on the hue and cry about legalism

I always cringe when the ‘L’ word is raised. Usually it means someone is about to attack the notion of holding to Bible based standards of some kind. Some are positively virulent in their opposition to rules. They hate it so much that they make rules about it. Seems kind of ironic, eh?

In the paragraph above, I almost typed “Biblical standards”. I think the adjective “Biblical” does cause some confusion. If I were to use it, I would mean “Bible based” as opposed to “Bible commanded”. Bible based standards are choices of wisdom. They are based on principles derived from scripture and should be followed in order to avoid being a fool. They will not produce righteousness, but a righteous person will live by wisdom. A righteous person will not be a fool.

On the other hand, there are these crowds of people railing against what they call “rules-based” Christianity. If they mean that you cannot become righteous by keeping rules, I agree. If you mean, however, that an anti-rules-based Christianity = I can drink alcohol, go to movies, listen to degraded and degrading music, etc., etc., then you are a fool.

I am not particularly worried if someone calls me a legalist. I am particularly worried about being a fool. I try to live my life by the wisdom found in the Bible. I don’t always succeed. When I don’t, I at least feel a little foolish. Sometimes I am so ashamed of my foolishness that I cry out to the Lord as Paul did in Romans 7, “oh wretched man that I am”. But I am not so foolish as to think that I can just dispense with wise rules of conduct that hold me and those for whom I am responsible accountible. For whom am I responsible? My family, our church members. To whom are they accountible? In some respects to me, but in all respects to God.

This post was prompted by a few others, one at Touchstone, and two at Sharper Iron (here and here). I can understand Hutchens posting as he does, but I am increasingly dubious of the wisdom and judgement of those in charge of the front page at Sharper Iron. The postings appear to have an antinomian tendency of late. They reflect something. I don’t think it is fundamentalism.


  1. Kent Brandenburg says:

    I agree. They seem to think that they are endowed with some special insight. I don’t think this woman who wrote the article is gifted in exegesis. Some of the SI Amen choir, also possessing this secret knowledge, arrogantly chimes in, their harshness under full protection. I’m commenting on Don’s article, so, no, Greg, this is not a chip on my shoulder.

  2. Don Johnson says:

    I should add that we have used some of Martha Peace’s books in our ministry to the ladies of the church. She does have some value. But like many (most) evangelicals, she is off on the subject of legalism.

    I guess I should somewhat temper my remarks about SI also. There are several guys involved there that seem to be solid fundamentalists. But it appears that others are not.

    I wonder if there is a process there for vetting the front page articles. I understand the nature of a discussion board like SI, anyone can start a discussion on anything. But the front page, it would seem, should be the best of the best. Lately, it doesn’t seem so. I wonder if there is any discussion or review among the SI leaders before a piece is posted.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  3. Kent Brandenburg says:

    We have a woman writing the article, Don, who seems reactionary to personal experience—very little thus saith the Lord. It is not bereft of truth. She may have written some good material, and I am hopeful for ladies, and we can all rejoice in that, Don. Do you see a strong basis in Scripture for a woman theologian for men?

  4. Don Johnson says:

    Hi Kent, No I don’t think much of women writing for men as such. That is not to say that men cannot learn from something a woman writes, but her audience is not men, I agree that is the scriptural view.

    Another factor in the religious book market is the fact that the overwhelming majority of consumers are women. So what we end up with are a lot of guys writing not for men, but for women — that’s where the market is. Hence the emotion laden ‘girlie-guy’ flavour of a lot of evangelical writing.

    The effusion of praise that you see on SI over articles written by women (even alleged fundamentalist women) is quite odd from a fundamentalist perspective but makes perfect sense from an evangelical perspective.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3