I was listening to a debate while riding this morning (nothing new there). What was unusual was 1) it was cold (for Phoenicians, 43 and windy is cold, and for anyone, really, on a bicycle, that’s cold), and 2) the Christian in the debate illustrated for me yet once again how theology matters. Your theology determines your apologetic, by nature. And since this particular individual’s theology is, quite simply, sub-biblical, his non-Christian opponent was taking him to task. If I can find the time I will play portions of this debate on the DL and use it as a contrast to how I would respond to the non-Christian and how our theology truly does matter.
Ironically, one of the points where I would fundamentally disagree with the Christian debater intersects directly with the current furor over the Stop and Think video. Now mind you, one of my deepest concerns in this situation is the fact that there just hasn’t been any meaningful dialogue and debate as yet. As far as I can see, Steve Camp and I have raised very similar concerns. Both of us have addressed theological issues, over-arching paradigms, and have sought to express our concerns within the context of avoiding personal issues. For example, Pastor Chan simply is not relevant here, anymore than I am, or my church is, or Steve Camp is. Where Pastor Chan went to school, who produced the video, who is speaking at the same gathering he is speaking at, what kind of car I drive, or how many parking spaces are in someone’s parking lot, are so utterly irrelevant it is simply painful to watch people raising such things. It is so very disturbing that so many have shown themselves unwilling, or incapable, of separating personalities from the biblical issues that cry out to be addressed.
I have raised the issue of the impact of an explicit synergism upon the entirety of the gospel proclamation. I have pointed out the importance this has to the church, and how presenting the church as a mere after-thought in the context of a creaturely-centered appeal is very much responsible for the degradation of ecclesiology in the thinking of so many today. I have likewise pointed out that synergism ends up emphasizing elements of the gospel presentation that exclude, by definition, other elements that are just as important. If there is to be any meaningful dialogue and debate on this topic, those are the issues we should be seeing addressed by those who endorse the Stop and Think video as an appropriate and properly biblical gospel presentation. But, sadly, I surely have not received that kind of response.
Instead, as normal, I personally have become the subject, and that quickly. One writer actually had the audacity to grossly misrepresent the ministry of my own church without showing the slightest concern for accuracy or truthfulness in the process. We have been told that if we dare question any elements of the presentation we are being “overly censorious,” despite the fact that at least as far as I have seen in SC’s comments, and my own, we have carefully focused upon the theological issues and backgrounds, while some others have been first in line with the ad-hominems and irrelevant side-issues. In essence, I would say 98.9% of the comments on blogs on this topic have been utterly worthless in promoting a growth in understanding or in showing a spirit that is willing to consider other possibilities or perspectives.
Now, when I chose to review the video a few days ago, I did so without any thoughts whatsoever of political alliances. I had read a few items about it, but only in passing, and had not had any contact with SC at all on the topic. It just seemed directly related to what I do on The Dividing Line. And if I might make a note here for a wide variety of my regular readers: I don’t do politics. I do not sit here running things through a political filter, “Hmm, if I say this, then this group over here might be offended, or this person over here might think I’m talking about him, or that ministry there might get bent out of shape, so, I better avoid this topic completely.” Let me say this clearly and loudly: the day I have to start thinking that way is the day I close the doors and turn out the lights. I seek no political alliances, I have no stomach for the entire game of politics. Now, as a result, I regularly offend just about everyone with power in the broadly Reformed community today. For any and all offense I cause out of sinful ignorance or stupidity, I apologize, but for all offense I cause for simply speaking the truth and not caring about being politically correct, I stand firmly behind my statements. If you think I’m living on my phone or in e-mail promoting an alliance here, a connection there, you are woefully in error about me and my way of doing things. We do not join groups, alliances, foundations, you name it, for just that reason. I’m not smart enough to juggle all that stuff. Our ministry is tiny, and will remain tiny, for just that reason. That’s just all there is to it. I say what I say because I believe it is true. Period, end of that discussion.
So, when I addressed the video, I did so because I address that kind of thing all the time. I’ve been playing George Bryson’s comments, I’ve reviewed all sorts of SBC preachers, and here was another opportunity to comment upon a current issue and hopefully bring some perspective to it that would be useful to someone. I wasn’t asked to do so. I did not do so to get into some fight with other brothers who take a different view.
It strikes me as very odd that especially in this “in-house” context the standard of accurate representation has, on the part of many, been shamefully low. I honestly do not understand it. Maybe there is some kind of emotional attachment issue I just do not comprehend getting in the way, I do not know. But folks who I would expect to otherwise have an eagle eye are, in this instance, just completely missing the ball. And this isn’t a golf ball. It’s more like a beach ball. And they are still missing it.
