In my last post I wrote about a conversation I had with Tony Jones and Doug Pagitt and also alluded to the conversation my friend had with Mark Scandrette. Mark decided to respond on my friend’s blog and it was a very illuminating and helpful reply.
Even though it helps illuminate Mark’s viewpoint – and I think he was a bit too quick to say that we’re trying to fulfill a theological agenda – I’m still bothered by some things. For those interested, you can read his reply here (in fact, it’d make more sense to read his reply before reading my concerns).
Concern #1 – Why are you questioning someone older with more experience?
Though I will be the first to say that being older and having more experience can help, I generally find it useless to even broach this issue in conversation. The reason being is that, aside from being arrogant, it presumes too much. For one, it is arrogant in that it assumes we have nothing to learn from those with lesser experience. Life is not a skill one can master, so though we are all at different levels in life none of us are at a level where we are beyond learning.
I am currently helping a teenager go through a spiritual crisis. He’s coming to me for advice because I’ve studied more, I’ve been through more, and I’m older. Yet, I am not naïve enough to think that I can’t learn something from him. Already I’ve re-learned what it is to have zeal and passion for the simple things in faith.
This is not to say Mark is naïve or arrogant. In all honesty, Mark comes across as a really nice guy and someone that, if we had more time together, I’d really get along with. I don’t say that superficially either, I genuinely mean it.
I will say, however, that it seems superfluous that Mark would bring up age and experience. I can talk to people that have dealt with the mentally ill, have degrees in psychology, and have done it a lot longer than he has that would disagree with what he had to say. Does this make him wrong? Of course not – it simply means that he has a different conviction than they do.
Paul even instructed Timothy to not let anyone look down on him because of his age. Though there is something to be said of wisdom coming with age, it does not necessarily mean that a person who has experience – even lots of it – is correct.
Concern #2 – Well, Franky Schaeffer says this…
For whatever reason, Mark found it necessary to attempt to discredit Schaeffer (or explain Schaeffer, not quite sure) by appealing to Franky Schaeffer. The problem with this, as the book An Authentic Life adequately points out, no one else – including the other kids – really remembers the picture Franky paints of his father. Did Schaeffer battle suicide, problems with anger, and have flaws? Of course he did, he was very human – but he was also willing to point out his own flaws.
The problem with Franky’s book – and relying on it – is that, as Os Guinness says, the book is very self-serving and inaccurate. Hardly anyone validates what Franky says about his father. Os Guinness lived with the Schaeffers for three years and was even Franky’s best-man at Franky’s wedding, yet even he points out that Franky has an agenda in writing what he does.
The point being, all great theologians will have warts. Peter cut a man’s ear off; Calvin burned a man; Schaeffer battled anger and isolation. I’m sure even the EC proponents have major character flaws that would stun people if people ever found out. This doesn’t change the truthfulness or impact of their theology – it merely can show that the person lacked the fortitude to follow through on everything the person taught.
Concern #3 – “If I share the gospel with someone and they don’t respond, am I released from continuing to love them in practical ways?”
Mark says this was the point of his story – once the emperor rejected the Gospel he and Joseph decided that maybe they weren’t called to help him out. God, of course, had different plans.
I actually agree with Mark’s sentiment on this issue. We are to value human beings not because of the evangelistic opportunity they might bring to us, but instead because human beings have intrinsic value.
Where I have a question is Mark says that all his actions were done explicitly in the name of Jesus, but I must ask, was the hospital staff aware of this? Doing things in the name of Christ without letting people know it’s in His power that you’re doing it is like winking at a pretty girl in a dark room – you’re the only one who knows what is going on. Maybe people at the hospital, other than the emperor, asked why Mark was taking care of the emperor. Maybe Mark said, “because Christ loves him” or something to that effect. This would certainly be quite a witness in San Francisco – no debate, no tract, no standing on a soapbox and telling people to ‘turn or burn.’ Simply presenting the Gospel in action – I hope this is what Mark did.
This doesn’t mean we pietistically go around saying, “I bless thee in the name of Jesus” every time we do a good deed. However, if God has placed someone on our heart, we should let that person know Who’s power we’re using. Peter, in Acts, was quick to shift all attention off his good deed of healing and onto Christ. We should do likewise – when people ask us why we do what we do, we have to be honest and admit we can only do it because of Christ.
Overall, however, what concerns me is when he says to Josh, “I didn’t explain this to you, because your line of inquiry presumed that sharing the gospel means telling someone that they are a ‘sinner.’ I asked you to provide references to prove this from the four gospels— and the one you came up with was in regard to the Pharisees.”
