Category Archives: Controversy

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
·
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

 

DEAR PASTOR JOHN MACARTHUR

I imagine many of you are aware of the recent unpleasantries (yes, a mild word!) between Beth Moore and John MacArthur.  I thought you might find my letter to Pastor MacArthur of interest:

Dear Pastor MacArthur,

I heard you preach in person right after Christmas 1977. I was with fifteen friends. We were on our way to a Campus Crusade for Christ conference in southern California. I was a young convert to Christianity. Your message clarified that my faith in Christ was real. Thank you!

In my twenties and early thirties, I was the director of Campus Crusade for Christ at Stanford University. I went through some deep waters of doubt during that time. During one of my lowest moments I heard you deliver a message over the airwaves. It was a great encouragement to me. I wrote you a letter saying so. To my surprise, you wrote back…a personal letter. I still have that letter. Thank you!

In my late thirties and early forties, I had a radio show here in Austin. Most of the time I interviewed authors and leaders of various backgrounds. You were one of my guests and stayed for the entire hour. That alone is quite a commitment, but my show was on Saturday afternoons. Since Sunday is a big day of ministry for you, I was impressed you would give me the entire hour. Thank you!

Most recently, I met one of your sons. Business brought him to Austin. We had breakfast together. I couldn’t believe how much he looks like you! I thought I was looking at the man I heard preach when I was that three-month old Christian. Your son said you are the real deal: a great dad who is uncomfortable with the praise of men. I was tremendously encouraged to hear all that. Thank you!

My own convictions about men and women in the home fall roughly in the complementarian camp, though I might be one of the “softer” types that seems to be a non-category for you. I won’t get into the hermeneutical weeds on that issue because this a short letter not a theological treatise.

I humbly ask you to reconsider the tone of what you said about Beth Moore. For the record, I’ve had my own concerns about her teaching as well. However, your tone came across dismissive and condescending. At the very least, it seems one of you should have mentioned to the chortles of the crowd that this was no laughing matter. Instead, it seemed that you, Todd Friel, and Phil Johnson had no problem with the loud laughter of those gathered that day.

I am now sixty-one and the beneficiary of over forty years of your ministry. From listening to you over the years, I have every confidence that you will seriously consider what I say in light of Scripture. Thank you!

In Christ,

David (George) Moore

DISAGREEMENT AND FRIENDSHIP

A friend asked me how Chesterton and H.G. Wells could respect each other so much when their disagreements were so stark.

Here’s the quote about Chesterton and Wells:

“Despite their creative goading, Chesterton, in his Autobiography, completed just weeks before his death, wrote movingly of their relationship: ‘I have argued with him [Wells] on almost every subject in the world, and we have always been on opposite sides, without affectation or animosity. . . . It is necessary to disagree with him as much as I do, in order to admire him as I do; and I am proud of him as a foe even more than as a friend.'”

And here is my response:

I was doing some work on the forthcoming “Stepping into Controversy” seminar this morning when your note came. 
Reviewing my research on various books I’ve read it seems that it is hard to downplay the role of technology, esp. social media.
One of the books I read is written by two Catholic scholars: A Mind at Peace: Reclaiming an Ordered Soul in the Age of Distraction.  The best part of the book in my estimation is where they show how technology robs us of our “face.”
 
Tribes today can be nasty because you can so easily hide your face.  In contrast to this, we need to cultivate being WITH people.  I like to say that “proximity produces perspective.”  If you are not close to anyone who has a different view than you, it is easy to be nasty and detached from the need to be gracious in disagreements.  Chesterton and Wells had a more difficult time hiding from one another!