Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Janet Mefferd/Mark Driscoll/Evangelical Industrial Complex Incident and the Lesson(s) Learned: When Crusaders Get it Wrong, the Damage Left Behind and the Absence of Apologies




Christian Radio Host/Journalist Janet Mefferd interviewed Neo-Calvinist/Charismatic/Emergent Pastor Mark Driscoll on Thursday, November 21, 2013, in which Mefferd asked or confronted (depending on one’s interpretation of the event) Driscoll about possible plagiarism in his new book, A Call to Resurgence. From this issue arose a substantial wave of response and reaction by Evangelicals of many stripes and particularly when Janet Mefferd removed the controversial material from her website and apologized for her approach on the matter.

Fast forward to today, three weeks later. Now we have a much clearer perspective and one that looks back having learned a few things. Not that the citation issue itself has been completely laid to rest, but within this context arose some rather ugly and - now known to be incorrect - speculation about the matter which either directly or indirectly accused Mark Driscoll, Tyndale House Publishers and Janet Mefferd, along with what was coined the "Evangelical Industrial Complex” of lying about the matter, of intimidating Mefferd into silence and of Mefferd not being honest about why she apologized thus, questioning the integrity of her apology.

The Wave

After the interview between Mefferd and Driscoll (in which I agreed that Mefferd was unprofessional in how she approached Discoll by “60 Minuting” him and lacking Christian hospitality as a host who should have, in the least, if genuinely concerned about the matter, informed Driscoll of the nature of the questions which were going to be a departure from the normal content interview which was expected), a supercharged wave of dissent supervened in the reaction by some Christians and was expressed, of course, online which is where many believers now live for mass communication and information. And within this undulation came speculation, accusation and assignment of guilt merely on suspicion and the words of a third-tier subordinate which should have been taken with great caution and certainly vetted before accepted and believed.

Instead, a frenzy of group hysteria ensued and it was an ugly scene in many places. Compelled and led by suspicion and melodrama which formed the undercurrent, others quickly identified their cue and became the collective of this tidal motion, sustained and emboldened by one another. It got bad enough that one individual did some measurable damage to his reputation as a credible and stable source among his peers and superiors and others merely reinforcing their image as serial inventors or exaggerators of controversy to aid their injury hustling "ministry".

What was telling, in my view, was that many of those who led the charge are the very people who often claim to wish to protect others from abuse. Yet, these same saviors of their brothers and sisters led their congregation of hurting and injured sheep on a rampage (as I observed) of heedless speculation and accusation. They taught their sheep to preemptively injure other sheep with speculation and accusation and approved of this, in large part, by not quelling such discussions and accusations and in some cases, leading it with their own articles, blogs, additional comments or tweets doing just the same when, in the end, we discover those speculations and accusations of lawyer and Evangelical Industrial Complex intimidation simply were not true.

Slate and Why Mefferd backed down

Slate magazine published an article by Ruth Graham, The Evangelical Celebrity Machine, in which Graham provides quotes from an interview with Mefferd as to why Mefferd removed the materials and apologized. From the article (highlights mine):
Mefferd wrote to me that she removed the materials from her site because they had already been widely disseminated, and she wanted to be responsive to those who had criticized her tone and approach.

But she says her apology shouldn’t be mistaken for a recanting. “I stand by my allegations of insufficient sourcing, absolutely and unequivocally,” she said by email. “His plagiarism is a very serious ethical and moral breach. Academics and journalists alike have lost their jobs over less than what Mark Driscoll has done.” Mefferd says that “no attorneys were involved in this situation” and that no one at Mars Hill Church, where Driscoll is pastor, suggested she remove the materials.
Clearly Mefferd and many still have concerns about the citation issue but frankly, I do not see anyone making arguments against being concerned about proper citation. That is being pursued and Mars Hill has responded to some degree stating that it was an assistant editorial issue. But in the end, that does not matter with regard to this blog post and the peripheral speculations which arose that damaged the reputations of, Mefferd, Driscoll and the Tyndale without warrant.

No amount of, “Well, Driscoll had it coming”, satisfies either a reasonable justification for the damaging speculation and accusation and certainly not a Biblical standard of our conduct. We are not commissioned to dole out justice as we see fit with speculation and accusation. No amount of, “Well, the Evangelical Mafia had it coming”, will do either (Evangelical Mafia are my words, it representing the equivalent of how the unspecified of powerful Evangelicals in this realm are alleged to have behaved as it came across to me). No matter what you think of either a person or a business, lying through speculation and then accusation is not only sinful but a grievous sin of unrighteous judgment upon which God makes clear he visits with his own judgments.

