The orthodox Christian theology of Hadley Robinson

DEALING WITH EVIL: FINDING THE BALANCE

by Bruce Atkinson PhD

(Here is an essay by Bruce Atkinson Ph.D. of Trinity Anglican Church [ACNA] in Douglasville, GA.  It is an example of the difficult task of mixing oil and water – of mixing heathenish doctrines from the social sciences with the Christian faith.  At the end, I offer a response. – HR.)

"Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts." - Amos 5:15

"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." - Edmund Burke

If you believe that there is such a thing as Good and Evil, then you are likely to believe that it is a good thing to hate (and fight) evil and to love (and promote) good. But human nature is such that this situation can get out of balance. There are two types of moral extremists.

Type 1. Some people hate evil but do not sufficiently love good.

We used to call these people "ginners" (hard 'G') because it is easy to perceive what they are against but hard to see what they are for. We find this type of person most often in legalistic religious sects, where they can go to great lengths to condemn and persecute those they believe are doing wrong. In Jesus' day, it was seen among the chief priests and Pharisees who preferred to believe that they were better than others. There is little mercy and grace in such a judgmental approach; it is the result of self-righteous pride and hypocrisy.

Type 2. Some people love good but do not sufficiently hate evil.

 

These people simply want to look the other way and pretend that, deep down, people are not all that bad. This overly tolerant approach is more pleasant, easier, and does not require one to take a stand against anything (except Type 1 extremists).

Psychologically, it is the product of naïve denial and soft sentimentalism. Here we see the influence of liberal humanism and the heresy of Pelagianism-which promotes the view that human beings are naturally good and denies the sin nature we inherited from the Fall.

This Pollyanna view is neither Biblical nor is it evident in the world. Selfishness, greed, and violence are rampant. Postmodern relativism, so popular these days, is a powerful influence working against any absolute moral authority. If everyone's idea of right and wrong is equal and there are no absolutes, then neither is there such a thing as Good and Evil, since it is in the "eye of the beholder."

So why fight it? From this self-serving point of view, the only thing they regard as evil is intolerance of their "anything goes" perspective. However, they are themselves intolerant of those who believe in an absolute morality.

Where is the balance? Liberal preachers assiduously avoid the use of the word "sin" these days. Legalistic Pharisee types tend to use it too much. So where does Truth lead us?

Biblical Christianity holds to the balanced position and keeps it simple: love the sinner but hate the sin. That is what God does. God hates sinful behavior because it is, by definition, harmful to His beloved creatures. God wants to save us from ourselves.

Godly thinking is balanced by Bruce Atkinson 

So what should our approach be to evil in the world? Maybe the proper balance is to be strong enough to fight evil deeds and untrue ideas without giving in, but also being compassionate enough to spend our lives seeking the best welfare of others. Let us seek to save the lost and to bring the deceived back into the fold. And surely we are to do this with love and grace rather than with quick condemnation and violence.

--- Dr. Atkinson holds a doctorate in clinical psychology and an M.A. in theology from Fuller Theological Seminary. He is a licensed psychologist with a private practice in Atlanta, is a clinical supervisor with Richmont Graduate University, and is a member, Lector, and Bible teacher at Trinity Anglican Church (ACNA) in Douglasville, GA.
 

Response to Dr. Atkinson’s essay by Hadley Robinson

Dr. Atkinson’s quote of Ps. 85:10 is particularly appropriate when considering how God deals with His people.  Love, faithfulness, righteousness, and peace are such a part of Him that they are inseparable in the character of God.   In the same way, they should be properties of His people when they deal with each other and with the world.  It sets the tone of Dr. Atkinson's essay in a way that should always characterize our words to the Church.  How would I address my elderly mother?  I hope in a kindly and gracious manner.  Generally, others do not deserve anything less.  It is something good to ask as we go about in the world as Dr. Atkinson (Dr. A) reminds us.  I would cherish a debate with the Dr. on these matters.  I do not doubt his skill in dealing with marital issues and his ability to counsel others.  My purpose here is to demonstrate substantial issues with the science of psychology in dealing with a Biblical view of sin.  In particular, this science is opposed to the Creation account of who Man is, his purpose, and his historical Fall and its consequences.

To sum up his essay might be to simply say that we are to be loving and gracious to everyone and not be wish-washy in confronting evil.  I hope that I can be as gracious and kindly as he when I discuss his views.  He does raise some questions.  Words mean things….

