Sunday, February 10, 2008

So then... what DO we make of it?

Mike Corley at The Expositor asks: What are we to make of it? I was going to leave a reply at his blog, but the more I wrote the more I realized how long this was really going to be. Therefore, I would just encourage you to read his post first, and consider this my reply to his questions, and statements.

Corley wonders, since noted men like CJ Mahaney, John Piper, Tim Keller and Mark Dever have established relationships with Mark Driscoll and his ministry, if just maybe those in ministry, bloggers or individuals that have strongly criticized Driscoll and his ministry, have "jumped the gun and drew conclusions without knowing all the facts".

In other words Corley is saying that the endorsement of these men is enough to make him wonder if all the critics have been wrong.

Corley also states:

"It’s time we take a cold, hard, scriptural look at these ministries that so “offend” us, and get over having our personal feelings hurt, and do what is right."
As I read that, I sat here and shook my head. I don't know Mike Corley but I see him saying the same thing so many others have said before. The idea that IF a person is well-liked by key people among the evangelical church, then that means you or I or anyone else that doesn't think they're okay at all in certain areas, just need to hush up and go away, and get over our personal feelings being hurt.

While Corley is specifically talking about Driscoll, Darrin Patrick (who I know very little about - us prudish homeschool mom types are generally too busy churning our own butter to invest much time into researching people) and the Acts29 ministry, I'd much rather make this a more general approach. Although, it should come as no surprise whatsoever that I have no issue with stating that I find Driscoll to be an intentionally offensive, foul-mouthed, obnoxious, power-hungry young pastor who quite frankly, in my ever so humble opinion, has become far too big for his britches, as some might say. Does he have a proper, Biblical understanding of soteriology? Does he "get the gospel right" as many are so fond of focusing on? I believe he does for the most part, and while that's a good thing, it certainly doesn't "make up for" his widely known and much critiqued irreverance or his intentional obnoxiousness (consistantly noted even among those who otherwise heartily endorse him, as well as some members of his own church, who are not nearly as dazzled by him as many who constantly sing his praises) . If the personal character of a pastor were not vitally important, the Holy Spirit would have never inspired 1Timothy 3:1-7. While that is MY opinion and observation of Driscoll, I'd like to set him aside and look at the bigger picture here, if at all possible. To me, the bigger picture sets the standard for how any of us should Biblically address any of these details anyway.

Three things in all this stand out to me:

1. Blanket Acceptance of the Endorsement of Well Known Pastors
2. The Assumption of Personal Hurt Feelings/Implying that the offense is not Biblical
3. Bandwagon Jumping - both sides of the fence

As it pertains to #1, it basically goes like this:

Three out of five well-known, well-respected evangelical leaders surveyed said "we like this guy, you should too!" (and that's supposed to be enough for the rest of us to say "oh, okay!"??)

Apparently that's the way it supposed to work. If they like, support and promote him and minister with him in various conference settings, then you TOO are suppose to just accept that because they are who they are and you are nobody. Get it? Well, no, I don't get it. Maybe I'd get it if I were Roman Catholic, but I'm not.

I have nothing but respect for these pastors (mentioned above), even though I may not agree with some of what they have to say, at times. But does respecting them automatically mean that their opinion is the infallibly accurate opinion? I would venture to say that they themselves would never claim this. The problem is, it ISN'T the leading evangelical pastors that are saying this about themselves, it's others who are adamant that you or I or anyone else with a different opinion just sit down and stop disagreeing because such and so pastor has already gone on record as having a different opinion than yours. Again, and with all due respect, so what? Should we just stick our heads in the sand and follow the party line? If my favorite evangelical leader (aside from my pastor) publicly states that he just adores Benny Hinn, Robert Schueller or Joel Osteen am I supposed to fall in lock-step and accept what they said? (Obviously I'm being extreme here, for the sake of making a point). Of course I'm not going to just accept a blanket endorsement of someone, just because of the status of the person making the endorsement. They might be well liked, they might be sound doctrinally, and they might be a most engaging and dynamic speaker, but that does not mean that their personal opinion of someone is the standard, or that it even should be the standard.

In a factual example, Pastor Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church wrote a glowing endorsement for a book by Adele Calhoun (which I blogged about here), promoting all kinds of eastern mystic/pagan rituals and practices. In his endorsement, he said he has long profited from Calhoun's work and that he was looking forward to using the book as a resource in his own church. In a very interesting combox discussion here as a result of this post, pastor Keller stated that after years of study and examination of his own heart, he has simply come to a different position on eastern mystic practices than those who openly critique them.

So, back to Mike Corley's question, what are we to make of this? Do we all dash out to the local Christian bookstore and grab a copy of an eastern mystic ritual book now, since Tim Keller once endorsed one? (In all fairness, I don't know if he'd still endorse this book or not, but he did when this particular one came out). Or, do we follow our own convictions that such things are completely against the teachings of Scripture? If in fact they are against the teachings of Scripture (and I certainly believe they are), what then do we do with Keller's endorsement? One of us is wrong, that much is obvious - but what we DO with that fact, is an interesting situation in this pesky little habit of people wanting "critics" to hush up and go away, if we dare disagree with someone well-known and well-liked. (As a side note, I do want to express that I appreciated pastor Keller coming along and at least taking the time to address these questions here. In the grand evangelical scheme of things, I am an official nobody, while pastor Keller is a somebody. I was encouraged that he took time out to briefly discuss this here).

