Category Archives: Controversy

CONTROVERSY, CRITICISM, AND CHRIST-LIKE CHARACTER

No matter what Christian tradition we align with, or group we associate with, all of us should consider the following questions. Over the years I developed this list to ask myself these kinds of things on a regular basis:

*Am I fearful of speaking up due to the fear of losing my livelihood? As a pastor I regularly reminded myself that the folks at church were not responsible for paying me. They were God’s instruments to be sure, but God was in charge of my well-being. I am glad for a father who instilled in me the virtue of doing the right thing no matter the cost.

*Am I fearful of speaking up due to jeopardizing opportunities for ministry (or business) in certain venues? Much could be said about this, but the reality is that many don’t press important issues over fear of losing out on speaking and writing opportunities. 

Years ago, I talked with a guy who lost his job at a big, Christian publishing house because he protested them accepting a book which contained heresy. The best-selling author stayed and the editor left. It cost him in some significant and very tangible ways, but it did not cost him his integrity.

*Am I fearful of speaking up because I truly like these people and don’t want to lose my “community”? This is understandable as indeed all of these temptations are, but we must ask how good the friends really are if any pushback and challenge is viewed as a threat to the friendship. 

Personally, I don’t mind hearty disagreements and have had them with many friends. I do mind when a lack of respect, not actively listening to one another, setting up straw-man points, ad hominems, or the all too common practice of passive-aggressive behavior takes place. 

*Am I fearful of speaking up because I don’t want to be tagged “a critical spirit”?  Labels can be lethal. I have seen the “critical spirit” label wielded with wicked efficiency. 

To be candid, I have been guilty for labeling some “company men” who may not have deserved it. Others probably did, but that still is not the best way to communicate. We label because as David Dark said so well, we are lazy and want “mental shortcuts.”

In either case, we ought to be willing to be misunderstood, but actively seeking to understand others better. I am absolutely convinced this is greatly aided by proximity. If I don’t know someone it is easy to label them in an unfavorable light. If I do get to know them, we might still disagree, but be less keen on categorizing one another with our unflattering arsenal of terms.

One example is the mea culpa a popular blogger gave over his less than flattering review of Ann Voskamp’s, One Thousand Gifts. Tim Challies candidly registered his dismay over how he treated Voskamp (http://www.challies.com/articles/in-which-i-ask-ann-voskamps-forgiveness). Wonderfully, it was Voskamp’s invitation to Challies and his family for a meal with the Voskamp family which got that ball rolling. So proximity is powerful. Repeat it often!

My go to verses which have helped me better navigate (no perfection achievable this far from Eden!) the choppy waters of simultaneously not fearing man, yet remembering the need to remain a man growing in peace with others whenever possible are:

“Stop regarding man, who breath of life is in his nostrils; for why should he be esteemed?” (Isa. 2:22)

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”  (Matt. 5:7)

“If possible, so far as depends on you, be at peace with all men.” (Rom. 12:18) while always remembering the balancing verse of “Woe to you when all the people speak well of you; for their fathers used to treat the false prophets the same way.” (Luke 6:26)

“This you know, my beloved brethren.  But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.” (James 1:19)

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE TEARS WERE NOT EXPECTED

Late last night, I was overcome with grief. The tears were not expected.

It is impossible to digest properly all that happened yesterday. As I write in my forthcoming book Stuck in the Present, we need the longer view of history for that, so I am heeding my own counsel.

Stuck in the Present: David George Moore: 9781684264605: Amazon.com: Books

Over the years, I have heard warnings to not take the American experiment in democracy for granted. It is sturdy in one sense, but still fragile. I remember hearing that each generation of Americans must commit to it. I thought it was good to issue such a warning but was never too worried. No longer.

Have things been this bad before in America? An argument can certainly be made for that and the antebellum period is the one historians typically mention.

Are our cluster of present problems unique to the more modern period of American history? Again, I think the 1960s offers another example of serious strife and deep division.

My deepest sadness, however, is not over our country’s present chaos and strife.

My deepest sadness is over the state of the Christian faith in America.

For many decades I have witnessed Christians who are apathetic about knowing God’s Word, loving one’s enemies, an unwillingness to suffer for Christ in the most modest of ways, prayerlessness, and much more. 

Most Christians are poorly prepared for times of crisis. We love the church programs that meet our insatiable desires. We adore our celebrity pastors. We are biblically and historically illiterate, but more than willing to offer our superficial opinions on the most vexing issues of the day.  