1. DEISM:  Why the alleged quote from Edmund Burke who, in fact, never said this?  These words do not present a Christian (godly) paradigm.  Burke was a Deist, if that, and (with Locke) misused Scripture to justify rebellion against God’s established authority.   The Scriptures do not teach that evil will triumph if good men (whoever they are) do nothing.  The Word teaches that evil will most definitely triumph in this age but will be defeated at the End of the Age by the triumph of Christ’s Judgment on it (Matt. 25:31ff.; Rev 19:11ff).  Who are “good men”?  Good men of Scripture do not resort to violence.  This quote is often used to rally people to stop what they perceive as general (not just personal) evil.  No doubt Peter (John 18:10) took similar words to heart – and this error was soundly rebuked:  “…Am I leading a rebellion that you have come with swords and clubs?” – Luke 22:51.  Scripture makes a world of difference between my stopping a crime (allowed per Luke 22:36) and my raising a hand against God’s magistrate – despite what John Locke wrote.  But my using a weapon to stop crime is truly an in-house debate per Matt. 5:39.  God help us….  Speaking of Deism and out of house debates, at a recent conference no one believed me when I said Scripture explicitly demands that we obey our clergy (Heb. 13:17).  Is God’s Arm too short to affect a change in a shepherd’s heart?  Deism is another elephant in the room, the illegitimate son of his Babylonish mother, humanism.

2. CONTEXT:  The quote from Amos 5 has to do with the corrupt administration of justice by the courts of law in Israel at that time.  But why not use Rom. 12:9, “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good”?  The former has to do with justice in society – the latter has to do with our entertaining or committing personal evil.  There is a difference in the audience.  Dr. A's use of these verses is to rally us to hate and fight evil.  But where?  What is the point of his peculiar question, “If you believe that there is such a thing as Good and Evil…”  Is this essay for Christians or for the world, generally?  For Buddhists?  How do you fight evil in the world?  That’s the magistrate’s job and he uses deadly weapons to do it.  If it is to “fight” evil in ourselves how do we do that?  Rom. 6:12 gives us the answer.  There is a third venue:  Fighting evil in the Church.  Apparently, the essay is about the third option but it is not clear.  If so, why not discuss 1Cor. 5 and 2Cor. 2?  These sections of Scripture are far more relevant to the discussion.

3. SYNCRETISM:  Point 2 begs the question:  Are Scripture and psychology compatible?  There are those who believe that evolution and the Christian faith are compatible.  There are those (a majority in the US and in the churches) who believe that homosexuality and adultery are compatible with the Christian faith.  The foundations of modern psychology are heathen and godless.  Man is nothing more than a bag of potatoes – soulless, driven by animal instincts.  There is no such thing as an eternal person, an intractable sin nature in all men, the conversion of a man’s being by a divine Creator, judgment for all sin and the total destruction of the universe as we know it at the End of the World, the role of Christ is saving men, etc., etc.  His reasoning is as difficult to follow as is the mixing of psychology and the Christian faith.

4. CLICHÉS:  Someone said that trite sayings come in pairs – as they do here.  Type 1 and Type 2 extremists are inventions of the psychologists and humanists.  Scripture makes no such distinctions.  Who is Type 1?  Has Dr. A switched from hating evil generally in society (the context of Amos) to hating evil in the Church?  Or, in the individual?  As a mere Christian, I am not a shepherd.  Evil in the Church is not my responsibility but that of the shepherds.  Evil directed at me by another (personal offense) is the stuff of Matt. 18 and I am the first to attempt to fix it.  Bringing personal matters to the Church’s attention without addressing the assumed actor first could cause unjust embarrassment to an innocent, among other things, and can be a huge amount of fodder for gossip.   Type 2 makes no sense in the Christian worldview.  Jesus, James, John (among others) makes clear that true love is followed by obedience and deeds.  Or, more accurately, to hate evil and love good are one and the same.  Modern psychologists spend lifetimes parsing human nature beyond anything either God intended or is necessary.  Scripture speaks of those who know the good but fail to do it:  They are cowards.  Have I ever acted cowardly?  Regrettably, the answer is “yes.”  But I heartily repent of it and receive the forgiveness that I need to live and with great thankfulness from Him who pleads and intercedes for us continuously.  There is not a Commandment that I have not broken.  Will I always act charitably in the future.  Not likely....  But that is why we never, as C. S. Lewis remarked, outgrow our need for forgiveness.

5. THEOLOGICAL CONFUSION:

a. Pelagianism:  Pelagius, a heretic of the 4th century A.D., denied our need of justification because we have no sin nature in the first place.  Pelagians are not Christians.  What has he, his followers, and his heresy have to do with this discussion?  It is not particularly clear.

b. “Out of balance”:  Another paradigm unknown in the Scriptures.  Scripture speaks of the godly life in Christ not as some medium between one extreme and another.  We do not balance the sin nature and the converted soul:  We are continually striving to put the former to death.  Being “out of balance” is a ancient paradigm first suggested, apparently, by Aristotle in his Ethics:  We are to be moderate in all things by not engaging in too much sin nor trying to be too good.  Why use an inaccurate non-Christian paradigm to make a point?  Is the Jesus of Rev. 19 out of balance?  The heathen, as we would expect, think that true Christians are crazy, not merely out of balance:  “At this point Festus interrupted Paul's defense. ‘You are out of your mind, Paul!’" – Acts 26:24.  (The Greek here is the word that we get “maniac” from.)

