21 June 2013

Charity vs Charitableness

Every Friday, to commemorate the stellar contributions to internet apologetics and punditry made by our founder and benefactor, Phil Johnson, the unpaid and overworked staff at TeamPyro presents a "Best of Phil" post to give your weekend that necessary kick.

This excerpt is from the blog back in April 2008. Phil shows that there is all the difference in the world between Biblical charity and charitableness--both in meaning and practical consequences.

As usual, the comments are closed.

Charity is defined in 1 Corinthians 13. Among other things, it "does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth" (v. 6).

"Charitableness" (the postmodern substitute for charity) is something altogether different. It's a broad-minded, insouciantly tolerant, unrelenting goodwill toward practically every conceivable opinion. Its twin virtue—often labeled "epistemic humility"—is a cool refusal to hold any firm and settled convictions. These cardinal postmodern moral values are both seasoned with blithe indifference to the dangers of heresy.

In other words, if you want to be "charitable" by the postmodern definition, you must always leave open the possibility that someone else's truth is equal to if not better than yours. You must never write off other people's beliefs completely. Above all, you must seek to be conciliatory, not confrontive. Bottom line: you pretty much take the position that nothing we believe is ultimately anything more than a personal opinion.

Naturally, then, building bridges to non-Christian worldviews is deemed a better tactic than challenging error head on. Winning the admiration of unbelievers becomes vastly more important than demolishing the false ideologies that bind them. As a matter of fact, one of the best ways to gain non-Christians' respect and appreciation is by looking for common ground and then stressing those areas of agreement, rather than pointing out differences between what the non-Christian believes and what the Bible teaches. The more compliments and congratulations you can give to other points of view, the better. And the more your ideological adversaries like you at the end of the dialogue, the more gratified you are entitled to feel.

That obviously means that candidly telling someone he or she is in error is unacceptable. To the postmodern mind, direct contradiction like that is the polemical equivalent of dropping a nuke; it's an extreme last-resort tactic—rarely used at all in dialogues with unbelievers, but reserved mainly for other Christians whose views are too rigid or too conservative for your tastes.

Did Paul use the tactic of postmodern-style charitableness in Athens?

It sounds pretty silly even to raise that question, doesn't it? You know he didn't. He simply proclaimed the message Christ had given him to preach—"not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power" (1 Corinthians 2:4). Just as Paul had always done, he headed straight for the one truth he knew very well would sound most like utter foolishness to them: the resurrection of the dead.


That's what faithful evangelistic ministry looks like. It doesn't cower before opposition. It isn't intimidated by human wisdom. It isn't shaken by rejection. It doesn't waver from the truth. It doesn't shift and change content to suit the preferences or felt needs of an audience. It has one theme, and that is Christ in His death and resurrection. It has one strategy—to unpack the meaning of Christ's death and resurrection and proclaim it with clarity. It confronts every worldview, every false religion, every superstitious belief, every human philosophy, and every skeptical opinion. It rises above all those things and speaks with unshakable authority, because the gospel is the truth of God, and the power of God for salvation.