I would like to take some time to make some observations that will no doubt enrage a great few people with axes to grind. It seems to me, from my particularly small perch on the internet, that the phrase, “No one eats their own like X” is a genre of behaviour that Christians seem to feel we have not received enough credit for, and as such, must make up for lost time. Heretic burnings be damned, nothing lights a fire under a theologian or pastor like negative online reactions. To paraphrase James, “So also the keyboard is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!”
Introductory remarks aside, I would like to think on gratitude toward flawed men who taught and preached. I would like to think that personal piety and doctrinal fidelity were what motivated such strong negative passion toward those who fell short, and in some cases literally failed to practice what they preached. Or perhaps were blown and then became blowhards of some wind of doctrine that originated from the bowels of popular theology as opposed to the cool mountain air of Historic Reformed Orthodoxy.* Regardless I consider that there are many young theologues like myself who’s eyes were opened and were fed theological sirloin from men who later failed, were perceived to fall, became unfashionable in their convictions and thus instruction, or were just flat wrong on some points. Some of us have been hurt by these men, some deeply, and some is just perceived. I’ll get into real trouble later in naming some names that are verboten unless a rock is being thrown in their general direction.
I hate to die a death by deniable preface, Brian McClain style, but it should be addressed that some men failed, they fell from ministry and their removal was for damn good reasons. If a man begins preaching heresy, is unrepentant in sin, or compounds unrepentant sin with being a blowhard then anyone with a brain stem knows they should be removed. At the same time others have not sinned but simply fallen out of fashion and are easy targets for certain Reformed podcasters who have gotten a bit too big for their britches. And others still are victims of perceived offenses, slander, rumor, gossip, exaggeration, and the blog mob responded as they are want to do. Which means in a few cases it is always easier to double down than admit wrong doing. Kind of like a cable news host who couldn’t find the word repent in a dictionary if his life depended on it.
All of this now taken into account, my goal here is to simply direct our gratitude to those who, when they were right, they were right. For many of us they taught that truth in a way that deeply impacted us. Truth becomes no less true simply because the messenger happens to be an idiot. There are idiot out there, there are sinners out there, and we should never forget, “But for the grace of God, there go I.” Oz Guiness taught me (in a lecture I listened to, I don’t know him personally but I would love to. That man could read the phone book and I would listen.) and I followed suit, that to keep him humble he keeps a donkey figurine on his desk as a patron saint of apologists. Because if God can speak though an ass then he can speak through a man. Pastors can be asses, they can have blindspots, they can, and are, sinners. But so are you and I. If you would prefer someone to be grateful for you and take into account more than your own failings then perhaps do the same for others.
Let us for a while push back the hurt, resentment, and in some cases bitterness. I would like for us to consider all the good that was done for us, usually over a long period of time. Those who labored in preaching and teaching, they ignited in us a passion then over time stoked those flames to a steady roar. And until the point where they failed spectacularly, imploded or simply became passé, or we the learners realized an error, we loved them dearly. Fanboy, I believe is the technical term. They could do no wrong, until they did. And suddenly we were ashamed, and I would venture to guess that to cover that shame many swung the pendulum as far to the other side as possible. And if I have not been frank enough allow me to go further. I think for many it was not just the realization that men had feet of clay I think the fault was in us. If we are truly honest, while not excusing any real wrongs that were done, the vast majority were outraged out of self preservation or voyeurism**. Surveying the vast array of vitriol spewed across the reformed corner of the internet I believe that we had slowly begun to love these men more than we loved Jesus. We idolized them and like any idol they collapsed. We were of Cephas and Paul, or Grudem and Piper more than we were of Jesus.
Pulling from above allow me to illustrate with Wayne Grudem. He has fallen upon hard times as of late because of an unfortunate devotion to Eternal Subordination of the Son (ESS). This is simply bad theology, and I say this in respect to him. It is one area where, in my humble opinion, he is just plain wrong. And as of late, he has become a popular punching bag because his staunch defense of ESS also frees up the theological scrapper to take a few pokes at The Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood***. So the courts of public opinion have decided Grudem must go, and not let the door hit him on the way out. Recently, I was listening to a reasonably popular reformed podcast and Grudem’s Systematic Theology came up. It was quickly and summarily reduced to, “a bad systematic theology.” I am quick to grant that there are better and more exhaustive systematics out there. But I am just as quick to ask, for how many was Grudem’s the gateway? For all it’s flaws it is readable, and largely correct, in short good if not in some places excellent. It was standard for a reason. But now, for one podcaster, it languishes on a shelf with a skull and crossbones stamped on the inside to warn anyone who would pick it up to stay away. And I must ask where is the grace and charity in that, or to put a finer point on it, where is the gratitude?
A recent debate has arisen on whether or not Jonathan Edwards can be read on the account that he owned slaves. The question was even put, was he even a real Christian? But I would put into perspective what will future generations think of us for our frankly complacent attitude toward abortion? Every generation, every man, has his own sins and yet to quote the old preacher, God can knock out a straight lick with a crooked stick. Should we read either of the murderers, Paul and David? Or to consider from another way, “with the judgment you reserve for others you will be judged.”
As well I would like to consider the command to forgive. There were those people who were at Mars Hill when the meltdown occurred and had a range of hurts, disappointments, and traumas. But the vast majority of writers with an opinion on the issue seemed to be just as deeply hurt if not more so and five states away. Quite frankly, if God calls all Christians to forgive as they have been forgiven, this would include the member sitting in the sanctuary who was truly wounded and the blogger who met him that one time and is angry and bitter on behalf of the congregant he has never met. In Letter XXIX of Screwtape the elder demon counsels Wormwood to draw his patient toward Hell by feeding his hatred. specifically a hatred justified because it is held on behalf of innocents. It feels virtuous, it even feels brave to hold high the standard of righteousness by contrasting against a moral failure. The trick works, Pharisees did it all the time. Yet when they threw down the woman caught in sin, Jesus stooped to forgive. Love covers a multitude of sins, even the sins of Mark Driscoll. His real sins and his perceived sins. We are not to be judge, jury, and executioner, but representatives of Christ, we were forgiven of sins no one knows about. We should forgive the sins of others that everyone knows about. Particularly if those sins were never committed against us in the first place.
I would like to exhort and encourage this generation in particular toward gratitude. Be thankful for those who have gone before you and stumbled. And many have stumbled. There are Rob Bells out there who people should be warned about. They went out from us because they were not of us. If a theologian or pastor is wrong, or in sin then it should be dealt with. There is a place for rebuke. But frequently glib, gleeful online heretic burning is treated like a reformed pastime. We should be able to say something kind, or recommend, with a caveat. To demonstrate: “N.T. Wright’s work on Christ is stunning, his new perspective or Paul should be avoided like Chernobyl in 1986.” It’s not that difficult, and charity costs you nothing but the sin of pride.
Thank God for men who stood up and taught. If you are reformed they succeeded in Gods providence and they failed in his providence. They taught you, both with their good and their bad. Before condemning reflect on all the good that was done you. List them, then consider is the punishment you wish to dole out really equal to the crime. More so ask, “Am I denouncing this person out of a genuine concern over the glory of God, or for my own estimated perception?” Finally ponder, “Do I even need to say this?” It is my goal to think though these things when writing my opinions. I strive to weigh my words when I write thoughts on pastors far right down through to thoughts on my own pastor . In more cases than not my conviction is that pride leads us to give voice to things we understand little about, have no skin in a particular game, or are simply gossip, to bring attention and glory to ourselves stealing it from God who commanded that we be know by our love for one another.