Explain or Explain Away?
by Sandy Simpson, 10/25/05

A proper balance of Biblical teaching, as demonstrated by the Apostles, is to both explain God's Word (good hermeneutics, exegesis) and to explain away false teachings of any particular passage (polemics and/or apologetics).

Before dealing with this subject I need to eliminate those I am not addressing with this article.

First, there are false teachers, heretics who only teach select Scriptures in order to brainwash their followers into believing the deception they themselves have been deceived with (2 Tim. 3:13).  These types of false teachers are dealt with in detail on this site: Deception In The Church.  This type of teacher is becoming far more prevalent in the churches today, especially on "Christian" TV, and they are using the Hegelian Dialect or "diaprax" to brainwash their followers into cultic beliefs and behaviors.

On the other side of the spectrum are those teachers who only "explain" the Scriptures but hide their heads in the sand at the idea of exposing other interpretations as false, and (God forbid) actually naming those who teach them.  They believe that if they simply present the truth of God's Word that those who learn from them will be "thoroughly equipped" and be able to stand against any type of false teaching.  The problem is that they are not following the Biblical example of the Apostles and prophets who liberally exposed false teaching and named those who were teaching heresy, rejecting them.  See the articles: Naming Names: A Biblical Approach and Naming Names - A Study In 3 John if you doubt this is true.  Good biblical teachers have to be specific about heretics and what they are teaching in order that the sheep be fully warned away from wolves.

The third group are those who do a good job of balancing both exegesis and apologetics.  This is a hard task and even good teachers fail to achieve this balance consistently.  But the main thing is that they realize that this should be the goal and are always striving to do the best they can with God's help.  I struggle with this like any Bible teacher and sometimes I do better at it than at other times.  But my goal has always been to balance these two aspects of teaching without leaning to one side or the other.  We need to be able to exegete the Word of God properly as well as apply it, in very practical ways, to our modern day situations.  This also means using it to "demolish arguments" (2 Cor. 10:4-5) made by false teachers, and making sure Christians understand who they are and what the Bible actually teaches.

This article is not addressing either the false teachers, those who are afraid to do polemics or apologetics, or those who are trying their best to achieve a proper balance in teaching.  This article is addressing the problem of those who spend most of their time "explaining away" passages because of their particular theological bias.  These types of teachers bring a mindset to the study of the Bible based on doctrinal constructions of men, and interpret everything they read and teach within that paradigm.  This is obviously true of outright false teachers, but it is also true of hyper Calvinists, hyper Arminians, hyper Pentecostals, hyper Fundamentalists, hyper Dispensationalists, hyper Reformed Theology covenantalists, etc.  They tend to read and teach through their own biased grid and end up spending most of their time explaining away the verses that fall outside of their belief system.

For instance, you can read my view of the unbiblical nature of both hyper Calvinism and hyper Arminianism in this article.  Hyper Calvinists tend to either skip passages that tend to disprove their false "Irresistible Grace" point (TULIP #4) or explain them away without teaching them as they were meant to be taught in context from the Word.  Hyper Arminians either skip passages that tend to disprove their false "Free Will" point (#1) or explain them away.  I have sat in services where this was being done.  I sat in a service where a hyper Calvinist skipped over Romans 11:22 because he had no way to explain it within a Calvinist mindset.  Hyper Arminians routinely skip Ephesians 1:3-6 because it does not talk about the free will of man.  I could given MANY more verses like these for both sides.

Let me give you some hard won wisdom the Lord has hammered into me over time.  When you find that you cannot "explain" a passage in context but are always "explaining it away" there is likely something wrong with your belief system.  After spending days and nights in college debating the predestination vs. free will debate without any resolution I came to the understanding, over time, that we have to rely SOLELY on the Bible for our theology, not on the constructs of men.  We need to be able to teach, for instance, the doctrine of foreknowledge, predestination, calling, justification and glorification (Rom. 8:29) with the same zeal and emphasis in its context, as we do the concept of wandering away (James 5:19), shipwrecking (1 Tim. 1:19), and falling away from the faith (2 Thes. 2:3, Luke 8;13), and ultimately having our faith destroyed (2 Tim. 2:18) by false teachings.  The Bible talks about both concepts and both need to be taught when they come up in exegetical, verse by verse, Bible teaching.  May we not be accused of teaching one against the other, or one to the exclusion of the other.  We need to be balanced and teach what Jesus Christ, the Apostles and prophets taught, not what we think should be taught based on what Calvin or Arminias reasoned.  Many manmade theological systems today are reactionary, in other words they were constructed in response to others who had gone too far in one direction.  But men often react by going too far themselves in the opposite direction.

Take for instance the debate between cessationists and those who believe all the gifts of the Spirit are in operation today.  The Bible is clear that the balance lies somewhere in-between.  Far be it from me to act as an authority on this subject, for far greater minds than mine have tackled this issue, but it is clear from a simple study of the Bible that some gifts have ceased, such as those of foundational Apostles and prophets, but that others remain.  Is not the gift of teacher, pastor, evangelist and overseer still in evidence and in practice today?  So we have to be careful about jumping to polar extremes on these issues and allow the Bible, guided by the indwelling counsel of the Holy Spirit, to shape our definitions of these issues.

There are many examples I could give to justify my position in this article, but I don't want to belabor the point.  My point is simply that true Bible teachers need to teach what the Bible actually says.  If we find a passage to be difficult, based on some theological construct we believe or have begun to accept, then we need to go back to the Word and do more study.  We then need to change our belief system to line up with the Word of God.  We also need to realize that there are some issues, such as the eternal security vs. free will debate, that present us with a paradox, or more accurately, an antinomy (two truths that are both true yet apparently opposite).  The doctrine of the Trinity, for instance, is misunderstood by those who cannot fathom the concept of Three in One.  Our finite mind is incapable of fully grasping every truth of God and His Word, and we will not fully know certain things until we meet the Lord (1 Cor. 13:12).  But we still need to teach those antinomies with equal vigor and authority as best we can with the Light given to us.

I have been accused by people, from both sides, of teaching free will to the exclusion of eternal security, and vice versa.  If you find yourself being accused from both sides, I believe this is a good sign that you are teaching balanced theology based on the Bible.  This article is meant as an encouragement, not a rebuke.  It is meant to impart something the Lord has been teaching me through the years ... that is to get back to allowing the Bible to shape ALL of our theology instead of coming to the Bible with preconditions based on the theological constructs of men.