Monday, August 01, 2005

Theology -- Paul's Perspective on Fads and Fad Bashing

It seems that one of the recent fads in conservative evangelical and fundamental blogging has been to bash fads of broader evangelicalism. Fads such as Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Everything and Joel Osteen’s false gospel of happy thinking have been the subject of intense fad-bashing from Sharper Iron, PyroManiac and several other notable blogs. I want to take this opportunity to both congratulate my blogging colleagues on their perceptivity and at the same time to distance myself from them.

Congratulations…and thank you.

To Phil Johnson and those at Sharper Iron and other blogs who have taken up the cause of exposing bad theology and bad philosophy, I say a hearty and sincere thank you. It is indeed saddening to see hoards of professing believers spend their money on what is not bread and their labor on what does not satisfy (Isa. 55:2). It is a sad indication of the state of evangelical Christianity when books like Eldredge’s Wild at Heart top the best-seller list, yet the average Christian book store doesn’t even stock a Puritan work (never mind having a Puritan section). Certainly our brothers and sisters in Christ need to be awakened to the unbiblical content and philosophy of these “faddish” men.

The other side.

On the other hand, I have a deep desire to have a Paul-like attitude about men with whom I disagree. When Paul wrote to the Philippian believers (Phil. 1) he addressed some of the “fad” preachers of his day:

12 Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. 13 As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. 14 Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly. 15 It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. 16 The latter do so in love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. 18 But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. (NIV)

That line from verse 18, “The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached,” really gives me reason to pause and reflect. To the extent that a popular writer/speaker proclaims Christ, to that extent I must rejoice! Just for clarification, I understand that Joel Osteen’s “gospel” is not the gospel of Christ. So I do not rejoice in his proclamations. I also understand that I probably have far less insight into the ministry of Rick Warren than others who have exposed his faulty philosophy of ministry. But to whatever extent he preaches the gospel, I will rejoice in that. If I must wait until I find pastors and churches who have my same philosophy of ministry and hold my same theological dogmas before I can rejoice, I will probably live a very un-rejoicing life.

This is my attempt to live out Augustine’s sound advice: “in essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” I do not want my blog or my life to be characterized by “fad bashing” or even “fad bashing bashing,” but by something positive and constructive. There must be appropriate exposure of that which is harmful to the Body of Christ, but there must also be generous grace with those with whom we disagree.


With Paul’s example in mind, let me propose an alternative to harsh, unrelenting condemnation. If a man or ministry proclaims the gospel, whether from bad motives or good motives, whether from bad philosophy or good philosophy, let us rejoice with them. Let us seek first to rejoice in the gospel, and then to expose the error. So to my Fundamentalist friends, let me encourage you not to write off men such as John MacArthur, John Piper, Mark Dever and others, simply because they don’t wear your badge or apply your doctrines in the same way that you do. To my Evangelical friends, let me encourage you not to discount everything a Rick Warren, or someone like him, may say just because they get their pneumatology wrong or their philosophical foundations are shaky. Seek first to rejoice in the gospel, and then to expose the error.

If this method of dealing with fads is not what Paul had in mind, then I welcome your suggestions as to how to have a Philippians 1:18 attitude.

One of Samuel Rutherford's "Directions for Christian Conduct": “That words be observed, wandering and idle thoughts be avoided, sudden anger and desire of revenge, even of such as persecute the truth, be guarded against; for we often mix our zeal with our wild-fire.” (From Rutherford’s letter to John Fleming, Bailie of Leith, from Aberdeen, March 15, 1637.)


Jeffrey J. Stables said...

Excellent post! I enjoyed your insight and have linked to your post on my blog.

Will said...

Thanks for the link, Jeff. After reviewing one of the "bashing" sites again today, I am more and more saddened by the lack of civility among Christian brothers who disagree.

Jeremy Brown said...

I think you're really onto something here, Will. I have seen some of those posts on SI. I haven't joined in the discussion, but i do believe i've found my response to them to be quite along the lines of your post.
I've always thought Paul's attitude in Phil 1:18 would prove to be somewhat of a maverick idea in some conservative circles. Brings back a thought from my growing-up years: Though my dad - who considers himself a fundamentalist - always had differences with Billy Graham, one thing he used to say was that he was very thankful that Graham has always publicly preached the gospel (though off-camera he may have led some of us to question that commitment at times!) I think that emulates the spirit Paul was trying to get at.
Thanks for the post!


Will said...

JB, Billy Graham is definitely another one who falls into this category. Yeah, I wish he would do things differently, and I certainly am very wary of his support of the RCC, but I maintain that, "to the extent he preaches the gospel, to that extent I rejoice."