The Essential/Non-Essential Doctrine Debacle
A Biblical Rebuttal of Greg Koukl, “Perfected in Unity” Youtube Video
The topic of biblical unity is a vital one, but one nearly universally misrepresented by those who claim to be conservative evangelicals. As a result, unity is the central topic addressed in this “Essential/Non-Essential Doctrine Debacle” series, originally written and posted on this site in the summer of 2017 and for which this Addendum was written.
I frequently view various YouTube videos on Christian theology and apologetics.
[For the most part they are useless. Another series on this site, The Humanism of Evangelistic Apologetics, is a formal rebuttal of several "evangelistic apologists".]
Recently YouTube, knowing my "viewing habits”, suggested some videos by STRVideos (Stand To Reason, STR.org); prior to that point I had never heard of STR. One of the recommended videos caught my attention (because of this article) and is the topic of this rebuttal.
His video is:
Perfected in Unity - How the Church Can Remain Unified in Christ Despite Differences
Published Aug 6, 2018
It is a short video lasting only 2 minutes and 22 seconds. However, its small size belies the depth of its biblical error—blasphemy, actually—expressed in its distortion of a very clear Bible truth. (It is difficult for one to appreciate just how much biblical error is packed into such a small package. The author’s errors/words ratio approaches 1.0.)
In short, it has no redeeming qualities and exposes to the world the fact that Mr. Koukl has never really studied the topic of Christian unity from the pages of the Scriptures. It is also significant to note that Mr. Koukl does not open the Scripture as the authority for his assertions. Moreover,as you’ll see in the transcript below, he directly contradicts the Lord Christ with seeming impunity!
The format I chose for this rebuttal is to reproduce his video in transcript form in full below, then respond inline as needed.
[Please note that all punctuation and “paragraph” formatting are mine, inferred from the flow of the presentation. Note also that all highlights within the transcript like this or this are mine.]
[Please note also that this rebuttal is not a general assessment of the STR.org site! The video rebutted here is biblical error and blasphemy; I refrain from drawing any conclusion (so far) on the rest of the channel or the site—though the error rebutted here certainly does not bode well for the remainder of the channel or site. As the Scripture says
He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much.]
How can we be perfected in unity when there’s so much disunity in our beliefs? Here’s what Jesus meant.
This is a very troubling start! At this point in the video, Mr. Koukl appears to be getting ready to “reinterpret” the words of the Lord Christ so that Joh 17.23 doesn’t really mean “perfected” but means something else.
As you’ll see, Mr. Koukl this is exactly what Mr. Koukl does.
One of the hallmarks of the Body of Christ, when it’s functioning well and in a healthy way, is the sense of unity and community that, uh, that they express in their love for one another. But of course this raises a question: “How can we be unified when we differ so much on theological issues or on moral issues? People are right when they point that out. There is a wide variety of theological distinctions or differences, uh, within the pale—that is, there are boundaries that define what basic Christianity is, but within that boundary, inside the household, so to speak, uh, you’re going to have differences.
And … we know that. In fact, I can think of only one person that I know that agrees with me theologically on everything, and that’s me, all right? And sometimes I don’t even agree with me, all right…
So, how do we maintain our unity even though we disagree on theological particulars…
So far (about the half-way point in the video), Mr. Koukl has demonstrated two vital, but very troubling, elements:
- There is no direct appeal to Scripture (beyond the passing reference to Joh 17.23).
- The reference point is the current state of “church unity” rather than the clear teaching of the Scripture. It appears to be setting us up for the context that what needs to be changed is the desire for doctrinal unity in favor of some other kind of “unity”. As you’ll see below, Mr. Koukl appears to see no real problem with the “theological distinctions/particulars” as long as it doesn’t disrupt “unity” (presumably the “real”(?) unity he teased in his opening remark).
Mr. Koukl has the matter exactly backwards!
The “unity” of which he speaks does not and cannot exist. It is shadow without substance.
… and the answer is, is that our unity is not based on the theological particulars.
