Appeal to Consequences is no way to Rightly Handle the Bible

The most common arguments I get against Calvinism have precious little to do with Scripture. People very rarely say “so, what do you make of this verse here?” It happens sometime, but it is not that common.

Instead, I get frequent appeals to consequences. This is an argument of the form “If X is true, then Y would follow. I don’t like Y, so X must not be true”.

There is a valid form of argument that goes “If X, then Y. Not Y, so not X.” This assumes that Y has some truth value. It’s a proposition that can be evaluated as true or false.

In an appeal to consequences, Y does not have a truth value. It’s not measured as true or false.

For instance, yesterday people complained that a belief in unconditional election and God’s sovereignty leads to fatalism and a loss of urgency in evangelism. They are wrong in those assertions, but the argument was also wrong.

As Biblical absolutists, we must believe the Bible. We cannot have any problems, objections, or embarrassment about what the Bible says. Once we understand what it says, we must be willing to obey it, regardless of the consequences.

So, if the Bible does teach God’s sovereignty, then we must believe it whether or not it makes us fatalists. If the Bible teaches us election, we must believe it, even if it takes away some sense of urgency in evangelism. Now, in my opinion, it _does_ take away that “wretched urgency” and that’s a _good_ thing. But it doesn’t matter. We must believe the Bible.

I get the same arguments when I advocate separation from the world (2 Cor 6:14-18). I’ve rarely had anyone respond to the passages I quote or the commentaries and preachers I refer to as having taught this very same thing. Sometimes I get an arrogant dismissal of them, “They are missing the whole point of Christianity!” But I almost never get someone to actually respond.

Instead, I get an appeal to consequences. “No, if we were to separate from the world, then how could we possibly _reach_ the world? Don’t you know that salt in the shaker is useless?”

The assertion that Christians are called to reach the world is absolutely true, and utterly relevant to the larger discussion of how we relate to the world. But it is completely useless as an argument against separation. If the Bible teaches separation, we must “come out from among them, and be ye separate”.

The better way to handle the Bible is to realize that the Bible teaches election and God’s sovereignty. The Bible also teaches man’s responsibility and the necessity of evangelism. We then see that God’s sovereignty does _not_ lead to fatalism or laziness in evangelism. But we were able to do this without trampling all over the Bible.

Similarly, the Bible teaches Christians to be separate from the world. It also teaches us that it is impractical and undesirable to _leave_ the world, and that we are to go into the world to build the kingdom. The right way to handle this is to not compromise any of those teachings, but to understand them in light of one another. It’s not a question of “How can I reach the world if I am separated from the world?” The question is, “How can I reach the world _while_ I am separated from it.” And then you realize that, just as a city on a hill is visible by virtue of not being in a valley, we are visible to and reach the world _because_ we are separated from it.

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12 Responses to Appeal to Consequences is no way to Rightly Handle the Bible

  1. Gayla says:

    Great stuff Robert!!!! Couldn’t agree more. This journey of sovereignty God has me on is incredible. I so enjoy reading what you have to say about it. I belong to an absolutely awesome Bible-believing, sovereignty church. How eye opening it has been.

    Reading through the Bible right now and the things God is showing me are blowing me away!

    Keep up the good work!

  2. Jared says:

    Good thoughts.

    I feel compelled to point out, however, that when you and I have discussed “separation from the world” in the past, I have brought up more than once 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 and don’t recall ever receiving any response at all from you.

    It’s a sidepoint, to be sure, and I agree with the main point of your post here, but I just sort of bristled at the idea that NOBODY ever responded with Scripture to your separation arguments. It makes me feel like my participation in those past discussions (which spent a lot of time in the Gospels, as well, if I recall correctly) was pointless if I’ve been lumped in with all the emotional debaters you’ve encountered.

  3. Robert says:

    I wrote (emphasis added):

    I get the same arguments when I advocate separation from the world (2 Cor 6:14-18). I?ve rarely had anyone respond to the passages I quote or the commentaries and preachers I refer to as having taught this very same thing. Sometimes I get an arrogant dismissal of them, ?They are missing the whole point of Christianity!? But I almost never get someone to actually respond.

    The right way to understand separation from the world is not to say “‘Come out from among them and be ye separate’ can’t _really_ mean that because Jesus hung out with prostitutes and Paul said we would have to leave the world to fully disassociate ourselves”. (Or substitute the “sovereignty vs free-will” or “limited atonement vs John 3:16 arguments.) That the Bible teaches two distinct things doesn’t mean one or both of them become less and less true or applicable until they merge. We can be faithful to all of it.

