In a play on words referring to a principle in logic dating from the work of Aristotle, anthropologist Paul G. Heibert in January, 1982 coined the phrase, “flaw of the excluded middle.” He used that phrase to describe a common problem of Western missionaries, namely their refusal or inability to recognize a middle ground between Western religions with their emphasis upon rational, empirical evidence, and the religions of the majority of the world, which emphasize the spiritual, “non-scientific” realm.
Gary Ridley explains: “As a missionary in India, Hiebert observed spiritual activity that his functional worldview could not analyze. Indian villagers regularly consulted magicians or saints to help them when they were sick, infertile, or experiencing some misfortune. These spiritual practitioners used magical charms, chants, or amulets to address these problems. However, those who became followers of Jesus now took these problems to the missionaries. But missionaries often did not know how to deal with questions about curses, black magic, or witchcraft.” [Send U Blog, 2/8/2021,https://sendublog.com/2021/02/08/paul-hieberts-excluded-middle/]
Be careful Bible student recognizes that there is emphasis in God’s word upon both the spiritual and the material realms. Both are real, and both must be recognized and understood. If we minimize the spiritual realm, our faith becomes overly secular, emphasizing only what we can see and comprehend with our physical senses. On the other hand, if we over emphasize the spiritual realm, our faith becomes mystical, subjective and divorced from scriptural truth.
In a recent class with Dr. Matt Cook of Freed-Hardeman Grad School Of Biblical Studies the following suggestions were made for responding to the “flaw of the excluded middle,” which may be helpful to seriously contemplate as we strive to teach others:
1. Avoid the extremes of outright denial of or undue fascination with the spiritual battle around us. Spiritual forces are real, and we do the cause of Christ a great disservice when we act as if they do not exist. The Bible says, “Our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the world-rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places,” (Eph. 6:12). Just because we cannot see these spiritual forces with our eyes does not mean they do not exist. We need to ever keep in mind that our enemy, Satan, is real. But by the same token, the gospel is a rational, logical and provable body of facts and information. It is not mystical or unexplainable.
2. While spiritual warfare is real, don’t spiritualize everything. This can become a dangerous tendency which serves as a crutch to help us avoid the realities of life. Every conversation, every struggle, every issue we face in life should not be “spiritualized.” There is a balance in the Scriptures in this area which should be reflected in our outlook on life.
3. There is a spiritual battle for the hearts and souls of humans, but Satan has no power over God’s people other than what God permits him for the testing of their faith. God is ultimately in control. We certainly do not understand all of Satan’s powers and the extent of his abilities. But we know that the one we serve is more powerful than Satan, and he is in ultimate control. We should take confidence and refuge in this fact, and not become overly anxious or concerned about Satan’s power in our lives.
4. Those deeply impacted by Satan and his forces are to be pitied, not feared. It is sad indeed when we see the mess that Satan can make of human lives when they are yielded to him. Indeed, Paul recognized that without the power of the gospel in our lives, we are of all men most pitiable, (1 Cor. 15:19).
5. On the cross, Jesus put to shame the principalities and powers that are at war against us. Never forget who the ultimate Victor is. We have already been told how the story ends, and Christ wins.
These reminders should help us keep a healthy balance, and a focus upon the often-excluded “middle ground” where the truth lies. That is the path of safety and truth set forth in God’s word.
-by Robert C. Veil, Jr.