I’ve had my adventures growing up in the church. In 35 years of church attendance I’ve been a part of a C&MA church, a fundie homeschooling church, two independent Bible churches, two Conservative Baptist churches, and now an EFCA congregation. My family has also been highly influenced by Mennonite and Bretheren folks along the way. We’re an interesting crew.
Let me tell a little bit of my story in order to set things up.
In my mid 20s I was getting involved in leadership at the first church I joined as an adult. Somewhere along the line I got acquainted with Mark Driscoll and started listening through every sermon of his I could find. This led me into what has since been termed the neo-Reformed camp.
One year I went with my pastor to a Desiring God pastor’s conference and heard John Piper, Mark Driscoll, Don Carson, Justin Taylor, and Voddie Baucham. I listened intently as Piper encouraged me to not waste my life, and I still have my Moleskine notebook wherein I hurriedly scribbled Driscoll’s 14 non-negotiable points of the faith. I read C. J. Mahaney’s book on living a cross-centered life and heard his friends tout his credentials to write on humility. I was young, still learning my theology (I’m an engineer, not a pastor!) but had found a place I liked.
But then somewhere along the line things started to change for me.
I read N. T. Wright’s Surprised By Hope and came to realize that the dispensational, Left Behind view of the end times didn’t make as much sense as I had once thought. I read Peter Enns Inspiration and Incarnation and realized that the “literal” reading of the Biblical text wasn’t always the right way to read it. My book pile got overwhelmingly Catholic and Anglican, and the Calvinist I found most winsome ended up being an Iowa essayist named Marilynne Robinson.
I resigned from the church plant I was helping lead because I was completely burned out and had no other way to find rest. I eventually saw that church plant transition to leadership of a young pastor who turned it into a real Acts 29 church plant.
Over the past couple of years I’ve seen a lot of other bits of the system that I once idolized come crumbling down.
I saw Mark Driscoll systematically run out the folks at Mars Hill that disagreed with him, and then spend more money than some of my churches have spent in an entire year’s budget just so he could get “New York Times Bestselling Author” added to his resume.
I saw C. J. Mahaney resign from his denomination over allegations that they covered up child abuse and that he was, ironically, one of the least-qualified people to write a book on humility.
I saw Justin Taylor warn authors against interviewing with a Christian radio host who accused Driscoll of plagiarism, with no word of repentance or apology when her accusations turned out to be correct.
I saw Doug Phillips, the head of Vision Forum (a fundie pro-homeschooling organization) and ministry partner of Voddie Baucham, resign from his ministry after confessing to having an inappropriate relationship with a girl young enough to be his daughter.
What I didn’t see was a lot of public acknowledgment of sin or calls to repentance from those folks surrounding my one-time heroes. The talk was all on the “watch blogs”, where people wrote from perspective somewhere along the spectrum between “godly concern” and “reckless rabble-rousing”. What I did see was a lot of wagons circling, and defensive statements that were factually incorrect and either closed to comment or removed when the comments got loud.
I saw Gospel Coalition teachers define the Gospel in such a way that anyone outside of their little group was probably on the outside looking in. One of Driscoll’s 14 non-negotiables I wrote down that day was penal substitutionary atonement. Al Mohler says that Young Earth Creationism is key. For Wayne Grudem, Owen Strachan, and others in the CBMW, complementarianism is up there at the Gospel level.
What I didn’t see was any acknowledgment that there have historically been various understandings of atonement theory, the age of the universe, the role of women, etc, within the accepted bounds of the church. What I didn’t hear was an acknowledgment that there was a lot of room for negotiables within the bounds of the Apostle’s and Nicene Creeds.
And I’ll be honest: it made me angry.
I’ve spent too much of the last couple years being worked up about these topics. I’ve written angry posts about neo-Reformed Calvinism, young-earth creationism, Biblicism, and gay marriage. And what have I learned? Primarily this:
It’s not worth it.
These online debates have perhaps won me a few cheers but also caused me a few headaches with people within my own church who didn’t understand my attitude or thought I was just trying to cause trouble. They’ve given me a feeling of righteous outrage and truth-telling, but have also helped cultivate in me an attitude of adversarial cynicism that infected my relationship with my own local church.
What it’s taken me a decade to work through and realize is that an awful lot of it is just noise, just hot air. Yes, there are injustices that need to be addressed, but is my blogging actually doing anything productive there? Not really. Does anyone at my church outside of a few of the pastoral staff care about most of these topics or find them worth arguing about? Probably not.
So while it may be exciting to jump on the bandwagon du jour, I’m not sure it’s all that profitable, at least for me right now. There are a lot of other things I can write about and very positive ways to do so. It’s also more peaceful.
So, there are folks I’m unfollowing on Twitter. There are blogs I’m unsubscribing from. There are debates I’m just going to stay out of. And that’s OK.
It’s not that I’m getting less opinionated; I’ll just be sharing my opinions less, and hopefully in more meaningful ways and circumstances. It’s not that I’ll be less upset by injustice and misconduct by church leaders, but instead I’ll stop thinking that my blogging is doing more good for the situation than my praying would be.
Not having the ability to magically make peace for all of America’s evangelical theological battles, I’ll content myself with striving to blessedly make peace and demonstrate love in ways that are meaningful to the people around me. That, for me, is choosing the better part.
To those of you who have been hurt or offended by these posts of mine over the years, my sincere apologies. Let’s talk over coffee sometime soon. I’m buying.
And to those of you who do feel called to continue that sort of blogging, please continue. Go and shout from the rooftops. But also try, as much as it depends on you, to live at peace with all men. Give the benefit of the doubt. Quote accurately instead of selectively.
Loving and defending the innocent and helpless doesn’t mean you always have to be an ass to the oppressor.