    Hiding from the world by living an isolated life is impossible (the point of 1 Cor 5:9-13) as well as undesirable (partially the point of Matthew 5:14-16). So we cannot take “be ye separate” to mean “run away”. But we still have to be separate!

    Similarly, we cannot take certain examples of Christ and a few other passages and understand them in a way that means “do not be separate”. We cannot ignore the Biblical commands to separation, the example of Israel, the example of Abraham, the example of Lot, the war between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent, etc.

    As far as I can recall, I have NEVER gotten an acknowledgement that the Bible does in fact teach that there is an appropriate level of separation between the church and the world. All I can remember are arguments along the lines of “Because of X, Y, and Z, ‘be ye separate’ can’t really mean ‘be ye separate’.” Or, “David didn’t really mean all that nasty stuff in Psalms”.

  4. MegLogan says:

    “As Biblical absolutists, we must believe the Bible. We cannot have any problems, objections, or embarrassment about what the Bible says. Once we understand what it says, we must be willing to obey it, regardless of the consequences.”

    I like this statement. I completely agree. And I also do not believe that the answers are contradictory. But sometimes I do believe that my feeble brain is unable to comprehend dichotomy as deep as absolute sovereignty and a choice. pre-destination, and a choice… I cannot seem to grasp my mine around it. It is a forgein concept to me.

    As for separation from the world, I believe there is a right way and a wrong way. To be separate and hidden under a bowl, or hidden from view of the world, would be wrong. You are right, we cannot run away. But to be separate and in full view, a light on a hill, is a wonderful and accurate Biblical mandate.

    My question is, HOW does that work in life? How just how separate are we to be? Is this a physical separation? should Christians live on compounds? or in private communities (like the Amish?). Should Christians wear something that says “Im a Christian” that sets them apart? Exactly what does separation mean??

    Meg

  5. Robert says:

    Good questions Meg. If I had any specific answers, I’d give them to you. Unfortunately, I don’t.

    The Bible never says _not_ to be separate from the world, but it does say it is _impossible_ to leave the world. Utter isolation is impossible. I don’t think we can or should form little self-sufficient isolated communities out in the wilderness where unbelievers are simply not permitted. We aren’t a cult. But I don’t know that we have a responsibility to live among crack houses, either. Between those lines, I think there is plenty of freedom. If you want to live in an “intentional community” with other Christians, I don’t think anyone can Biblically explain why that’s wrong. If you want to live in a regular neighborhood, as I do, I don’t see any basis for condemning that either. Or a family that does live way out in the country.

    Monasticism was very popular in the early church, and Chrysostom even wrote a book encouraging it. Unfortunately the book is in Russian so I can’t read it.

    Monasteries were not isolated compounds in the middle of nowhere. To the contrary, as best I can tell, many monasteries became the centers of communities and played a great role in preserving and spreading Christianity.

    I believe our separation ought to be in how we live our lives, and what relationships we form. That’s as specific as I want to get right now. Maybe a future post.

  6. Jared says:

    As far as I can recall, I have NEVER gotten an acknowledgement that the Bible does in fact teach that there is an appropriate level of separation between the church and the world.

    Huh.
    This puts a lot of my past discussions/debates in a new perspective. I seem to recall trying to explain what I think constitutes biblical separation, but I guess I didn’t do a good enough job.
    Thanks for responding, Robert.

  7. ilona says:

    “So, if the Bible does teach God?s sovereignty, then we must believe it whether or not it makes us fatalists.”

    This is true, as far as it goes.

    What the Bible teaches we must believe, but it can happen that our understanding of the terms and how they fit in the overall teaching of scripture may not be as we are presuming. Just as you exemplified in your journey through different categorised beliefs ( Arminianism and Baptist to Calvinist and Bible, etc)

    Appeal to consequences is not always a false test. There are times when it is Biblically sound such as James 3:17, and when Jesus admonished “You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? ” Matthew 7:16

    The Bible does most emphatically teach God’s Sovreignty, but it teaches against fatalism. So you have to find understanding that traverses those waters properly. Otherwise you are as erroro prone on the one side as you found yourself on the other.

    Key? Rightly divide. And that takes time, and sometimes discussion. Always continued study and seeking the answer from the One who knows best. You know: Father.

  8. Robert says:

    it can happen that our understanding of the terms and how they fit in the overall teaching of scripture may not be as we are presuming

    Let’s say you approach the Bible to find out the nature of Jesus. Some parts of the Bible tell us clearly “Jesus is God”. Some parts tell us clearly “Jesus is a man”. There are many ways we could go wrong here:
    * Jesus is all God, not man at all
    * Jesus is all man, not God at all
    * Jesus is a little bit God and a little bit man

    The only Biblical answer is to hold onto both truths – Jesus is _fully_ God and _fully_ man.