Not an Apologist for Mark Driscoll

Lest you believe I am an apologist for Mark Driscoll, think again. He is a brother and a Pastor, I recognize that. I believe he is also in error on a number of matters and would not and do not recommend him as a Bible Teacher who can comprehensively lead a believer into a mature handling of the Word of God. I do believe he manifests, in his public work, sincerity but theological and spiritual adolescence. Hence, in my view he demonstrates a lack of capacity for the high demands such a position necessitates.

However, that does not warrant me to damage him through speculation and accusation merely out of suspicion which might have as a basis, in part, my view that he is not as developed as needed for his elevated role thus, I may simply license myself to speculate about Mark Driscoll and accuse him of something for which I cannot provide proof, namely that he intimidated Mefferd into silence. This doesn’t get to be added to the weight of my suspicion thereby making my still unproven and public speculation and accusation all okay. No, that is immature, unstable and simply wrong. It still remains damaging accusation without proof.

There is a way to express suspicion with integrity but it is a rare that situations warrant strong public articulation of that suspicion and particularly unbridled, as went on in this case. But it does not matter who or what Mark Driscoll is or anyone else for that matter. We, Christians, are still bound by God’s protocols in our conduct in our own lives. We are to give a fair hearing, we are to wait for facts and speak truth no matter who the subject of our concerns may be. If we will recall, our Lord was speculated about, accused and then executed by false witnesses.

Owed Acknowledgments and Admissions

Janet Mefferd did not apologize for her concerns, rather for her conduct in pursuing those concerns. She recognized it was needlessly reckless and damaging to other parties and further, it resulted in a recruiting meme for the disaffected and those who lead such people into ill-will and self-aggrandizing expressions of discontent toward the powers-that-be and other icons at which they have chosen to direct their wrath seeing these people or organizations, in some way, represent someone that hurt them in the past. As a result, a crusade of dissension followed which was part of Mefferd’s regret.

And what about the dissenters, the ones that Janet Mefferd apologized for giving opportunity to arise (she is not guilty for their actions and clearly she sought to quell the rumble but they paid no heed apparently)? What about them?

Their victim, who turned out not to be a victim at all, Janet Mefferd, simply and maturely recognized the error of her approach and conduct on the matter, admitted it and apologized for it. And really, it was not a great foible on display. It was merely one segment of a program which can, at best, be construed as inconsiderate questioning seeing that Driscoll was under the impression he was coming on the program to discuss the content of the book with respect to its thesis and not grammatical or citation issues for which he could have been prepared had he known in advance.

Thus, the campaign of speculation, accusation and damage against Driscoll, Tyndale, Mefferd (by refusing to accept her apology as genuine) and the Evangelical Industrial Complex (whomever you are) and so on, was all for naught. She was no victim and they did not perpetrate a campaign of intimidation against her; she was not being pressured and she was genuine in her mea culpa.

So what about them?

Where are they now? Are they formulating their acknowledgments and apologies? Are they prepared to admit they fostered an environment of suspicion, speculation, accusation and inevitably damage to people and institutions which were not justified? What about these crusaders who care for people and the truth so much and so often, where are they now?

I don’t know where they may be but I do know they owe an apology, if not to the people wrongly accused of intimidation tactics, at least to those who follow them and learn from them. In the least they owe their followers an apology for modeling naivety, for assuming the worst, for speaking the worst, for speculating, accusing and damaging others without justification and in doing so, teaching their followers to do so. Followers, I remind you, who are people claiming to have either been traumatized by mistreatment or know of it and sympathize with such people but now engaged a mass exercise of damaging others merely on suspicion.

Evangelical Industrial Complex and Christian Publishing: It is a Business

I am not sure what was meant by the Evangelical Industrial Complex specifically, if anything specifically, but as it was used by the author of the term and as how I would view it, I imagine it does have some basis in reality. Not everything with the identification, “Christian” is ministry nor is it altruistic. Some of it is business.

Now, I could depart here and begin a new series on all of the problems with that but I will not. Right now I do want to acknowledge, in part, that I accept the basis for this to some degree but I also reject its conspiratorial use.

Businesses are what they are, businesses. It is not conspiratorial to act in the interest of a business. Thus, even if it were true that Tyndale, Driscoll and other parties with some interests did act together to protect something, it does not warrant the implication that it exists only with self-interests and looms as a body of legal threats any time it is engaged with criticism or controversy.

The little guy is a little guy for many reasons, some good and some bad or to his discredit. Thus, simply because the apparent underdog believes there is a man behind the curtain or a bunch of people behind the curtain pulling strings to make puppets dance does not make it so. Rarely is there a great a might OZ. In fact, God isn’t even OZ nor wishes to be thought of in that way.

This is not to say there never is a cooperative work, either collectively or monolithically by design of likeminded men and women nor even that a conspiracy cannot ever take place. But to use this kind of description in a matter insignificant to many real problems such an industry faces and without proof? Atomic bombs for resolving skirmishes in the dirt? This is not a display of discretion and is intemperance even on its best day.

