Thomas Aquinas is credited with saying, “Beware the man of a single book.” Aquinas was an avid student of the Scripture, early church fathers, Aristotle, and the sciences, and he was clearly wary of those who only cared about one discipline or one issue.
Aquinas’ quote reminds me of something my good friend Ed Stetzer and I talked about when we served alongside one another. Ed was wary of “issue Christians,” those who take a single issue and make it the one and only thing they talk about. Ed wrote about his encounter with a man who attended a church Ed planted. The man only wanted to talk about prophecy and complain why churches don’t talk about it enough. Ed wisely told the man “we are not the church for you,” as an “issue Christian” will never be satisfied that their issue is addressed enough and will only bring division.
Beware the person of a single book and beware of issue Christians. We must not be Christians who make one thing our main thing, unless that one thing is the gospel of Jesus which then impacts how we view everything. The gospel must impact how we view everything and there are issues that will be extremely important, but those issues cannot handle the weight of being the single thing or the main thing in a church. Tim Keller wrote, “Because the gospel is endlessly rich, it can handle the burden of being the one “main thing” of a church.” Nothing but the gospel can handle the weight and pressure of being a church’s main thing. Here are three observations about the man with a single book, about “issue Christians” (a term Ed coined):
1. Single-issue Christians don’t make the gospel their main thing.
As Christians, we must care about issues that are impacting our world, the hurting and marginalized, and our brothers and sisters in Christ. We absolutely must care about the issues that Jesus cared about and the issues the Scripture speaks clearly to. We must not ignore those issues and say we are doing so because “we are focused on Christ.” Christ care about issues in our world. And we can enjoy studying issues of theology and reading and reflecting on those issues. But we must be cautious that any issue doesn’t become the main and only thing in our lives. When any issue becomes the main thing in our lives, the gospel is supplanted as the main thing. We must fight to keep Jesus as our main thing and view the issues through the lens of Him. When Jesus is our main thing, we will care about other issues but we will do so without making those issues the source of our identity.
2. Single-issue Christians divide more than they unite.
As Ed pointed out with the prophecy-issue Christian, someone like that is going to enter most conversations with one thing on their mind. They love to debate. In their attempt to find people who think like them, they create more disagreement than agreement. In their attempt to foster unity around the issue that they deem most important, they actually foster disunity.
3. Single-issue Christians fail to understand the perspective of others.
We have so much learning to do. We need the perspective of others to expose us to our blind spots. But single-issue Christians can easily fail to understand the perspective of others because they fail to listen to others. When we view life through the lens of a single issue, we also fail to see the pain and struggles of those around us. The vast majority of people are not thinking about a theological issue today. They are not waking up thinking about points of Calvinism, their position on the millennial kingdom, or even the major issue of their political party. They are wrestling with life and we can fail to meet them where we are if we view our world through the lens of a single issue.