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Friday, May 16, 2014

Creating Stepford Believers

The new and slightly improved kerfuffle on the evangelical blogs revolves around a blogpost written by Jen Wilkin over at the Gospel Coalition blog. Her post brought about a challenge from fellow Gospel Coalition blogger, who is a minister and a Billy Graham grandson, Tullian Tchividjian. In his response, Tchividjian questioned whether the boundary between God's law and the Gospel had been crossed-- a very important Christian life and theological concern (click here)--by Wilkin's post. Since then, a number of people have suggested a debate which can be Conservative Christianity's version of a professional tag team wrestling match.

But there is another issue that does contribute to the issue Tchividjian is concerned with which has apparently flown under the radar. That issue comes from the following line:
Earnest Christians look to their church leaders and ask, "Teach me to walk in his ways." We owe them an answer beyond, "Fail and repent." We owe them, "This is the way, walk in it." This way is often delineated by lists—a list of ten don'ts in Exodus 20, a list of eight do's in Matthew 5, a list of works of the flesh (Galatians 5:22-23) and spiritual fruit (Galatians 5:22-23) in Galatians 5, and so on. These lists crush the unbeliever but give life to the believer.

Of course though the intent is to be appreciated, there are errors. According to Paul in Galatians, one doesn't appeal to the law and lists to bear the fruit of the Spirit. But the problem being focused on here is that Wilkin seems to suggest that we should approach our ministers and elders as people who have everything to teach and nothing to learn from us. Well, I know my minister and elders. And they have gifts and positions of authority. But they are not people who have everything to teach and nothing to learn and they are the first to admit that.

Now if that attitude stopped at this point, then the damage to the Conservative Christian psyche would have been somewhat limited. But it hasn't. For it is not just the people in the pews who have embraced Wilkin's attitude here, but our leaders have too especially with regard to Church leaders from the past. And thus we have created a mentality where our thinking stops once we understand what we have just read. 

An example of this process can be found in Christians use of Augustine's Just War Theory. When many of us Christians want to read about how to know when a war is just, we read Augustine and that finishes the matter. We don't consider whether Augustine made mistakes or whether his theory needs adjustment. That is because we read without questioning--the attitude Wilkin suggests above. We read him and our thinking stops once we feel comfortable with our understanding of what he has written. And when we add the differences in historical context between Augustine's time and ours to Augustine's fallibility, such an attitude is wholly inadequate. Such an attitude makes our leaders, past and present, Catholic priests who take an intermediary position between us and God. We don't know God outside of what our leaders teach.

Don't think that this Stepford type of Christianity has escaped the attention of unbelievers. I heard Noam Chomsky negatively refer to this mentality when discussing war and Augustine's view on it. Here, he was complaining about how unhelpful it is when asking us Christians about it because once we quote Augustine, we act like the conversation has ended.

What we communicate to unbelievers when we adopt the above attitude suggested by Wilkin is that we lean toward anti-intellectualism and authoritarianism. These are traits that act as unnecessary stumbling blocks for adherents of Modernism who would hear us share the Gospel. That is because we show that, in terms of thinking, we are content with just understanding what was said before rather than thinking through things biblically for ourselves. 

Thus, when we intellectually engage with nonChristians, we all too often are interacting with their views by merely citing the opinions of others. We talk to others as if we were wearing buttons that say, "How would Calvin respond?" or "What would Luther say?" or "How would my minister and elders answer this question?" And though it is not that we should never consult these people for advice, it is that our thinking must attempt to go beyond theirs if we are to be good witnesses for Christ let alone if we are to fully understand the people we are citing.

Wilkin's suggestion here ignores the fact that we best know a concept when we can criticize it. And though nobody can criticize God's Word, we can safely assume that neither our ministers nor elders are infallible. At least the ones in my church are not and they are the first ones to admit it.

Certainly, Wilkin demonstrates an attitude which can be appreciated here; she wants to be more conformed to the image of Christ. But sometimes the process that appears to be most sincere and righteous in achieving that goal leads us into unforeseen problems. And those problems are unforeseen because we haven't taken the time to think them through. 


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