Monday, September 25, 2006

Boxers or Briefs? A Theological Reflection

My apologies to my female readership for the frankness of the metaphor, but I honestly could not think of a better comparative picture for the thoughts that have been running through my head this week.

For the past several weeks, I have been immersed in missions work here in central Maryland, and have been consequently unable to contribute to the rowdy online discussion that is the blogosphere. Nevertheless, I have been able to take some time to read much of what is being said out there regarding first, second, and third order doctrinal issues, and as I observe the way in which various bloggers are addressing these issues, I have come to the conclusion that some wear boxers, and others wear briefs. Some are tight-fisted, gut-wrenched, red-faced, and stressed-out about everything, as if the rise or fall of the evangelical world depends on everyone else coming to their understanding of what it means to be a "conservative." Others are just as theologically sound, but not angry about it.

What I aim to do in the next few paragraphs is draw a distinction between the two. But before I do, a word of clarity is in order: If you are here looking to justify belief in an self-contradicting Bible, women pastors, the notion that being gay is cool with Jesus, the idea that one can enter the Kingdom without a personal relationship with the King, or any other clearly unBiblical idea, I'm afraid you have come to the wrong place. My purpose here is to distinguish within evangelicalism between those who are able to hold to sound doctrine without blowing a gasket, and those who can't.

To be totally transparent, I have to admit that I had a lot of fun with this, so don't take it more seriously than I intend it . . . .but do take it seriously enough. Below are, in my opinion, the marks of a "boxer-wearing" evangelical:

1. He can accept, and even embrace "mystery." Brief-wearing evangelicals have a very hard time with uncertainty. They feel that they must be able to answer every question regarding their faith. Ask them about the problem of evil, and they will have an answer. Ask them about the relationship between divine sovereignty and human responsibility, and they will have an answer. Ask them about puzzling texts in the Bible, and they will have an answer . . . because they MUST have an answer. Brief-wearing evangelicals confuse certainty with omniscience, and live with the understanding that to say "I don't know" only reveals that they haven't spent as much time in the Word as they should have.

Boxer-wearers, on the other hand, know that "I don't know" is sometimes an appropriate answer, especially when it is the honest one. They are certain of Christ's literal and physical return, but at the same time, they aren't losing any sleep over the fact that they keep waffling back and forth between respective eschatological positions. While there are some issues on which they are certain, they recognize that others have been debated for centuries, and that if Augustine, Chrysostom, Luther, Calvin, Edwards, and others didn't settle it, the likelihood that our generation will settle it is pretty miniscule.

This doesn't mean that boxer-wearing evangelicals don't think about such things. But at the end of the day, boxer-wearers apply the truth of Isaiah 55 to their own feeble minds, and conceede that compared to God's wisdom, all the human wisdom in the world is tantamount to the kind of collective ignorance one might find in an internet chat room.

2. He can hold a position without holding it against people. Brief-wearing evangelicals seem to always gravitate from issues to personalities. For example, a few years ago, John R.W. Stott announced his temporary advocacy of annihilationism. Many brief-wearers responded by not only rightfully taking issue with Stott's position, but also by anathematizing Stott from their libraries. Similarly, the vitriolic debate now taking place in the blogosphere regarding SBC issues is largely caused by a shift of focus from positions to people. I for one have been dissapointed to see substantive issues worthy of debate within the SBC largely reduced to divisions regarding whether one loves or hates Paige Patterson.

A boxer-wearer understands the differences between people, personalities, and positions. He is the kind of person who can hold strongly to a complimentarian view of gender issues, while simultaneously sitting across the table from a female with "Reverend" behind her name without either being intimidated, or himself trying to intimidate her. He can flatly (and rightly) reject Stott's annihilationism while still showing great appreciation for Stott's overall work and contribution to the church. The boxer-wearing landmarkist doesn't assume that the non-landmarkist has a weak ecclesiology. The boxer-wearing non-Calvinist doesn't assume that his 5-pointer brother is unevangelistic.

Those holding positions in opposition to the boxer-wearer leave the dinner table with the impression that he is very sure of himself, but he is also a very nice guy! In short, boxer-wearers see certain positions as unhealthy, but they don't see those who hold such positions as the enemy.

3. Their Orthodoxy is Humble. Joshua Harris was the first person I heard use the term "humble orthodoxy," and I have adapted the phrase into my own vocabulary since first hearing it months ago.

Brief-wearers have no problem with honesty, but they struggle with humility. Areas of disagreement with others regarding non-essential issues (for example, one's interpretation of the Baptist Faith and Message) includes not only confidence in one's own position, but also a sense of condescension toward those who disagree. Brief-wearers not only prefer briefs. They see briefs as superior. Boxers are liberal!

By contrast, boxer-wearers are able to take a firm stand on secondary and tertiary issues, while at the same time enjoying friendship with those with whom he differs. The boxer-wearing abstentionist can have lunch with someone who orders a beer. He can enjoy Christian friendship with someone who differs with him on the mode of baptism, and can even share membership in the same church with someone who has an opposing view of election.

Which one are you? Honestly, there are days when I am both. And I suspect, if each reader would be honest with himself, he would come to the same conclusion. I'm working hard at becoming a boxer-wearing evangelical, because I want to maintain the balance between conviction and cooperation; between certainty and humility.

This doesn't mean that I think the recent issues being debated are not worthy of good, robust argument. It does mean that we need to relax a bit!

Southern Baptists in particular have argued about a number of things over the past several months: landmarkism, Calvinism, alcohol, blogging, glossolalia, censorship, et. al. None of these issues is unimportant, but the vitriol I have witnessed of late brings me to the conclusion that maybe what some of us need is a good old-fashioned pair of cotton boxer-shorts. . . .

. . . .speaking of which, I think the dryer just buzzed!


David Phillips said...


This is one of the best posts I've read in a long time. It is so sensical it's brilliant.

I believe that you are a boxer-guy, I hope and pray that I am as well.

Great job!

Chris Poteet said...

Dude, that deserves a blogging award. What great insight!

Tim Sweatman said...


This is a superb post. For most of my life I have been a theological-brief-wearer. I was sure that I was right, and if there was an issue I was not sure about it was simply because I had not studied it enough. However, over the past year or so I have come to appreciate the complexity of God and His revelation, as well as my own finite capacity to understand. Of course, I strive to study and learn as much as I can, but I no longer see "I don't know" as a sign of theological weakness. I cannot describe the freedom that has brought me.

That being said, I remain firmly committed to white cotton briefs. I simply cannot tolerate baggy drawers, although I respect the right of others to hold to a different interpretation.

Joel Rainey said...


Too much information dude! :)

Jeff Jordan said...

Cool post. I agree with your observations. A brief's guy damaged the church I serve now. I think his brief's were 2 sizes to small. I hope I am a boxer. I try to be.

Anonymous said...


You nailed it.


frostburgpreacher said...

What about those of us who are boxer/ category for that.

Byron said...


Found your blog thru Spencer Haygood's, and what a great, dead-on post you've written, with one teensy exception: Mrs. Stott is going to be very disappointed to learn of the death of her as-of-yet-very-much-alive husband, John...

Joel Rainey said...


Thanks for stopping by, and for pointing out the fact that I have put a man in the grave who is still breathing! :) Geez, how embarrasing!