On Sycophants

It often puzzles me when I see an accusation of sycophancy from unbelievers. It usually goes something like this; I have people who will tell me when I’m wrong, and you have all these people who don’t tell you when you’re wrong. That’s an interesting accusation, but often quite far from the truth. You see, and here I’m going to tell stories a little, even the contributors to CH have internal disagreements at times. Chris, BK and I have had many disagreements about a great number of things. We are a rather varied group, after all.

When I first started digging into my studies on simplicity and possibility, Chris and BK disagreed with my conclusions at various points. Now, for the most part, they don’t. We spent almost a year discussing it amongst ourselves, in fact. At great length. Quite honestly, I know I have myriads of people who are more than happy to disagree with me – and who I count as friends. My closest friends, as a rule, are those who I work with on CH. We are never shy to disagree with one another – and do so, frequently. I’m sure they’d agree with my assessment, having been the subject of my own disagreement in the past! This, however, should not be mistaken as a false unity. On the vast majority of subjects, we do agree. We agree in practice, and in principle. We are all Calvinists. We are not all confessional, though all of us are covenantal. Those of us who are confessional don’t all share the same confession, in fact! On the whole, however, we agree on practically everything. The outward unity we display is due to close friendship over years, and the intentional fostering of the doctrinal bonds which tie us together. Most of the issues on which we have disagreement, we tend to resolve over time. On the other hand, most of the positions I have held for some years now, I hold due to others who weren’t afraid to tell me I was wrong in the past. The same is true of most of us here at CH. Sanctification is a process. Sanctification also is a process which uses means – and sometimes those means include our brothers, who tell us where we fail, and exhort us to do better, and to search the Scriptures to see whether these things are so.

Accusations of sycophancy are simply just not something I can take very seriously. Why? From the beginning, CH has sought to follow a pattern modeled on Biblical wisdom. There should always be a multiplicity in governance. Chris, Brian, and myself have been that group for several years now. Contrary to the belief of many critics, Brian is actually the “chief among equals” here at CH! Not Chris, and certainly not myself! We all have our particular areas of specialty, and we all have our own personal projects we have explored over time. I’m the latecomer to the group, and wasn’t even a contributor at the inception of the site! Built into the very structure of our model of administration and governance are the safeguards against sycophancy. Anyone who has visited our chat channel also knows that we aren’t above taking criticism publicly, either. What is unsurprising is that often unbelievers see the external unity we have on most issues, due to the smooth interplay several years of working together gives you, and mistakenly interpret this as uncritical support. What they usually aren’t aware of is that we do talk to each other quite frequently, as a group, about any issue we run into, in a private setting. We’ve fostered this atmosphere precisely so that we might air all of our disagreements and perform our internal iron sharpening in a collegial atmosphere. Most of the interactions you see in public are the result of extensive internal discussion prior to your seeing the end product.

Which brings us to the part I find most ironic about the entire accusation. In my experience, those most concerned about sycophancy have the most apparently sycophantic followers. Romanists complaining about the supposed sycophancy of James White’s supporters are rather frequently those who research the claims of their own favored champion the least. Atheists who jeer at the “goons” from CH who support Chris Bolt’s work are often the least likely to have done their own homework when dealing with Biblical texts, and rely on secondary sources or argumentation which has previous refutations even on our own site! When discussing these very same secondary arguments, they quite often pat each other on the back for their great “research” – when even a cursory google search would inform them that they have a lot more digging to do to even begin to address these issues on the level they require. I could multiply the examples, but I think the point is clear. Much of what we present lacks any pretense to novelty. Often, however, it is presented as if it’s something entirely new to the scene. When another of us comments to point out that this has been previously dealt with – the interpretation of the objector is that we’re being “sycophants” of some sort. Could it be, instead, that what the original response conveyed was merely Christian orthodoxy, with which we could all be reasonably expected to agree? What on earth could be sycophantic about an affirmation of orthodoxy?

In summary, it might be noted that most rhetorical assertions of this nature are actually a function of the objector’s level of ignorance. It might be expected that someone unaware of the extensive documentation for most Biblical doctrines would consider unargued support for someone’s affirmations of that orthodoxy to be “sycophancy.” The problem, however, is that the objector in question is, in the technical sense, ignorant of the context. They simply do not know that what is being affirmed is nothing more than orthodox doctrine, and is considered to be assumed as normative, not exceptional in some sense. The problem, therefore, is not with the so-called sycophant – but with the objector, who is simply unaware of the context in which both the original defender and his affirmer operate in common. This problem, unfortunately for the objector, is squarely centered on his own shoulders. If the objector is simply ignorant of the very position he is claiming to object to, or to critique, it can hardly be considered a mere difference in opinion that the supposed sycophant is “unreasonably” agreeing with the defender over. In reality, it is the objector who has badly dealt with a position both defender and affirmer know, and shared previously to even dealing with the objector in the first place!

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