Christian Publishing

Publishing, which includes Christian publishing, is a business. As a publishing business there are editors and assistant editors as you should expect. Not every name of every book is the result of one person’s work and particularly with work that has many referenced materials. And even if one person wrote a book, that book gets edited. That means someone else, often more than one person, puts their hands on the book, handles it, edits it and changes the work of its author.

Yes, the author normally reads the final product but not even then is this always the case. He or she may have a trusted personal proofreader in whom they have confidence that he or she will be able to insure that the book, itself, represents the ideas and arguments of the author. And the publisher has confidence in the author of the book that through such mechanisms of the author, his or her personal proofreader will insure the book fairly represents the author's ideas.

Why?

Because sometimes the author has a very busy schedule, particularly if he or she has books produced at a high volume and has other endeavors going on which are not compatible with publishing deadlines. It is ideal? No. Is it reality in many cases? Yes.

None of this, or course, removes Mark Driscoll or the publisher, Tyndale House, from the responsibility of proper citation and no one is arguing this. But it is to explore and bring to light many of the normal-range reasons for citation issues in books. Unfortunately and instead, in this case many people simply assumed the worst, that Driscoll and/or Tyndale simply knew it was plagiarism and hoped to dupe the public and when discovered the Evangelical Industrial Complex sent over bad men and women in the form of lawyers or what have you, to threaten and intimidate Mefferd into silence.

Proverbs 18:13

In God’s Word we are told how to deal with incomplete knowledge on matters.

Proverbs 18:13

If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.


That is rather plain and simple. In this case many premature and wrong answers were given, rather emphatically. Now is a good opportunity to lead the way, again, this time in a better direction. For those listening, I encourage a public apology. Maybe you fear your theological antagonists or otherwise will see your weakness and take advantage of you, throwing it in your face. To that I say:
  • They will only be showing their weakness
  • You aren’t apologizing for their sake, rather to those unfairly damaged and those who you taught by example to do this which need to be corrected

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Social Justice: Reason Magazine Reports and what Many Left Wing Christians Believe

Reason is a middle-of-the-road, pragmatist and libertarian group that reports on a wide range of news stories. They are self-described as:
Reason provides a refreshing alternative to right-wing and left-wing opinion magazines by making a principled case for liberty and individual choice in all areas of human activity.
I find them informative, though I am not always in agreement with them, and a respite from the devoted standard left/right materials. Mind you, however, I do not declare myself to be a libertarian and though I am reluctant to use any label I happily admit to leaning right far more often and libertarian at times, than anything left though on occasion I can be found agreeing with something that is allegedly left, though I suspect it is a common value that is shared unilaterally but one maybe more often articulated by the left.

And the fact is Reason, though claiming to be an alternative to the right and left, makes cases for both at times. I might say they are not devotees to a right or left narrative, hence, an alternative in that respect.  

But with regard to economics, they trend quite favorably and as they say, "principled" to the rightThat is "principled" if you consider Milton Friedman's economic philosophy to not only be fundamentally sound but essential to an advanced and free civilization which can lead the world as such.

So what does this have to do with left wing Christians like Tim Keller and their social justice meme? Reason magazine did a little investigating into the movement of recalcitrant fast food workers or union sympathizers who are forming protests and encouraging strikes by employees in their demand for a living wage of $15.00 an hour.

Sounds simple, Jesus said love your neighbor as yourself, be generous and and don't be greedy. And who can live on $7.25 or even $8.00 an hour? Hence, it is reasonable that protesters are protesting and encouraging non-violent strikes against their "oppressors", right? 

That is, at least, the core of the leftist Christian meme of social justice. If only it were that simple.

And we make things simple when we do not want to be responsible for the details. Those messy details. All that follow-up, vetting of ideas and testing their merit. Anyway, here is some of what is supported by the Christian left and the left in general. Thank you Reason.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit: When Theological Discovery Leads to Adjornment of Certainty

Back in September I published a post on the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, i.e., the unforgivable sin. I believe I posted that article too soon, hence, I have remitted it and saved it in draft form.

After further study, I have come to believe that while much of the post was correct, and specifically that this sin cannot be committed today, I am not fully confident that the interpretation I offered is one to which I can answer in good conscience, thus, it is on hold.

There is a key portion of the passage, the issue of unforgiveness now or in the age to come, which still has not been reconciled satisfactorily and having come upon some material that introduced me to further consideration which was sufficient enough for me to recognize I had not vetted this option, I concluded that I need to step back and revisit the issue more comprehensively before publishing.

