What’s In a Cliche?

“Putting God in a box”: it’s one of those Christian cliches that has the same effect on me as someone loudly chomping on their chewing gum, or someone struggling violently to “play” an instrument for the first time, or having nowhere else to eat but McDonald’s, or seeing a man wearing a backward baseball hat, or seeing someone allow his dog to lick him on the mouth. When I hear people say things like, “Don’t put God in a box” or “You’re putting God in a box,” I wince, squirm, tighten my shoulders, squint, and clench my teeth. The reason: more often than not, those who use this cliche or one of its derivatives, use it in the context of denying a Scriptural truth to justify unbiblical beliefs or behaviors. I’ve heard it many times over the years by those who ascribe to a continuationist perspective regarding some of the spiritual gifts. I’ve likewise heard it many times over the years from the various “seeker movements,” as leaders in these movements try to justify turning Scripture on its head in order to turn the church into a social club for the saved and unsaved alike. When biblical criticism is brought to bear against an unbiblical or extra-biblical activity, a deflection and avoidance technique is to accuse the one bringing the criticism of “putting God in a box.”

Accusing someone of “putting God in a box” can be, and often is, an expression of arrogance. The one using the phrase assumes they are more spiritual, closer to God, more attuned to what God is doing in the world, today. Making the accusation can also be a sign of laziness. Some Christians are simply too lazy to study the Scriptures, so it’s easier to accuse those with whom they disagree with “putting God in a box.”

However, there are also times when Christians actually do put God in a box. They do so by trying to box other Christians into an unbiblical or extra-biblical philosophical or theological construct, and then question the genuineness of the faith of other Christians if they don’t willingly squeeze themselves into the prescribed philosophical or theological box.

A case in point is illustrated in the above, handwritten diagram.

The Abortion Abolitionist Box

As I’ve asserted before, I will assert here, again. I am an abortion abolitionist. I believe abortion should be abolished. I believe abortion should be punishable under the law the same way every other form of premeditated murder is punished. I do not believe women who choose to abort their children are victims. I believe their unborn children are victims.

AHA_SanBerdoo_PicAs I write this article, I am sitting in a local Starbucks (a supporter of Planned Parenthood), wearing my “Abolish Abortion” baseball hat, with a stack of In the Womb gospel tracts next to my computer.

Last month I stood with a wonderful group of Christian abortion abolitionists, led by an extraordinary young pastor by the name of Jeff Durbin, in Tempe, AZ. They preached a solid gospel. The balance between gentleness and firmness in their rhetoric was, I’m sure, most pleasing to the Lord. They showed great compassion without a hint of compromise. It was an honor to serve with them.

Yesterday I drive 90 miles to San Bernardino to join a group of wonderful Christian abortion abolitionists in their fight for unborn children and the souls of the men and women who would murder them. I joined them last Wednesday, and I hope to join them as many future Wednesdays as the Lord permits.

Unfortunately, I have to share these things because there will be readers of this article who will immediately try to prop up various fallacious arguments against it by dishonestly attacking my character, motives, and commitment to “the cause.” So, I share these brief testimonies, not for my own glory, but to provide some context and in an attempt to show my heart behind the words that follow. You, the reader, will have to decide for yourself if I hit the mark in this regard.

The above diagram is not representative of the theology or philosophy of all Christians who call themselves “abortion abolitionists.” While I know some who agree with the message the diagram conveys, my hope and prayer is that they are nothing more than a vocal minority of the abortion abolition subculture.

In case you are having difficulty reading the diagram, allow me to transcribe it, here.

The diagram is titled: “Should I Be An Abolitionist?”

The diagram flows as follows:

“Am I a Christian?”

If your answer is no, then you must “repent and be saved.” I heartily agree. There is no other way to receive forgiveness of sin and the free gift of eternal life than by the grace of God alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone.

If your answer is yes, you are taken to a box that reads: “Do I believe the Bible is truth?”

If your answer is no, then the diagram calls you to repent of your unbelief, and redirects you to the right answer for the question, “Do I believe the Bible is truth?”

If your answer is yes, and you affirm your belief that the Bible is true, then you are taken to a box that reads: “Is [Abortion] Abolition my special calling?”

If your answer is no, you are redirected back to the box that reads “Do I believe the Bible is truth?”

If your answer is yes, and you affirm abortion abolition is your special calling, then you are directed to a box that says, “It’s everyone’s calling!”

You are then directed to a box that says, “Faith without works is dead; Amos 5:23-24; Proverbs 24:11-12.”

You are then directed to the last box, which reads: “Become an [abortion] abolitionist.”

Let’s first take a look at the two passage of Scripture cited in the diagram.

