The Danger of the Character-Based Argument

Below are ten theological statements, each with a hypothesisand a conclusion.

1. “God does not share his gloryso Jesus must not be divine.

2. “God is loveso nobody will be sent to hell for eternity.

3. “God will not be mockedso he’ll remove your salvation if you keep sinning.

4. “God is sovereignso he is the one directly causing every event.

5. “God is generousso it’s never his will that you be poor.”

6. “God doesn’t make mistakesso there are people created only for destruction, to whom salvation is never made available.”

7. “God is justso he would never do #6.”

8. “God is welcomingso nobody should be excluded from church.”

9. “It’s all about Godso he does not attend to matters like our personal identites.

10. “God does not show favoritismso Christians will not be raptured out of the Tribulation.

5934706650_a50245dd9d_bNo doubt, like me, you agree vigorously with all ten hypotheses but disagree with some of the conclusions (I’ve deliberately set it up that way).

My point today is not to debate each one, despite the passion they’ve already raised in you just in reading them (and in me in writing them). My point is instead to highlight our common use of weak supporting arguments.

All ten of those statements have one thing in common: Each shows a broad principle of God’s character being applied to a specific doctrine. 

And that is a problem.

My pastors are all immensely generous men. That doesn’t mean that any of them are about to loan me $30,000 for a brand-new Toyota 4Runner if I walk up and ask. That isn’t how they operate; there’s more going on, more specifics to consider.

In the same way, relying on a simplistic character-based argument is typically a shaky pathway to discuss how God acts. There are always stronger Scriptural arguments to use.

Unfortunately, such broad-brush character arguments are rife amongst today’s Christians, while actual Biblical knowledge is at an all-time premium.

The other day (as just an example…again, not wanting to get hung up over this today), I saw a blogger claim that the Parable of the Talents from Matthew 25 is not describing the way God runs his kingdom, as the traditional interpretation goes, because the “harsh and greedy Master” described in the parable “does not seem to be very God-like”. His belief is that Jesus is using the parable to describe the Pharisees’ SOP of extorting the people.

Admittedly, this is one of the Gospels’ knottier passages. God acts with what (on the surface and in our view) seems an unreasonable judgment towards the parable’s third servant, the one who buried and returned his allocation without interest. Would a kind and generous God really do this?

Well…apparently so.

Because closer exegesis (specifically verse 1) supports the idea that Jesus is indeed describing his own kingdom, damaging the possibility that he’s talking about something else. At least by my understanding.

Which leaves us to acknowledge that God is indeed entitled to behave that way, whether we like it or not. It’s about letting Scripture lead us, instead of trying to lead it; it’s about whether we trust it. Our place is to assume no contradiction, understand why he acts as he does (for he does offer understanding), and obey.

Don’t get me wrong, it is important to understand God’s characteristics. The problem is, like my pastors’, they start colliding. He is, for example, a God of love and a God of justice. That presents a problem because, needless to say, some of us are very interested in one and would gladly avoid the other.

But he remains Himself. God is not bound to our human definitions of love, sovereignty, justice, generosity, or anything else. He operates by his own definitions. And as long as we operate outside those definitions and substitute our own, we’ll get him wrong.

So where do we find the right parameters for God’s character?

Scripture.

Approached without bias. It is far better to dig deep into the Bible for where God directly addresses an idea, instead of falling back on superficial uses of his character.

Don’t worry. Objectivity is hard for me, too. But it’s necessary.

Doctrine gives us tough decisions to make, about whether we will accept God’s at his Word. But as John Piper said, “the Bible is where we meet Jesus. You can’t make Jesus up…He is the Jesus of the Bible or he is the Jesus of your imagination.”

And if this worries you, rest in the knowledge that these good practices, these habits of solid doctrine, ultimately lead to a shining treasure: that God is offering salvation by grace, not worked for, but received through faith – leading to our transference between kingdoms and a rich inheritance of eternal life.

That’s good doctrine.

It’s mighty good character, too.

