Getting Off Our Hobby Horse
With the growing debate within Reformed circles about Antinomianism and Hyper-Grace teaching it would be useful to reflect on the dangers of our own personal hobbyhorses. A hobbyhorse is, of course, a favourite topic that we frequently refer to or dwell on - a fixation. I do actually have a hobbyhorse at home; my two year old grandson loves it.
We are all in danger of riding our own hobbyhorses – a particular doctrine, practice, or teaching that becomes a major focus in our conversation, our writing and our teaching. An older minister once explained to me that when a deviant teaching veers in one direction the orthodox response is not always vertical, but can tend to veer in the opposite direction. To counteract error we sometimes overstate the contrary truth – it becomes our hobbyhorse.
Hobbyhorses need not be either false teaching or partial truths. They can be completely orthodox teachings or practices. We can so focus on a particular legitimate aspect of biblical truth correctly stated such that it becomes disproportionate in the balance of our teaching.
Spurgeon once told the story of two members of different churches discussing the preaching of their respective pastors. One complained that with his pastor it was always “ding, dong; ding, dong; ding; dong.” “You are fortunate,” replied the other, “with our pastor it is just ding, ding, ding...”
How can we correct such imbalances, assuming that they are legitimate truths and not errors that we are vigorously propagating?
1. PREACH EXPOSITIONALLY
It is more difficult to maintain a misbalanced emphasis if we are teaching consecutively through extended passages of Scripture. It is, however, not a one hundred percent guarantee of proper balance because extreme hobbyhorse-ism sees all Scripture through the particular filter of the fixation.
2. READ OLD COMMENTARIES
Now, as a Scot the idea of free commentaries, such as we can access through Google Books or the Internet Archive, certainly appeals to me. But there are other reasons to read older commentaries alongside standard modern works. They often have an applicatory emphasis touching on the theological issues of their time that strangely have a renewed relevance for today. Yes, some older commentaries can also reflect hobbyhorse-ism, but “where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counsellors there is safety.” (Prov 11:4) Or, as the NLT puts it: “There is safety in having many advisers.”
3. THINK CONFESSIONALLY
As Presbyterians we are blessed with the Westminster Standards, (and other Reformed confessions). The Standards contain a balanced presentation of truth, hammered out by the church through discussion and debate. We should be extremely wary not only of departing from the teaching of our Standards, but also of losing the balance of teaching found in the Standards.
The one caveat here is that our failure to update our Standards means that many recent errors, (i.e. after 1647), are not specifically addressed in the Standards, such as the issue of same sex marriage, the charismatic movement, and women’s ordination.
4. READ HISTORICALLY
History can teach us.! Many current errors and mis-emphases are simply repetitions of past historical errors. An awareness of past debates and their outcomes puts balance into our present day teaching. The devil is the ultimate Green – he likes to recycle. Old errors, mis-emphases and heresies are frequently recycled in modern garb.
Hobbyhorses are for children. Is it time that we both recognised our own and dismounted?