Thus, if you look for the post it is not currently published. My apologies.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Exodus 7:3; 14:4: The Hardening of Pharaoh’s Heart, One of the Most Over-Complicated Simplicities in the Bible


When the Christian encounters the Exodus declaration by God that he is going to “harden Pharaoh’s heart”, unlike any similar context where someone provokes another to a specific frame of mind or disposition, because this involves God, he or she (the Christian-or anyone else going down this path for that matter) often yields to the conclusion that because God is sovereign and all powerful (omnipotent) then he, God, must have arrested control over Pharaoh’s will or volition and did the hardening instead of Pharaoh. I have read, by the way, some rather exhaustive theological papers on this topic. While I find them thorough I do not find them necessary. I believe it is prima facie if we have a proper frame of reference. Hence, there are 2 main fails of this rationalism. 

  • The Figure of Speech or Metonymy Ignored
  • The Improper View of Divine Sovereignty

I. The Figure of Speech or Metonymy

The first fail is the most basic of all which is to ignore the nature of the expression. The grammatical term for how this is being said by God to Moses is called a metonymy. It is a form of one, at least. The easiest examples come from life, our life. Some expressions we use which reflect this are:

He upset me

She makes me mad

Quit agitating your sister

Don’t make the dog bark

While in each case the subject is not taking control of the object, the subject, nevertheless, provokes the object in a manner in which he or she reasonably predicts the other will respond. Your input is placing upon them and around them conditions which, internally for them, will produce certain outcomes. God, fortunately, does not have to predict, he knows.

In the case of Pharaoh, God hardened his heart until it broke, long enough to let the Hebrews go. Sometimes, when we pray for actions by those making decisions it isn’t always the response of God to gently enlighten rather, at times God must crush them with their own stubbornness until they break, unwittingly doing God’s will. And this is precisely what occurred with Pharaoh.

This is not complicated. It is just as you see it and have done yourself on many occasions.

II. The Improper View of Divine Sovereignty

Divine sovereignty is routinely denoted as a matter of control in a number of theological circles. That is to say, springing from many theologians and subsequently the minds of their disciples, is the idea that when we come into contact with divine sovereignty we do so first and foremost as a mechanism of control, particularly divine control or as Augustinian/Reformed/Calvinistic types like to say, "absolute control”.

The problem with this is that the Word of God, the Bible, does not present such a such a definition. At times, unquestionably, the Scriptures present God controlling events, now and then extensively. As well, it is doubtless that we encounter other related elements of God’s essence such as foreknowledge, omnipotence and omniscience and so on, but none of these are disclosed by Scripture as combining together in a manner which warrants the conclusion that divine sovereignty is defined as God being in control of everything.

Of course the immediate response to the person coming from this approach is to claim, “If something is not under God’s control then it is not under his sovereignty, hence, God is not sovereign!” Well, sure, if divine sovereignty is about control, which is just my point, it isn’t.

Rule, not Control

One of my favorite Bible passages contains a verse which aids believers in developing a proper understanding of the nature of divine sovereignty being a matter of rule and not control which is Romans 8:28 (RSV): 


28 We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.

 
Synergy. In this passage it states that God works all things on behalf of the believer (some go further and state that it means only believers in positive growth and not those in rebellion but that is a side issue and not germane here). The Greek word for works, here, is συνεργέω (sunergeó) which is the word from which we get synergy and it means precisely that, two or more things functioning together.

If divine sovereignty means God is in absolute control and if God is in absolute control, then there is no other thing he can or needs to take and work with it for the good of the believer since it is all him. But it isn’t. There is something else.

More importantly, if God is in absolute control then he needs to work nothing since everything has to be from him, if we are going to accept the absolute control theory. If he has to take something and work it for the good of the believer then there is something not under his absolute control or else it would not need to be “worked” or synergized, it would begin and end good. That is, unless you believe God does bad or evil and then synergizes with it in order to do his good in which case I would say you have a touch of madness and theological ineptitude. It might sound enlightened, intellectual and sophisticated if not dramatic and poetic but it is not Biblical.

God permitted Satan to do as Satan would with Job but ruled absolutely in the matter. He set limits on Satan. He did not control Satan but he ruled both Satan and in the matter, itself, using it for the good of Job and his divine will.

If the expression of absolution is going to exist it needs to be with divine ruling, not control. While God has controlled and does directly control some events he is not presented as ever and always in everything doing so, or absolutely, in Scripture. Thus, this absolutism with regard to control and divine sovereignty can only lead to, as we see with Pharaoh, errant conclusions. It is a theological burden in so many ways but worse, one that will negatively impact the believer’s faith-response to God.

However, as the Scriptures teach us, nothing will escape the judgment of God. And if God is in absolute control, the truth is there is no need of judgment since God is its author in being absolutely in control, unless one wishes to play games with words and absolve the one in control of control thus, responsibility, thereby invalidating the meaning and properties of the term absolute control. But we know better. 


Instead, God is absolutely ruling. And for the believer he has ruled that no matter the evil, not matter the hardship, no matter the test and no matter the source of "all things", he synergizes all things for the good of the one who loves God and is called according to his purpose.