Great Minds and Great Ideas

In light of the upcoming election as well as the debates and issues surrounding it, I found the following article of great interest.  It is written by one of my professors, Dr. Clay Nuttall, dean of Piedmont Baptist Graduate School.  With his gracious permission, I am posting it in entirety.


Great Minds and Great Ideas

It is often said that “great minds discuss ideas, and weak minds discuss people”. In my writing, I find it very difficult to leave out the names of people. After all, people have ideas; and we tend to connect the two. The difficulty lies in the fact that the minute a name is mentioned, the reader tends to lose focus on the idea.

Recently, I have heard several people make that mistake. What do you do when two people are running for public office and neither one of them, from our point of view, is qualified?The emotional responses are easy: “I will just stay home; “I won’t vote”; or “Now is the time to vote for a fringe candidate”. That would be all right if people were the issue, but government is about ideas and principles rather than people. Can we really make these very important decisions based on frail, fallible humans? If so, I would never vote.

The Curse in the Local Church

If I can claim expertise in any area, it is that of ecclesiology, the doctrine of the church. This comes not only from experience gained by thirty-seven years in the pastorate, but also from much research, study, teaching, and publishing. What I have discovered is that local churches very often are all about people, not ideas. The emerging and emergent churches have begun their cultural tsunami on this shifting sand. The traditional church has been mired in the same problem for years, and as a result is finding it easy to fall into man-centered worship and ministry.

Of all the church splits I can remember, only a handful were due to differences concerning biblical truth, theology, doctrine, and ideas. In most cases, those church fights were about people. This is the very reason the majority of our churches fail to experience spiritual or physical growth. Perhaps we should ask, is it possible to grow a church built on truth, doctrine, theology, and biblical ideas?

An Application

And now, with all this in mind, how will you decide whom to vote for? The problem is that there has never been a perfect candidate. Give me a name, and I can find some moral, spiritual, or social failure. You will have to admit that every candidate for whom you have ever voted was in some way flawed. Some are better than others, of course, but all are flawed; so that at least makes the playing field level.

Choosing leaders or servants becomes much easier when we base our choices on ideas. For a believer, the decision is basic. While we normally base it on “what I think”, “what I believe”, “what I want”, and “what I like”, that suddenly turns into a human focus. I am pleading for a godly focus.

The question we should be asking is this: “What has God clearly said in His Word?” This is assuming, of course, that we know what the Bible has set down as the final word on each issue. In our circles, many people – both in the pew and in the pulpit – know about the Bible, but fail to really know the Bible. This, then, is how we should make our decision: consider ideas – what God has said, and not just what we think He has said.

Some Key Ideas

Forget the names of the candidates. Instead, discover what their ideas are, and then compare them to God’s standard. Make a list, a long list, and then decide what ideas we are obligated to support no matter how flawed a certain candidate may be. You may argue that you can’t separate the two; but if that is true, you have missed the whole point of this lesson.

What are some of these issues? How can I test a candidate’s ideas? During my years in the pastorate, just prior to any major election, I would choose to preach an election message. (Don’t get me started!) This was after the pattern of early colonial pastors.[1] The message was not about people or parties, only about ideas, some of which were marriage, capital punishment, abortion, infanticide, sodomy, war, morality, authority, and separation of church and state.

To miss the point, one would have had to be asleep or have a false allegiance to a political party or an unnatural attraction to a person. So, I have made up my mind. If this election were only about people, I would stay home or choose some ineffective fringe candidate in order to make my personal point. As for me, I intend to speak for truth and for ideas. The flawed candidate who is closest to God’s perspective on truth gets my nod. How easy is that lesson? Now, it is time for you to take the exam. Don’t fret – I will not be grading your exam; I have no right to do that. God Himself will do the grading.

[1] Headly, J.T. The Chaplains and Clergy of the Revolution. New York: Charles Scribner, 1864.


8 thoughts on “Great Minds and Great Ideas

  1. “Instead, discover what their ideas are, and then compare them to God’s standard.”

    I fear that many Christians are following this sentiment and are making this election about an Evangelical checklist rather than about discerning God’s Spirit. Of course many Evangelicals are most comfortable with this kind of thinking.. preferring to make the scriptures all about the head and not the heart.

    Of course Christians on the right and left of the political aisle can give you scriptures that support their ‘thinking’.. the rights of the unborn.. the rights of the poor.. you get the picture. I think that we should not let the election be about which candidate has the right theological ideas. Possibly.. if we can get passed the checklist.. the eyes of our hearts will be opened to seeing the candidates with God’ eyes.

  2. I dont think I agree Kansas Bob, I get the impression you are suggesting that since we can get the Bible to support any idea we might have we need to rely on emotional impressions or “discernment” rather than scripture to find out what the Lord thinks.

    When ever Jesus was challenged He would respond with scripture, not new ideas. Some information is far too important to be new and since the Lord does not change then what He said thousands of years ago in scripture still stands as the measure of His will.

    Thats the 2 cents of an Aussie anyway, I hope you guys elect the right guy, whoever that might be.


  3. “When ever Jesus was challenged He would respond with scripture, not new ideas.”

    What about the sermon on the mount MDM? Seems that in it Jesus said several times..

    “You have heard that it was said” … “But I say to you”

    .. then went on to speak to issues of the heart.

    I think that religious people (like those Jesus talked to) love the outward theological checklists but are very uncomfortable when it comes to the inner issues of the heart/spirit.

    The scripture tells us:

    Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

    All I am saying is that we need to pay attention to His Spirit within us and not give in to the letter of our checklists.

  4. I have a Biblical responsibility to vote! I have personal convictions so deeply imbeded that if I only voted for those who fit by personal convictions, I would have never voted in any election. I am not voting for just a person ( I would probably have trouble voting for myself(don’t anybody go there!) but for what is best for America staying as close to the Word of God that I can. If I don’t vote, then I have lost the right to find fault with what goes on in this country. If the Christians keep silent then the WICKED WILL RULE!

  5. KB, I think I can understand where you’re coming from on this because I agree there is too much emphasis on the externals in the Christian life, and not enough on the internal transformation needed to correct those same externals.

    However, the distinction I would make is this. What I am looking for in Scripture is not a man-made “theological” or “Evangelical” list. I am seeking WITH the aid of the Spirit to understand “Scriptural” principles on issues that relate to my life. I don’t believe the Spirit will lead me contrary to the Scriptures He inspired.

    I couldn’t care less if a candidate is Evangelical, or even in my theological comfort zone. I do care how he/she positions themselves on the issues related to the principles I believe are Biblically important.

    I know that others can take the Bible and come to different conclusions. (However, they generally use a distinct hermeneutic to reach those conclusions.) That is their right, and I will defend their privilege to do so. It is also MY right (and I believe responsibility) to vote according to my beliefs. In fact, voting according to one’s principles is something I believe all should do, whether Christian, atheist, or something in between. 🙂

  6. MDM, it’s great to hear from you. One of the things I enjoy about blogging is interacting with the different points of view of my blog friends (as is especially obvious in recent posts!). It’s good to get a POV from “down under.” 😉

  7. Ditto what you wrote Cameron. Unfortunately most Evangelicals I know don’t pray or seek the Spirit’s leadership.. they vote pro-life.. period.. just check out their bumper stickers 🙂

  8. KB, just a note. When Jesus did say, “You have heard that it was said…But I say to you,” note that the former was not a quote of scripture but of flawed interpretations of it. (For example, nowhere in the OT does it say you should love your friends and hate your enemies.)

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