More Out of the Nail Can

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As we sort through the propriety of using satiric speech, there is first the doctrinal or theological aspect of it (what does the Bible require of us?), and after this is the practical or pastoral aspect. I would like to key off several important comments posted under my recent post on The Nail Can of Bitterness.

First, it is granted that when we figure out the right thing to do, there will be many who then go do the right thing the wrong way. This applies to satire, but it also applies to feeding the hungry, visiting widows and orphans, preaching the gospel, and so on. When you enroll in a math class, the first thing you will encounter is math problems, and you will probably get some of them wrong. There are many who have embraced what I have written in defense of satire who then went off into cyber-space to slay dragons. A number have been unsuccessful, and some even became dragons. If satire is scriptural, this problem is not an argument against using satire; it is an argument for taking care. The best antidote for “not knowing what spirit you are of” is living like Trinitarians in Trinitarian communities — with husbands, wives, children, neighbors, fellow church members all “one anothering.” A warrior can and should use a weapon when appropriate, but he also needs to know when to put it down. If he cannot put it down according to the situation, satire ceases to a biblical tactic against Pharisees, and becomes a personality defect. In short, for everyone who warns that there are important pastoral issues here when it comes to application, I would like to agree wholeheartedly.

But at the same time, there is an important worldview issue here. What is it that accounts for the fact that half of the satiric world is invisible to virtually all formal critics of satire? If I say that the Bible teaches that Pharisees (meaning the religiously arrogant) should be made to feel the flat of the admonitory sword, objections immediately arise. “You must not use the flat of the sword on Pharisees! Give no offense to anyone. The flat of the sword is to be used instead on Pharisee-whackers.” I italicized anyone and instead because there is a profound contradiction between them.

This is a confusion at the theological or theoretical level. If “give no offense” has no conditions, it has to be taken the way a pacifist takes “Thou shalt not kill.” A pacifist cannot really say that he is against all killing, except for people who don’t agree with pacifism. If “give no offense” is an absolute, it must include my treatment of those who don’t agree that “give no offense” is an absolute. Part of the point of my original post is that the majority of my critics on this satire thing have been the equivalent of bloodthirsty and ravening pacifists. “Stop giving offense, you heretical bozo! The Bible says not to give offense to anyone, you waste of skin! When I realized that your book was not loving, I took it out in the back yard and tinkled on it. Sincerely, a concerned brother.” Someday an enterprising editor for some publishing house should go around to national Christian leaders like MacArthur, Dobson, and Falwell and ask for samples, and he had better take a wheelbarrow. He could no doubt put out a highly instructive book — Hate Mail From Loving Christians, Vol. I. Come to think of it, this editor could also talk to my son, Nate. When he published his article on the Shroud of Turin, a significant part of the mail he got from Christians revolved around the big H. “I hope you rot in . . . go to . . . waste away in . . .” This peculiar blindness is precisely what Jesus was addressing with His comparison of the beam and the mote, the camel and the gnat.

But if “give no offense” is not a wooden absolute, and there are conditions and standards that we must derive from Scripture, in order to set the bounds for our work and debate, then we must set about the work of exegesis.

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