This sad state of affairs is due to a lack of making long-term discipleship and serious grounding in the Christian faith our priorities. These simply do not take place in many churches (or parachurches for that matter). We have sown the wind and are reaping the whirlwind. We should not be surprised where we find ourselves.

Things are not going to be any better by avoiding these realities. Things also might not be any better if we face these realities but at least we will have been faithful.

I pray for God’s mercy, but I do not find myself too sanguine. My lack of “optimism” is not because the culture is so bad. Rather, it is because many of us Americans claiming the name of Christ have become dull of hearing.

God’s Word makes it clear that Christians can lose their influence (Mt. 5:13; Rev. 2:4,5). We are kidding ourselves if we think this is not happening right now.

All of us who claim the name of Christ need to ponder and consider Peter’s dire warning:

Indeed, none of you should suffer as a murderer or thief or wrongdoer, or even as a meddler. But if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but glorify God that you bear that name. For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who disobey the gospel of God?… (I Peter 4:15-17)

I added this in the reply link, but will also add it here:

Again, to underscore the biggest point of the post: Yes, shock over the events of yesterday, but I am much more worried about the state of Christianity in America. And my concerns go way back before Trump or any other politician.

We must look at ourselves!

 

 

CONTROVERSY AND CHRIST-LIKE CHARACTER

In light of my recent posts, I thought it might be good to offer a few principles that I try to apply when engaging issues where sharp disagreement occurs. These are from my forthcoming book, Stuck in the Present: How History Frees and Forms Christians.

First, it is possible that we did not properly understand the other person’s position. We may be jumping the proverbial gun and thus setting up a straw man argument. A great antidote, and one we have noted that is characteristic of humble people, is listening well. We should make certain we are properly tracking on what is communicated. We are told in Scripture to be “quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger.” (Jas. 1:19 NASB)

Some of you may be familiar with the folks from Westboro Baptist Church. They are the ones that like to show up with signs announcing that some person or group is “going to hell.” 

The Christian teaching on hell has occupied most of my adult life.  My thesis then first book was on hell.[i] 

The people of Westboro Baptist think they are being brave by proclaiming the scandalous message that people who don’t trust Christ are going to hell. A few years back, the following illustration came to mind. I think it illumines the folly of approach among those who align with Westboro Baptist.

Most people have not been to either Yuma, Arizona or Dubrovnik, Croatia. I have.  Yuma is a fine place. Some quaint things to see there, but Dubrovnik is absolutely stunning in its beauty. Now let’s say I offer someone an all-expenses paid trip to either Yuma or Dubrovnik.  Most would have to guess which one is better because they know nothing about these places beyond perhaps hearing their names. They have no context for what I am offering. The folks at Westboro jump right to the topic of hell, but there are so many important biblical truths to know before one can even begin to appreciate hell. I have found many church-going folks needing more teaching on the character of God, the nature of sin, and so forth, to better understand Scripture’s teaching on hell. If that is true of regular church-attenders, how much more for those who know little of the Christian faith!

Listening well and making sure others understand what is being said is not a strength of the folks at Westboro Baptist Church.

Second, we may not understand our own position as well as we think. The most secure in any debate are those who have taken time for adequate preparation. Our need here is to dig deeper and see if in fact our position holds up. Spiritual growth, as we talked about earlier in this book, is tied directly to our growth in knowledge. And this comes from recognizing when we really don’t know what we are talking about! We can learn something especially important from the ancient philosopher, Socrates. The Oracle of Delphi said he was the wisest man in all of Athens.  Socrates thought the pronouncement was over the top and so sought to demonstrate that it was untrue. He assumed, rightly he thought, that there were others wiser than he. Like a good interviewer on radio, he sought to interact with various people. It turned out that everyone acted wise but were in fact plenty foolish. Socrates ended up accepting that the “oracle’s declaration was actually correct, for at least he recognized his own ignorance.”[ii]

It is also interesting to note Augustine’s admiration for a non-Christian teacher by the name of Faustus:

I wanted Faustus to tell me, after comparing the mathematical calculations which I had read in other books, whether the story contained in the Manichee books was correct, or at least whether it had an equal chance of being so. I now did not think him clever enough to explain the matter. Nevertheless I put forward my problems for consideration and discussion. He modestly did not even venture to take up the burden. He knew himself to be uninformed on these matters and was not ashamed to confess it. He was not one of the many loquacious people, whom I have had to endure, who attempted to instruct me and had nothing to say.[iii]

Third, we may properly understand the other person’s position as well as our own but give them more importance than they deserve. We typically do this in one of two ways: by making a secondary (or even tertiary) issue into a primary one, or by failing to remember that there are in fact “grey” issues sincere Christians do disagree over (see I Cor. 8; Ro. 14).

