Prior to D.A. Carson’s biography of his father, few of us had ever heard of Tom Carson. He did not pastor a large congregation, he did not preside over a college or seminary, he did not leave a legacy of voluminous writings, he was not a sought after conference speaker; in a word—in his son’s words—he was an ordinary pastor. He was what many of us already are or will be in the near future. That is not to look down on those who have been gifted to shepherd and reach a large number of men and women for Christ; being unknown is no more a virtue than being well-known, and we can thank God for the gift of godly teachers he has given the Church. But the main encouragement Carson provides in this little book from the life of an “ordinary pastor” is found in the faithfulness with which his father carried out his charge, despite what appeared to be, to Tom at least, seasons of little fruit.
I wasn’t aware of the logical error of a ‘False Antithesis’ until I read D.A. Carson’s Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church. It is an error that I know I have been guilty of, and an error that I am becoming keenly aware of in others through conversation, reading, etc. It is an error that can cause one to think two things are in opposition to each other when they really are not. It is an error whose consequences are not small.
Well, what is a false antithesis? Despite its fancy name, it is actually quite easy to understand. Consider this example: say you are talking with someone about confronting another person in sin; you are encouraging this particular person to move ahead in faith and confront someone who they know is living in unrepentant sin. Their response to your encouragement, however, disarms and befuddles you: they say, “It’s hard to know what to do. I don’t know if I should confront them; I mean, I just don’t want to be unloving.” They, ever so subtly (and probably unwittingly) are creating a false antithesis-they are setting truth and love in opposition to each other. This person is afraid to tell another person the truth because they are afraid that it would be unloving to do so.
The reality, however, is that truth and love are not in opposition to each other and therefore this person is creating a false antithesis. The most loving thing this person could do is tell the sinning brother the truth. I’m sure you could think of several more examples. I know I have said, when considering my future and my financial situation, things like, “I want to act in faith but I also want to be wise.” See, when I talk like this, it demonstrates that I believe that faith and wisdom are in opposition to one another; it’s either act in faith, or act in wisdom. Can you see the folly of such thinking?
Or, have you ever heard this one? “Our church needs to be more into discipleship-not just evangelism.” Again, what’s the problem? The problem is that any true evangelism will be intensely concerned about discipleship because evangelism is itself a call to discipleship (Matthew 28:18-20). It is a false antithesis to set them in opposition to each other.
So what should we do with these false antitheses? To use the words of D.A. Carson,
Damn all false antithesis to hell, for they generate false gods, they perpetuate idols, they twist and distort our souls, they launch the church into violent pendulum swings whose oscillations succeed only in dividing brothers and sisters in Christ (234).
No uncertainty there! If we find a false antithesis in ourselves, or observe it in another, let’s be quick to examine ourselves (Matthew 7:1-5) and then proceed to help our brother or sister think more clearly and not separate those things that were always meant to go together like truth and love, faith and wisdom, discipleship and evangelism.
[For more on this, I would highly recommend Gunner Gundersen’s article, I Don’t Want to Preach at You.]