Catholicity Begins at Home

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.

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Quest
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Quest

I’m not sure how you resisted the urge to name this post “Mr. Make-Fun-of-Things.” 

bethyada
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Yet there are some within the camp. John Bevere wrote an excellent book warning people to be cautious about words spoken over them. Lee Grady has been doing this for a long time. My own (theologically charismatic) church has preached suffering as the way we enter the kingdom for decades and many consider the prosperity doctrine errant, if not bordering on demonic. Us charismatics read all the literature written by cessationists. Perhaps cessationists need to expand their library (?).  //  I think the Strange Fire kerfuffle was exacerbated the broad brush strokes; one doesn’t denounce every Baptist because the actions… Read more »

bethyada
Member

For the record, I have lent Evangellyfish to fellow charismatics who enjoyed it immensely.

Gianni
Member
Gianni

“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.”
                                                                                                                                                                        Heh. Funny how some guys live their lives with those two priorities exactly reversed, and yet there’s nothing wrong with that. And the reason is that, as you say, catholicity begins at home.

BJ
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BJ

Warning: meandering ideas ahead! First of all, your tulip/daisy joke made me laugh out loud. Nice work. Secondly, the Strange Fire conference was not a result of continuationists neglecting to clean house. Wow, what a misreading of that conference. The vast majority of us despise Hinn and his ilk and condemn the prosperity gospel, et al. That conference is the continued work of a man who has built a reputation and a ministry (not to count his millions) picking divisive fights with well-known influential Christians about issues that are within the bounds of orthodoxy (cessationism, dispensationalism, Lordship salvation, etc.). It… Read more »

Mark B. Hanson
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Mark B. Hanson

BJ – cessationists “believe in the continuation of the Holy Spirit’s active working to bring about the salvation of the world”, just not anymore through living prophets, healers, and apostles. // The Scripture defines and describes prophecy, tongues, and healing one way. Cessationists want to claim the same names, but not the same content. No modern prophet would subject him/herself to the Old Testament test of a prophet. No modern healer would claim (or even try) to heal congenital blindness. No modern tongue speaker would expect to be understood by foreign people listening, as at Pentecost. “This is not that”,… Read more »

BJ
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BJ

Mark, Thank you for your response. I think at point you mixed up the name continuationist for cessationist, because I am a bit confused about your point. If I miss what you were trying to say, correct me please. I would agree that most of the non-sense that accompanies much of the deeply pentecostal-type churches is false. But likewise, almost every continuationist I know agrees with me. We would never say that a person is a healer, but that God stills heals and sometimes does so in a miraculous way. “No modern tongue speaker would expect to be understood by… Read more »

BJ
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BJ

Correction for my last post. I meant to say, “except when it happens.”

JJM
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JJM

I’m sitting next to John Frame’s new ST book right now, so I can see how what you say here is true from a certain perspective.  But on the other side of me is my dog, who’s whining at me right now. I think he has to pee.  And so I too must mark my territory and reject this blog post as shameless marketing for your new book.

J
Guest
J

Yeah! You get him JJM! How dare he transgress the 11th commandment and use his own private paid for domain to blog and talk about his own work….bad dog, bad bad bad dog. Shameless indeed.

Alan Stout
Member

Thanks Doug,
Helpful instruction on how to read folks close to you.
May God continue to bless you brother!
al sends

Jane
Member

He shouldn’t even have written the book, because people might buy it and read it, and then he’d have profit AND a measure of recognition!

James B. Jordan
Guest

Well, I for one welcome your interaction with the Driscolls and Pipers of our age. As for “evangelical,” you define it as absolute necessity of a new birth “down in your heart.” I’m happy to sign on to that as well. That is, those who persevere in the faith (good soil believers) participate in the new birth of humanity in the resurrection of Jesus, which means they are individually born again also and do not commit suicide along the way. The “down” heart stuff, being a metaphor, is fine with me also, though from an exegetical standpoint, I’ve never gotten… Read more »

Roy
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Roy

DW, I don’t know that any bona fides (wish I could do bold or italics, or even break a paragraph) necessarily come into play. Folks are going to read or hear from where they are. Appears to be evidenced by the responses. FWIF, without any awareness of controversy, I recently listened to the initial “Reformed is Not Enough” series. Anyone who is serious enough to comment on your posts would do themselves a favor by acknowledging the filter through which your views are formed. I’m right there with you 85% of the time. Thanks for the effort (on your private… Read more »

C. Frank Bernard
Member

“[…] yelling up the wrong rain-spout.” —H.L. Mencken

Jason Pearson
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Jason Pearson

Stumbled across this by chance.  Same stuff, different decade… These theological gymnastics just keep going, but who really gives a durn?  One egghead expert espouses one absolute, another egghead posits the opposite.  Small wonder that the layfolk eventually yawn and go about their way.  The average Joe just doesn’t have the time and energy to keep up with the latest “developments” and “new discoveries” in the field of Christianology.  They’re too busy trying to figure out how to keep the checkbook balanced.  Good old Biblical principles are extreme enough and good enough for them.  Still, the clergical higher-ups must justify… Read more »

RC
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  I left the PCA after my conversion at age 38 because the M.C. Escher designed theological box that constrained my church’s ministry was unable to deal with the many issues that I was contending.   The church had me reading Sproul, Van Til and Rushdooney within six months of my conversion and all things Banner of Truth.   The church was excellent at preaching the Cross, which it absolutely essential, but that was the beginning and end of it.  I later joined conservative Episcopal churches, and through the help of those congregations, and other ministries was able to address the physical… Read more »

Wally
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Wally

And the FV controversy is?

Tim Nichols
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Tim Nichols

Upon reflecting on this for a week or so, I have a serious question about the reasoning here.  Given that it’s desirable and unity-enhancing for the critiques of whichever camp to come from within that camp, rather than from outside (and from people who don’t like ’em very much, truth be known) — why conclude that Strange Fire was necessary?  Wouldn’t this be the perfect place to apply some of that postmillennial patience and just wait for God to raise up internal critique from among charismatic circles?  What’s the rush?