Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Different Versions of Christianity

So here's my thought on the Driscoll fiasco that everyone keeps asking me about. Doug had a great quote in the CT article on Mark. He said, "I think that we're basically talking about two different versions of Christianity." With this, I think, Mark would agree.

What troubles me about Mark's critiques of Rob, Brian, and Doug, is that he is investigating the minutiae, the fine print, the footnotes. It's almost like the scribes that Jesus constantly dealt with -- those who kept trying to trap him in his own words (while ignoring the overall gospel that he was promoting). Mark doesn't like that Brian footnotes a book called The Scandal of the Cross, that Rob recommends the philosophy of Ken Wilbur, that Doug has one line about our need to find "new ways to be sexual." Once, at lunch with me, John Piper had a similar concern: that Brian endorsed Steve Chalke's book, a book that in one line reiterates a view of penal substitutionary atonement held by many feminist theologians for three decades. (Please, read Chalke's book -- the rest of it really isn't about denigrating your sacred theory of propitiation. Most people I meet have heard one line of Chalke's book, but haven't actually read the book.)

This kind of argument is tenuous at best. Criticizing folks for who they read, who they footnote, and who they endorse is not particularly persuasive, methinks. I'd much rather have Driscoll and Piper say, "We're promoting a very different version of the faith than the emergent folks. Let's look at the big picture of what they're saying versus the big picture of what we're saying."

I'm sure that I'll take some flack for implying in a sermon last Sunday that John MacArthur is a soft gnostic (I happen to think that 90% of Americans are soft gnostics, just as I think that 90% of Americans are semi-pelagians). I am talking about the overall Christianity that Johnny Mac is espousing -- I think that it's too platonic, and that it neglects hebraic holism -- the water that Jesus swam in. I don't really care if Johnny Mac (or Piper or Driscoll) reads Paula White, Jonathan Edwards, or Karl Marx. I'm most interested in the overall theology that he's espousing. I do, indeed, think that it's very different from the version that I'm espousing.

And I sure do appreciate the folks who keep inviting me to come and talk about it. They may not like it, they may not agree with it, but they should at least have the opportunity to hear about it.

That's all.

31 Comments:

Anonymous art said...

I understand what you are saying...but isn't what author a person endorses and promotes say at least something about that person?

The NT authors were obviously affected by the OT and some other 2nd Temple Jewish writings (like Jubilees, 1 Enoch, Aramaic targums, etc.). Doesn't that say something about what they believed and what types of works affected their thinking?

Calvin quoted St. Augustine like a champion. Wouldn't that lead a reader of Calvin to conclude that St. Augustine's thoughts/theology had an impact on Calvin?

Had Calvin quoted Marcion like he quoted St. Augustine, we would probably have written Calvin off as a heretic because his work would have reflected Marcion's work that he read and quoted so much.

I'm not saying that we shouldn't read widely. On my bookshelf right now I have Ehrman, Crossan, Borg, Nietzsche, Russell, Huxley, Pagels, and Funk. I find their work interesting, but I would never promote it and condone it as work that everyone should take three years to read carefully.

On one hand, you have Driscoll who probably spent too much time critiquing Bell and McLaren for a book that they promoted.

On the other hand, you are saying that this argument is not persuasive.

While it might not be completely persuasive, I think it is something that should be well considered, especially if these works are being promoted by Bell and McLaren.

I'm not trying to pick a fight or defend Driscoll. I just think there is a middle ground here.

Does that make sense?

7:36 PM  
Blogger Tyler said...

Tony, this is well-written, thoughtful, and convicting. I think you're right when you say that Driscoll should be focusing more on the big picture than just on footnotes, yet at the same time I agree with art when he says that who your influences are and who you footnote/recomend says a lot about your own work and where it is heading.

But this is where the ambiguities begin: Rob Bell has not only recomended Ken Wilbur, but in Velvet Elvis, Bell footnoted John Piper, writing that you have to read everything he has ever written. In Sex God, Rob Bell footnoted Donald Miller with a similar recomendation.