    We could come up with lots of examples. Is God holy and just, or gracious and merciful? Is God sovereign over salvation, or is man responsible? Grace or law? The right answer to these “either-or” questions is “Yes!” They are _both_ fully true.

    Appeal to consequences is not always a false test.

    Yes, it is.

    James 3:17 … Matthew 7:16

    These are not cases of appeal to consequences. They are arguments of the form “If X, then Y. Not Y, so not X.”

    Saving faith will produce works. If no works, that _demonstrates_ no faith. The right hand side of the equation is Biblically _testable_.

    The Bible does most emphatically teach God?s Sovreignty, but it teaches against fatalism. So you have to find understanding that traverses those waters properly.

    My point is, the right answer is _not_ to believe God is a little bit less sovereign in order to escape fatalism. The right answer is to recognize that He is entirely sovereign over everything, but that we are also responsible for our voluntary decisions and even our corrupt natures.

  9. ilona says:

    Your last point is unsatisfactory. You simply parrot the points on that, and make no effort to place them in *relation to each other*. This is not sufficient ofr teaching purposes, nor for apologetic purposes.

    It is fine for personal purposes to say ” I just accept this and it is not a problem in my own thinking”. I sometimes have to do this, and see nothing wrong with it. But most Christians long in the fiath are going to understand that you are making simple manifesto statements there. Without the doctrinal explanations for why you should so adamantly state them as is.
    ========
    “The right answer to these ?either-or? questions is ?Yes!? They are both fully true.” That is not the argument. The argument is how are they both true: how do they work together?

    You do not attempt to answer that.
    =======
    I maintain that James 3:17 is describing outcomes, to discern the source of the wisdom, not your faith produces works model.

    =======

    If you are interested I have a response on the separation issue you raise.

  10. ilona says:

    Your last point is unsatisfactory. You simply parrot the points on that, and make no effort to place them in *relation to each other*. This is not sufficient ofr teaching purposes, nor for apologetic purposes.

    It is fine for personal purposes to say ” I just accept this and it is not a problem in my own thinking”. I sometimes have to do this, and see nothing wrong with it. But most Christians long in the fiath are going to understand that you are making simple manifesto statements there. Without the doctrinal explanations for why you should so adamantly state them as is.
    ========
    “The right answer to these ?either-or? questions is ?Yes!? They are both fully true.” That is not the argument. The argument is how are they both true: how do they work together?

    You do not attempt to answer that.
    =======
    I maintain that James 3:17 is describing outcomes, to discern the source of the wisdom, not your faith produces works model.

    =======

    If you are interested I have a response on the separation issue you raise.

  11. ilona says:

    sorry for the dbl posting- my connection didn’t seem to respond.

  12. Robert says:

    The argument is how are they both true: how do they work together?

    Well, that wasn’t really the point of my post, which is why I didn’t address it. But I strive to make my readers happy! I think you were interested in how we can believe in the sovereignty of God, but not be fatalists.

    First, the tendency towards fatalism is a function both of God’s omniscience as well as His sovereignty. If God can know the future with certainty, the future is fixed and unchangeable. You’d have to deny that God knows the future, in order to preserve the general notion of “free will”. You don’t change much by understanding that God also has decreed the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10). Omniscience is enough.

    Second, God knows not only what _will_ happen, but all the possibilities too. There is a story in the Bible where David is running from Saul. He takes refuge in a city. Saul’s army marches to the city. David asks God if the people of the city will hand him over to Saul, and God says that they will. So David leaves, and therefore is _not_ handed over to Saul.

    God knew what would happen if David stayed. That was not to be the course of history, but God knew what would have happened. Alternatives _did_ exist, but God knew and ordained which would actually come to pass.

    Or consider the preaching of Jonah. Few would say that God _didn’t_ know that Nineveh would repent. But He sent Jonah with the warning of doom anyway. He knew and had decreed what would happen in the future if Nineveh didn’t repent, all the while fully knowing that they would.

    We are free, in the sense that our decisions are voluntarily. We are _not_ free in that God is in control of even the details of our lives. We cannot thwart His plans. We make our plans and take steps, but the direction is under His control (Prov 16:9, Prov 20:24).

    Our decisions are free because we freely make them, not because of what other decisions we might have made. What we _might_ have done is irrelevant. We do what we do, and do it freely and voluntarily. We are responsible for the choices we make, not what we might have done in some alternate universe.

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