Church, Theology

False Dichotomies

It appears to me that American Christianity has developed false dichotomies.  Separating items that should not be separated.  In essence we have developed a belief in “either or” rather than the potential of “both and”.

Let me illustrate.

Within the church and missions circles we have developed the “either or” dichotomy in areas of truth and knowledge.

Truth versus Unity

The argument seems to go like this:  Christianity has been fragmented by a focus on truth; we really need to focus on unity.

There is some truth in this statement–there are many Christians, churches, denominations who have a very narrow view of who they will associate with.  If others don’t agree with all their theological beliefs, their traditions and practices–they will have no “fellowship” with them.

But perhaps we ought to see it from a different perspective.  Does doctrine divide?  Or Does doctrine unite?

While dividing over minor doctrines has been a problem, doctrines also unites.  There are Christians around the world who affirm the central doctrinal beliefs of orthodox Christianity–authority of Scripture, God the One Almighty creator, the deity and humanity of Jesus, the sacrificial sufficient death of Jesus, salvation through faith alone and the return of Christ.  These central truths unite them.

So truth and unity are not antithetical.  True unity and fellowship can only be maintained with those who have central beliefs in common.  Having a clearly defined set of beliefs, including knowing the priority of beliefs will allow individuals, churches and organization to extend their fellowship circle.  It also enables them to understand when they can’t have fellowship and over which issues.

For more see my post Thinking Theologically.

Knowledge versus Transformation or Character

A second dichotomy that I hear regularly, sounds very spiritual.  It goes something like, “We don’t emphasize information, we emphasize transformation.”  Or “Our focus is 0n character development not knowledge.”  Or “We focus on living not learning.”

Again, there is some truth here.  Filling minds with information has never been the aim of the gospel.  But an anti-intellectual Christianity is not what we see in the New Testament.

Colossians 1:9-10 And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. (ESV)

Romans 15:5-15; Ephesians 1:15-23; Philippians 1:9-11; Colossians 1:9-14; 2 Peter 1:2; 2 Peter 3:18

Again, perhaps the issue is not an “either or” but a “both and”. Can you really have biblical character without biblical understanding?  Can you have transformation into the image of Christ without knowledge Christ, without spending time with him in the pages of Scripture?

Again, it is not an either or, but a both and.

For true transformation and depth of character to develop there must be biblical understanding and knowledge.

It seems to me that what has been confused is knowledge and methodology.  Too many associate truth, knowledge and depth of understanding with a faulty methodology and therefore thrown out a focus on truth, knowledge and depth of understanding.  But it is better to correct a faulty methodology than to abandon truth and depth of understanding.

The faulty methodology, in my opinion, is a communication methodology that is developed without an understanding of how people learn and growth and is focused on what the teacher knows rather than on what the student needs to learn.  We have been teacher centered rather than learner centered.  We have focused on information distribution rather than development of understanding.

The Great Commission maintains a wonderful balance between these.

Matthew 28:19-20 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (ESV)

We must correct our methodology not abandon our theology.

Author: Steve

I love to study the Bible and I love to engage with others in learning. I had been privileged to do this on a regular basis through church ministry and through part-time teaching at a local Bible colleges. Helping individuals learn to feed themselves through their own study of God’s Word is joy-giving to me. Influencing groups to do life and church from a biblically grounded, theologically faithful perspective is my passion.


  1. Steve,

    Would you want to be using the word unite, rather than unity?

    Does doctrine divide? Or Does doctrine unity?

    While dividing over minor doctrines has been a problem, doctrines also unity.

    Ever appreciate your teaching!

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