A Theopolis Wrap-Up

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In the follow-up to an exchange on the Theopolis page, I wrote this wrap-up for the list serve of the CREC ministers. I am posting it here for anyone interested.

After David Field’s initial article regarding Christian appropriation from depth psychology, Zen, and the desert fathers, I responded to that article. There were also responses from Uri Brito and Alistair Roberts. And in his response to the three of us, David Field provided a final wrap-up to the conversation. Links to all those articles can be found here.

Given the things that I called for at the conclusion of my article, I believe it is necessary for me to make a public statement about David’s final rejoinder so that we don’t have any loose ends that people might wonder about.

Let me begin with the title of my article, “A Crisis, Not a Conversation.” Given the qualifications that David provided in his second article, I would like to adjust my assessment, considering his two articles together. Instead of calling it “a crisis” over against a “conversation,” I would no longer call David’s position in itself a crisis because he did provide a number of needed guardrail qualifications in his second article. Had they been present in the first one, I still wouldn’t have applauded the overall project, but I don’t believe I would have pulled the fire alarm the way I did.

But even considered as a conversation, it is in my view the kind of unhelpful conversation we really could have done without. While grateful for David’s personal orthodoxy (and Peter’s), this kind of invitation to conversation still gives heterodox and damaging views a place at the table. Someone who is personally orthodox can still do things that are pastorally unwise, which is why I continue to believe that this approach was extremely ill-advised.

So with all this said, I still believe we have a crisis brewing. This small controversy excited considerable debate in various quarters, and some of the contributions to those threads and comments sections revealed quite a bit of the spiritual disease that we are (not really) dealing with. We really do have a significant problem, and it is an apparent unwillingness to confront the possibility of problems arising.

I also said that churches that support Theopolis financially should reconsider that support if the situation were not remedied. In the event, the situation has been partially remedied, and so I would simply urge those individuals and churches that support Theopolis to request from them a statement that outlines the Theopolis stance on the integration of biblical truth with truths garnered from natural revelation, common grace, and the current wisdom, and to make their decision about donations accordingly.  

My statement that I was going to make a formal request of Athanasius Presbytery was widely misunderstood as meaning that I was intending to bring charges. This would have been flatly unconstitutional, according to our polity, and it was far from my intention. But according to our polity, the presiding minister of a presbytery does have the authority to inquire into the spiritual and doctrinal health of a church (Art. IV.C.9.b). In asking for a public evaluation and assessment of the propriety of these articles, and related issues, I will not be asking for anything that would lie outside the scope of that kind of authority. I do still intend to write such a letter, which will not be public, but which will request some sort of public statement or evaluation. But after I have written the letter, what happens will be entirely up to the presiding minister of Athanasius.

When all of Israel gathered for war against the tribes of Reuben and Gad, they did so because the altar that had been built looked pretty bad. The Israelites were pleased when it turned out to have been a false alarm because they really were not eager for conflict. “And the thing pleased the children of Israel; and the children of Israel blessed God, and did not intend to go up against them in battle, to destroy the land wherein the children of Reuben and Gad dwelt” (Josh. 22:33). But even though the children of Israel were pleased with the outcome, it should be noted that they did not owe Reuben and Gad an apology. Their vigilance was admirable, even in a circumstance like that one. Vigilance against a deadly syncretism is one of our generation’s central pastoral duties, and the switchback mountain journey that David has undertaken is a hazardous one in that regard, even with the guardrails.

Like the children of Israel, I am not eager for conflict, and am relieved at where things stand now. I wrote David personally before there was any public controversy to let him know the esteem I have for him, and was grateful for the charity that was evident in his reply.

For other observers and second-generation participants, I would like to conclude by saying something about the nature of trust. For any group of Christians to retain true spiritual cohesion, trust is absolutely necessary. But there are two elements to such trust. If you simply believe that your friends will not do wrong, this is to hop along on one leg. We do need to trust that our friends will not do wrong, but we also need our friends to trust us to say something if we see things going wrong. Not to say something is to do wrong yourself. Guard dogs that don’t bark are not trustworthy, and are not earning their dogfood. “But exhort one another daily, while it is called today; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb. 3:13).