Jerry Bridges published Trusting God in 1991, Transforming Grace in 1993, and The Pursuit of Holiness in 1996. I read all three over ten years ago. They were about as strong as you’ll read from evangelicals. As is typical of those who disobey the biblical doctrine of separation, Bridges falls short in application. If you trust God, you will separate; if God’s grace has transformed you, you will separate; and if you are pursuing holiness, then you will separate. The constituency of Jerry Bridges and Navigators, the parachurch organization he served for many years, would enjoy the squishy softness of his books. People not pursuing holiness would enjoy The Pursuit of Holiness. They could read the book and still not be sure what unholiness might be.
Bridges exposes himself in a recent book, published in 2007, entitled, Respectable Sins: Confronting the Sins We Tolerate. Bridges always has much solid material in his writing. However, what some might call grace and love really is weakness. I can’t tolerate Bridges’ mushiness anymore. It’s not always what he says, but what he doesn’t. A respectable sin we shouldn’t tolerate is mistaking love for syrupy sentimentality. That will stop a pursuit of holiness in its tracks.
I’m especially referring to chapter 17 in Bridges’ book on what he calls the sin of “judgmentalism.” Many evangelicals love the chapter. However, try to find judgmentalism in the Bible—that’s a bridge to nowhere, pun intended. Since judgmentalism isn’t in the Bible, is Bridges guilty of making his own opinion into the commandment of God?
Bridges judges judgmentalism, but how can he do that and not be judgmental?In order to understand sins that we shouldn’t tolerate, well, we’ve got to judge sin. There’s an assumption that we can judge and we should. Not judging would be a sin that we shouldn’t tolerate.
Bridges essentially says that judgmentalism is when we don’t show toleration for disputed practices. What I’ve noticed, however, is that almost everything is disputed now. At one time we were much more sure about what the truth was and its application. And so if it is disputed, which is now about everything, then you’ve got to just agree to disagree and learn to get along, and then not doing that, with the view of Bridges, is judgmentalism. You’ll have to do a lot of getting along. Getting along has become the most important doctrine.
Bridges says that “the sin of judgmentalism is one of the most subtle of our ‘respectable’ sins because it is often practiced under the guise of being zealous for what is right.” Hearing that sentence, you just know that evangelicals are going to love it. Then he gives examples of disputed practices where the sin of judgmentalism is practiced, and comments on each: dress, music, and alcohol. If his book can stop evangelicals and now fundamentalists from being judged in those areas, he might have a bestseller on his hands.
Now as you are reading this post at home, and are judging my tone, I ask “What verse tells you that my tone is wrong?” Aren’t you adding to Scripture if you can’t give me actual text from the Bible that says my take on Bridges’ chapter violates God’s will? Or is it just a feeling that you have? How do you know that feeling isn’t the Holy Spirit convicting you? Are you being judgmental? I think you know, my reader, that you are busy judging all the time. And those to the left of me are judging my tone right now. Tone isn’t even one of Bridges’ “respectable sins.” I’m judging that non-separatist evangelicals liked the chapter on judgmentalism (my spell check says it’s not a word), not for themselves, but for “fundamentalists” who are judgmental. For them at best it explains why they should be free in the areas of dress, music, and alcohol.
Bridges writes a shallow, ultra-superficial section on dress, that if it were almost any other subject, would be dismissed out of hand, but evangelicals so crave this sort of freedom, they suck it up like a strawberry shake. He says (pp. 141-142):
I grew up in the mid-twentieth century, when people dressed up to go to church. Men wore jackets and ties (usually suits and ties) and women wore dresses. Sometime in the 1970s, men began to show up at church wearing casual pants and open-collar shirts. Many women began to wear pants. For several years, I was judgmental toward them. Didn’t they have any reverence for God? Would they dress so casually if they were going to an audience with the president? That sounded pretty convincing to me.
In the next paragraph he observes, “There is nothing in the Bible that tells us what we ought to wear to church. . . . Reverence for God, I finally concluded, is not a matter of dress; it’s a matter of the heart.” What is lacking in this level of analysis is good judgment. Why did men start showing up in casual pants and open-collar shirts? Why did women begin to wear pants? And who were these people? Why did the culture start to change? What was this new emphasis on creature comfort and convenience? Do these changes have no meaning? How much, if at all, should the church be conforming to the spirit of the age?
Bridges’ dealing with all of the subjects in his chapter miss an important aspect of obedience to God’s Word, that is, the application of the principles of Scripture. The Apostle Paul taught the financial support of the pastor in 1 Timothy 5:18 from Deuteronomy 25:4, a verse which teaches the fair treatment of a domestic animal (“Thou shalt not muzzle the ox which treadeth out the corn.”).
