Yesterday I sat back and didn’t comment — I was busy with other things, including some writing, but it seems to me that something needs to be said about this whole Mark Driscoll flap. And right off, this isn’t about Driscoll, or Pagitt, or Bell, or even Don Carson or the matchstick boys. It’s about criticism. And I hardly know where to begin… but challenges have been issued, and though most of them aren’t directed at me personally, I think I’ve got something to say (alright, I always have something to say, whether or not I should say it). There are times when criticism deserves a response, as do certain kinds of responses to criticism. I said yesterday that I probably had things to say that could get everyone upset with me… and while that’s not my intent, there are things that need saying. And I’m just dumb enough to be the one to say them.
First, there were the heresy-hunters on the outside… or to use a less dualistic phrase, non-participants in the conversation. Places with names that have “—No” in them, or names of some of the less-favoured of the “Seven Churches.” Second, there was a more scholarly approach from heavyweight Don Carson… which was a bust, really. There were a few others like him, but again, non-conversationalists. Now we have the Reformed critique, apparently. As I recall, the first round was mostly online mudslinging with no dialogue. The second was a good critique of positions most of us don’t hold, with dialogue that occurred in private only, and after the fact with no public followup. The third, now that we’re caught up to the present, is off to a horrific start… and it includes both conversationalists and non-conversationalists. To my mind, it may be the ugliest, and it’s on a bad footing with misunderstanding already. And still, the ground rules or courtesy guidelines are, let’s say, lacking. I may not have a bone to pick, but just have a quibble with almost everyone who’s rendered comment on this so far — to say nothing of those in the center of the controversy.
Mark this, though: in the matter of critiquing the emerging church, we’re finally getting somewhere. Let’s back up a week or two.
There was a lot of virtual ink spilled with the Pyromaniacs, particularly Frank Turk. Maybe Phil started it with the posters and it just escalated, but really, it’s been going on for some time with Ximénez, Biggles, and Fang over there. You were expecting, maybe… ? Never mind. It came to a head with Bill’s Scornucopia Post which labeled some of the attacks as scornful. Now for all its monosyllabic subtlety, “scorn” is a big word (defined in Bill’s post) because it speaks to the attitude of one person toward another. Scornful critique is filled with derision, and reflects belief that the other person is less than you are in all the ways that might count for something. I agree with Bill, and in the comments on his post, I mixed it up fairly directly with
Fang Frank, using some of the harshest or most direct language I ever have online. Frank asserted that they had valid criticisms of the emerging church to which we had not responded, hence the mockery was at least on solid footing and not in isolation of other dialogue (I’m paraphrasing heavily, and may not be representing his position very well). I challenged him to point to their substantive critique of the emerging church, but the posts he came up with rather lacking as being something to which a response could properly be made (see the comments on Bill’s post for my analysis). To my mind this puts the Pyro boys and their criticism of the emerging/missional church out of the third category and squarely bridging the first two categories. (I wonder, do they love to burn because they can’t wait to see some of us in hell? Oh, that was uncalled for.) That is to say, they aren’t part of the conversation and don’t want to be, their “dialogue” is more about mudslinging than understanding, and their criticism is not well-sourced or explained with enough substance to form a response to it. This is important, we’ll come back to it.
I concluded my lengthy comment on Bill’s post by considering the effect of scorn on a conversation that is labeled as critique… it can leave people not knowing what hit them.
[T]here is a clear distinction between scorn and critique. The former is to deride and demote, elevating oneself and the views one holds. It creates distance. The latter is to correct what is seen as an errant viewpoint — it is offered with respect and an openness to dialogue about the matter being critiqued in the hope of finding agreement. It closes distance. One is anti-relational, the other is pro-relational. Unfortunately, when the former masquerades as the latter, those being critiqued begin to try and have a discussion but get shut down or shouted down pretty quickly… because the openness isn’t there. This is a misinterpretation of the aim of the critique, and it leads to just the kind of situation we’re seeing, where people feel personally attacked and hurt by it.
