[Originally published as part of The Plot (an overview of the Bible)]
The remainder of this chapter considers a question and an observation. First, why do Bible students so easily adopt false ideas? This must be true since millions of Christians flatly disagree with each other on many major issues, which means believers must commonly promulgate misinformation, making error rampant.
Second, the chapter starts to trace today’s big doctrinal debates to theological matters wrestled with by the apostles in the first century. Understanding the cause and resolution of New Testament disputes will illuminate the cause and resolution of modern disagreements. Truly, God included in the Bible a road map for believers today to find their way through the maze of theological snarls.
The reader who has experienced the frustration of apparent contradictions in the Bible should fasten his seat belt! For the mystery is about to unfold before his very eyes.
The Bible student often adopts tentative conclusions that govern his doctrinal studies. If he makes an early incorrect doctrinal assumption, that error can multiply itself, forcing future theological decisions to run afoul of the truth. Like a schoolboy who makes an arithmetic mistake early in a long division, until believers back up and correct their errors, they have no chance of getting at the whole truth.
A new believer at a Bible study may hear a teaching that seems, and is, false. Any false doctrine would work for an illustration here, but the more popular the falsehood the better. One wrong idea spread further by the hymn When the Roll is Called Up Yonder, is that there will be no time in heaven. Recall the words:
When the roll is called up yonder and time shall be no more…
The first time a Bible student hears this idea, it strikes him as implausible. However, he puts off judgment of this matter for the time being. Then he hears it again, months later, this time, not from the song leader, but from a Sunday School teacher. A year later, a radio preacher restates the same concept without hesitation: “In heaven, there is no time.” (By the way, one can also trace this idea to Aristotle’s philosophy.) So the Bible student now firmly believes there is no time in heaven.
If a more biblical teacher comes along, he might have a difficult time dissuading this student from this false notion. He might quote Scripture, such as:
…there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. Rev. 8:1
“How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” [I]t was said to them… a little while longer, until… Rev. 6:10-11; 11:17-18
He might point out that Jesus:
…sat down at the right hand of God, from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool. Heb. 10:12-13
And concerning the Tree of Life with twelve varieties of fruit, with only one ripening each month:
[Growing in the river which flowed] from the throne of God… was the tree of life which bore twelve fruits, each… yielding its fruit every month Rev. 22:1-2
God reveals His creation of the new heaven and the new earth in Revelation 21. So this Tree of Life description, with these twelve fruits which ripen monthly, appears very late in the apocalyptic schema, on the forever-and-ever side of human history. Much more biblical evidence exists showing time in heaven. Yet many young Christians willingly give up the truth they know in their gut after hearing a cliché repeated a few times.
So the novice gives a teacher the benefit of the doubt for now, vowing to investigate a particular point thoroughly later. Since later never comes, the original doubt recedes over time as that teacher and others repeatedly reinforce a wrong notion. Thus a confused Christian is born.
Set in Stone
Tentative conclusions often solidify into permanent views. Frequently this occurs without the rigorous testing originally intended. Eventually, provisional ideas become set in stone, not because the ideas were finally confirmed but because their owner never found the time to investigate further. Thus, the advancement of many Bible students is hindered by their own early progress down one wrong road or another.
Few, however, welcome the reconsideration of a matter previously settled. Fewer enjoy throwing out presuppositions. Rethinking a position takes energy and commitment. “Economy of thought” is a real force. Typically, when confronted with information that contradicts strongly held foundational views, people immediately discard the information rather than consider it.
Men prefer to reject data, even from a credible source such as Scripture, rather than reevaluate a long-held belief. The world needs more Keplers. Not many people reconsider a presupposition even after confronting the strongest contrary evidence.
This human reality makes this book difficult to write. Suppose this text first addressed the dispute over whether it is possible to lose one’s salvation. Most readers who have invested years studying the Bible hold one position or the other on this topic. One of these positions must be wrong, and many who hold the correct view have no idea why they hold that view, or why their side is true and the other false. If the correct answer to this dispute were presented forthwith, those readers who already agreed with the position would be pleased and inclined to continue. Those who disagreed would be perturbed and would predispose themselves against an honest consideration of the remainder of this book.
This text, therefore, will gradually approach these ten doctrinal debates in a way that will encourage the greatest number of readers toward full consideration. The goal here is to help many people arrive at a true understanding of the Bible and, in so doing, promote unity among believers. Once someone truly understands the resolution to these ten disputes, he will better understand even those who hold incorrect views on these doctrines. He who has found truth understands those still looking.