This morning I read the following written by a friend of mine, and though this was in the context of agreeing with me, it caught me very much by surprise:
James has used this to extoll the necessity of a specific kind of Gospel presentation — one which is systematically rich, and makes sure that we get all 5 solas plus TULIP into our message when we speak to the lost.
I can see how someone who doesn’t know me very well, or who, like the majority of my critics, goes on second-hand information, could think that I am standing on the street corners during the LDS Easter Pageant making sure to get all five points of Calvinism plus some good Latin phrases into every gospel presentation. But I surely do not know how this particular writer could possibly come to such a conclusion. I truly do not. I have never, ever, ever so much as suggested such a thing. Truly, I have not. What I have said, and attempted to model, is this: when I present the gospel, I do so in such a way as to seek to accurately reflect biblical truth in the process. I refuse to use catch-phrases and methodologies that, while they may be pragmatically effective in a particular cultural context, are contrary to the truth of the gospel as seen in those particular elements of Reformed theology. So, I will not compromise those truths in my gospel presentation, but, that does not mean that I will seek to insert each of the five points into every gospel conversation! Goodness, I cannot begin to imagine what that would sound like in the first place!
When I responded to Stop and Think I repeatedly said, “What we win them with is what we win them to.” Nowhere did I ever suggest that means “Cram The Potter’s Freedom down the lost guy’s throat and follow that with all three volumes of Holy Scripture.” There is a world of difference between making the specific elements of TULIP or the solas of the Reformation the specific content of a gospel presentation and making sure your gospel presentation, even if it is aimed at a younger, less theologically astute audience, is consistent with the truths you desire them to embrace in fullness should the Spirit draw them to Christ. I don’t want to have to say, down the road, “Oh, remember what I said to get you to church? I was sort of…stretching it a bit there.” And there is no reason to do so anyway. The gospel doesn’t need to be turned into something more “palatable” to be powerful. A little later on I read,
I agree with Dr. White. The Gospel you save them with is the Gospel you save them to. But who are you saving? I mean, are we declaring the Gospel to a universal ampitheater of identical men, or are we declaring it to every tribe, tongue and nation?
Of course, I would say the proper answer to “who are you saving” should sound something like “I endure all things for the sake of the elect so that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory” (2 Tim. 2:10). But I am troubled by the idea that since men differ from each other in temperament, culture, etc., that this means compromise on the key issue of synergism vs. monergism, the centrality of the cross, the glory of God, etc., is acceptable. You can talk to “surfer dudes” about an awesome Creator without picturing that God as being on His knees in front of them, begging them to accept his appeal to…improve their lives. In fact, you can talk to surfer dudes about how Christ took the place of His elect people and paid the penalty for their sins perfectly without tacking on the “guilt trip” methodology that goes, “Jesus died for your sins (which means He really can’t save you, but can only make you savable, but I hope you don’t think that through far enough to realize it right now) so since He has done so much for you, don’t you feel guilty enough to do just a little something for Him now?”
I have noted, but not with a lot of surprise, to be honest, that one of the elements of my critique has been met with utter silence, specifically, the issue of the church. The video is so wonderfully Western and individualistic, just like your California surfer dudes would be, I guess. And if anything is popular in California, it would be individual freedom, self-discovery and improvement! The idea of becoming a servant, of being joined to the body, of all that, well, church stuff, would not fit well with a presentation that is meant to make you feel so tremendously special that the God of the universe is completely focused upon you as an individual that He’s on His knees seeking not to form the bride of Christ, but to marry you.
Well, once again, theology matters. I was pointing out to my class this past week that your apologetic methodology by necessity must flow from your theology. The substance and form of what you are seeking to defend will determine the form of your defense. In the same way, our proclamation must be as accurate, as straight, as reflective of biblical truth, as the theology we profess to love and cherish. Pragmatism, even when it is soaked in passion and good motives, is still pragmatism, isn’t it?
I just spent a few minutes running down a few links on this subject, and so let me try one more time to provide a little light. Let me make it as clear as I can: I believe our summaries of the gospel, used in evangelism, should be accurate and truthful. I think pragmatism distorts the gospel. I think synergism distorts the gospel. I don’t believe you should have to do remedial surgery on your converts once you manage to get them to “give God a try.” What you win them with is what you win them to, and what we’ve been given to win them with doesn’t need a makeover. Ever. How’s that? Clear enough?