c. “Legalism”:  This term is so widely misused and misunderstood that it may be hopeless to address it.  Legalism is a system whereby one believes that the righteousness God demands can be obtained by observing the Law.  The term does not appear in Scripture but the way evangelical Protestants wave it around, one would think it appears in every book of the NT.  The closest reference to the term is in Php. 3:6 where Paul describes his former life and beliefs as a system of legalistic righteousness.  Paul’s words in Romans 7:22 indicate that he loved the good before he knew Christ. (Dr. A's Type 1 is weak here).  If I am a legalist, I am horrified if the Law is broken and I am not necessarily any easier on myself than I would be on others.  If I am easier on myself, I am an actor, as many of the Pharisees were.  Paul, even in his pre-conversion life, was not an actor.  But people who are secret drunks, adulterers, thieves, pornography watchers, slanderers, and gossips are the first to fling out the phrase, “He is a legalist!” when confronted with their sin and unrepentant attitude.

d. “Hate the sin, love the sinner”:  This is another invention of the humanists and mass-marketers of the gospel.  The Scriptures makes no such distinction.  One follows the other – they do not travel along together side by side.  God hates sin.  Those who are not forgiven of them are cast into the Lake of Fire.  So, in a sense, we might be able to say that both sin and sinner are thrown into Hell.  Why this false dichotomy?  Among other things, it allows the unrepentant to say, “The Devil made me do it” or “That woman you gave me, made me do it (Gen 3:12) or “I can’t help it, I was born that way” or ”My hormones are out of control.”  etc.  Sinful men commit sinful deeds.

If we believe that the word "world" in John 3:16 means everybody, everywhere, who ever lived, then "hate the sin, love the sinner" makes sense.  The problem is there are at least ten distinct meanings of the Greek word for "world" in the Gospel of John.  Which meaning is it?  The context and a coherent theology of the entire Bible demand that it means "God's Elect" e.g. If God loves unrepentant homosexuals, then why did He not perform miracles in Sodom?  Jesus said that they would have repented, if He had (Mt 11:23).  If He had loved Pilate and Caiaphas, He would have appeared to them after the Resurrection as He did to Paul.  If God had loved Hammurabi, He would have made him a part of the covenant He made with Abraham.  If He had loved the crowds, He would not have confused them with parables (Mt 13:11).  It begs the question of the Semi-Pelagians:  What does the love of God mean, anyway?  "I loved Jacob but hated Esau."  Then we must suffer endless and complicated apologies from the Semi-Pelagians for what God has said rather than confess the obvious:  God does not love everybody, everywhere, who ever lived.  He is, often enough, content to leave men to their own devices without restraint.

Our churches are full of people who justify their sin for every conceivable reason.  It is humanistic psychology:  We have all these disconnected parts that all are intertwined in ways, supposedly, that only a modern psychologist can understand.  On the other hand, Scripture teaches us to love one another, reign in our tongues, guard our eyes and hearts, and put to death the sin nature – crucifying it.  Romans 6 is about this subject.  Perhaps the dichotomy here is just a distortion of how we are to deal with sin in others.  Without making this too long an essay, it should suffice to say that sin in others is to be dealt with in the most gentle manner by godly men but firmly (Matt. 7:3ff.; 1Cor. 5; Gal 6:1).  The Savior can be harsh, even subjecting His bride to the most brutal tortures and punishments (Constantinople 1453 AD, Jerusalem 587 BC).  The next time I get stopped for speeding, I should try this, “Sir!  I know you hate speeding.  Could you please give my car a ticket?”  I and the rest of the race have a sin problem.  Why make it any more complicated than this?  The Scriptures do not.

e. Psalm 85:10 & The Two Circles:  Generally, this illustration is a complicated hodge-podge from all over the place that would take pages to address.  The quote from Ps. 85 – again – has nothing to do with my inner workings on how I deal with sin in others (if that is what Dr. A has as his primary concern).  The use of this verse reminds me of Rick Warren’s misuse of Jer. 29:11 (why not also Jer. 44:11?) and Bruce Wilkinson’s even more preposterous misuse of 1 Chron. 4:9.  If some teacher quotes a verse and it sounds good, it must be a good teaching – who cares what it really means or what is the context?  It is a Bible verse....

It is pretty much desultory teaching after the quotes from the Bible, I am sorry to say.  If Dr. Atkinson had just stopped there and said,

Grow in holiness while loving one another deeply from the heart.  Those who sin – treat them as you would your own father – with all humility, kindness, and respect.

Or something like that.  Why the other material?  I apologize for disagreeing with much of what is dear to him but I must in order to be true to historic Christian orthodoxy and the Scriptures.  We should oppose the infiltration into the Church of non-Christian paradigms that continue to plunge people into ruin (such as the APA's decision years ago that homosexual behavior is not abnormal behavior).  Does Dr. Atkinson believe that the APA acted incorrectly here?  I am not sure.

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