When I have taught on the subject of Preferences, Convictions, and Absolutes, it has consistently been some of my most well received teaching. There is usually a sense of people needing to hear, understand, and assimilate this truth in the Body of Christ.
Preference – a special liking for one thing over another; choice
Preferences and Christian Liberty . . .
Convictions and preferences are different. Convictions are or should be based upon the moral teachings of the Word of God, the Bible. Christians' convictions will be remarkably similar as long as we base them upon Scriptural doctrine.
Preferences will vary dramatically from one person to the next. Preferences are based upon our personal tastes and perspectives rooted in our different life experiences. Christian people with similar preferences often join together to create organizations, even churches that hold to those preferences and pass them on to the next generation.
Now here is the major point of this piece: As long as our preferences do not violate the Scripture, it's O.K. to have preferences. That's what the Bible calls "Christian liberty." God gave us basic moral principles to guide our lives, but He did not choose to speak to everything. He gave us room to think and to decide, to be different. And that is a great beauty of the Christian faith.
Christian liberty is often misunderstood. Some fear the term, for they think it implies that God did not give us moral commands: the "Thou shalts" and "Thou shalt nots." But God did give us His unchanging Word, and Christian liberty cannot function properly without it. Liberty without moral principles is license. While Christian liberty with no freedom, just obedience with no room to choose, is legalism. Neither license nor legalism is God's design.
It's true that God gave us certain principled commands and upon these we build our convictions. But God also gave us Christian liberty and in this we develop our preferences. Yes, indeed, let's preach the very Word of God, but let's also allow Christians to be free where God allows them to be free.
- Dr. Rex M. Rogers, President; Cornerstone University, Grand Rapids, Michigan
Conviction – a belief, view or persuasion based on evidence or principle
Conviction does not come because we are suddenly struck with inspiration, but it is the product of a process that involves a growing relationship with God.
We have preferences. We have very few convictions. We know what is right and what we're taught. We look around at society, and we're sure we can tell the difference between right and wrong. But we develop few real convictions, and consequently our walk does not match our talk. Many of us are people of preference. Not enough of us are men and women of conviction. – Andy Stanley
Difference between a conviction and a preference, according to the U.S. Supreme Court. A preference is a very strong belief, held with great strength. You can give your entire life in a full-time way to the service of the preference, and can also give your entire material wealth in the name of the belief. You can also energetically proselytize others to your preference. You can also want to teach this belief to your children, and the Supreme Court may still rule that it is a preference. A preference is a strong belief, but a belief that you will change under the right circumstances. Circumstances such as: 1) peer pressure; if your beliefs are such that other people stand with you before you will stand, your beliefs are preferences, not convictions, 2) family pressure, 3) lawsuits, 4) jail, 5) threat of death; would you die for your beliefs? A conviction is a belief that you will not change. Why? A man believes that his God requires it of him. Preferences aren’t protected by the constitution. Convictions are. A conviction is not something that you discover, it is something that you purpose in your heart (cf. Daniel 1, 2-3). Convictions on the inside will always show up on the outside, in a person’s lifestyle.
- David C. Gibbs, Jr. Christian Law Association, Cleveland, Ohio
Conviction vs. Preference
Recently in a chapel at Cornerstone College, I reminded our Christian students that there is a profound difference between "convictions" and "preferences." Convictions are the timeless beliefs that I hope we hold based upon biblical principles.
Preferences are different. Preferences are the time bound ideas and attitudes, even beliefs, that each of us develops based upon our own personal tastes and experiences. Preferences may vary from time to time in our own lives and certainly differ from one person to the next. Examples of preferences are limitless: you prefer to wear your baseball cap backwards; I wear mine with the bill forward. You like to sing using a hymnbook; your friend likes to sing choruses displayed on a screen from an overhead projector. You order pizza; your spouse wants a taco.
Why is this distinction so important? Well, for one, because the moment we understand it and begin to apply it we save ourselves and others a lot of grief. All too often Christians develop their convictions, then add to that list all their own preferences. That's O.K., but the next step is the kicker. We start to judge other peoples' spirituality not on the basis of biblical principles and convictions but on the basis of our preferences. In other words, no one's right unless he agrees with us in all our preferential points-of-view. This initiates what the Bible calls discord and division among the brethren.
Are your beliefs biblically-based convictions or just preferences? And just as importantly, are your preferences yours, or do you try to force them upon others?
- Dr. Rex M. Rogers, President, Cornerstone University, Grand Rapids, Michigan
Absolute – fundamental or spiritual reality
Truth – agreement with fact or reality
God’s words are the ultimate standard of truth. The Bible is God’s Word, and God’s Word is the ultimate definition of what is true and what is not true: God’s Word is itself truth. Thus we are to think of the Bible as the ultimate standard of truth, the reference point by which every other claim to truthfulness is to be measured. What then is truth? Trust is what God says, and we have what God says (accurately but not exhaustively) in the Bible.
- Wayne Grudem
Absolute truth is that which is true (or right) for all people, for all times, for all places. - Josh McDowell
Absolute truth is truth that is . . .