Last, we may properly understand the other position and our own, it may be an important issue, but we still need to communicate with grace and truth. Again, having a gracious spirit does not mean there must be a toning down of one’s convictions. It does mean we proceed cautiously ever aware of our fallen and finite state.[iv] 

[i] David George Moore, The Battle for Hell: A Survey and Evaluation of Evangelicals’ Growing Attraction to the Doctrine of Annihilationism (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1995).

[ii] James S. Spiegel, How to Be Good in a World Gone Bad (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2004), 176.

[iii] Augustine, Confessions trans. by Henry Chadwick (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), 5.7.

[iv] For a terrific reflection of George Eliot’s Middlemarch, especially with respect to our limited perspectives, see David F. Ford, The Drama of Living: Becoming Wise in the Spirit (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2014), 56.

“POLITICS” AND LOSING FRIENDS!

Some of my friends tell me that they have lost friends over so-called political differences. I say so-called because most of us use that word “politics” in a diminished, and so unhelpful, way.

Politics comes from the word polis which means city. The original meaning carried the idea of what good I should do for my community. The modern idea of politics has denigrated as a synonym that means simply advocating for one candidate over another. We certainly ought to be able to talk about who we are voting for and why without animus, but there is so much more we ought to first talk about.

It would be more productive if we first spent ample time pondering what good we ought to do for our community, then, and only then, moved to specific candidates. Jumping too quickly over the first makes for either nasty conversations or people steering clear of talking about controversial matters altogether.

There is a better option. Engage thoughtfully, challenge your own assumptions, and have conversation partners outside your own tribe. Don’t exclusively watch CNN, MSNBC, or FOX. Read widely, including those who make you angry. They just might have something to offer that your own tribe is either blind to or unwilling to say.

 

 

SOME ENCOURAGEMENT/FINAL REFLECTIONS

Some Encouragement/Final Reflections

Like you, I have plenty to do, so will make this my final (at least for the time being) post on the racial crisis. My correspondence was heavy these past days. I am grateful for all those conversations but must pivot to other matters including the final edits of a book my publisher is waiting on.

Here you go…

I reject Critical Race Theory (CRT). Full stop. For those who know me, that will come as no surprise.

When I use “white privilege” I don’t have in mind the various tenets of CRT. I am a Christian who is seeking to think biblically and theologically about this issue. And historically. No claims to perfection about my reflections, but I am trying to make sense by writing (Augustine said writing clarified his thinking and writing showed him what he thought).

I’ve had many good conversations in the last couple days. Some have helped me to think in clearer ways about this issue. Some have shown me that there are differences of emphasis, and some have reminded me that complex issues are not resolved overnight.

One difficulty with any complex issue is that groups are hardly monolithic. Saying all people in a certain group believe x is not reflective of what exists in any group: a myriad of perspectives.

My use of “white privilege” as I mentioned in a quick blog post on June 6 was “not a punt to liberal, political ideology, but rather the manifest witness of God’s Word.” Manifest may be the wrong word because we can disagree how clear that emerges from the pages of Scripture. 

Here is where I should say more about “white privilege.” As one friend said, since the term is used in a certain way by those who hold to CRT, perhaps another term is needed. I think that is good counsel. I am looking for a way to communicate that some/many (certainly not all) of us white people can be oblivious at times to the struggles those from other backgrounds face.

Making sweeping assertions is a constant temptation but should be resisted. If you are familiar with the conditions of many whites in Appalachia, you will know that they have less “privilege” than affluent African Americans in the suburbs. Class is not being talked about enough these days, but it is also worthy of our attention. J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy is a good reminder of this reality.

One last word for all of us: Let’s not get weary in well-doing. That is clearly biblical! See Gal. 6:9. We must fight the tendency to hunker down in our own world and so leave the messy problems for others to address.

In modern life there are more controversies than any one person can address. You may be called to other things. All of us need great wisdom to discern where and how our time should be spent.

We Christians have a huge advantage because we have God’s Spirit to empower and direct us. We don’t go it alone. We also can shout the glorious truth that our God is triune. The beauty of true unity, but never at the diminishment of diversity, really does exist and is worthy of emulation. 

