Posted by: Billy Marsh | February 22, 2008

Dan Wallace On Christian Liberty

Yes, I do have some fuller length and more substantial posts in the works, but I just haven’t had a chance to put the finishing touches on them. In the meantime, I wanted to direct your attention to another interesting post from “Reclaiming the Mind Ministries” blog. This time the contributor is the esteemed New Testament/Greek scholar, Daniel B. Wallace. The title of his recent post is “Avoid Every Appearance of Evil!“.

Wallace’s article is brief, but very poignant and informative. The content revolves around a misinterpretation and bad translation that is commonly applied to 1 Thessalonians 5:22, which is traditionally referenced by the phrase represented in the title of his post. What’s so neat about reading his piece today was that the topic of our care group discussion this past Wednesday night was legalism and the freedom of a Christian taken from Col 2:16-23. I sent a link out to my care group today as well to this article since it was so relevant to much of our discussion. I appreciate it when pivotal figures in scholarship are not afraid to engage the culture and to speak openly about issues that are typically taboo, especially for those who play more influential roles in Christian academia. Wallace does a great job of challenging certain views and posing new ones. It’s a very intriguing post and subject, one that we all should have a better grasp of in my opinon.

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Responses

  1. Greetings in Christ,

    BM, I think Dr. Wallace’s main point — that Christians should not cave in to legalism — is correct, but it shouldn’t be connected to First Thessalonians 5:21-22. It looks to me like 5:21-22 is connected to the preceding statements about prophetic utterances: it’s the utterances which should be tested; good things in them should be kept; every form of evil that may occur in them should be rejected.

    Also, while we should not cater to legalism, we should act sensitively, and I think that perhaps Dr. Wallace didn’t figure this into the moral equation enough. Even Jesus once took special measures to avoid offending people (in Matthew 17:24-27). And we know what He warned us would happen to those who caused little children to stumble. Figuratively speaking, it’s okay to cause a spiritual adult to stumble, if the adult is being a legalist, but it’s not okay to cause a little child to stumble. The thing is, sometimes a spiritual child is physically an adult.

    So instead of appealing to First Thessalonians 5:22, I think we can consider passages such as Romans 12:17-18, Romans 14:21, and Colossians 3:17, and make a strong case that it’s a good idea to avoid some things that you /could/ participate in (like, say, drinking lemonade out of a whiskey bottle, without telling anyone it’s lemonade), when such participation would be likely to be harm the reputation of the body of Christ.

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

    (Banned from Parchment & Pen)

  2. James,
    Thanks for your comments. I clicked on the link to your site and was excited to see that you are teaching through James’ epistle at your church. Some friends and I are currently memorizing James right now and the Lord has really opened my eyes up to many things in James’ teaching that have laid dormant for a while.

    As far as your critique of Wallace’s post on 1 Thess 5:22, I not sure what type of distinction your trying to make between your argument and his at the beginning of your comment. You both are saying almost the exact same thing with regard to wrongly using 1 Thess 5:22 as a proof text for hindering Christian liberty and that the issue in the context is false doctrines or utterances.

    With reference to his sensitivity, some of the formalness in writing style is at times lost in the blog world. I wouldn’t be too hard on him for that, it seemed that he was just trying to write in an informal and fresh way. As a seminary student, I’ve encountered legalism here more than anywhere, and definitely empathize with Wallace’s tone due to the frustration that comes when freedom in Christ and the newness of life that he purchased for us on the cross is made to feel like we are still living under the law and always walking on eggshells. At some point, I think we need to say with Paul, “For why should my liberty be determined by someone else’s conscience (1 Cor 10:29).” This statement was coming right off the heels of his passage on meat sacrificed to idols.

    We need to pray for wisdom and be balanced in our approach to freedom in Christ and not slip in licentiousness. But, I do not believe that my liberty in Christ must always be determined by someone else’s failure to let the gospel has its full effect in his or her own life. It seems to me that the exercising of the stronger brother’s faith at some point ought to be an encouragement to the weaker brother and an instrument that the Lord uses to bring him to maturity.

    In addition, I agree with your final paragraph. 1 Thess 5:22 is not the appropriate place to base all of our appeals on this argument. The passages you cited are exactly where I’d go. However, if Christ’s reputation in this world is so fragile that my drinking an IBC root beer in the bottle sinks it, then there is a much deeper problem we need to deal with as the body of Christ than simply the issue of legalism and Christian liberty.

    Ok, I’ll take the bait. Banned from Parchment and Pen, eh? I’m sure there is a good story and explanation for it.

    Your Co-Laborer in Christ,
    Billy


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