Orthodox Christianity is predicated on the position that truth is absolute. Thus, the defense of the possibility of absolute truth is crucial to the defense of the historic Christian faith. According to theories of relative truth, something may be true for one person, but not for all people. Or, it may be true at one time, but not at another. According to the absolutist view, what is true for one person is true for all persons, times, and places.
– Norman Geisler
God’s truthfulness means that he is the true God, and that all his knowledge and words are both true and the final standard of truth. God’s faithfulness means that God will always do what he has said and fulfill what he has promised. He can be relied upon, and he will never prove unfaithful to those who trust what he has said. Indeed, the essence of true faith is taking God at his word and relying on him to do as he has promised.
Is There Absolute Truth? A recent Barna Research Group survey on what Americans believe confirms what this brief scenario illustrates: we are in danger of becoming a nation of relativists. The Barna survey asked, “Is there absolute truth?” Amazingly, 66 percent of American adults responded that they believe that “there is no such thing as absolute truth; different people can define truth in conflicting ways and still be correct.” The figure rises to 72 percent when it comes to those between the ages of 18 and 25.
- Christianity Today, October 26, 1992, p. 30
Examples of Preferences, Convictions, and Absolute Truths
I like hymns / I like choruses – or – I like traditional worship / I like contemporary worship
I like it when the preacher preaches from behind the podium / I like it when he walks around
I like having evening services – it feels so good to be together- or – I like it when we don’t
have evening services, it is so nice to be with my family on Sunday afternoon
I like to use the Roman Road to share my faith / I like to use the FAITH outline
I like Steve’s class because he is so friendly / I like Sue’s class because she is a good teacher
I like church’s with a big middle aisle / I like churches made in the round
I don’t like to clap in church / I love it when we clap for someone in church
I don’t like to do hand motions to songs / I enjoy doing hand motions to songs
I like to dress down to go to church / I like to dress up to go to church
I will not go to an R-rated movie based my convictions of holiness and purity (which are
based on principles and absolute truths in the Scriptures)
I will not wear clothes (woman speaking) that show my belly or lower back because of my
convictions based on biblical principles of modesty
Christians should not dance because it leads to thoughts and desires of sexual nature
My child cannot accept a scholarship funded from the lottery
Total abstinence from alcohol
The use (or non-use) or tobacco
Theological convictions such as Calvinism, cessationism, or premillenialsim
I believe birth control is wrong based on my convictions that children are a blessing from the Lord and should not be avoided
My family will not recognize Santa Clause because of our convictions of the secularization of the holidays and the need to remember Jesus
My family will not recognize Halloween because of our convictions of Halloween being rooted in idolatry and witchcraft
My family will recognize Halloween based on our conviction that we are free to enjoy the event and redeem the culture
We should dress down at church for the purpose of bringing more people to Christ
We should dress up at church in order to give our best to God and honor him
A couple should not kiss until they are married based on my views of holiness
Christians should not drink Coca-Cola because their body is a temple of God
We home school our children based on our convictions that the family should educate children with a Christian worldview in opposition to the spirit of our age
We send our children to public school based on the conviction that they must learn to be salt and light and do evangelism in the midst of a depraved culture
Contrasting preferences and convictions
I like to dress down in church ; it is so nice to be casual / We should dress down in order to make more lost people comfortable in coming to church
I like to sing hymns – they make me think of Mom and Dad and Grandma / We should sing hymns because the Bible tells us to sing hymns and they carry theology better than most choruses
I like Sue’s class because she is a good teacher / Sunday School teachers should primarily teach the Word of God so as to disciple their students
I like big families / I believe the Bible shows us that it is normative to have lots of children
I like it when our pastor gets on his knees / We should get on our knees in church because the Bible tells us to kneel and it is one way to publicly model prayer and humility to our children
Jesus Christ is God.
Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation.
Jesus Christ was perfect in every way, without sin, and made atonement for the world’s sins.
Jesus literally was born of a virgin, lived a human life, ministered, was crucified, buried, and
resurrected on the third day, ascended into heaven and will one day return for the Church, according to the Scriptures.
The Bible is God-breathed and the authoritative, written record of God’s revelation to man.
The Church, made of born again men and women by the Spirit of God, is God’s
representative on this earth.
God calls the church to the tasks of evangelism, disciple-making, and compassion.
It is wrong for a man or woman to commit adultery.
It is wrong for a man or woman to murder.
Marriage is a relationship reserved for one man and one woman.
We may not force our personal preferences on another member of the Body.
We may not force our personal convictions on another member of the Body (well, maybe our children for a limited number of years!)
We have every right to expect other members of the Body of Christ to agree upon the
absolute, non-negotiable, truths of Scripture.
Be unmoving in absolute truth. Be convinced of your personal convictions but accepting and gracious to others when theirs disagree. Hold your preferences loosely (and mainly to yourself!). Above all things, put on love.
Sources Used: Right from Wrong by Josh McDowell; Webster’s New Dictionary; Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics by Norman Geisler; Evangelical Dictionary of Theology ed. Walter Elwell; Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem