Appropriate Dogmatism

The Bible makes explicit and implicit statements. Because Scripture is God’s Word, these statements should be confessed as doctrine.

Explicit Biblical doctrine is proposed by the text in such manner as to need no deduction. These doctrines are grammatically clear and distinct statements in the text. It is appropriate to communicate explicit Biblical teaching dogmatically (example: “Jesus is Lord and if you disagree you are wrong”).

Implicit Biblical doctrines is proposed by the text in such manner as to need deduction. These doctrines are grammatically unspoken and covert statements in the text, which are coherent with explicit Biblical teaching. It is inappropriate to communicate implicit Biblical teaching in a dogmatic fashion (example: “Infant baptism is a sin and if you disagree you are wrong” – this is not a proper statement).

The cases against propositions that are contrary to the Bible often culminate into this basic argument:

  • The Bible never explicitly teaches X.
  • The Bible explicitly teaches ~X.
  • Therefore, X is an unbiblical proposition.

For example, say a man arrives at your doorstep this evening. He greets you and says, “I am here on behalf of The Universalist Church of America. It is my honor to inform you that you are going to heaven! In the meantime, would you be interested in becoming a Christian?” This man is a soteriological universalist (i.e. he believes God will eventually redeem all people in Christ). To consider the main proposition of Universalism in light of Scripture, we plug it into the argument above.

  • Does the Bible ever explicitly teach that God will eventually save all people (X)? No.
  • Does the Bible explicitly teach that God will not eventually save all people (~X)? Yes – Matthew 7:21.
  • Therefore, Universalism is an unbiblical proposition.

Many propositions are not so easily analyzed. The Bible may never explicitly side with or against it. In these instances, we are dealing with implicit teachings from the text and it is not appropriate to be dogmatic.

(For the remainder of this essay, consider “X” to be any proposition that the Bible takes an explicit stance on – like in the argument above. It might be helpful to plug-in the above Universalism example.)

One must either be ignorant, in denial, or willingly rebellious of Biblical teaching in order to accept something that the Bible explicitly teaches against.

To accept X on the basis of ignorance requires that there be no knowledge of what the Bible says on the issue. Someone who has never been exposed to the Biblical teaching on X could possibly accept X out of ignorance to the truth.

To accept X on the basis of denial requires that there be knowledge of what the Bible says concerning X and an unconscious, involuntary reaction to deny it. This situation would be similar to a widow denying her husband died. She may have the fact clearly presented, yet honestly believe her spouse is still alive. To be in denial that X is unbiblical when the Bible explicitly says so likely requires a substantial amount of personal estate in X and a legitimate biological capability (depending on the circumstances and one’s emotional condition) to lapse into a rejection of reality. Confessing X on the basis of denial probably is the least common reason of the three.

To accept X on the basis of rebellion requires knowledge of what the Bible says concerning X and a willful decision to reject it. This rebellion would not necessarily be manifested as a rejection of Scripture itself. Most times, rebellion against explicit Biblical truth is manifested by a refusal to admit that the Bible takes a definitive stance on X. For example, the Bible explicitly teaches that Jesus is God: (). Rebellion against this doctrine could be manifested by staunch, public rejection of Christ’s deity: “Jesus was not God and the Bible does not say He was.” Or, this rebellion could be manifested by an indecisive, non-confrontational avoidance of the doctrine: “Well, the Bible really isn’t clear on the issue. It could be one way or the other. Who knows? You believe what you think it says and I’ll make a decision too. We’ll find out who is right one day.” This form of rebellion presents itself as humble and considerate of others, yet such a stance on explicit Biblical teaching crosses the line from humility to arrogance. It is not humble to deny what God distinctly communicates to us.

In the name of love and acceptance, some refuse to take stand dogmatically with Biblically crystallized positions. Correcting false doctrine is tough – offering opinions is much more “tolerant.” We are not comfortable telling someone, “I realize you believe X – but you must know that X is false.”

The distinction between explicit and implicit Biblical doctrine gives us a distinction between appropriate and inappropriate dogmatism. Baptism is an example of implicit Biblical doctrine. Scripture does not explicitly side with paedobaptism or credobaptism. For this reason, I would not walk into a PCA church and announce, “You are all wrong.” The Deity of Christ is an example of explicit Biblical doctrine. Scripture explicitly sides with the position “Jesus is God.” For this reason, I would not walk into a Mosque and announce “You might be right.”

“X” in this discussion represents any proposition that is explicitly contrary to Scripture. If the Bible never explicitly teaches X and explicitly teaches ~X, then X is an unbiblical proposition. We say, then, that the Bible takes a distinct, transparent stance on X. Therefore, it is pride over humility, rebelliousness over obedience, selfishness over love, worldliness over holiness that leads someone who sees explicit Biblical teaching to accept an unbiblical proposition.

Again: such rebellion does not usually manifest itself as anti-Scripture. The pastor, in fact, may be among those most susceptible. The pastor is commissioned to defend the church against false doctrine (1 Ti 1:8-14). When X becomes the cultural “hot-topic” and threatens the minds of his congregation, the pastor’s duty is to take up the shepherd’s staff and fend-off wolves. This work may weary the minister. Why must he take another controversial stance? Can’t he simply be at peace with men? The non-discriminatory agenda of United States society accuses him of hate speech – intolerant of those different than he. Is intolerance compatible with love? Under these circumstances, the pastor merely needs to shift his stance on Biblical dogmatism a centimeter to the left and most controversies will be averted. The pastor is in this way easily susceptible to rebellion.

Christ has called us to teach people what He teaches us (Matt 28:18-20). This requires dogmatism concerning explicit Biblical statements. If the Bible explicitly presents something to us, we have an obligation to not only accept but stand by it amidst opposition. Further, the greatest love of all is to bring someone patiently to the truth.

Be graciously bold in your communication of explicit Scriptural doctrines. Dogmatism is appropriate when discussing crystallized Scriptural truths. Be graciously humble in your communication of implicit Scriptural doctrines. Dogmatism is inappropriate when discussing latent Scriptural truths.

May God grant us courage, love, and the opportunities to proclaim His truth to the world.

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