PRESENTING ALL SIDES
by Wm. Stanford Reid
[excerpted from Bible Christianity 5.8 (August 1940): 7-9]
It is frequently stated by those who pretend to be “broad minded” in their theological views, that a professor in a theological college, or a minister in a pulpit must give "all sides of the question.” That, we are told, is as far as he can go. The average man, especially if his education has been at all adequate can then choose for himself what is correct, and reject that which is wrong.
This is especially the method advocated for the theological class-room. Not long ago one who was opposed to certain teachings being given to ministerial students was asked if he did not feel that he were an obscurantist. Surely a man who has his B.A. can pick out what is good and what is; evil! This we are told is the truest method of education.
We must be completely neutral. We must on no account endeavour to develop a case for the orthodox side, but must simply ladle out the facts as we would soup, and leave the rest to the student.
Such reasoning sounds very logical. In fact it sounds so good that even many Christians are fooled by its gilt edged quality. The first difficulty is, however, that such an attitude of neutrality cannot be adopted where loyalty to Christ is involved. Either we are for Him or we are against Him. Either we deny Him, or we honour Him. Therefore, if we attempt to take a neutral position on the question of His deity. His atonement or His saving power we automatically deny that He is divine, or that He atoned for sin, or that He saves from sin.
To such a statement as this some may, no doubt, take strong exception. But is it not true that if a man adopts an attitude of "neutrality" he automatically declares that he cares not which side is right. At one time United States was officially a neutral nation, but today she is merely a non-belligerent. She cares a lot which side wins, but she is not fighting herself. It is not a sign of careful scholarship, nor a sign of broadmindedness to be neutral. It is a sign of lack of conviction! If a man really believes in the deity of Christ, the inspiration of Scripture and the other doctrines he cannot possibly say that he does not care which side is right. If he did he would then declare that he cared not whether he eventually goes to Heaven or Hell. Christianity claims our allegiance to the exclusion of all else. Therefore, if we do not follow Christ we are against Him, for we deny His absolute authority and call Him a liar. This is a sin.
But such neutral presentation of all sides for our choice is an impossibility from another point of view. No man who has anything but the constitution of a gramophone could monotonously present all sides.
One reason for this impossibility is the physical problem. Let us take for instance the problem of the deity of Christ. A professor of New Testament must deal with this problem in dealing with the Gospels and Epistles. He must explain in some way or other the Messianic Consciousness of Christ. But if he attempts to do this fully and fairly he will be lost. He will have to take up and deal with every possible explanation of Christ’s consciousness
of His mediatorial office which has been put forward since the year 1 A.D. He will have no right to take “the most significant theories.” He must take up all the theories in detail and present every variety or he is not being fair. He has no authority to choose what theories he desires to set before his students, for once he attempts to pick and choose, his own personal feeling come into the picture. He is no longer neutral. But if he attempted to
follow this out completely it would probably take him a good many years, and little would be accomplished in the end.
Yet even if a man attempted to do this thoroughly he would still be in an impossible position. Certain theories would be to him absolutely absurd. To the modernist for instance the old Gnostic total denial of the humanity of Christ is as impossible as the belief in His divinity. It would be an extraordinary lecturer or preacher who could
recite all the various theories connected with Christ's person without giving some indication, even by his voice, as to what he accepted and what he did not. He would have to use a monotone and such a metronomic setting forth of his words that he would probably put his students to sleep) —at least as long as he could keep awake.
But what is more, such so-called neutrality would be impossible from an emotional point of view. If a man accepts the Christian doctrine of the person and work of Christ, can he possibly talk about the matter as if it is a matter of no importance? Can he recite all the various rationalistic theories concerning Christ without attacking them with all the power and vehemence at his command?
Even a modernist cannot attain to such great emotional control. All one has to do is listen in the class-room to a modernist lecture and he will soon perceive that the modernist is not neutral. He is a belligerent, and everything that savours of orthodoxy becomes a target for his guns. The doctrines of total depravity, inspiration of Scripture, deity and atonement of Christ and all the other teachings of the church bring out his scorn and derision. The result is that one can tell very easily what a man's position is with relation to these truths. And if he does not attack them then he ignores them as being of practically no importance. All he gives is various rationalistic views and omits the orthodox position as being unworthy of his mention. But this is not a fair presentation of all sides.
Let us assume, however, that a man could so hide his own beliefs that he could present all sides
perfectly fairly, would he be honest in so doing? It would not seem so. A professor is not just a dictophone. He holds his teaching position because it is felt that he believes what is right and true, and it is his business to lead his students to the same position. He is supposed to instruct his students in the position held by the institution in
which he is teaching, and to expose the reasons for rejecting all other positions. Can a professor who is supposed to bring his students to the position which is held by the Presbyterian Church simply lay all positions before them and tell them to take their choices? If he does so he is not honest to the church for he apparently cannot believe the church's to be the most correct position. And if this is so, he is not even honest in remaining in the church!