The point is, Mark Driscoll mentions these authors in the same sermon he critiqued Rob Bell, and we all know what a big fan Driscoll is of Piper and Miller.

If you're recomending the works of a Charismatic Reformed Baptist who teaches Predestination, Reprobation, Election, Penal Substitution and Limited Atonement, you can't be that far from orthodoxy. But at the same time, why would you recomend Ken Wilbur? Either you read Piper through Wilbur, Wilbur through Piper, or both through yourself (which I think is the case with Rob). I really don't know what I'm trying to say here, I'm just throwing that out there.

5:37 AM  
Blogger Pete said...

you read what you read. I have not read Crossan but my assumption is that he is an awesome scholar with good method and TERRIBLE assumptions. Knowing that Crossan espouses the "jesus of ethics" that is why I bet Mclaren may like him among other reasons. At the very core of jesus, FOR SURE, without supernaturalism, it ethics. The fact that me and Jesus think he was the messiah of the world is more important, but less evident.

5:50 AM  
Anonymous Matt Cleaver said...

Tony,

Good thoughts. I've noticed a lot of gnosticism in mainstream evangelicalism and have always been confused when I read stuff that accuses the EC of gnosticism. If someone wants to accuse the emerging church of heresy, gnosticism is not the heresy of choice.

Oh and ditto on the semi-pelagianism.

Now the question is: do you consider soft gnosticism and semi-pelagianism as heretical or simply unhelpful? I think I know the answer.

6:29 AM  
Blogger :::: Travis Keller :::: said...

tony,
great observation that 90% of americans are soft-gnostics. i've had similar conversations where i've been more generalizing and stated that most "popular-american-christians" (a term worth digging into) are pharisees and gnostics. could you expound on your thoughts defining and clarifying "soft-gnosticism?"
travis

7:25 AM  
Anonymous Chase said...

Book endorsements may not be a big deal for you, but they are for me and at best reflect an irresponsibility in those giving the endorsements...at worst, I digress.

9:30 AM  
Blogger anselm13 said...

Tony, I agree with your comments. However, what one reads surely tells something about a person. I suspect what it tells and the degree to which it tells it varies between the individuals and groups forming the assumptions. It apparently means something to Mark Driscoll (I know nothing about him myself other than he seems obnoxious, but I suspect past his bluster he's a caring person) that Rob Bell recommends Ken Wilbur, but for me it means nothing. In any event, I agree with your confusion over battles of reading preferences. If one's view of Christianity is consistent with Mark Driscoll or John MacArthur, I doubt you'll accidentally be bamboozled by the Christianity espoused by various individuals associated with "emergent folks". I suspect you wont need to have obscure footnotes brought to your attention. Just read some of their perspectives. It seems that in the Christianity of Driscoll and MacArthur it is of utmost eternal importance that one not be led astray by encountering "dangerous" material and that one assist fellow believers in this intellectually confusing world. It would be preferable to them if difficult movements to define and categorize within Christendom would just declare themselves heretics or atheists, to facilitate proper differentiation. I guess they think other Christians we'll be duped by "emergent folks" and need guidance, hence they work to expose Rob Bell and others as wolves in sheep's clothing.

11:15 AM  
Anonymous Victor said...

Great points, Tony. I thought it was odd that Driscoll spent much of his critique of Bell on a book that he recommends.

At last year's Desiring God conference John Piper talked about his lunch with you and how you have very different epistemologies. At that same conference Mark Driscoll said this: "We’re less about Christian culture and we’re more about, ‘is it in line with biblical values?’ Just because it didn’t come from a Christian doesn’t mean it may not have content that is in agreement with Christian theology."

When Bell tells people to read Ken Wilbur's book he's not saying, "read it and believe everything he says about God and the world." It might just be a good book that has some good things to say. I'm having a hard time understanding how Mark doesn't see that.

