In my last post (This is an Emergency) I concluded by bringing up yet another problem concerning the Emergent Conversation. There, I referenced Pastor Phil Johnson’s important article entitled Why The Emerging Conservation is Going Nowhere, and then said the following:
“In that post, the discussion moved from a theology-centered discussion, to a debate that centered on just one man, which I don’t believe was the original intent of the post. All in all, such a transformation of dialogue serves as an illustration; It is this very dynamic of redirecting discussions of doctrine to debates about pastoral personalities that I will have in mind next time.”
The dialogue over at Teampyro was quite interesting. Pastor Johnson made one brief reference to Mark Driscoll (pastor of Mars Hill Church, Seattle WA) and, well, the rest was history. Ultimately, Phil’s comment was, if anything, complementary – though cautious. But apparently, it wasn’t enough. Immediately, a number of Driscoll advocates came out of the woodworks rendering their defense. Now of course, I am not making light of the important matter of the fair and right representation of another person; that is certainly a very important thing. However, I find that the interesting dynamic of personal loyalty often gets in the way of important discussions about truth, so much so that people will fight tooth and nail in a personality battle. This is a weakness that we all have, and we need to guard ourselves against it when we are tempted to place people above the truth.
I should know, I’ve done this myself a number of times.
Take for example the time when I invited a guest to join me at a Master’s Seminary Chapel service. The speaker was a very popular person whom I admire and respect greatly (no – I won’t mention the name here). This man preached a sermon that raised a great deal of controversy. He said some things that had many seminary students buzzing with controversy for weeks afterwards. When I heard the sermon, along with my invited guest, I remember feeling a sense of reservation about what he had said – and yet, this man was a spiritual hero of mine. After chapel I had lunch with my guest who complained about some of the points made by the speaker. I, as a devoted fan of this preacher, proceeded to defend what he said even though I too had doubts and concerns in my own heart. I was later rebuked for my hypocrisy and realized that I had placed my love and devotion to one of my favorite theologians over the Word of God itself.
We all have to recognize that we have this inherent weakness within us. There is this great temptation for us to say, as did the Corinthians – “…‘I am of Paul,’ and ‘I of Apollos,’ and ‘I of Cephas,’ and ‘I of Christ’” (1 Corinthians 1:12). Knowing this, we must be on guard concerning such man-centered tendencies by looking to men like Paul, who did not seek the favor of men (Gal. 1:10) but was willing to stand up to and lovingly confront Cephas when he stood condemned before the brethren (Gal. 2:11-21).
You see – Christ and His truth are more important than our heroes and buddies.
In today’s generation many suffer from this problem. They try to establish the legitimacy of a theological movement by means of defending its supporters. In fact, just after posting This is an Emergency, I received the following e-mail message where I was rebuked for questioning the theology of Brian Mclaren and especially N.T. Wright:
“…and then…you go on to take a cheap shot on n.t. wright. are you kidding me? there’s not a more admirable theologian on the planet. the man has been studying justification before you could even spell the word.”
Lovely. This is a fine test for sound doctrine – popularity and old age. This is a clear case of a person who has side-stepped a discussion over Scripture by rendering a defense of a man – who’s aged and popular. In the case of Mr. Driscoll, I have seen some rather interesting battles along a similar pretense of popularity. For some, the Emerging Conversation is utterly legitimized by this man’s association with it. For others, they will point to theological heroes of their own who are publicly endorsing Mr. Driscoll with the formula of: MD + PPP (popular pastoral-personality) = GOOD. It is almost as if people feel compelled to treat popular movements like a light switch – they’re either entirely ON or OFF based upon who’s supporting them.
THE ON SWITCH MODE: This is the view of OBA (orthodoxy by association). A person’s hero, whoever it may be, can legitimize a movement with even the slightest association to it – at least in the mind of those who rely entirely on a blind OBA form of thinking. As in the case of the Promise Keepers and ECT movements, there was a great deal of emphasis placed on whose names were on the rosters of these movements. PK & ECT were both given a great deal of public credibility by this faulty OBA reasoning, thus they were not to be critiqued or called into question in view of the perceived merit of their most popular supporters. Such highly visible pastors, along with their books, their popularity, and their personal endorsements by other PPP’s, made these movements immune to criticism (in the minds of the supporters of these movements) – no matter how careful or gracious the criticism may have been.
THE OFF SWITCH MODE: Others will swing the pendulum in the very opposite direction by accepting any miniscule defection in a movement as justification to believe that everything about the movement is to be rejected – as in, turned OFF. One glitch in the past; some minor weakness in their doctrine and all is lost forever – ichabod. Thus, any associate within a movement with the slightest defections renders that movement as being without any merit! (This is the GBA [guilt by association] approach and Teampyro has recently posted on this method of making a critical analysis of other theologians – I recommend it to you: Regarding Guilt by Association).
As to the OBA methodology, let’s face it – we live in a marketing culture which thrives on a reputation-by-endorsements mentality. And why not? Like good little consumers, many are drawn to products because of the high-profile personalities who endorse them. Consequently, the consumer approach also prevails in the church such that many treat doctrine and theological movements like a cheap soda – they’ll drink it if their hero does too. By this sad standard, theology is no longer a matter of what “saith the Lord” but who’s who in the world of pastoral personalities. Clearly, both light-switch approaches are unbiblical extremes and are therefore unhealthy.
The biblical middle, between these extremes, lies in the realm of both biblical discernment and a spirit of grace – that is, being wise as serpents and innocent as doves. We have a great need to reject error, uncompromisingly, while passionately clinging to what is good. We need to measure movements and individual men with care and wisdom, while heralding Christ and His word above all; but along with thus, it must be remembered that those who serve in the ministry must be willing to have their doctrine and their conduct examined if they are to serve in the Lord’s church at all:
Galatians 1:8: But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed.
1 Thessalonians 1:5 for our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.
Both forms of evaluation are important – a man’s words and his actions must be considered carefully – even in the case of an Apostle – like the Apostle Paul above. But we must avoid the light switch-GBA/OBA extremes by resisting the temptation to treat others with a mindless polarity. I often wonder how such extreme approaches would have been applied to a man like Martin Luther, after his conversion but before his departure from the Catholic Church. The OBA crowd would have been tempted to affirm Catholic doctrine in view of Luther’s association with Rome – but this would have been disastrous. The GBA crowd would have prematurely written Luther off as a compromising heretic. Clearly, both extremes would be unprofitable. Time always tells, for we will ultimately know men, not only by their words, but by their fruit. Eventually, Luther departed from the apostate Roman Catholic Church. Ultimately, his love for the truth was evidenced by his willingness to stand against the opposition and even risk his life in doing so. You see, it is not enough to talk about sound doctrine, a man in the ministry must be willing to stand up and fight for it for the glory of our precious Savior – above all else.
That’s much better…