“No one can fault Jonathan Merritt for lack of audacity.”

Such was the opening line of a rebuttal to my commentary on Christian corporal punishment by David Prince, professor of Christian preaching at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. It’s not the first time a blogger has opened an article with a backhanded compliment, but one can only hope that Prince trains young preachers to interject more grace into their sermon introductions.

But the irony of Prince’s tone stretches far beyond his opener. While chiding me for “audacity” and “bravado,” and calling the article a “short piece that reads more like a tantrum,” he goes on to make an audacious assertion himself: “Merritt is domesticating Scripture to fit the prevailing spirit of the age.”

The most effective way to combat “bravado” is apparently to supersede it.

Prince’s insult sounds fresh at first, but only to those who haven’t followed such debates in evangelical circles. It’s actually a recycled meme that is more tired than novel. For example, when William Webb, adjunct professor of Biblical Studies at Tyndale Seminary wrote Corporal Punishment in the Bible, Prince’s colleague Thomas Schreiner said Webb’s views would lead to “domesticating the Bible to fit modern conceptions.” Sound familiar?

It’s a textbook marginalization tactic used by religious and political partisans: drag out a boogeyman from under the bed to send people running. Leftist partisans will simply call their opponent a “fundamentalist.” And those on the Right call their opponent a “liberal” or claim they are sacrificing the Bible on the altar of modern culture. In the end, assuming anti-spanking Christians are feckless is like assuming pro-spanking Christians are heartless. And simply saying so doesn’t make it true.

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Written by Jonathan