Which interestingly enough brings me right into point #2. Corley (and many others, I might add) suggests that critics are critics due to a personal nature, and not for any kind of Biblical reason. Now maybe I read Corley wrong, but that's what I got out of what he said. If we're taking this cold, hard look at what the Scriptures say on these matters, one can only assume Corley means to say that this hasn't been done prior to expressing critique. I find it ironic though, that the defenders of people such as Rick Warren and Joel Osteen will say the exact same thing - and will quote all kinds of verses (out of context of course) about loving our neighbor and not being judgemental, etc. so forth and so on, while conveniently ignoring whole passages of Scripture that pertain to holiness in speech and conduct, reverance for God, and being circumspect in the last days where false teachers are in such abundance, that we're to be diligent in such matters.

The fact of the matter is, of all the various ministry and evangelical movement critics I've read over the last several years the vast majority of them do not criticize based on personal opinion or "feeling" but from a reasoned, rational and clear Biblical worldview. We may not all agree with everything we read or hear, but in the interest of fairness I think it's prudent to point out that these folks do come at these things from a Scriptural point of view. Granted, this is certainly subjective but I'd venture to guess we all read/listen to many of the same folks, and these are men that are not usually defined by "hurt feelings". Sure, there are some folks out there that just vent for the sake of venting (and you can always tell that's what they're doing), but let's be honest and admit that most folks that are going to take the time to express a fair and reasonable critique of a modern evangelical movement or ministry are going to do so from a Biblical worldview, not from a position of personal angst or hurt feelings. You may disagree on this, but this is my experience.

And this brings me right to point #3. Corley suggests that those who critique Driscoll, etc., are just doing it because they've jumped on the bandwagon and may not even know what in the world they're talking about. I would agree with him in part. While I would prefer to make this a general application of conduct and not about Driscoll, I do have to say that it is true and that some people have simply based their opinion of him based on what others have said (and they have admitted that they've done this, which is the only reason I can say that this is true - based on their own honesty). I would like to point out however... that this is so ironic, I can barely type this without wanting to laugh (problem is, it's not funny). Corley rightly critiques those who have jumped on the bandwagon armed with nothing but the opinion of others - but then in the very same post, makes the implication that if key evangelical leaders endorse him, then who are we to judge? Now I know it's not just me, but the inconsistancy in that is simply glaring. If we are going to be critical then we need to be so based on facts, not on heresay. Likewise, if we are going to support someone we also need to do so based on first hand information, not just because someone more famous than we are, supports them.

This bandwagon jumping is done from both sides of this issue, and it's actually not always a bad thing. Jerry Bridges has a book out right now called Respectable Sins. It's a great book that I first heard about through a friend who knows this brother and discussed the book with him last fall. Before long I noticed more and more bloggers who had the book, were reading through the book and blogging about it. Not long after that, my own pastor mentioned the book and said he's planning a sermon series based on the book. I got the book myself and read it, and have heartily recommended it to others who are also now reading it. We all jumped on the Jerry Bridge's bandwagon, and it's been a really good thing. In this example, those who jumped on the bandwagon did it based on the opinions of others, but have also taken the time to investigate the matter being so heavily endorsed. That makes all the difference.

Where it can be a bad thing, is when we (no matter which side of the issue we land on) simply take up a cause because someone else did. Someone that we admire, or highly respect. This should be obvious, but this is exactly what many of us are expected to do as it pertains to Driscoll. We're expected to be perfectly accepting of whatever he says and does, because men like Mahaney, Piper, etc. appear to be (at least publicly) accepting of what he says and does (or at the very least don't have as much of an issue with him as some others do). While I will stress once again that I really do not want to make this about Driscoll, it's pretty hard to leave him completely out of the application, based on Corley's statements.

Lest anyone think I'm picking on Corley, I assure you I'm not. I don't know the man, and for all I know he's a perfectly pleasant brother. What I do know is that his post is a great example of the very same message I've been seeing for some time now. Where on the ecumenical side of things folks just want everyone to get along and sing Kumbaya (at the cost of sound doctrine, which we all know just divides anyway, and Jesus just wants us to love everyone), now we're seeing a sort of flip-side to this, in that as long as you call yourself (or others assume you are) "reformed", or as long as you "get the gospel right", nothing else seems to matter. Or, nothing else seems to matter enough to make a difference in what we're so eager to accept.

So with all of that said, what is the bigger picture that I mentioned above? To me it's really simple, and the answer is the same to that question as it is to Mike Corley's question of "what are we to make of it?" I'll answer it with a few questions of my own:

• Do we do what we do and say what we say for the applause of men, or the glory of God?

• Do we accept and support a ministry or pastor based on his own merits, or do we just nod our heads in approval because someone we like has supported them?

• Do we take the time to do our own homework, or do we just hoot & holler and say "yeah, what HE said!"?

• Are we Bereans, and does Biblical discernment really matter, or do we just give a lot of lip-sevice to both?

Those questions apply to me before they apply to anyone else, and for me, they're some pretty serious questions.

At the end of the day, it's OKAY to disagree with someone you respect. It doesn't automatically mean they're right, and it doesn't automatically mean you're right, but it should give you good cause to search the Scriptures to get a better understanding of why you're disagreeing, and cause you to feel humbled, teachable, and eager to grow in grace. It may turn out that you were wrong, and it may turn out that THEY were wrong. Not one of us has "arrived" yet, and it's a huge mistake to assume anyone has, no matter how well-known, or how unknown they might be. None of this should be about personality, but it should all be approached from the perspective that God's opinion is the only one that really matters.

Sometimes I think we all forget that, even if just for a moment.