Amos 5:23-24 reads:

“Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

I can’t even begin to imagine why the person who made the diagram (I don’t know who it is) chose this passage from Amos. If the diagram is simply taken at face value, then the writer is somehow connecting Amos 5:23-24 with the biblical truth that “faith without works is dead.” Why the person didn’t cite James 2:18-26, I do not know.

The fifth chapter in Amos is a prophetic word of wrath and judgment upon Israel (Amos 5:1-3, 8-13, 16-25), as well as a call to the nation to repent of their idolatrous, religious sin (Amos 5:4-7, 14-15).

Amos 5:23-24 is not speaking about a dead faith without works. It is speaking of false and blasphemous worship. Works Israel had in abundance (Amos 5:21-22). It was saving faith they lacked (Amos 5:25-27), as they chased and would continue to chase after false gods. Israel’s hypocrisy was seen by God, not in their idleness (lack of works), but in their idolatry (lack of true faith in God). Israel’s hypocrisy was also seen in their hatred for their fellow man, while professing a love for God (Amos 5:10-13).

Matthew Henry provides additional insight and clarity of Amos 5, particularly Amos 5:18-27.

“5:18-27 Woe unto those that desire the day of the Lord’s judgments, that wish for times of war and confusion; as some who long for changes, hoping to rise upon the ruins of their country! but this should be so great a desolation, that nobody could gain by it. The day of the Lord will be a dark, dismal, gloomy day to all impenitent sinners. When God makes a day dark, all the world cannot make it light. Those who are not reformed by the judgments of God, will be pursued by them; if they escape one, another stands ready to seize them. A pretence of piety is double iniquity, and so it will be found. The people of Israel copied the crimes of their forefathers. The law of worshipping the Lord our God, is, Him only we must serve. Professors thrive so little, because they have little or no communion with God in their duties. They were led captive by Satan into idolatry, therefore God caused them to go into captivity among idolaters.”

The second passage referenced in the diagram is Proverbs 24:11-12, which reads:

“Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter. If you say, ‘Behold, we did not know this,’ does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will he not repay man according to his work?”

This passage can rightly be cited as an abortion abolition text. But it is an eisegetical interpretation of the text to limit its application to standing outside of abortion clinics and pleading with parents not to murder their unborn children.

Joseph Benson, a contemporary of and fellow circuit rider with John Wesley, would take over leadership of the Wesleyan/Methodist movement, upon Wesley’s death. In his commentary on Proverbs 24:11-12, Benson wrote:

“If thou forbear to deliver ‘ When it is in thy power to do it lawfully; them that are drawn unto death ‘ Namely, unjustly, or by the violence of lawless men; and those that are ready to be slain ‘ That are in present danger of death or destruction. He enforces, in these verses, the necessity of giving our assistance toward the rescue of innocent persons, when their lives are in danger, either by counselling them, or petitioning others in their behalf, or by doing any thing in our power for their deliverance. If thou sayest, We knew it not ‘ I was ignorant, either of his innocence, or of his extreme danger, or of my power to relieve him; doth not he consider it ‘ That this is only a frivolous excuse, and that the true reason of thy neglect was, thy want of true love to thy brother, whose life thou wast, by the law of God and of nature, obliged to preserve, and a carnal fear of some mischief, or trouble, which might befall thee in the discharge of thy duty. And he that keepeth thy soul ‘ Who is the preserver of men, Job 7:20, who daily does, and who only can, keep thee both in and from the greatest dangers; and this favour of God may be here mentioned, partly as an encouragement to the performance of the duty here spoken of, from the consideration of God’s special care and watchfulness over those that do their duty; and partly to intimate to them, that by the neglect of this duty they would forfeit God’s protection over themselves, and expose themselves to manifold dangers and calamities. The Hebrew word ?i???i????, however, may be rendered, he that observeth thy soul, that sees all the secret thoughts and inward motions of thy heart; which interpretation is favoured both by the preceding and following words. And shall not he render, &c. ‘ God will certainly deal with thee as thou hast dealt with him, either rewarding thy performance of this duty, or punishing thy neglect of it.”

Again, Benson wrote: “He enforces, in these verses, the necessity of giving our assistance toward the rescue of innocent persons, when their lives are in danger, either by counselling them, or petitioning others in their behalf, or by doing any thing in our power for their deliverance.” This is a far cry from the narrow, boxed, unbiblical mantra of some in the abortion abolition movement that have insisted (or, at the very least, suggested) in video and written form that a Christian is not doing all he can do to save unborn children (rightly identified as “our neighbors”) if he is not standing outside of abortuaries.