I’m all for critique aimed at closing distance, bringing understanding, and yes, correction as needed. But when it’s offered in scorn, I really want no part of the discussion because it’s at cross purposes… we’re trying to close distance that the other party is attempting to create.
So the question is how we’re going to respond to a challenge… and here’s where the rattling of swords grows loud in my ears, or threatens to. I believe I learned something through the experience with the Scornucopia post, and what I observe in the comment I’ve just quoted are not things I’ve known for ages, but I think they’re accurate. It seems some people are itchy for a fight, and the first sign of disagreement is cause to rise to the challenge and call the other down. Oh, people.
This time it’s Mark Driscoll. Again. Calling Brian McLaren, Doug Pagitt, and Rob Bell heretics. Oh, Mark.
Emerging Grace says The Emerging Streams Just Got Muddier, and she’s right. Not just because she quotes me favorably, either. Some people want to describe the emerging church as three streams, relevant, revisionist, and relevant reformed. Mark Driscoll is one of these, and clearly fits himself into the third stream. The emerging church has been described before as having two, three, four, or five streams… and some of those other descriptions have been better categorizations, if we feel we must categorize. To me it sounds a bit like a schoolyard method of determining who your friends are, the kind that grows into unhealthy alliances. (“Which colours are you wearing? Hey, that’s not our patch! Get ‘im, boys!”) Membership card, Masonic handshake, or Shibboleth, we’ve all got our ways of determining whether “yer fer us or agin’ us.” I thought we were moving away from dualistic thinking… and Grace wonders “Whatever happened to the idea that we are for each other?”
Mike Clawson remembers when Doug Pagitt prescribed battle positions of “A Smile, A Wink, A Prayer, A friendly Email, Offers of hospitality, [and] Invitation to Friendships” …which is why I so loved Tony Jones’ response to Mark Driscoll today. I was happy to see that one, as I generally think of Tony as a bit of a scrapper… but he remembers Doug’s words, and he “gets it.” Well done. I fully agree with Mike that a soft posture is best, and that it’d be great if they gave a war and nobody came… but Mike’s post also draws battle lines — ones which I sharply disagree with — and caricaturizes those on the other side of it. We’ll come back to this.
First, another historical interlude: we’ve been getting our tails steamed for quite some time already.
Long ago I pointed out that it’s important how we deal with criticism… I talked about John Wimber and the Vineyard and how he/they responded to criticism, and made some comparisons with how the emerging church responded to criticism at that time (late 2004). The seminal post at the time (preceding Doug Pagitt’s previously referenced post) was Stephen Shields’ The Emerging Storm. Remember, this was Pre-Carson. (Don Carson, not Johnny Carson.) If you want to know what went on before that, and before my summary above, you’d want to read Andrew Jones’ Skinny on Emergent Criticism which covers seven years of it up to late 2004. But at that time, we were preparing for criticism, or critique. We actually (perhaps naively) looked forward to Don Carson’s critique, thinking perhaps it would offer some helpful words of adjustment and things for us to consider. After that, I think we stopped welcoming critique… once bitten, twice shy as they say.
It’s time to open ourselves up to critique again. Yes, it’s going to hurt. Yes, some of the critique may simply be scornful grandstanding for the “benefit” of like-minded critics. But we need this in order to best press on to lay hold of that for which Christ laid hold of us. Sometimes we’ll be challenged by critique and will need to adjust our ideas or our practices. Sometimes we’ll be challenged by critique and will search out the matter only to offer a response with an even more reasoned evaluation of our ideas and practices… and maybe an increased resolve in them. This is what critique is supposed to accomplish. But we need a certain kind of critique. Partly. Even when the critique is mean-spirited or scornful it is not to simply be dismissed, but should be considered… though I suggest that we not respond, for reasons I’ve already given. Thoughtful critique that is not intended to create distance deserves a response, whether or not we change our ideas or practice. And such responses should be equally thoughtful, generous, and humble… and if not equally, then we should seek to outdo our critics in these manners.
