Monthly Archives: January 2012

Trampled by the Herd

A couple days ago I went to a conference called The Elephant Room. A generous friend gave me a ticket and I gladly went. The whole idea behind The Elephant Room was to talk about the metaphorical elephant in the room. Even within Christian circles there are different nuances in beliefs and a myriad of different methods on how to get the gospel out. The goal of the conference was to discuss those differences with frank discussion and sharpen one another. We tend to spend way too much time talking about one another, instead of to one another. The intro video is below:

The first time they did this was last year. I didn’t get to go, but I’ve seen a few clips and the entire video of a couple conversations. It was about as close to a UFC match for preachers as I had seen. For crying out loud the stage was in the shape of an octagon. By far most of their discussion was respectful, but there were occasions where they disagreed passionately. Check out the promo video below to see some of last year’s more confrontational moments:

I’m more of a lover than a fighter, but there’s a part of me that loves to watch a good confrontation. I like to think that it comes from a strong sense of justice and love for truth, but it probably has more to do with arrogance. Anyway, I had gone onto the website and looked at the predetermined conversation topics. I had read brief bios of all 7 pastors who were taking part in it. I had decided which guys I was going to root for and which guys I was going to boo (in my head only of course).

Some of them I was very familiar with, and some of them I had never heard of. Even so, I had already decided that the guys who preach in ties are out of touch with reality and cling to their traditions more than the gospel. I knew which one I was going to consider cocky and annoying. I knew which one I wouldn’t like because he smiled too much and seemed a little flaky. I also knew which one was going to come out wearing a halo because I’ve been listening to him every week for 2 years now and have read 10 of his books. The others I was going to hold judgment on … because I’m a good Christian.

Is there a heretic in the room?

There was one conversation in particular that I was the most excited about. As soon as one of the pastors accepted the invitation to The Elephant Room the Christian blogosphere exploded. It turns out that he has some old affiliations, old quotes, and a current doctrinal statement that have lead some people to believe he’s a heretic. By that, I mean that his beliefs would be off enough that he could not be considered a Christian.

I wasn’t familiar with the accusations just a few months ago, because he’s not a guy I listen to. But I got intrigued once I heard about them. I’m not going to go into the details of the controversy, a simple google search will show you what it is. I have an entirely different point for this post.

So when the conversation started I was on the edge of my seat. Will he be asked point blank about his beliefs? Will he dance around the question like a politician instead of answering it? Will I get to denounce him and tell everyone how terrible he is?

Hang my head

Well he was asked point blank … and answered clearly. He even explained his biblical reason for the foggy doctrinal statement on his church’s website. For the rest of the day he eloquently and humbly gave brilliant insights and encouragements to the rest of the guys. I was ashamed of myself. How arrogant am I that what I looked forward to the most was to walk away thinking about how much better I was than some of those guys?

It turned out I was the cocky one. I was the one who was too hung up on my tradition and out of touch with reality. I was the one who needed to be booed.

I walked away that day with a new found respect for all 7 men. My favorite preachers haven’t changed, and I still have no interest in listening to most of those men regularly. Some of them still have beliefs that are different enough from mine that they won’t become one of my “heroes,” if I should even have those. However, I was wrong to judge them before I heard them speak.

At the end of the day, I learned a ton. I was also grateful that God pointed out a lot of pride that I had explained away as passion for truth. I’m going to be searching for truth in scripture just as hard as before, but I also want to pray enough, and humble myself enough that I no longer need to walk away from a conference feeling ashamed of myself. The greatest truth of the day I want to hold onto is “pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” Proverbs 16:18 ESV.

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Spoke too soon

The Christian blogger I referred to in the last post is Kevin DeYoung. I have a ton of respect for him and have learned from him through his blogs and the few sermons of his that I’ve heard. Now I’m pleased to say that I spoke a bit too soon. I still question the tone and method of his response to Bethke’s video, but he and Bethke have now spoken through email and on the phone. I now believe he has fulfilled the Acts 18:26 goal that he said he had all along. He explained this in a follow-up post that I didn’t realize he had already written. He admitted that he could have gone about it better, commended Bethke, and said that he has gained a friend. Since he admits that he could have handled it better, I’ll do the same. I should have been a bit more humble in yesterday’s post … after all, I didn’t talk to DeYoung personally either. Here’s to learning from experience.

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21st Century Apollos?

There’s a good chance you’re one of the 13 million+ people who has seen the video below. If you haven’t, take the next 4 minutes to watch it:

The poet’s name is Jefferson Bethke and there’s no denying that he loves Jesus. He doesn’t stop there: he loves the church, wants to care for the poor, and follow Jesus with his life. I watched another video of him on YouTube speaking to Middle School students. He was honest, vulnerable, and his theology is pretty solid. He’s building a platform, and he’s using it to make much of Jesus.

Criticism

As you might expect, he’s had criticism from all over the place. The first I saw was shared by a friend on Facebook who hated the video. This blogger totally blasted him from the point of view of a cynic who hates the gospel. That’s to be expected, and I’m not upset at a non-Christian for not liking Bethke’s video. However, I believe many will find it appealing enough to at least ask questions.

Then I saw some criticism that was far more frustrating. A well-respected Christian blogger went through his poem with a fine toothed comb and nitpicked every phrase he said. Any time Bethke said something that was remotely wrong, or could simply be misunderstood, this blogger criticized him – sometimes harshly.

One of his biggest criticisms was Bethke’s use of “religion” as a catch-all word to explain self-righteousness and hypocrisy within the church. Granted “religion” is a neutral word in the Bible, in American culture it works to describe our man-made (and pitiful) attempts to please God with works righteousness. What might seem like sloppy theology here, is actually good contextualization.

I’m all for good theology. I study it in my spare time. I believe understanding the nature and character of God is vital for a believer, and I don’t think Bethke would deny that. However, I also understand that prose is different from poetry.

Prose seeks to carefully define and explain points of truth. Poetry seeks to use the beauty of language to illustrate truth. Both are important and good. In this video Bethke is not speaking as a master theologian through prose, he’s proclaiming the beauties of Christ as a poet.

Apollos, Priscilla, and Aquila

Is the theology in Bethke’s poem perfect? No. I don’t think he would claim it is. However, I think the way some evangelical bloggers have virtually attacked him is more dangerous.

In Acts 18:24-28 a famous new preacher named Apollos pops onto the scene. He was passionate and good. He knew a lot about Jesus, but was missing some critical information. When a couple named Priscilla and Aquila heard him they wanted to help, but they didn’t do it by telling everyone the problems with his theology. They approached him, talked to him, and helped him be more accurate.

What was the result? “He greatly helped those who through grace had believed, for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the scriptures that the Christ was Jesus” (Acts 18:27b-28 ESV).

Better Response

The Resurgence was the one group I saw respond to him appropriately. First they posted his video on their site saying it was “pretty good.” Then their director approached him, encouraged him, said they wanted to support him, and offered to send him some study materials. What a refreshing response.

I’m praying for God to raise a lot more Jefferson Bethke’s who look for creative ways to make much of Jesus. Men and women who meet culture where it is and bring people to Jesus. I also pray God brings along more people who will encourage and support those Jefferson Bethke’s – instead of criticizing them. Which one are you?

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