Most of Scripture requires application and to make the right application certain truths must exist in the real world. To abstain from corrupt communication, you’ve got to judge what bad words are with no help in the Bible. Regarding dress, Paul ordered the believing women of Corinth to wear their head coverings (1 Cor 11:3-16) without any previous verse of Scripture to authorize that specific practice. If women didn’t wear the head coverings, couldn’t they just warn fellow church members not to participate in the respectable sin of judgmentalism?
Then Bridges moves on to music:
I also grew up in the era of the grand old hymns sung to the accompaniment of piano and organ. It was majestic. To me, it was reverent worship of God. Today, in many churches, the grand old hymns have been replaced by contemporary music, and the piano and organ with guitars and drums. Again, I was judgmental. How could people worship God with those instruments? But the New Testament churches had neither pianos nor organs, yet they managed to worship God in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (see Colossians 3:16). I still have a preference for church music sung as we did when I was younger, but it’s just that—a preference—not a Bible-based conviction. It’s true that a lot of contemporary music is shallow and human-centered. But there is much that is as God-honoring and worshipful as our traditional hymns. So let’s avoid being judgmental.
How did Bridges know if the old hymns were grand or majestic? Why are churches replacing them with contemporary music? What’s the difference between the music with piano organ and that with guitars and drums? How does he know that the New Testament churches didn’t have instruments? What verse says that they didn’t use instruments? On what basis does he judge the contemporary music to be God-honoring and worshipful? He is judging that, so what is the basis? He says, “let’s avoid being judgmental,” and yet he’s obviously making his own judgment and criticizing. He’s judging that people have no basis for judgment, so that if they do judge, they are sinning. He’s calling people’s judgment about the contemporary music “sin.” I don’t know if I like his tone. My pursuit of holiness says that I need to judge worship, whether it is acceptable to God, since it is being offered to Him.
Is Jerry Bridges saying that only the words have any meaning in worship, and the music is meaningless? Is music meaningless? Can we use grunge music? What about rap? Is heavy metal fine? Is there any line that Jerry Bridges draws? If so, he’s judging too. I guess some people would think that such pablum as what Bridges writes is significant enough to conclude everyone who judges some worship music to be wrong to be sinning in doing so. We’ve got the thing that we should be the most picky about in the world, our worship of God, and Bridges wants to tamp down that pickyness so that people won’t feel so criticized. God gets disrespected and blasphemed so that men can have fun and feel good—party time at church at God’s expense.
Bridges completes his triumvirate with alcohol, the last of three pets close to most evangelical hearts. He writes:
We have convictions that we elevate to biblical truth on a number of issues. I wrote somewhere that I had finally come to the conclusion that in most instances, the Bible teaches temperance not abstinence. I had to work through that issue also because again I found myself being judgmental when I would see Christians having a glass of wine at a restaurant.
Bridges’ second sentence in that quote I judge to be ridiculous. I wish he had an editor who was a little more judgmental, but I guess that’s what happens when you throw this kind of judgment under the beer truck. The Bible can’t teach both temperance and abstinence. He says that in most instances it teaches temperance. If it teaches abstinence in a lesser number of instances, those instances would be contradicting temperance. His judgmentalism, he testifies, caused him to “work through that issue.” Some people have a hard time working through even simple problems when they are under the influence of one drink of alcohol. If the Bible teaches abstinence even a few times, shouldn’t we judge drinking a glass of wine as disobedience to Scripture? Shouldn’t we applaud that judgment? Now what he’s going to do about it is another thing, but it’s a fine thing to make a judgment.
I understand that there are professing Christians that think that drinking alcohol is acceptable to God. There are many others that believe that alcohol is prohibited by God in the Bible. The ones who understand it correctly, that is, that God forbids alcoholic beverages, really should continue to judge people who are drinking it, despite what Jerry Bridges seems to be trying to do with heavy applause from a large evangelical audience, that with this chapter and the present condition of evangelicalism, will be growing even larger.
Here’s what has happened. Rationalism in the 19th century placed truth under human reasoning. In the 20th century, every person’s opinion stands as his own authority. The only permissible dogma is tolerance. That philosophy now is accepted by many if not most churches. Bridges’ chapter against judgmentalism represents the influence of that philosophy. If you follow what Jerry Bridges writes here, you shouldn’t judge if your church were to have a rock concert, serve alcohol at it, and everybody came in their shorts, t-shirts, and flip-flops. They can call it “worship” ta boot. Evangelicalism already does this and some of the younger fundamentalists are totally kewl with it.
To be effective, Scripture must be applied. To apply God’s Word, Christians must judge. They make decisions based on biblical principles. The most prominent present attack on the Bible in evangelicalism and fundamentalism is against its application. The attack says, “Don’t judge.” It means, “You can’t know how the Bible applies.” God’s Word then loses its authority in many practices of churches and their members.
My recommendation to you is don’t listen to Bridges. Keep applying the Bible and biblical principles to dress, music, and alcohol. Keep judging in those areas.