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Misunderstanding People – The Loss of Man
The Loss of Man
There is one more important error in the Bobgans’ thinking which needs to be discussed. This error can be called “the loss of man”. It occurs whenever Christians discount what the Bible teaches about man, believing that they have to devalue man in order to safeguard God’s glory.
The Bible teaches that mankind is fallen, but that we still possess something of the image of God. God relates to us in terms of both our fallenness and His image. He relates to us as people who are intelligent, reflective, creative and emotional, even though all those faculties are infected by sin. “Losers of man” see only man’s fallenness, and deal with him – even if born again – as a one-dimensional sinner. They believe we must be kept under an authoritarian thumb, like dumb slaves, if God’s glory and human unworthiness are to receive their right emphasis. This doctrine dishonours the God who created man. Man is a ruin, but he is a glorious ruin, and God in His grace deals with us as such.
The error can be illustrated by a controversy that split the Christian Reformed Church of America in 1924. The event itself will seem remote and unimportant to many of the people who read this paper, but the “loss of man” error is just as dangerous now as it was then.
R.J. Rushdoony describes the 1924 controversy in his book By What Standard.1 A party led by Herman Hoeksema was teaching that God had no attitude of favour whatsoever toward non-Christians. The Christian Reformed Church Synod of 1924 considered and rejected Hoeksema’s views, holding instead that (1) God has a favourable attitude towards mankind in general; (2) There is a restraint of sin in the life of the individual and in society; and (3) the unregenerate, though incapable of any saving good, can perform … civic good.
Hoeksema interpreted this as a humanistic concession to man, and left the CRC to form a new denomination. Hoeksema’s view was,
If I must take a choice to lose God or man, give me God! Let me lose man. It’s all right to me: no danger there. Give me God! 2
Rushdoony’s comment on this is:
Noble as this may sound, it is clearly unsound and unscriptural, …Scripture does full justice to God and to man; it never “loses” man nor eliminates him. Hoeksema’s stand, far from being a defense of the faith, is once again its death-knell. Only biblical thought can survive, and only biblical thought is realistic.3
Simplistic Interpretation of Scripture
This error surfaces in several places in the Bobgans. It is seen first of all in their simplistic doctrine of the interpretation of Scripture. When Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for their perversion of the Sabbath law, the force of His rebuke was that they should have ranged their minds across more of the Scripture than the bald words of the fourth commandment itself (see Matthew 12:1-8). Since they had failed to do so, they had not come to a correct understanding of the commandment.
What that incident should teach us is that, even though our intellects are affected by sin, Jesus still credits us with the ability to take a comprehensive view of His Word, and to put things together which are widely separated in the pages of the Bible. Indeed, He requires it of us, just as He required it of the Pharisees. “Losers of man,” however, see only that our intellects are fallen. They refuse to credit mankind, though fallen, with the dignity with which Jesus credits us, and therefore they forbid their followers to look further afield than the simple words of simple verses. I believe that the Bobgans’ incomplete doctrines of sin and pastoral counselling manifest just that error.
Selective Interpretation of Scripture
The second place in which the “loss of man” can be seen in the Bobgans is in quotations like the following one:
…psychological theories look for reasons for unacceptable attitudes and behaviour in circumstances outside of the person. That is why those kinds of answers are not found in the Bible. Even when Satan or other people may tempt one to sin, God says through his word that even then they are drawn into sin by their own lust (James 1:14). God holds people responsible for their own sin.4
This is another example of false dichotomy. The Biblical doctrine is that God holds people responsible for their own sin, but he also holds as culpable any other person who was a stumbling block (a source of temptation) – see Matthew 18:7 and 2 Cor. 11:29. The Bobgans are aware of the second aspect: you can see that in their words, “Even when Satan or other people may tempt one to sin…” However, they refer to it only to ignore it. They choose to build their doctrine and practice only on the Scriptures that make man into a sinful nobody. In doing so, they dishonour the God who created man and whose Word teaches a different doctrine than theirs.
The issue between the Bobgans and Crabb is on the surface quite different from the 1924 controversy I described earlier. Nevertheless, the Bobgans are every bit as much “losers of man” as Herman Hoeksema was. On the other hand, Crabb’s doctrine gives proper weight to what the Bible says about God and what it says about man. Much of the rhetoric with which the Bobgans accuse Crabb of being man-centred in his doctrine sounds pious, but the end result of their own doctrine is the loss of both God and man.
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