By the time I made it to about 0:45 in the video, I was expecting this very common error. (And, moreover, if you’ve read this series and understood it, you should have been expecting the same error as well.)
The question I have for Mr. Koukl is this:
At 1:06 you spoke of “unity”; what kind of “unity”, exactly? In the context of this article, you appear to conflate “fellowship” and “unity”. As I’ve detailed extensively from the Scripture in this series (if you’ll read it with its Bible citations), fellowship follows doctrinal unity. Without doctrinal unity, there can be no biblical fellowship.
Here is the crux of the matter: Mr. Koukl removes the authority of the Word of God and replaces it with the arbitrary “standard” of “How does it affect the church?” His stated conclusion shows that he puts Christian “fellowship” (which he terms “unity”) ahead of doctrine. In Mr. Koukl’s self-imposed and very twisted “theology”, doctrine is inconvenient and needs to be jettisoned, or at least effectively set aside, if it gets in the way of “unity”.
[Perhaps more correctly, according to Mr. Koukl, differences in theology need to be overlooked. That is, (as you’ll see below) it matters little if your “brother” holds to something that you may deem biblical error as long as you “get along” and “agree to disagree”—something of a “spiritual détente” for lack of a better description. You must maintain the appearance of unity in spite of the fact that you might disagree completely with your “brother”!
The element missing here is that such an attitude clearly implies that “unity” (“fellowship” in the NT) is more important than coming to understand and maintaining what the LORD teaches us in His Word.]
Stated simply: according to Greg Koukl, it is better to ignore the fact that your “brother” may, in fact, believe in something antithetical to sound doctrine rather than to separate from him. When there is a “distinction”, it is the Word of God which is to give way before “unity” (aka., “fellowship”)!
Mr. Koukl: don’t you think that it’s more important to have unity with the LORD and His Word, first and foremost?
But, let’s ignore Mr. Koukl’s spectacular biblical distortion of “unity” for just a moment while I pursue the logical end of his pernicious reasoning. Reasoning from his defective position, let me ask these questions:
“What Bible doctrine is not divisive? What doctrine, from any of the major topics of the Scripture (theology, christology, pneumatology, ecclesiology, anthropology, eschatology, etc.) has been and currently is without disagreement of any kind in that group which calls itself “Christian”? Isn’t it true that no such doctrine exists or has ever existed? And if this is the case—and it is—then truly your quest is as quixotic as it is anti-biblical.”
Notice the “oneness” in this text:
Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.
Mr. Koukl, do you really want me to believe that the one Spirit, who was tasked with teaching the LORD’s true children the words of the Lord Christ would teach one “truth” to “this Christian” but to “that Christian” a different “truth”? If you don’t believe that this obvious outcome is valid (though consistent with your logic) then the only other alternative is that the “brother” holding to a different “truth” actually holds to error. And if that is the case, then why is it important to have “unity” with that “brother”?
Do you see the spectacular, contradictory and hellish mess you created? If your twisted notion of “unity” dominates, then there is no objective truth—there is not even the possibility of objective truth, in the Word of God! Theology of any kind is impossible and the Bible becomes worse than useless.
In your world it becomes impossible to call out error and false doctrine (after all, it may be a “brother” who holds that error, one whom you’ve deemed worthy of “unity”).
Apollyon thrives in the environment you created and the actual disunity you’ve created!
You may be sure that the LORD is angry with you.
You should read:
I will give You thanks with all my heart;
I will sing praises to You before the gods.
I will bow down toward Your holy temple
And give thanks to Your name for Your lovingkindness and Your truth;
For You have magnified Your word according to all Your name.
You trifle with the LORD’s Word, which is tantamount to showing active contempt to His great name. You may be sure that the judgment will go poorly for you regarding this matter.
We can have loving relationships in our own families, with our brothers and sisters and mother and father, and that kind of thing, even though we have differences of opinion. We are all familiar with that concept, OK? I think the same thing is in play here.
