I responded briefly to Thabiti’s most recent post on Saturday. He wrote here, and I responded here. But there was one important point he made that required more time than I had, and with everyone’s permission I will get to it now.
“Reading your last post, however, I wonder if you might not be stumbling over fear??? Fear that engaging the narrower issues will somehow amount to unfaithfulness in your apologetic calling. Or fear that some concession to an opponent’s argument might end in a check mate you didn’t see. Or fear that the hecklers out there might have their howling party once and for all. Or fear that an evanjellyfish church might lose even the muscular integrity of jelly. I don’t know. I can’t pretend to know your head or heart. It just seemed to me as I read your last post that it was so heavy with concern for potential negative results that you weren’t allowing yourself to come down to the conversation I’m actually trying to have with you.”
The answers here are simple, but the explanation for those answers might take a minute. Out of Thabiti’s four surmises, three of them were dead on and one of them almost dead on. Yes, I do have that kind of fear — the only one that doesn’t apply straight across is the hecklers having their howling party. I don’t mind that in itself — haters gonna hate, and hecklers gonna heck. What I fear is stupidly giving them material where they would have every right to howl.
Now I know that perfect love casts out fear (1 Jn. 4:18), and I know that God has not given us a spirit of timidity (2 Tim. 1:7). That is not what I am talking about. I have my struggles, but timidity isn’t one of them. But that does not mean that fear is not involved. This is the kind of thing that moves me:
“Would to God ye could bear with me a little in my folly: and indeed bear with me. For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ” (2 Cor. 11:1-3).
The serpent is good at beguiling, and modern evangelicals were almost custom-fitted for being beguiled.
Comes now Wheaton College, which now has a student group for those students who “self-identify” as one of those alphabet GLBTQ thingies. Now the problem is not having a student group that would help students repent of their effeminacy and softness, or of their desire for carnal knowledge with those of the same sex (1 Cor. 6:9-10). Some Christians have those temptations, and we all need help with our temptations. I don’t begrudge that at all.
But who cannot see, provided you look directly at it, that this group will not be a group characterized by a spirit of repentance. Rather, students who join this group will find a haven for talking about their desires, just so long as they don’t act upon them before graduation, they will spend years marinating in therapeutic goo and — here is the point relevant to our discussion — they will be able to do all this on the basis of the straight evangelical world having hurt their feelings. The group will not (bet you a hundred dollars) focus on how they are offenders against biblical norms, but will rather focus on how the larger Wheaton community, still conforming kinda to those norms, is thoughtless, callused, hurtful, and, you guessed it, insensitive.
Moreover, this technique has worked, is working, and will continue to work. This is not something that is limited to liberal institutions. The rot is well-advanced among evangelicals — those little bugs have eaten most of the trunk, but they don’t like the taste of the bark. That means we can still take impressive photographs of the “tree” to send out to the donor base.
I say all this granting that there is true sin underneath some instances of “insensitivity.” The biblical name for that sin would be a refusal to love our neighbor. If I see that I have been guilty of such a thing, my obligation is to put it right with God, and with the neighbor I have wronged, regardless of how much hay the accusers can make out of it. But nine out of ten times, the insensitivity stick is being used to whack any remaining biblical faithfulness we may have found, much to our displeasure. Feminists do this, homosexuals do it, and evangelicals who are neither (still technically rejecting the sin proper) will help them police the boundaries of the new speech codes, saying in effect that we must show them how much we love them by obeying them, instead of obeying God.
This brings us to those instances where I deliberately set up the accusers, making a point of doing what I know they are demanding we all stop doing. For example, in the comments of Thabiti’s last post, one person pointed out that I use the word sodomite from time to time. “I can imagine a glee, sitting at desk, typing, and thinking, ‘Watch this! Watch how the ‘libs’ blow up over this one . . .'” Now I do admit that there are times when I crack myself up — as for example if I were to write about Anglican sodomites processing up the central aisle in their sodomitres. At the same time, I take no glee in being a “bad boy.” I am in deadly earnest.
