to supplant local church functions; when their conferences, blogs, and Twitter-feeds are touted as the place for understanding or where the action's at instead of the church... well, individual believers are left wanting and misdirected. This has been happening in my small city for years.

Perhaps it is at this point that these particular leaders' emphasis on boldly trumpeting what's of "first importance" (1 Cor 15:3) has already been left far behind, and the only way to hear them speak these things is to don an ear-trumpet to catch the mumbles.

K, I've said more than my piece. Thanks for the thought-churning post, Dan. Good night, all.

Solameanie said...

Kent's comments sort of push to the fore something I've been feeling for some time, and (correct me if I'm wrong, Pyro captains) I think Phil, Dan and Frank have said here before. "Evangelicalism" is becoming a title that I am increasingly uncomfortable with embracing. However, I do NOT mean that in the same sense that the Emergent types mean it. I mean that "evangelical" has lost the very things that made it worth embracing in its early days. Evangelicals, while disagreeing with their fundamentalist brothers and sisters over too much exclusivity, still kept to the main core of the faith and staunchly upheld core biblical doctrine, the Gospel, soteriology, Christology, the Trinity, a physical return of Christ to earth, being saved by grace alone, through faith alone, by Christ alone, Scripture sufficient, and to God alone be the glory.

Now, that has been eroded severely. Dan and Frank (and Phil) have done a stellar job in pointing that out through the years. Blurs, fuzz and vapor indeed. When Steve Chalke, Jim Wallis, Tony Campolo, Rob Bell, Brian McLaren and others can come out and tout some of the things that they tout, and still try to insist that they're evangelicals, I want to run as far away from that as possible. There ARE some difficult passages in Scripture. But there are FAR more plain, clear, cut and dried, black and white lines drawn in the sand.

I think I'm just going to identify as a Bible-believing, Bible-preaching Christian. And even that may not draw the lines clearly enough.

JG said...

As usual, by the time I get over here all the good points are already made. There are no stars displayed in my mobile reading app. Someone click 5 for me.

DJP said...

Well then, Jaci, I think you've learned an important lesson.


DJP said...

Right, Sola. But every decent term ends up getting hijacked, doesn't it? For instance... "Christian"!

Solameanie said...

Dan, "hijacked." Yes, and a great choice of word. And the destination this time isn't Cuba.

Unknown said...

While it could be argued correctly that there are degrees of this and that, it isn't in grey areas that the Bible lives and thrives and does most of its business.

Can you please unpack that statement a bit? Particularly the emphasized part -- there's no real need for explanation of "does most of its business" -- that's quantifiable.

I was with you in the preceding paragraphs, but the remainder of the post (and, indeed, the point of the post, I think) hangs on that quoted statement. So where does the concept that "the Bible lives and thrives" in its binary portions come from?

DJP said...

So let me understand: having read this post, above, what you want me to do is go into detail in listing out and unpacking what the grey areas are?

Unknown said...

No, I do not. I thought I made a very clear request in the last sentence of my comment, but I will try to re-word it by generalization.

How does one make the statement that "the Bible lives and thrives" in certain portions rather than other portions? Can you please give some foundation for that statement (preferably Scriptural, if possible)?

DJP said...

Sure, though I'll let you look it up, or ask your pastor for help:

"In God's Word, you're either saved, or you're lost; you're in the darkness, or you're in the light; you're a believer, or you're an unbeliever; you love God, or you hate Him; you're alive in Christ, or you're dead; you're preaching truth, or you're preaching error; you're forgiven, or you're in your sins; you're a slave of God, or you're a slave of sin; you're on the narrow way that leads to life, or you're on the broad path that leads to death; you're a sheep, or you're a goat; Christ knows you, or He doesn't; you're a saint, or you're an "ain't." "

Unknown said...

Please stop acting like I'm not reading the post (allegations that you seem to imply in both of your responses).