Did you notice the “transition-to-trivia” here? He had been talking about theology but appeals to an example of “differences of opinion” within a family—a huge and critical change of scope. Mr. Koukl “waves his hand” and magically dismisses difference in theology by appealing to, comparatively, an insignificant analogy! However, with what he is about to say, Mr. Koukl moves from incontestable error to the realm of blasphemy against the Lord Christ Himself.
When Jesus is praying for our unity that we be “one”, OK, and uh… John 17 for example, (in) Jesus’ high-priestly prayer, I don’t think He’s praying that everybody agree on every point. I think He’s praying that regardless of our own varying convictions that we are willing to embrace one another as brothers and sisters in Christ, in love … engage the differences in a respectful and loving fashion and be willing to “agree to disagree”—even though we show love to each other.
I think that’s what the key to what Christian unity involves.
I seem to remember someone else contradicting the LORD’s Word:
Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” … “The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die!”
Mr. Koukl: there is no substantive difference in quality or scope between the serpent’s words to Eve and your comment. You both contradicted the clear word of the LORD. In this video, you are Apollyon's spokesman.
So, in contrast to your video, let’s examine what the Lord Christ did say:
The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.
Did Mr. Koukl not notice how verses 22 and 23 function together in the same context? His avoiding the direct use of verse 22 is irresponsible in the extreme! Why? Because verse 22 completely destroys his spectacularly wrong narrative of “unity”!
What the Lord Christ said was very clear—it is literally impossible to misunderstand (though Mr. Koukl manages somehow...)! The unity for which the Lord Christ prays regarding unity among His disciples is the same unity He experiences with the Father.
How can this video be anything other than a wretched, deliberate attempt to misdirect his listener into error so that Mr. Koukl is able to maintain his unbiblical narrative of “unity”?
The Lord Christ provides the single reference point used to define the type of unity for which He prays:
“that they may be one, just as We are one”
But Mr. Koukl says:
“I don’t think He’s praying that everybody agree on every point. I think He’s praying that regardless of our own varying convictions …”
My response to Greg Koukl is:
WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE!?!? DO YOU REALLY THINK THAT YOU CAN SAY, IN EFFECT:
“Lord Christ, I see what you said, but I don’t agree! Surely you can’t mean that! Why, that kind of ‘unity’ is impossible! After all, look at your children—they have so many distinctions and variations of doctrine among them; the status quo for differences is too great to overcome. Therefore, I, Greg Koukl, founder and president of Stand to Reason, proclaim that Your command be amended to something more attainable and consistent with what we experience in the church now.
I know that you did not mention in John chapter 17 that we are to
‘engage the differences in a respectful and loving fashion and be willing to “agree to disagree”’
but clearly that’s what you must have meant. (I’m sure it was a simple oversight on your part!).
So, I’ll take the lead here to redefine what you said into something that makes more sense in the context of the existing church.”
This is a caliber of arrogance that I’ve encountered before in various authors: Dr. Jonathan Sarfarti, James Holding, Paul Colter and William Lane Craig are a few that come to mind whom I’ve critiqued and/or rebutted on this site.
[I am familiar with the work of Norman Geisler and Josh McDowell; they would also be members of this august group (although I’ve never formally rebutted their writings on my site).]
Mr. Koukl: do you really think that you can countermand the word of the Lord Christ with impunity?
Mr. Koukl: you have the mistaken notion that “unity”, while not defined in your video as the “absence of theological differences” is nonetheless the setting aside of theological difference for the sake of “getting along” with a “brother” ("agree to disagree"). You need to be reminded of something very important:
Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good.
Dead flies make a perfumer’s oil stink, so a little foolishness is weightier than wisdom and honor.
Don’t you realize that the depth of the error you espouse in this video will undo any good that you may have accomplished on your site? Have you never read:
1 Cor 3.12-15
Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.
Mr. Koukl, your guilt is great; you have counseled rebellion directly against the Lord Christ Himself by countermanding His Word and elevating a “unity” which can’t exist. I beg you to get on your knees before the Father—with John 17.22-23 open!—and seek Him in repentance to make this right.