Some might say that this kind of “glee” is unbecoming to a Christian minister, but I can assure everyone that this kind of thing is only directed at high rebellion, like Elijah’s commentary on the latest dance steps from Baaltown. As a counseling pastor, I can also testify that I have participated empathetically in all the grief that men and women can get themselves into. Some might say axiomatically that this is not possible — how can the same man bind up the broken-hearted and puncture the puffed up? I do not do it nearly as wisely or well as I ought to, but that is what I do.
Demands that we change the language we are allowed to use is a prelude for a change in the laws. Mores and customs change before the laws do. We are already living in a day where it is uncouth to use the word sodomite in print, or in the pulpit, and so I am preparing for the day when it will be illegal to do so. I am practicing, and I hope that I will have the courage of my convictions all the way through.
When the apostle Paul asked the Ephesians to pray for him, that he would have boldness (Eph. 6:20), he had been in the apostolic ministry for decades. He wasn’t asking for prayer because he would get butterflies before speaking. He wasn’t dealing with stage fright or the jitters. He asked for boldness because he knew that all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Tim. 3:12), and he had a long list of events on his resume that don’t usually show up on modern resumes (2 Cor. 6:4-10).
So am I motivated by fear? You bet I am (1 Cor. 9:26-27). I don’t want to be bribed by the world, and I don’t want to act bribeable. The same goes for threats. I have seen a lot of good men taken out by this tactic. I don’t want to pull a Louie Giglio. He was going to have the honor of doing something at Obama’s second inauguration, and when an old message of his on homosexuality was trotted out by his accusers, he responded by saying that sort of thing wasn’t the focus or center of his ministry. He didn’t deny the truth, so far as I know, but he was back on his heels from the get go, and he responded ill advisedly. I don’t know him or his heart, and so I am not speaking to that. I am talking about the strategic blunder. In the great tank battle that is our spiritual warfare, that is how to get your tank “blowed up.”
I do not want to talk about how much I emphasize things, even though I could. As Paul might say, I am out of my mind to talk this way. What percentage of my books, my sermons, my articles, are dedicated to a discussion of American slavery? Less than one percent? And, to the extent that I do discuss this, what percentage of the time is it happening because people are trying to discredit me in some other area — usually in the area of sexual morality? I have been in three major blow-ups over slavery, and each one of the three times was right after a collision on homosexuality.
But please note that when I point to these larger strategic concerns, I am saying nothing whatever about Thabiti, or even necessarily about the critical commenters on his blog or mine. I am talking about the world I live in.
One last thing, closely related. Thabiti remarked that my posts were “so heavy with concern for potential negative results that” I wasn’t allowing myself “to come down to the conversation” that Thabiti was “trying to have with” me. This is a fair criticism, and I really do understand why Thabiti feels this way. But I don’t think this is because I am being a bonehead, not able to be “easily entreated.” Rather I think it is because we are having this discussion on the fifty yard line in a full stadium. I hope everyone recalls that we offered to begin this process with private conversations that could lead up to public ones. I have the sense that the place it has taken Thabiti and me a couple weeks to get to is a place we could have gotten to in one evening of face-to-face discussion.
Talking to Thabiti in person would enable me to talk to Thabiti. This blog exchange, as fruitful as I believe it has been, has also been much more challenging and difficult. Reconciliation is not easily crowd-sourced.
Think of it this way. Suppose we were not talking about racial reconcilation, but rather talking about alcohol consumption. I have an absolute duty to go the ninth and tenth mile with some brothers (Rom. 14:21). Do not destroy your brother for the sake of wine. I also have an absolute duty to not bend an inch with other brothers (Col. 2:21). Why submit to arbitrary and legalistic decrees? I might be able to come to an agreement with a reasonable brother in the course of an evening. But if we were talking about it with the galleries packed — with legalists glaring and libertines yelling, along with the judicious praying — it might take a bit longer.
I want very much to be at peace with Thabiti, and with everyone like him. I want to continue to be a pain in the neck for everyone who, wittingly or unwittingly, wants us to apologise our way to perdition. You see my dilemma.