But there are other difficulties inherent in this so-called "broad-minded position." It sounds very nice to say that after a person has had training in logic, psychology etc. they are quite competent to pick out the good from the bad. But is this true? I think not.
One difficulty is simply that of lack of knowledge. When the average student enters a theological college he has little knowledge of the problems of Scriptural interpretation and exposition which face him. Therefore, he has no basis upon which to work. He may have a smattering of logic, metaphysics, history and mathematics, but that
does not enable him to meet the attacks of critics on the Scriptures. If he has a whole series of “different positions” on any one side presented to him he will either become utterly confused, or will simply accept the position which the professor seems to hold. Presenting all sides and letting a man choose his own sounds good but it falls to the ground because of the student's lack of knowledge. When the average student enters a theological college he has little knowledge of the problems of Scriptural interpretation and exposition which face him. Therefore, he has no basis upon which to work. He may have a smattering of logic, metaphysics, history and mathematics, but that does not enable him to meet the attacks of critics on the Scriptures. If he has a whole series of “different positions” on any one side presented to him he will either become utterly confused, or will simply accept the position which the professor seems to hold. Presenting all sides and letting a man choose his own sounds good but it falls to the ground because of the student's lack of knowledge.
This lack of knowledge is aided and abetted by the university training. In the average university on this continent today every subject is taught from an anti-Christian point of view. The supernatural is ignored if not flatly denied. Therefore, the average student comes out of his Arts training with very much that point of view. For four years his mind is trained in anti-Christian thinking, and therefore the position which accords most of the training which he has had will have more attraction than the others. A pagan psychology which denies the influence of sin, a pagan philosophy which makes man the arbiter of his own fate here and hereafter, a pagan science which makes natural forces the ultimate motive power in the universe all tend to make the average student entering theology have an entirely non-Christian view of the world. Naturally the non-supernatural explanations advanced by the rationalists of the ages will have more appeal than the supernatural position of orthodox Christianity.
There is one exception to this position. Sometimes a student goes through college and retains his Christian faith. Then when he enters the theological college he is prepared to reject whatever does not agree with the Scriptures. But even such a man as this will have plenty of intellectual problems and struggles if he receives nothing from his theological professors, but a series of different views on matters of faith. Some may feel that this
will strengthen him indirectly, but they forget that he goes to the theological college to be further strengthened and trained, not to have his faith attacked and strengthened only by accident. Three years is all too little time to spend studying the theological curriculum without having to spend all one's time setting oneself straight against the attacks of unbelief. Yes he may be strengthened, in a way, but when he comes forth he will have learned little more than he knew when he entered. His three years "theology" will have been a complete waste of time. He will have to spend the next three years or more, forgetting what he learned in the theological college and learning what is true.
Some one may object at this point that he will have gained the point of view of many others. That is perfectly true, and such knowledge is valuable if one knows his own position thoroughly. But coming from one of these “all side” theological colleges the student has usually received all the rationalist views and very little of the orthodox position. The result is that he knows far more about the enemy's position than his own. This is little help when it comes to preaching the Gospel to those who are looking up to be fed. He must above all things have positive beliefs, and if he does nothing but present a variety of theories to his people he will be of very little value in the pulpit.
Another objection may be that if a man should give in to all this temptation to reject the orthodox position it is a good thing to have him do it in college rather than later in the ministry. This would be perfectly true were it not for one thing: he rejects the orthodox position and then goes on into the ministry. If he were honest enough to admit that he no longer accepted the position of the church and did not attempt to enter the church, all would be well. But most students who reject the position of the standards of the church, yet sign the standards with their tongues in their cheeks and become honoured members of the clergy.
This leads us to another problem. If we take our own church as an example, we find that the Presbyterian Church in Canada has certain doctrines of faith contained in the Westminster Standards. When a man becomes a minister of the church he signs the Standards thus professing to accept them as his own personal beliefs. But should it happen that in having all the various sides of every question presented to him he had accepted some teachings which were contrary to the standards of our church, what would then happen? He might be perfectly honest in his beliefs, but for all that, should he be accepted into the church? I think not. He does not accept the position of the church, therefore, in strict honesty to everybody concerned he should not be allowed in, and if he should get in he should be forthwith ejected. A mere presentation of all sides accomplishes little in preparing a man for the Presbyterian ministry.
Let us not deceive ourselves, neutrality on the truths of Christianity is impossible. He that is not with Christ is against Him. The talk about presenting all sides and letting a person choose his own is merely camouflage for the spreading of heresy within the very doors of the church. It is the spacious reasoning of modernistic propaganda which tells us that we can present all sides fairly, and that this is the best and most “Christian” thing to do. Our duty is to preach the Gospel wherever we are. It is our duty to see that those who have the work of preparing men for the ministry of the church do not content themselves with just giving a list of varying views on different subjects. We should see that they do their utmost to instruct the men who are going into the ministry, that they may be filled with the Word to instruct the people to whom they are sent.