Saturday, May 1, 2010

Emergend?--Part2 "Apologetic Jiu Jitsu"

Reactive theology is a very dangerous thing. In a recent post, I dealt with the universal issue of self-oriented theology (our tendency to re-interpret the Bible to fit opinions and comfort). I used the emergent church as an example and a springboard to highlight this problem that we all have. Unfortunately the issue doesn’t end there. Let me tell you the rest of the story…

Jones ended his lecture with a Q and A (don’t know what I’m talking about? Click here). While I had hoped to see him speak in favor of Scriptural authority, Jones had brought a lot of clarity to our understanding of contemporary western thought and had not outright denied Scripture, Truth or any other core doctrine. This was a great opportunity to glean some wisdom about for ministering to postmodern youth. My hand went up; so did several others.

Several friendly and valuable questions were asked and answered. Some clearly disaggreed with Jones but were genuinely seeking clarity and understanding with Christian unity in mind. I was disapointed that I hadn’t been called on, but things were going well until a middle-aged “baptist curmudgeon” or “BC” (as I will call him) piped in.

Side note: Every Christian should learn Apologetic Jiu Jitsu. When you find you disaggree with someone, your first order of business should be to fiind common ground, some aggreed upon pre-supposition to work from. If both parties are operating from separate pre-suppositions, no one gets aywhere. It turns into a shouting match or a “look-cool-in-front-of-the-audience” match. Apologetic Jiu Jitsu channels the opinion of your “opponent” to convince him of yours. In most cases, this will allow you to either win your friend over or find that you already agree. If not, you can at least end the discussion on good terms with the possibility of ongoing discussion.

BC had apearantly never heard my advice on apologetic jiu jitsu. “Why do you heretics in the emergent church deny absolute truth?” he said. (Note: these were not his exact words. They were, however very cutting with the same implications).

My opportunity to gently and respectfully hear from Jones and bring us both closer to an orthodox view of scripture was sabotodged by a grumpy guy who wasn’t there to make friends. I aggree that Jones wasn’t taking a stand in the way I think he should, but a caustic frontal attack was not going to be effective.

Regardless of his intentions, BC’s tone made it seem like Christian unity and Christ-like love were the furthest thing from his mind. Unfortunately, Jone’s response was not particularly kind either. I can’t say that he was right, but I can’t say that I blame him. He was blindsided at his own lecture. In that situation, I would have either snapped back or use soft-spoken charm to make BC look like the bad guy. Jones managed to do both. The venom came out. Jones refered to a particular group of evangelicals as bordering on heresy. BC had already accused emergents of heresy. Both of these guys got pretty harsh. It was painful and unproductive.

Disclaimer: I believe false doctrine should be confronted (2 Timothy 3:16-17). I just believe it should be done with grace, love, tact and clarity (1 Cor. 13). Seek to understand and then say, “I just don’t think that lines up with what God says in [reference].” Any phrase that leads with, “Why don’t you…” or “you guys are…” doesn’t end well.

I remember sitting there with my hand in the air wishing for a chance to speak. My thesis dealt with the topic of epistemology as it relates to the revealed truth of God, I think I was qualified person to respond to the issue. However, my voice was never heard. In that room only the loudest, angriest (dare I say, least effective) voices were heard. It was very discouraging.

Lest you demonize Tony Jones, remember that he was interupted and accused of heresy in his own workshop. I would have been pretty upset as well. Given the circumstances, I think he kept it pretty civil. There was no yelling or name calling, just venom in the language and tone of both parties. It was clear that both had some hurt related to this topic.

Jones cut off the heated Q and A by saying that he had a plane to catch. He left abruptly. (Not his fault, by the way. He told us at the beginning his flight was early and that he couldn’t stay long after the lecture.)

I left the workshop with my heart on the floor. I had seen what reactive theology cause division. I was broken for the church. My heart was heavy and it was written all over my face. People who didn’t know me stopped to ask if I was ok. I spilled my heart out to a Youth for Christ guy I had met the day before. “The church keeps swinging like a pendulum,” I said. “One generation overcorrects to some extreme and then the next defines their theology in contrast. Someone reacts to that and we are back where we started.” We never seem to get it right. It feels like we are all just reacting to the last guy. Very few are looking at Scripture and genuinely seeking Truth.

Last week I made the statemetn that Emergents are “unwilling to surrender.” I wanted to clarify that this is not true of all of them. I think many are really seeking truth. However, I think in both camps of theology (maybe I should say “every camp”), there is a reactive faction, a group of people that identify their belief in contraversy. They react, distract and refuse to surrender to plain truth. We have these guys in the evangelical camp, and they have them in the emergent camp. We react and fight. All the while, we lose sight of the Great Commission.

So, I’ve listed a few guidelines for interacting with fellow believers who disagree:

Orient: Find a presupposition that you can both agree upon. Here are a few that may work:

o Scripture—inspired and innerrant

o Scripture—reliable historical document

o God—loving, all-powerful, just, etc.

Clarify: When someone disagrees with something you believe, ask them why. Find out if they have any Scripture to back it up. Take some time to read up and research before coming back.

Biblify: Find out what the Bible actually says about the issue.

Time: Don’t feel like you have to convince or be convinced in the moment. If you both care about truth, you should both be willing to allow one another time to look into it. If you really are right, your point can only be served with more research time.

Pray: Ask God to reveal the truth to you.

Relate: Preferably, build relationship before disagreeing. People tend to be more respectful when they know each other as people not as dissidents.

Return: Don’t flee the discussion . Keep coming back with questions and evidence. If you are clearly right, they eather conceid the point or hide from you (I’ve had this happen to me).

Tell us about a time when you changed a belief after a discussion about it?




  1. Great post man! Thanks for clarifying on the "unwilling" section, I really appreciate that. Enjoyed the Apologetic Jiu Jitsu point as well. Too often we forget we are called to love everyone, even if they are dead wrong.

    Also where was the Jones workshop at? Because I believe I was there as well, if not then Jones is called a heretic often.

  2. It was in Nashville at a Youth Specialties conference a few years ago (October of 2005?). Were you there?
    Thanks for the kind words!