Ideas are powerful. They have the ability to shape your mind and shape how you engage with the world. Today, there are endless (thank you internet) ideas available. As many have before me, I like to refer to it as the Marketplace of Ideas. Ideas come in all shapes and sizes and potency, yet one thing is certain, not all ideas are equal, and certainly not all ideas are true. The Bible exhorts the Christian:
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.1 John 4:1 ESV
So how does a Christian “test the Spirits?” When we watch the news and engage with our ever changing culture, we must first recognize that ideas are constantly presented before us as claims to truth. The Christian must begin with their Bible’s open and they must use their Bible as a standard whereby they test whether an idea is a legitimate claim to truth or not. Remember in John 17:17 in the midst of the High Priestly Prayer Jesus said, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” Within the current marketplace of ideas there is an endless array of contradiction. The wise Christian works to spot these contradictions, to understand them, and to form sense through them by persistently returning to God’s Word as the source of all truth.
The following categories I heard years ago in a sermon by Pastor Mark Driscoll in reference to another topic, and yet these categories are so helpful for our current moment. Here are three simple categories that are helpful in considering ideas.
Some Ideas Should Be Received
Some ideas can be received. To receive an idea is to affirm that the idea itself is good and godly and therefore can be owned as part of your own vocabulary and worldview. This is true even of ideas that originate from a non-Christian. As an overly simple example, when a non-Christian states that adultery is wicked, the Christian can quickly identify that idea as a Biblical idea. It was God who revealed that truth to us through His Word when he spoke it as one of the 10 Commandments in Exodus 20:14. The irony of receiving Godly ideas from non-Christians is that the non-Christian often does not have a worldview that can adequately support their own belief. So when the non-Christian says, “Adultery is wrong,” they essentially (from their own nonBiblical worldview) have no real justification for such a clear statement of right and wrong. The non Christian in this case is being inconsistent with their own worldview, and has chosen to borrow from the Christian worldview in order to lay down clear barriers of right and wrong. When the Christian embraces true ideas like these from nonChristians, ideas that are correct per the standard of God’s Word, we can embrace them while at the same time we can provide the actual justification and worldview for why the idea is good in the first place. Do you see how we are always pointing back to the Word of God as the source of all meaning and truth?
Some Ideas Should Be Rejected
Some ideas should be rejected. To reject an idea is to simply say that the idea is incompatible with God’s revelation through his word. In a world of sensitivity and moral relativity, rejecting ideas is increasingly dangerous. It is much safer to swim gently in the pool of postmodernism than it is to step out of the pool and proclaim that they’re all about to drown. No one likes someone who rejects ideas. And yet, many ideas must be rejected. As one of hundreds of examples I could give, in Galatians 2 Paul vehemently opposed Peter for separating himself from the Gentiles during a meal. Here we have Paul rejecting an idea that was beginning to work its way into the Church. Paul did not coddle up next to the idea of these heretics, he flat out rejected it – and I’m certain he made a few enemies in the process. Christians operate from a powerful sense that that their judge is not the court of public opinion. Christians would do well to remember the heroes of the faith who have gone before us who have suffered much for their rejection of bad ideas. As Martin Luther once said when standing before Emperor Charles V defending his writings and teachings, “Here I stand; I can do no other. God help me.”
Some Ideas Should be Redeemed
Some ideas should be redeemed. Within these ideas there is a kernel of truth, but that truth is covered in chaff so as to make it incomprehensible to a biblical worldview. In these situations we must expose both the kernel and the chaff with clarity. It is with these ideas where it is vital for the Church to provide precision with their terminology. If the Church publicly celebrates the entirety of a ‘redeemable idea’ without publicly exposing the false chaff surrounding the kernel of truth, they simply seem to be receiving the idea. This unclarity is deadly, for the chaff itself could indeed be full of anti-gospel messaging. What happens in this case is that the world ultimately believes the Church stands with unbiblical ideas as well as the kernel of truth. If on the other hand the Church simply exposes the chaff, without celebrating the kernel of truth, they simply fail to take advantage of the many opportunities for evangelism before them, often making the God of the Bible look like the great “I am not,” rather than the truly wonderful King that He is. Yet redeeming an idea is dangerous and difficult work. It is far easier to reject an idea too quickly or to blindly receive an idea without meaningful consideration, than it is to do the difficult work of opening up our Bible and considering every idea through the lens of scripture.
I have very intentionally not engaged in this post with many of the current ideas floating through our culture. It is not for fear of engagement but rather for the sake of equipping. I think it’s helpful to first understand these categories and to internalize them and make them your own. Remember God has given every Christian the Holy Spirit in order that they might be wise and discerning, sanctified and sealed, and not easily led astray. As always, we need courageous Christians who do the hard work of loving others well by standing firm on the Word of Truth.
“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”2 Timothy 4:3-5 ESV