12:56 PM  
Anonymous Johnny Cashville said...

Following the hyper-critical perspective of those that I often refer to as "the dignity thieves", wouldn't the writings of Paul be criticized as well? In Acts 17:27-29 Paul states, "'For in him we live and move and have our being.' As some of your own poets have said, 'We are his offspring.'" As many of you know, Paul is quoting pagan Greek poets here. These attributes were written about Zeus! So, are we to say that Paul teaches a heretic gospel because of the sources he used to present the truth? A agree, if the message being taught is not biblical, then let the discussion shine the light of truth on the matter. However, if you are going to start criticizing people for who they read, who they quote or who they are friends with, your contribution will most likely be division within the body and very little more. I'm pretty sure I can find a few scriptures that speak to that matter.

1:23 PM  
Blogger Chris Enstad said...

Isn't the Driscoll, Piper version of Christianity called nomism?

2:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

we've got a whole group of leaders & ministers that foam at the mouth every time they see the names of these emergent icons: driscoll, bell, mclaren, groeschl, etc.

here's an idea: let's think for ourselves a little bit more and allow the same God they profess to illuminate these matters to us directly.

a little frustrated...

4:27 PM  
Blogger Beloved said...

Tony, a question for you...

Do you think that the "Piper-Driscoll" (as they have come to be so affectionately known here) epistemologies are unorthodox representations of the most historic tenets of Christian belief, or do yours and their paradigms simply give more or less weight to historic orthodoxy (read: orthodoxy that is 'closest' to the biblical authors)? Feel free to respond here or via email.

6:55 PM  
Anonymous carla said...

Tony, you make a great--and important--point. We seem to put theology/spirituality in a separate category of influence, like only stuff that is about spirituality impacts our spirituality. I mean, why don't we all compare our fiction choices and see what that tells us about each other? Which history books have we read? What comic books are on our shelves? This is part of the gnosticism, too, believing that our spirituality is only shaped by overtly spiritual influences.

People can read a book and appreciate what it says without it significantly changing their worldview. People can read a book and disagree with what it says but still find it to be a great book. One of my lit professors in college used to ask us how we responded to a book. He didn't want to know if we liked it because that's not the point of reading--any reading.

For that matter, I think we wrongly reduce what it means to be a human being when we assume the books we read shape us in ways that tell the whole story of who we are. Why doesn't Driscoll ask what movies or tv shows or websites or music Brian and Doug and Rob enjoy or tell their friends about or find interesting? Why not look at how they treat their wives and children, how they manage their money, how they respond to their critics, how they spend their freetime, whether or not they have freetime? I would suggest that these things shape us too--maybe even more than what we read.

8:06 AM  
Blogger Adam Mellem said...

If you've been following Driscoll's blog at all, you will notice he's been talking about the UFC games (extreme fighting games) he's been attending.

Tell me: is reading and referencing a controversial text as much of a public testimony of your life as attending games where two men "make a bloody mess" out of each other?

For me, Driscoll's public approval of such modern Roman games, glorification of violence, and statements such as "The reason they [young men] don't go to most churches is because they could take the pastor and can't respect a guy in a lemon-yellow sweater, sipping decaf and talking about his feelings" have called into question any ministerial legitimacy.

Driscoll says, "[Young men] are not motivated by a weepy worship dude(ish) singing prom songs to a Jesus."

Such insightful and academic work is truly the making of a great church leader.

9:11 AM  
Blogger Zach said...

What one reads can say something or nothing about someone at the same time. Its a faulty way to make judgments about a person. They are points in a painting by Seurat.

The insecure will strain at gnats.

9:28 AM  
Anonymous Chase said...

Actually, probably the 200 Mars Hill Baptized last Friday might be a better mark of the fact that Driscoll is a good Church leader.

9:29 AM  
Blogger Lindsey said...

So clearly we've established that you can't reduce a person or an entire movement to one quote (misquote) or one piece of one person's life. Dear God, teach us all humility and patience. And teach us that there is more to following Jesus than merely right doctrine.