So now we’ve got some critique from Mark Driscoll. I say “we” even though he didn’t mention my name… because I identify with some of the things he said — on both sides of the issues. And people are taking sides. I know where Bob Hyatt stands, which is helpful, actually. As a pastor, his opinion on these things is relevant to those in his church, and I didn’t get the impression his statements were designed to create distance with either side, merely to offer his opinion on the matters of fact.
Brian McClaren: Guilt by Reading and Footnoting — concerned with Brian’s influence by authors such as Borg, Crossan, Chalke, and Wilbur; based on this, it is implied that Brian’s belief in atonement is questionable. Secondly, Brian’s stance on homosexuality is “increasingly obscure,” based on quotes in Time Magazine and Christianity Today.
Doug Pagitt: Paganism and Idolatry — in Listening to the Beliefs…, Doug said, “we should reconsider the idea that there is a necessary distinction between creator and creation.” When asked if homosexual practice is incompatible with Christianity, Doug said “no.”
Rob Bell: Association and Method — Rob has Brian McClaren in is pulpit sometimes, he uses rabbinical sources, has employed a trajectory hermeneutic to arrive at egalitarianism, and based on a remark about the virgin birth in Velvet Elvis, his theological method is “frightening.”
Emergents Generally: Departing from Church Tradition — general unsubstantiated statements that Emergents love Jesus the man, not the God-man, they are guilty of syncretism, have a low view of Scripture, and don’t have converts, just the disgruntled children of evangelicalism.
Just so you know where I stand, no, no, yes, maybe, no, maybe, and who? Sorry, but it feels a bit like tallying up the bad-list so you know who’s been blasted and who’s coming next. Who’s keeping score again?
My problem with Mark’s statements (and I haven’t listened to the podcast) essentially boils down to the fact that while all the issues raised are matters of one theological position over another, there’s only one issue on this list over which disagreement could support a charge of heresy, and it’s based on an ambiguous statement: the term should not have been used.
I don’t know if he contacted the men he’s criticizing previously with these concerns or not, but let’s say it this way. If critique is meant to close distance, it ought to be voiced in smaller settings which are more conducive to dialogue. This does not however mean it can’t or won’t be public. If critique is meant to create distance, it will not invite a response directly from those being critiqued, and will be issued as statements of fact that major on statements about differences of fact and opinion and minor on or omit statements about relationship. I will, however, invoke a rule that answers, for me, the question of whether Mark is trying to create or close distance.
I once asked Scot McKnight to comment on heresy and heretics and the proper usage of the term. His views came pretty much as mine did, meaning I though the term was getting too much use. Here, with one possible exception among the concerns he raises, Mark’s use of the term is what Scot calls the “slipshod” use. To be clear, it is Doug’s statement about God and creation which may be open to the charge. I haven’t read the book, but if the quoted statement is the clearest one he makes, there isn’t enough there to determine what Doug actually is and isn’t saying. Seek clarification from the source before making the accusation. I also haven’t read Bell’s book, but what I understand of the comment is that he doesn’t deny the virgin birth, which is part of the earliest creeds. For McLaren and atonement, he’d have to quote McLaren and not the guys that McLaren has quoted on other matters. As to all the rest, the matters are not central to the early creeds or the basis of the Christian faith. Yes you can still get to Heaven even if you’ve read Borg and Crossan or if you hold an egalitarian viewpoint. You can also get there if you haven’t read Borg and Crossan and if you hold a complimentarian viewpoint or don’t share a particular methodology.
And here I need to create a new maxim based on Godwin’s Law, which states, “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.” That is, it’s an eventuality. A popular tradition appended to Godwin’s Law is that whoever takes the step of making the comparison automatically loses the argument, which is then deemed over and done. “Godwin has argued that overuse of Nazi and Hitler comparisons should be avoided, because it robs the valid comparisons of their impact.” I want to now propose “Maynard’s Law”, which is based on these same ideas but is specifically applicable to theological debate. Eventually, someone’s going to be labeled a heretic, and the longer the debate rages… well, you get the picture. In order to preserve the meaning and impact of the term, we must avoid its use except in cases of genuine breaches of the early creeds (Apostles’, Nicean) and where the doctrine in question directly affects what is central to the question of salvation. In such cases, it is preferable to refer to a heretical view rather than a heretic, or a heretical person. One closes distance, the other creates it. Think of it this way: what has been done with heretics, historically? That’s right. we burn them, just like we burn witches, and consider ourselves overly righteous in the act. Listen, if you don’t think people will or should be burned for their belief, either by God or by you, don’t call them a heretic. Is that so hard?
