The land of Israel famously covered the area “from Dan to Beersheba” (e.g. 1 Kings 4:25). Of all the cities of Israel, YHWH chose Jerusalem as the place for His Temple and where He would make His name to dwell, and it thus became known as the holy city (1 Kings 11:32, Isaiah 52:1, Matthew 27:53). Some of those who came before us in the faith used Jerusalem as a way to speak about the truth of God as revealed in Christ and through Scripture. When they perceived that a fellow believer became too zealous in opposing a particular false teaching and thus fell prey to another form of distortion of God’s truth, they would say such a one “ran past Jerusalem.”
“Running past Jerusalem” is an apt way of illustrating the dangers of a reactive theology. A reactive theology is fostered when opposition to a particular doctrine or set of doctrines leads a person to defend the entirely opposite position. Perhaps some people feel that the truth must be the exact opposite of the doctrine they are opposing; most often, however, there are concerns about particular doctrines without considering the dangers of going too far the other way. To continue our geographic illustration, if someone departs from “Jerusalem” and goes to “Bethel,” a sincere believer may want to make it so clear that they are so different from “Bethel” that they go beyond Jerusalem to “Bethlehem.” Those in “Bethel” then move ever further away in order to distance themselves from “Bethlehem,” and those in Bethlehem move ever further away to distance themselves as well. All of a sudden there are people in “Dan” and “Beersheba”, both groups quite far away from the truth of God in “Jerusalem”!
The history of Christianity is distressingly saturated with illustrations of reactive theology, people “running past Jerusalem.” The “Judaizers” did not believe there should be much distance between Judaism and Christianity; in the next century, Marcion and the Gnostics wanted to sever Christianity from Judaism entirely. Augustine did not begin teaching Augustinianism right after he converted; he moved ever more toward his extreme positions as he stood opposed to the Donatists and particularly Pelagius; meanwhile, later Pelagians moved toward more extreme positions than Pelagius had on account of disputations with Augustine and Augustinians. By the sixteenth century there was no doubt that the Roman Catholic church had moved to “Dan” in terms of works-based salvation; the Reformers, in reaction, ran past Jerusalem all the way to the “Beersheba” of grace only and faith only, teaching that believers have absolutely no role in their own salvation. Over and over we see a pattern of action, reaction, and over-reaction.
All Christians must take seriously the dangers of “running past Jerusalem” as we seek to proclaim the Gospel of Christ and correct those in opposition (Romans 1:16, 2 Timothy 2:24-25). Very rarely do we find God’s truth toward the extreme of a spectrum of views; God’s truth is finely balanced, often featuring competing emphases that can be both true at the same time (e.g. justification by faith and justification by works, Romans 4:1-23, James 2:14-26). This is why simply opposing a particular doctrine does not mean one is defending Biblical truth; one may end up backing into “Beersheba” in their opposition to those in “Dan”, and find themselves nowhere near “Jerusalem.”
We will not find ourselves in God’s truth if we are just reacting to the errors and over-emphases of others. Protestants have gone beyond “Jerusalem” and are in “Dan” in their defense of faith only, yet to promote a “works based” salvation is going to “Beersheba”; Christians are justified by faith and cannot earn their salvation (Romans 1:16-8:39). Many Evangelicals have gone beyond “Jerusalem” and are in “Dan” by teaching “once saved, always saved,” but the alternative, “if saved, barely saved,” is going all the way to “Beersheba”; Christians can maintain confidence in their salvation when they serve the Lord Jesus while recognizing the consequences of turning aside from the ways of the Lord (Hebrews 10:26-31, 1 John 1:1-5:20). Calvinists have gone to Dan in their views of God’s sovereignty and man’s free will; going to the Beersheba of limiting God’s sovereignty and maximizing man’s free will is no better (Romans 9:1-11:36). Pentecostals have gone all the way to Dan in their views on the work of the Holy Spirit; yet to deny God’s active presence in His creation and among His people through the Holy Spirit is going all the way to Beersheba, a version of Christian Deism, equally contrary to the Gospel (1 Corinthians 6:19-20, Romans 8:9-11, Ephesians 3:17-21). Jehovah’s Witnesses have gone to Dan in their denial of Jesus’ divinity, yet de-emphasizing Jesus’ humanity is going to the Beersheba of Gnosticism (1 Timothy 2:5, 1 John 4:3-4, 2 John 1:7-11). And on it goes.
God made Jerusalem His holy city; He established the Gospel as the truth to whom all are subject and through which all can be saved (Romans 1:16). As Jerusalem was in Israel, so the true Gospel in the midst of other gospels: not on any extreme, but somewhere in the middle. Therefore, we will not be able to come to an understanding of the truth merely by reacting to the false doctrines of other gospels, since there will be danger on the “left” as well as the “right,” from “behind” as much as from in “front.” If we wish to proclaim the true Gospel, we must be rooted in Christ and handle His word rightly, convicted by the truth of God’s word, not just convicted by the error of its distortion (Colossians 2:1-10, 2 Timothy 2:15). Brethren, let us hold firm in Jerusalem and not run past it when opposing error!
Ethan R. Longhenry