10:55 AM  
Blogger Mike Morrell said...

My inner editor is shrieking--it's Ken Wilber, friends! Wilber with an "e"! And after hearing many Christians I respect engage with Wilber's work, I've read a few of his books myself. And you know what? He's got some great stuff to say to us--some directed particularly at Christians. It never ceases to amaze me how some folks take pot-shots at those of us who read widely. Is it not, as Martin Luther hymned, our "Father's world?" Wisdom can be found everywhere. And yes, discernment must be everywhere too, I'm agreed. But conservative Christians read and quote Dr. Laura, right? Okay if that felt like a low blow, then how about Neil Postman or Robert Bly? These folks, while not necessarily Christians, are thought to have insightful thoughts that illuminate something of our contemporary social/cultural condition. Same with some of us appreciating an eclectic Buddhist philosopher who himself reads and cites generously. But fret not, my church isn't going to start having 'mandala services' soon...

3:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I get asked to blurb about 3 or 4 books a month, and I cannot possibly blurb them all. So I try to choose wisely and try to blurb about half academic and about half in Christian living. I've not yet a book where I agree with any author on everything.

So, whenever we blurb books there are things in the book we cannot endorse completely.

Some read a book to see if it makes mistakes; some read a book to see what they can get out of it. I do the latter, and if the book gives me plenty I can endorse it.

Read blurbs for what they say and not as an indicator that the blurber agrees with every line and footnote in a book.

Brian McLaren's endorsement of Chalke no more says Chalke is the emerging leader of England than that Tom Wright's endorsement of the same makes Chalke an Anglican bishop.

Perhaps we ought to ask ourselves a little more carefully what a blurb means on the back of someone's book. Does it really mean "I agree with everything?" Is this the same as the "imprimatur"? We should avoid carelessness in blurbing and we should not expect total agreement in seeing someone's name on the back of a book.

Scot McKnight

6:01 PM  
Blogger Jeff Greathouse said...

Thanks for the write-up. I appreciate it.

9:02 AM  
Blogger el mol said...

Driscoll is Hot!ja

5:14 AM  
Anonymous Brit Windel said...

this was a very interesting blog as well as comments. i tried downloading the message Mark gave at the conference..but i failed.
i can understand how an endorsement can really turn people especially when maturity of faith...or even laxness in faith in some areas...can pursued someone away from something.

i remember several years ago (in my teenage youth group years) i wouldn't listen to David Crowder because they were endorsed by Jimmy Eat World. my thought was this is a secular band saying listen to a christian band...to me i thought how christian could these guys be if they were being recommend by a secular band...PRAISE GOD MY mind was opened and i no longer think along such narrow lines. but i can understand how people just look at a single comment or book on our shelf it can throw up alarm clocks.

i work in a Presbyterian church in northern ireland (being from the USA this has been a great missional challenge and growth for myself) but i have several Catholic books in my house and even meet and discuss with several within our town. what people don't understand often makes them become very standoffish.

i think all the comments above give a better testimony as to the good that can be gathered from things that are not inherently godly or christian...

so i guess to be redundant in the comments posted... there is great wealth wisdom and knowledge to be gained from outside our 'american christian marketed society'

7:32 AM  
Blogger Nick said...

Tony, what is a soft-gnostic and what makes Johnny Mac one?

Secondly, am I right to infer that you think semi-pelagianism is a bad thing? Are you part of the Calvinistic resurgence ? ;)

6:51 AM  
Blogger Tia Lynn said...

Good post! I attend a "traditionalist" church, but often clash with many of the mindsets, theologies, "black and white" issues, and assertions of traditionalist. The reason I stay, is that the people are wonderfully sincere and loving towards one another. But I am beginning to see myself as an emergent at heart...seeing more and more things as grey, questioning most things, seeing things in a different light.