The reason this concerns me is first and foremost assuming we can share the Gospel without bringing up the fact that someone is a sinner (unless, of course, the person already recognizes it). The Gospel teaches that Christ came as a substitution for our sins and that without His substitution, we stand condemned before God. Until we realize we have sins that needed to be judged, it’s hard to see a need for a Savior. If we want Biblical references, one can look to Jesus dealing with the adulterous woman telling her to go sin no more (acknowledging that she was, in fact, in sin). Or the woman at the well where He points out that she was living with a man that wasn’t her husband (confronts her on her sin). There are actually more examples, but these two stick out the most.
People are uncomfortable dealing with sin because in our postmodern world, no one wants to be labeled “judgmental.” In fact, being judgmental or intolerant is the one sin that is still left in postmodernism. The fact remains though – we cannot accept a Savior for our sins if we don’t recognize the need for such a Savior.
Concern #4 – How to deal with the mentally ill
I think the mentally ill have flown under the radar for far too long in Christian circles. Mark, I feel, broke new ground in his dealing with the emperor and then writing about it because we don’t really know how to deal with someone that is severely mentally ill. The mentally ill are still in the image of God, still humans, and still deserving of the Gospel message.
I would advocate – no matter how naïve I might be accused of being – that Mark makes a modernistic mistake in his dialogue. It seems that he assumes someone in the Emperor’s state simply isn’t ready to hear the Gospel message. This assumption believes that God, the designer of how the brain and mind function, cannot possibly transcend the mental illness in that moment. Though I do believe we have to be cautious and careful on how we approach the issue, I don’t think “mental illness” is a sufficient reason to take years to figure out a better approach.
Now I’m not saying we should share the Gospel with the mentally unstable, emotionally immature, and severely handicapped in the same way we would share the Gospel with someone that is stable. Everyone is an individual which means we’ll have to know the person (as in, have a context of what the person believes and where the person is at) before presenting the Gospel and present the Gospel in a manner that fits that person’s place in life; the way the Gospel is shared changes, the truth of it doesn’t.
I am saying that Mark is right – we need to take the time to get to know the person, find out where he is in life, what his capacity for understanding is, and find the most appropriate way of telling the person the Gospel. At the same time, Josh is just as right in saying that the Gospel is ultimately the “healing balm” that people need, regardless of their mental states. And I’m just naïve enough to think God is so powerful that, if He so chooses, He can get around that person’s mental illness in that one instance.
Concern #5 – “Your arguments were deceptive”; “You were creating a straw-man”; “You didn’t take the time to understand”
Mark accuses Josh and I of Biblical slander, gossip, not understanding the EC position, creating a straw-man, coming to the table with an agenda, etc. This is nothing new – it seems these are the talking points for any response against someone that so much as questions the EC.
Read The New Christians, or What Would Jesus Deconstruct, or any other emergent/theistic postmodern literature and the story is the same: Any time someone questions the EC, in the literature they are accused of the above. I actually expected that this would be said. This either means that the EC proponents have transcended to a level of thinking that is above us simpletons, that they are horrible communicators, or that they like to shape-shift their arguments so as to avoid being argued against.
Considering some of the biggest opponents of the EC have age, wisdom, and education far beyond the proponents of the EC (just using Mark’s apparent standard), I guess that means the opponents are “more right.” Of course, I don’t believe this.
What I do believe, however, is that the EC doesn’t realize how ambiguous they are being and, more importantly, that a lot of the critiques are far more accurate than they want them to be. The EC is ultimately proving what many have suspected for a while; they are no different than any other Christian movement in the history of Christianity. Pride plays a part in their movement, misinformation, ego, all of that is still just as prevalent in their movement as any other movement. They don’t want to be wrong, so they attack the character of the people questioning them or say the people questioning just don’t understand and are too “modernistic.”
Rarely have I seen them deal with the actual substance of what a person is saying. Mark’s response is no different – he never comes out and says, “Hey, I agree with you on x and actually did that, I just didn’t put it in the story.” Instead, it’s the same tired line that all critics of the EC get.
I had hope that maybe the EC could turn around, but after Mark’s response I’m convinced that my earlier post is still regrettably accurate. In my opinion the only thing that differentiates the EC from a legalistic church is the EC is legalistic on different things…and wear thick frame glasses.
I’ll pray for Mark, but after seeing his response I feel he has come so close, yet ended up so far away from the truth of the Gospel. His response only confirms my decision to abandon any hope in the EC long ago (when I was taken in by it): There is little difference between it and the legalism I was so used to growing up.