This is what it means to be good Bereans. May we elevate our game and know his Word.

 

 

 

17 thoughts on “The Danger of the Character-Based Argument

  1. Good mornin Brandon, you wrote an interesting article brother.
    Systematic theologies are the cause of a lot of this problem in my view. Whether Calvinistic or dispensational, or preterist, etc. It seems that such will conform scripture to their bend.
    Thank you for taking the time to write this very good article.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Well said, Brandon. I’m all about letting the Holy Spirit read scripture to you. That simply means opening your mind and heart and letting Him speak to you. We people can get ourselves into so much trouble with our literal, very shallow understandings of the written word. Look at all the trouble we have communicating with one another on the internet.

    What I like about the a parable of the talents is that we don’t know if the master was harsh and greedy or if that was simply the lazy servant’s perception of him. People who perceive God as harsh and judgmental tend to act that way themselves, to hide their treasures,to insist others hide theirs. People who perceive God as abundant and merciful tend to reflect that out in the world too. So our perception and understanding of God becomes very important, hanging onto the simple idea that God is good, always.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Love this post Brandon!

    Many of us love the “hugging – I love you” type of Jesus…but forget that He gets angry when we do things that offend God such as making a House of Prayer (the Church) into a place where money exchanges hands for personal greed (making the Church into a den of thieves) … Jesus’ anger over this caused Him to overturn tables and rebuke those participating in making His Church into some kind of Casino. Who wouldn’t be angry at this? No sense of reverential fear…and the audacity to make a mockery of God’s Place of Prayer into some ind of Fan-Fantasy-Fair legitimizes Jesus’ anger to act on it with rage as noted in Matthew 21:13; Mark 11:17; and Luke 19:46.

    As believers, we should know that God shall not be mocked as stated in the following verse of scripture:

    Galatians 6:7 Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.

    So as believers, we need to be very careful and cognizant of the fact that the reverential fear of God is the beginning of all wisdom and those that despise it, will depart from understanding.

    Psalm 111:10
    The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; A good understanding have all those who do His commandments. His praise endures forever.

    Proverbs 1:7
    The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, But fools despise wisdom and instruction.

    Proverbs 9:10
    “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.

    – Sherline.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Brandon, if there was a prize for best opening for a blog post, you would win. I admit I caught my breath a time or two! Just a couple of thoughts. I think that, not only do we build doctrines from broad attributes, but that we build them based on our own personalities. I tend toward rigidity, and being extremely black and white; hence, I find myself comfortable with the traditional interpretation of that parable. In my mind, that makes perfect sense. Another, who is “fuzzier” so to speak, might focus more on the loving characteristics of God, and tend to overlook non fuzzy things like judgment. What we have to remember is that God has all of His attributes, all of the time, completely. He is perfectly just, yet perfectly love for example. The list could go on, but that will do. One attribute never has to lessen in order for another to be fully present. Good stuff here.

    Like

  5. Excellent article. Sure. Thou shall not kill and then later we see where more than once God’s people are told to kill everything that moves or breathes. Sure, God is love, but even Jesus is described as coming back with a sword. A sword? That is not of love as we know it. Yes, it is justice coming home for judgment. Thank you for your article. Love it.

    Liked by 2 people

  6.  God is not bound to our human definitions of love, sovereignty, justice, generosity, or anything else. He operates by his own definitions. And as long as we operate outside those definitions and substitute our own, we’ll get him wrong..

    I was on a hunt for genuine blogs and I thank God I found one. It’s very hard to find one with a right interpretation these days. Scriptures are manipulated and manifested and manifested according to each one’s comfort.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. It is most difficult to understand eternity in our finite mind. Reveled truth is what we will be held accountable for and what is etched into our hearts by our image template. Our self justifying ways will not hold up in God’s court. Only Jesus will withstand such judgement, we have no excuse, Jesus has a full, perfect pardon for us here and now. Let us humble our pride and accept this perfect gift. Thank you for the post Brandon. Blessings to you and yours.
    With Thanks,
    Denny

    Like

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