I agree with you that Driscoll is reaching to tear down men like McLaren and Bell. The body of Christ must allow eachother the freedom to be diverse if we are to ever achieve true unity.

1:31 PM  
Blogger jeremy zach said...

It is like Driscoll et al are smoking something different than the emergent village is smoking. All good stuff, but different flavors. Driscoll and Piper like to pipe the "calvin" theology while us emergent folk like to pipe "anything but calvin" theology.

This Driscoll guy will be known for his hostility, and not humility.

9:24 PM  
Blogger Jake said...

Tony- I appreciate these comments, I think you're exactly right to say the big picture is the main thing we should focus on. Thankfully, I feel like we are moving in that direction, Doug Pagitt has acknowledged on several occasions that his understanding of the gospel is completely different from Dr. MacArthur's, and I think that's a good and helpful statement.

The only question then, if the emergent understanding of the gospel and the reformed understanding are actually two different gospels, how do these two camps interact with each other? Paul said if anyone preaches another gospel let them be anathema. So do the two camps now go about anathematizing each other in the name of St. Paul? (I think that's the Reformed tendency) Or perhaps doing the same thing but in a more patronizing, isn't-that-cute response that I've seen from so many emergents?

Or can we somehow try to synthesize what is good from both understandings and move forward from there? It will take some compromises on both sides, I think., but I believe it is possible. I feel like I've seen Bell and Keller manage to do it, so perhaps others can too?

8:52 AM  
Blogger Bob Robinson said...

Tony,
This is a very good point. This might be a carry-over from the second-degree separatism of the 20th Century Christian Fundamentalists.

By the way, I am in the middle of a series on Johnny Mac's book, The Truth War over at Vanguard Church.

11:58 AM  
Blogger Zach Lind said...

brit,

i can't resist, i have to respond to your comment. my name is zach lind and i'm the secular hedonist that not only endorsed mr crowder's music but i also played drums on it. it's great that you found it in your heart to allow my secular nature to mingle with your christian music.

let my existence reassure you that it's entirely possible that there are actual followers of Jesus in secular rock bands. come on in, the water's fine!

hi tony, i hope all is well!

zach lind.

10:30 PM  
Anonymous kwesi said...

Endorsing can be a bit ambiguous if in fact the endorser does not clearly state whether they are or are not endorsing a particular author. It's one thing to quote an aurthor, but endorsing a work means to believe in the main theme or thesis of that work.

6:27 AM  
OpenID beatthedrum said...

I am just a passer-by here but having read some of the posts i thought I might post a british view on things.

Firstly I come from a 'Stream' of churches in the UK who came out of the Restoration movement of the 1960 - 1980's. I guess i am more Calvinist than not, believe the Bible is inerrent and I come from a very charismatic back ground.

I personally like Driscoll's style, delivery and theology. I also like the check / test everything stance of the emerging church. After all thats what my 'stream' did way back in the Charismatic renewal in the 60's.

I do like Velvet Elvis (by Rob Bell) but i also belive that some of what it says is dangerous to some, but not all believers.

This is mainly around the trampoline argument. Where the doctrines of the church are springs and if you fo not have all the springs then you can continue to bounce. This I feel is dangerous.

My personal belief is that the trampoline frame are the core doctrines and the springs are the church 'practices'. So things like the Virgin Birth, atonement, justification, Jesus man and God etc are the frame work from which the springs (baptism, charismatic gifts, church ladership, worship etc) hang off.

Lose the doctrines you step into heresy.

As to Driscolls macho spoutings i feel they fill a gap in the church. There is too much soft niceness in the church today. Read Jesus words he was a VERY straight talker he rarely minced his words. Why are there less men in church than women, because the men cannot relate to it.

That of course is another argument to be had.

6:56 AM  
OpenID beatthedrum said...

I have just read a great book - 'Why men hate going to church' and one of the conclusions is the lack of guys like driscoll either leading or in the congregation.

There's a review on my blog www.beatthedrum.wordpress.com

8:00 AM  

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