I’m planning to design a t-shirt that says, “MAKE THE TRINITY GREAT AGAIN!”

 

WHAT WHITE CHRISTIANS CAN/SHOULD DO

I am sixty-two years old. I am white. I was not responsible for either of these two things, but I am responsible for many other things.

A good friend asked me what we as Christians in the majority culture here in America can do with respect to the racial crisis. There are many things, but here are a few in no particular order, except for the last which is of first importance.

*We Christians need to stop being so consumed and/or afraid with how terrible we believe America is at this point in its history. Instead, we should spend our time making sure we are clear on all of God’s truth, compassionate to every person, and courageous even if it is costly. This will keep us Christians plenty occupied. It is animated by the reality that “judgment starts with the household of God.” (I Peter 4:17)

*It is great to have African American friends, but you will not have much to offer any friend if you are not grounded theologically. I used to give disclaimers whenever trying to promote the study of theology for all Christians. No longer. Knowing what and why you believe the Christian faith to be true is the most practical pursuit of life. This leads to my next thought.

*If you unable to give compelling reasons for why the trinity has much to offer not just with the racial conflict in America, but with many other pressing matters, please study up before you go out representing what Christians believe. The unity and diversity of the trinity has far-reaching implications for all sorts of things. Again, get studying if you can’t articulate in compelling and clear language all that the trinity (and other Christian beliefs) has to offer.

I have asked several Christians why the trinity is compelling including a Dallas Seminary trained pastor. Except for my wife and a handful of others, I typically do not receive a great response. Most Christians sign their church’s doctrinal statement with a thin understanding of what they are agreeing to. I concur with J.I. Packer that the most pressing issue for the church is robust education. Again, no apologies.

*We must make concerted efforts to get out of our echo chambers. Most of us live in some sort of echo chamber. In addition, we should avail ourselves of theological education that is increasingly aware of two thousand years of Christian reflection not just what happened after the Protestant Reformation. All the major Protestant Reformers would agree with me on this!

*There is a good chance many of us have significant homework to do. Homework is another word I used to apologize for when talking with adults! To quote President Bush #41 “Not going to do it. Wouldn’t be prudent.”

If you have not read it, begin with reading Narrative of a Slave by Frederick Douglass. There are many more things I would add, but that is a good place to start.

*Be aware of false dichotomies. Believing that people need to trust Jesus as Savior is not at odds nor diminished by acknowledging “structures of evil” or “institutional racism.” Or “white privilege.” If we want to be biblical, we will need to juggle many truths at the same time.

We Americans do not tend to be the most thoughtful people. The great observer of American life, Alexis de Tocqueville, appreciated several things about America. However, he saw the problem of superficial thinking in our country almost two hundred years ago. American Christians are not immune from the tendency to emphasize one (many times valid) truth at the expense of other truths.

*Last, but obviously most important, we will need God to convict, direct, and motivate us to do these things, things many of our fellow Christians either denigrate or worse still, do not think about at all.

I am grateful to my friend, Dr Vince Bacote of Wheaton College, for his input on this post. As it is always said at such points, but with good reason, I alone am responsible for the content. I am glad that Vince agreed that what I wrote should be “common sense” among Christians. Sadly, foundational truths should not be assumed in our day and age.

 

 

                                                                                                                                   

FALSE DICHOTOMIES

I will only speak for what I know best. The white, evangelical community traffics in various false dichotomies. Yes, individuals sin, but so do nations. The Bible is full of such teaching. On the other side, individual people are tied to communities. Consider how one person, namely Achan, brought a group into judgment.

Also, keep in mind that “the person understood as an individual” (literally undivided one) is a staple of the Enlightenment not the Bible. Before the Enlightenment we understood who we are as persons as we look to something bigger than ourselves: our community, family background, ethnicity, and religion. That idea has been lost both in the broader, secular culture and sadly among many Christians.

I agree with CJ Rhodes.

CJ Rhodes
@RevRhodes
How convenient it is that when it comes to racism and white supremacy, the Evangelical solution is individualized heart change (which I believe in, btw). But when it comes to any other justice matter the Religious Right endorses, the solution is institutionalized policy change.
Dr. Robert Jeffress
@robertjeffress
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The only cure for the racism in America is a changed heart that comes from trusting in Jesus Christ. To try and heal racial divisions without that changed heart is like trying to cure cancer with a Band-Aid.
HT for tweets: Thabiti Anyabwile