Mark is wrong in his use of the term; when called a heretic, there’s no point in responding. When accused of holding a heretical view, it’s a good time for further discussion. You don’t call someone a heretic in hopes that their views will change, you do so to push them as far away from yourself as you can so you won’t get burned by a fireball from heaven when they get consumed. There’s no love, and no concern to correct; it’s anti-relational.
Now, as to the battle lines. We need to be more careful about what we fling at ourselves. People are wanting to divvy up the emerging church, either to get the distances created and closed with the right people, or in hopes that we’ll fight each other to the death, or at least to ineffectiveness. It may just work. Here’s my beef: this whole thing has nothing to do with reformed theology. If there’s one single view or people group that the emerging church has an irrational issue with, it is reformed theology. Mark Driscoll may speak as a reformed theologian or pastor… but that doesn’t mean everything from is lips is an inherently reformed position, as though he (or any other reformed voice) is speaking ex cathedra on behalf of all the Reformed. The equation is demeaning, ill-made, naieve, dismissive, and quite frankly, one that I’m thoroughly tired of. It is as wrong as the criticisms from some of those people. Mark Driscoll’s general criticisms are not substantiated and are caricaturizations of “emergents,” and for that, the statements are not ones to which a proper response can be made. We can criticize reformed (or any other) critics for sweeping generalizations about the emerging church, but this blade cuts both ways… don’t return the “favour” by equally sweeping generalizations that set up an “emerging vs. reformed” death match. (And I feel I need to say I’m not trying to come down on Mike here; there are others who have made the equation, and more pointedly.) The two “camps” are not incompatible, and the emerging church has many people among its number who hold to reformed theological positions but don’t make provocative statements like Mark Driscoll does. Maybe we (yes, “we”) are simply afraid of just this kind of response… which I’ve seen again and again from the non-reformed emerging church. “Driscoll says egalitarianism isn’t Biblical! Piper says God allowed the bridge to collapse! Turk says my theology deserves scorn! Those reformed guys are critical argumentative misogynistic bigots with a patriarchal God that abuses his children! They just make my blood boil!” See what I mean? The leap from A to B is pretty tenuous here.
There are a few things people evidently realize about Reformed theology… complimentarianism is not one of the 5 points in “TULIP.” People are not stubbornly argumentative because they’re reformed, they’re argumentative because their mothers didn’t teach them any better. Mark Driscoll and Frank Turk and John Piper may hold viewpoints or say things you don’t like. In most cases, that’s not because they’re reformed, it’s because they’re saying something you don’t like, and they may very well be wrong about it. But it doesn’t mean that the next theologically-reformed person you meet is the devil.
I’m not immune to this. We’re sometimes more inclined to devour one another as if we don’t know what’s coming. What’s coming is that Jesus is fairly passionate about unity within his body, and those who continually want to reject the parts it doesn’t like are in for a rude awakening. There’s something about that stunned look on our faces when we finally realize that we’re supposed to be on the same team, to work together, to let the smaller stuff go. And by now, I hope you don’t have to ask what constitutes “smaller stuff” — but I warn you, the “smaller stuff” pile is filled with the odd pulpit, platform, and podium and with a whole lot of hobby horses and soapboxes.
Let’s discern the nature of the critique, and call to mind the proverb about not mud-wrestling with a pig… don’t, because you get all muddy and the pig enjoys it. Let’s look for and engage any and all critique that seeks to close distance. And maybe, just maybe… if we can’t find critique like that in our direction, we should change the nature of some of our critique so it takes on that tone toward others (okay, that’s going to be as hard for me as for anyone)… but let’s be about closing distance, not creating it. Put those swords back in their sheaths a while longer, okay?
P.S. — I know you want it: Bully for Bugs. Chill with it.