As I stated in my comment, I am with you (both in following the train of thought and in agreement) on the text that you just quoted.

But one can not draw the conclusion from that text that "the Bible lives and thrives" in the portions where it discusses those issues and does not do so in other portions.

The text that I quoted does not automatically logically follow the text that you quoted. Assuming that you do perceive a link between the two, then from a logical perspective, you "skipped a step" and while that step may be intuitive to you, it is not to me.

DJP said...

Then sorry, I can't make any sense out of your comments.

Unknown said...

Fair enough. There were several comments before mine that were in complete agreement with your post. Perhaps one or more of those commenters understands my statements and could give their perspective (with acknowledgment that I won't automatically attribute it to you).

Kerry James Allen said...

Ted, I'm one of the above commenters and I was wondering something. A week or so ago I opened your bio and there was a link to your blog that seems to have disappeared currently. It seemed to have a lot of profanity on it. Is that one of the grey areas you are asking about? And if I am mistaken and that wasn't you or yours, sorry in advance.

Unknown said...

Kerry, the blog is still there, though something did go wonky with my bio so that it doesn't point to it anymore. Still trying to figure that out.

Since you answered my question with a question, I'll start by returning the favor. By "a lot of profanity", are you referring to the one post that uses the d-word once, or the one post that essentially quotes someone using the f-bomb once, or the 10 posts that contain no profanity at all?

Now to answer your question: No, profanity (or lack thereof) is not one of the grey areas that I am asking about. And I respond thusly for two reasons:

(1) It has been made quite clear what the Pyros think of profanity, so there's no point in asking about it. I try to limit questions to that which is not already abundantly clear.

(2) More importantly, though, I'm not asking about ANY grey areas. I asked for a clarification/unpacking of a statement that didn't quite make sense to me in an otherwise sound logical argument.

Now that I have addressed your question, care to return to mine?

Kerry James Allen said...

Maybe, after you put the blog address up publicly.

Unknown said...

Maybe, after you put the blog address up publicly.

Personally, I try to limit plugging my blog on someone else's -- that can quickly become tacky. However, if Dan is OK with it, I will gladly do so.

Kerry James Allen said...

Just put it back in your bio.

Unknown said...

Let me add another question, though. What does your curiosity about my blog have to do with my question? Especially after I answered your question about my blog?

It doesn't strike me as very Luke 6 to put conditions on all this. I don't even want anyone's cloak or tunic.

Unknown said...

The link is now on the front page that you go to when clicking my name here. I look forward to further obfuscation of the issue at hand, based on what you find there.

MTHudson said...

I peeked at your blog (I think you'll find this obfuscates nothing) and from your posts I know you've made at least an occasional habit of reading this blog. That in mind you should have ample evidence Dan is an ' all scripture is God-breathed' kind of guy and while I'll buy you didn't follow him in this post, unless you haven't read many, it comes across as disingenuous to speculate that he meant some scripture is more living and inspired than other scripture. I'll presume that's not your intent, but that's how it reads.

As far as the point of ' lives and thrives and does its business' the central message of scripture is binary in the sense that he's using here, as are the preponderence of it's admonitions, going back to the end of Deuteronomy -actually earlier, but 'I set before you life and death, blessing and cursing, therefore choose life' is a pretty stellar example. All of the messages of the old testament prophets were variations of this binary message. The new testament epistles are admonitions about sound doctrine/false doctrine. Jesus' message was repent and believe the gospel or perish eternally. The grand sweep of scripture as a whole is this kind of binary. Dan chose to use the words 'lives and thrives and does its business' to express that.

If you're not sure that's a valid point at this point, go Berean church with it. Search the scriptures to see if what you've been told is true. We'd all be better off doing that more often anyway.

MTHudson said...

Quick additional thought - it may help if you look at the word 'lives' in 'lives and thrives etc.' not as lives vs. is dead but as lives as in 'takes up residence'. The scripture establishes its dwelling place and thrives and does its business in those binary realities, why do we so often as a church culture want to establish our dwelling places in the *waggles fingers ala Doug Henning* gray areas?

