One of the things I have noticed over the years is that an awful lot of theological assessment is made on the basis of who you are standing next to when you say something. This creates problems if you have ecumenical impulses, because you might be standing next to entirely different types of people at different times, leading observers to infer a Lutheran to Baptist trajectory when all that is happening is that while on vacation you visited your Baptist friend second.
For example, my evangelicalism is the central load-bearing beam in my house, and has been for as long as I can remember. When the FV controversy first broke, and I wrote “Reformed” Is Not Enough, I spent three early chapters reiterating my Reformed bona fides, my Calvinistic bona fides, and my evangelical bona fides. This was not an emotional, sentimental kind of thing — it was a doctrinal affirmation. But for many people that simply didn’t matter because of where I was standing, and who my friends were (and are). I then spent a decade and some change insisting on the absolute necessity of the new birth (where? down in your heart!) and it was like I was yelling up the wrong rain spout entirely.
But then I did a few events with John Piper, and one with Mark Driscoll, and now some people are getting the impression that I am not saying anything else. This appears to be based on the mere fact of the people I have been seen with recently. But as far as the actual positions go, I invite anybody to pore over my writings on the new birth over the years, and I request that they please note that my writing on this has been regular, insistent, loud, and consistent. In line with all that, I now have a book coming out in a few weeks on the whole subject entitled Against the Church, a book that should be read against the backdrop of these comments here.
This impression that some have gotten about what I am doing is not actually a “trajectory” at all — it is the result of ecumenical catholicity. And before responding to the guffawed response that I, were I to become a character in Pilgrim’s Progress, would be named Mr. Make-Fun-of-Things, could possibly be engaged in ecumenical pursuits, let me address something else first. You don’t serve the cause of catholicity by pursuing relations with distant relatives in such a way as to put a strain on all your brothers and sisters. If ancestry.com helps me find a distant cousin five times removed in the Highlands of Scotland, nobody would be more pleased about it than I. But if the cost of finding this guy was a falling out within the immediate family, then maybe I am doing it wrong. So three cheers for rapprochement with the Lutherans in remote villages in Finland, but let’s not walk away from the millions of evangelicals in North America. Catholicity, like sectarianism, begins at home.
And this in turn sheds light on the dicey question of unity and the satiric bite. I am absolutely convinced that movements, churches, denominations, etc. need to learn how to pick up their own living rooms. This is why, overwhelmingly, when I make fun of something, it is something that needs to be picked up in the house that I am living in.
Take the example of various liturgical practices. I have been making fun of dumb evangelical liturgical tricks for numerous trips around the sun. If I had only figured out a way to monetize this, I would have been able to buy three red convertibles by this point, along with the underground garage to help hide them from the discernment bloggers. But I have felt free to do this because I am an evangelical.
I am also a Calvinist, a postmillennialist, a liturgical reformer, a Puritan, and so on, and I am far more likely to take a jab at the excesses and foibles of these sorts of things precisely because this is our living room, and we have to keep it picked up. I am a firm believer in policing our own ranks. You don’t spank the neighbor kids.
Neglect of this principle is one of the reasons why the Strange Fire conference got the big reaction it did. I don’t think that could have happened if there had been a well-known charismatic leader who regularly skewered all those exorcists out there whose specialty was casting out the demons of popcorn gluttony. It is not enough to have numerous responsible charismatics who are not guilty themselves of such excesses, or who distance themselves from it – the charismatic movement needs men who ladle jollity and mayhem over the tops of the abuses, preferably with a snow shovel.
Now, for example, I am capable of telling an Arminian joke (who have a daisy instead of a tulip – “He loves me, He loves me not”), but my repertoire is almost entirely stacked full of Calvinist jokes, at a ratio of about 10 to 1. This is not a sign of my imminent departure from Calvinism, but rather a sign of how settled I am here. People who can only make fun of “the other group” are, in my view, verging on bigotry and sectarianism.
Now some might respond that such efforts might seem counterproductive. Satire? Catholicity? But satire is not for purposes of entertainment – it is an instrument of reform. And I have found that this kind of satiric bite has not rendered my efforts at catholicity ineffective (or hypocritical), but rather in many cases has been the foundation for it. I have been amazed at some of the doors it has opened.
For some people, unity and catholicity is just one long schmoozefest, and they are so busy relating to the contours of one another’s concerns that they fail to tell anybody to pick up their clutter. And the clutter is what we usually trip over.