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Shoehorn doctrines


In a comedy western movie an attempt was made to rehabilitate a bad guy by giving him a job in a shoe store. He was handed a shoehorn and told that it was to be used to help a customer get his shoe on. He put the shoehorn at a customers throat and commanded, “Get that shoe on”. The customer quickly complied to which the bad guy looked with amazement at the shoehorn and declared, Well I’ll be, it really works”.

There can be a real temptation in seminaries and the pulpit to make doctrines either fit or be used to accomplish objectives. For example using verses about the tithing laws given to the nation of Israel are often cited to coerce more giving. Some who preach a prosperity gospel explain away the failure to cure illness or get rich as the fault of someone who did not have enough faith.

Presenting oneself as one with all the answers is a common human characteristic. The potential for trouble exists when one is questioned. Questions can expose a poor, false, or misunderstood foundation. It is at this point where one in a position to answer a question can choose if he has the courage to admit that he does not know the answer, is unsure of the answer, or can suggest some possibilities. The alternative is to provide an “answer” that will seem plausible to the questioner or at least discourage further questioning. Those whose first priority is to maintain their image of expertise usually choose the second option.

Francis Chan once described his disappointment with trying to mentally move a pencil after hearing that the disciples were told that they would be able to move mountains. A “blow off” or shoehorn answer as to why he could not move the pencil would be that he did not have enough faith. This might seem to be supported in that the verses describing this were about having enough faith. However, a more complete answer might be that when the kingdom promised to the nation of Israel would be finally established, those in this kingdom might have that power. Support for this might be seen with the “taste" of spiritual gifts given to the early believers awaiting this kingdom (Heb 6:5)

A common problem is for those who declare that God controls every action in the world no matter how small. While couched in terms of intentional and permissive will, it still lends itself to a more pagan view that if you do good, God will reward you and if you do bad, God will punish you. Consider that a man hit by lightning was not because Zeus was angry with him, but more likely because of the electrical charge built up by his being on a hilltop during a thunderstorm. The person declaring God’s will in every act is left in the position of trying to explain something like Hitler. One may try to declare that God is sovereign and we should not question him. A better answer might be that God instituted natural limits on our biology and environment so that life would be more difficult for our benefit. The greater evil in the world comes both as a result of Satan and our own selfishness.

A questioner upon hearing a shoehorn answer to a question can either abandon questioning or dig deeper elsewhere. Shoehorn answers disregard truth. Whether for convenience, to avoid anxiety, vanity, or to manipulate, distortions of truth are harmful. One expects baloney from salesmen and politicians, however, those who present themselves as speaking for God should value truth over appearance.



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