I, on the other hand, agree with Benson. There are many ways to fight for the unborn. To suggest otherwise, to look down upon other forms of abortion abolition as inadequate or to go as far as to look down upon them as non-efforts, is putting God in a box. It is to say that in the fight against what can rightly be described as the greatest evil of our time (abortion), God only moves down one path and works only through one philosophy of ministry–a philosophy of ministry that must include standing outside of abortuaries.

I really wish I was constructing a straw man argument. I really wish I was wrong. But in addition to the plethora of video and written evidence, which shows that some in the abortion abolition movement would put God and abolitionists in a rather small abortion abolition box, there are those two disturbing boxes in the diagram connected by an arrow.

“Is [Abortion] Abolition my special calling?”

If your answer is no, you are redirected back to the box that reads “Do I believe the Bible is truth?”

Nowhere. I repeat: NOWHERE. Nowhere in the Word of God is the Christian told, nor is it anywhere even remotely inferred or intimated, that every Christian has a special calling from God to be an abortion abolitionist. This kind of adding to the Word of God (and, yes, I believe it goes beyond mere problematic, eisegetical interpretation), no matter how well intended, comes with grave consequences (Revelation 22:18-19). It is this kind of legalistic passion for a cause that leads too many professing Christians down the road to Pharisaism and, for some, apostasy. It’s tragic. It’s utterly heartbreaking to watch as some who start out with noble, Christ-centered, biblical intentions allow “the cause” (whatever it is) to become so consumptive that newly formed theology and traditions slowly supersedes truth. Such beliefs and behaviors are tantamount to a return to Vatican City.

To affirm the belief that every Christian has a necessary calling for abolitionist work such that if a professing Christian doesn’t participate in said work, they’re not Christians, is to commit the Galatian heresy. Therefore, if certain abortion abolitionists consistently affirm the belief that abortion abolition work is a necessary function of all Christians, then those abortion abolitionists are Galatian heretics and are not saved.

To show how wrong abortion abolitionists are who subscribe to the above diagram, let’s replace the term “abolitionist” in the diagram with something else.

There Are Others Who Think This Way

Let’s change the diagram.

The diagram is titled: “Should I Be An Open-Air Preacher?”

The diagram flows as follows:

“Am I a Christian?”

If your answer is no, then you must “repent and be saved.” I heartily agree. There is no other way to receive forgiveness of sin and the free gift of eternal life than by the grace of God alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone.

If your answer is yes, you are taken to a box that reads: “Do I believe the Bible is truth?”

If your answer is no, then the diagram calls you to repent of your unbelief, and redirects you to the right answer for the question, “Do I believe the Bible is truth?”

If your answer is yes, and you affirm your belief that the Bible is true, then you are taken to a box that reads: “Is open-air preaching my special calling?”

If your answer is no, you are redirected back to the box that reads “Do I believe the Bible is truth?”

If your answer is yes, and you affirm open-air preaching is your special calling, then you are directed to a box that says, “It’s everyone’s calling!”

You are then directed to a box that says, “Faith without works is dead; Amos 5:23-24; Proverbs 24:11-12.”

You are then directed to the last box, which reads: “Become an open-air preacher.”

There are open-air preachers who think this way. But we don’t have to stop with open-air preachers. Sadly, the list is seemingly endless. Replace the term “abortion abolitionist” with any of the following terms, and there would be some people who would be very comfortable questioning the salvation of others who don’t fit in their little diagrammatic box:

  • The Way of the Master Evangelism Model (Note: I know of no one at Living Waters who would assert that The Way of the Master “Good Person Test” is the only way to do evangelism. However, there are those not associated with Living Waters who do subscribe to this way of thinking)
  • Friendship Evangelism
  • King James Onlyism
  • Hymns Onlyism
  • Eschatology (The new “cage stage”)
  • Arminianism
  • Calvinism
  • Continuationism
  • Cessationism
  • Etc., etc., etc. (channeling Yul Brenner)

Conclusion

Some people do put God in a box. Some of them are abortion abolitionists. Some of them are open-air preachers. Some of them subscribe to a theological or philosophical construct, more often than not a construct (like the above diagram) that is not supported by Scripture. Folks who do this are relatively easy to spot. They have a tendency to wear their “my way or the highway” mentality on their sleeve. They have a tendency not to play well with others–especially those who don’t want to climb into their small, cramped theological and philosophical boxes–the same boxes in which they try to cram the Creator of the Universe.

I hope they repent.

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Guest Contributor

The following post was written by a guest contributor for Gospel Spam. The views expressed by the guest, just like alternate views of other writers of Gospel Spam, are not necessarily shared or agreed by with other contributors. But we are grown men, and handle our disagreements as such, by lovingly fighting needlessly in the ComBox below with others.
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