Unknown said...

MTHudson, thank you. Your second comment in particular (regarding the usage of "lives") is most helpful. It was that kind of unpacking that I was seeking.

Also, you are correct in that your analysis of my blog did not obfuscate the issue. It *was* irrelevant to the issue, as after you discredited me a little bit ("disingenuous"), it never came into play again. I would, however, like to address that allegation.

1) The seeming contradiction to "all scripture is God-breathed" did not even occur to me until hours after I asked my initial question -- which was simply that: a question.

2) Even if that *had* been my speculation, this would not be the first time that something has been written on this blog that seemed to contradict the overall narrative of the blog. I won't go into details here, as that would be too far afield (aka off-topic). But, to question the statement that I did (even if I *did* perceive contradiction at the time) is not disingenuous, given that fact.

I do find it a bit odd that responses to my question have to be weighed in light of my perceived agenda. It's even more disconcerting in this case where I didn't even have one. But even if I did -- repeating off an earlier comment -- that doesn't seem very Luke 6.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

One other observation: The discussion of "pro-binary" post required nuance (e.g. the multiple definitions/uses of the word "lives"). This is not contradictory at all, but rather just illustrates the fact that even if the Bible is primarily binary, we humans aren't God. And therefore we require nuance even to investigate the binary. Which, I guess, would at least be the start of the answer to Dan's question ("If that's the case, then why...?)"

The question seemed to be rhetorical, given its context, but perhaps does have an actual answer other than what Dan had in mind.

MTHudson said...

First, I'm surprised and somewhat gratified either of my comments made any sense at all. Both were written in the middle of the night while insomniac, heavily medicated, and running a fever. Composed on a phone, no less.

Let me be clear, I had no intention of discrediting anyone to any degree. I did not perceive any agenda in Ted's question, other than to generate answers to his question, which, I suppose, is the agenda of every non-rhetorical question.

As to what I meant by having the appearance of being disingenuous, I meant to say that it could easily look like he'd put forth a speculative interpretation he couldn't genuinely think was Dan's intention. Again -with no other agenda than to generate answers -if any agenda at all. The words 'look like' are key because I also presumed he (or ' you' - I'm not sure whether I should be addressing Ted or the Intarwebs in general) wasn't *being* disingenuous, only that it could easily *look like* it.

As to that being irrelevant, Ted is right on a couple of counts. First, my first comment didn't need its first paragraph. It was born of the notion that he might want to read an unrelated-to-the-main-point observation of an insomniac stranger. Second he's quite correct in saying that if I'd known he perceived contradictions between specific blog posts here and the overall narrative here in the past it would have armored him against even the appearance of being disingenuous.

I had no intention of even slightly discrediting anyone. I apologize for the inclusion of the first bit of my first comment. It was at best unwise, no matter my intention. I'm glad the second comment was of some use. I don't comment often, but will try to think a bit more thoroughly before hitting publish in the future.

Unknown said...

My apologies that my statement garnered an apology from you, MTHudson. Such was not my intention -- no apology from you is necessary. I apparently chose poorly in my use of the word "discredit" (though, I did add the phrase "a little bit" to try to take the sting out of it, as I knew that you weren't coming down on me). Apparently, I still communicated that poorly, though.

And I did catch the manner in which you referred to things "seeming" or how they "could be read". Kudos to you for your lack of definitive declaration of what I "really meant". :)

As to the "agenda" thing, that should have been a separate comment as it was only 0.000001% directed at you.

And I hope you feel better soon.

If I say "pray" instead of hope, would I be in violation on Matthew 6:5 ? :)

MTHudson said...

No sweat and thanks. I'm sure if you stay off the street corner you're fine.

Unknown said...

Well, my joking "concern" was that (unless we're talking Manhattan) this blog is more heavily populated than any street corner. :)