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Two Exams, and Two Questions

I present my children with two written tests. They open the envelope of the first, and see the heading, “Dad Orthodoxy”. A series of questions about me follows, which they find delightfully easy. “What is your father’s first name?” “What color are your father’s eyes?” “What is your father’s favorite meal?” “Where did your father grow up?” Having superior knowledge of my appearance, history, preferences, habits, and personality, they fly through the test. They are thoroughly Dad-orthodox.

They proceed to open the second envelope. Here they encounter the title “Dad Orthopathy”. Not knowing what orthopathy means (and at least one of them suspecting it might have something to do with feet), they shrug and plunge into the test. They find the questions here give them pause. “How should you address your father?” “What tone of voice should you use when disagreeing with your father?” “When has teasing and joking with your father become disrespectful?” “What are some ways you give honor to your father?

This test takes longer for my children to complete. They aren’t always sure if they have given the “correct” answers, which were unequivocal in the first test. They even have to stop and think about their relationship with me, and evaluate it carefully.

For all that, they know that it is possible to get wrong or incomplete answers on this test, too. Though the test requires different kinds of judgement, it still deals with truth: truth about their father. The first test deals with who their father is, the second deals with what their father deserves.

If we were to replace the father and children with God and His children, and imagine a similar set of tests, we might have a helpful picture of the dilemma of modern Christianity. Swathes of Christians would ace the first test, having learned by heart all kinds of doctrinal facts.

The second test would give everyone some difficulty. The real problem is not that it would be difficult for all Christians. The troubling thing is that it would make some Christians angry. They would feel the very asking of these questions is invasive. They would protest that the second exam consists of “trick questions”, with “no right answer”. They would argue that two Christians might write opposite things, and their cultural situation would make their respective answers correct in their context. They would accuse the examiner of asking narrow, even culturally-insensitive, questions.

So here are our two questions.

  1. Does the Bible give us forms of both exams? Does the Bible teach us both who God is, and what He deserves? Does it require both right belief in who God is, and a right response to who God is?
  2. Why do evangelicals (of whatever stripe, including fundamentalists) deny that the second exam exists, or that one can fail it? Why do they care only about the first exam, and act as if orthodoxy is the sum total of our obligation? Why do they resent the discussion of orthopathy?

About David de Bruyn

David de Bruyn pastors New Covenant Baptist Church in Johannesburg, South Africa. He is a graduate of Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Minnesota and the University of South Africa (D.Th.). Since 1999, he has presented a weekly radio program that is heard throughout much of central South Africa. He also blogs at Churches Without Chests.

2 Responses to Two Exams, and Two Questions

  1. Ok, since I don’t see any other responses, I’ll give this a shot. To answer your questions above, it would seem to me that addressing orthopathy is something most Christians don’t even think about. Perhaps one reason is because when it comes to how we respond to God, we base our response to God on how we would want to be responded to. In other words, we approach our affection for God based on man-centered notions. But as I study the Scriptures, especially worship in the OT, but also in the NT, I find that God cares not only about a right motive in worship (which is what man emphasizes), but also in our right activities and affections in worship. It is not that God ONLY looks at the heart, but that in addition to the heart motive, he considers the activity and the affections. We ought to care about these things because God cares about these things. Am I on the right track?

  2. Yes, I think that’s right. I think part of the reason it is seldom dealt with in Fundagelical circles is the desire to maintain the posture of certainty in absolute truth, in an environment where confidence in absolutes is unravelling. Therefore, to avoid looking like the pomos on the left who disavow truth, or like squishy Protestants who avow very little, many avoid judgements that are more critical and thoughtful, preferring to say only what can be immediately proof-texted, or explicitly taught in Scripture. Orthopathy always involves critical judgements involving the implications of God’s nature, or human nature. Often enough, these implications cannot themselves be proved with a proof text. At this point, Fundagelicals are going to relegate these matters to the realm of ‘subjective’ or ‘preference’, and make sure they keep defending those areas that appear clearly supported by a biblical text. To do otherwise, in their view, would either make them sound like they are undermining sola Scriptura as the ground of certainty, or make them sound too much like the squishy Protestants or pomos.

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