Great Comment re: evangelicals behaving badly

I rarely (perhaps never so far) post a reader’s comment as one of my own posts, but this one expresses my sentiments about the present state of evangelicalism so well I just have to share it.  I know not everyone can read every comment I approve, so I am “elevating” this one to the status of one of my own posts.  See below:

Dr. Olson,

I continue to follow you carefully on your blog. I really appreciate your insight, your articulation of the current trends in evangelicalism, and your ability to find yourself in the midst of it all.

This post, along with several others, has identified to me a deep problem in much—to use your terminology—neo-fundamentalism. This problem, as I see it, is really a dividing up of the theological task.

Eugene Peterson articulated it best for me first in a lecture I heard him give. From John 14.6, Peterson says, “The Jesus Truth, only when it is wedded to the Jesus Way, produces the Jesus Life.” I find that many in the neo-fundamentalist fold have separated Jesus Truth from the Jesus Way. There is a strong emphasis on truth, protecting the truth, insisting on the centrality of the truth. We bicker and argue about differences of truth and belief. The Jesus Truth, as I see it, is what we put in the dogma, doctrine, opinion categories you and Stan Grenz identified: these are beliefs. These are things we can and will disagree about. We will even disagree about how many things should go into which categories.

The Jesus Truth is important, even vitally important. But it isn’t everything.

The Jesus Way is something that often gets left out of our theological discussions and disagreements. In omitting it from our conversation about God, we miss a current that runs right through the biblical narrative: the way of God and the way of Jesus as opposed to the ways of the world (e.g. the ways of “the other nations” in the OT, the way of the Pharisees in the NT). The difference between the church and the world is not merely in what we believe; it is also in how we live, how we orient ourselves to that belief. The Jesus Truth, only when it is wedded to the Jesus Way, produces the Jesus Life.

The major problem with neo-fundamentalists to me—and this is what I hear you saying—is that there is a deep divide between the Jesus Truth and the Jesus Way. They insist on certain beliefs, but they do so in a way that is incongruous with the way of Jesus. They behave badly: they ignore the Jesus Way.

I think our theological discussions should be subject not just to an evaluation of the Jesus Truth, but also to the way that Jesus walked: the way of the cross. Is it possible for our theological conversations to be cruciform? I think if we don’t embody the way of Jesus, the way of the cross in our theological discourse, then we will never see the Life that Jesus promises.

Peace. Hope.
Brett

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  • Brett has absolutely nailed it. Talk about cut through the fluff and strike at the heart of the matter.

    Kudos Brett.

  • K Gray

    It really, really bothers me to hear Christians say that a whole swath of other Christians, broad brush, deserve a new label and category based on the criteria “behaving badly.” What ever happened to judge not?

    • That’s a misuse of Jesus’ words. He had lots of judgmental labels for self-righteous religious leaders of his day. “Judge not,” according to Jesus, means do not judge people’s salvation. That belongs to God alone.

      • Scott Arnold

        I believe that admonition comes from the same passage where we are told to first take the beam out of our own eye before we attempt to take the speck out of our brother’s eye. Jesus never said to ignore the speck or pretend it wasn’t there, just to not to be hypocritical when doing so. “Judge not, lest you be judged” is followed by the phrase, “for with the same standard you judge will be used to judge you” (to paraphrase). I think the admonition applies to more than just salvation.

      • K Gray

        Thanks. I agree we must use discernment but certainly not judge others’ salvation. I disagree on using broad labels based on the criteria of “behaving badly,” which results in a subjective pejorative, e.g., when “liberal” or “fundamentalist” is used in a subjectively pejorative fashion.

        • Okay. What would you call a cabal of aggressive conservatives who use ethically questionable tactics to marginalize and demean those they dislike and gain influence with impressionable leaders of the evangelical movement?

          • K Gray

            Hurtful behaviors can come from anywhere on the Christian spectrum as well as from ourselves. My experience in patterns of labeling, deriding and ‘calling out’ other Christians is the evangelical left toward conservative Christians. When reconciliation fails, sometimes personal separation must occur with hope that God will work this out. But I don’t want to get into the cycle of group-labeling based on judgment (discernment?) of their behavior as “bad.” Nor do I want my experiences to grow into prejudice. Before joining a Baptist church these labels weren’t even in my mind. But maybe it was simpler times.

  • That was a great comment. We need to always remember to love our brothers in Christ. We are all Gods children, and we are called to have love, mercy, kindness, gentleness, patience, and fellowship.

  • I so agree. Being a Evangelical Universalist I find it hard to dialogue with others because pejoratives and ad hominem seem to be a popular way Christians defend their version of the gospel. In many ways for me it feels like I’m breaking some unknown law by drawing a cartoon illustration of Jesus and thus I deserve death.

    Recently on William Birch’s site I commented on his comments regarding Universalism and am basically told (not by William) that I simply twist God’s word. When I asked how my interpretation is wrong – that I’m open to correction – I’m told I’m not open to correction (since I’ve not abandoned universalism) so no further explantion will do.

    What can I say, if such methods of communication are to reach our muslim brothers (not brothers in a spiritual sense) then I’m afraid the muslims are without hope.

    Thank God in Heaven for men of God like you Roger. Because if we Universalists are wrong about our interpretations of scripture, then it will be because of lots of dialogue, reflection and good hearts and a real desire to help people.

  • Marla Abe

    I love the Peterson quote. Thanks for sharing this…Jesus definitely says obedience, doing what He does, is the key to understanding God and getting closer to God.

  • Great insight, Brett.

    I agree that truth is vitally important in the overall framework of our theology, but it doesn’t end at that point. Truth ought to flow into our lives and be reflected in our way of living. Jesus said that we ought to \hear these words of mine and put them into practice.\ This seems to be what you’re saying as well. Truth informing, shaping and determining our actions, reactions, postures and attitudes toward one another, particularly those we disagree with at times. This seems to be the true test of our faith.

    Good times!
    Jeff

  • I really appreciate Brett’s comment too, thanks for posting it. As a Reformed Baptist with strong convictions held loosely (I love Calvin & Edwards and I loved reading The Shack!), I am so often embarrassed from someone from my “camp” making another outlandish charge. This quote from Peterson has been influential for me too as I think to apply it to discourse and spiritual formation.

    In an evangelical landscape that is growing increasingly polarized (something Dr. Olson has been blogging about recently, I believe) we need a middle way for those of us who hold strong convictions (reformed/arminian) yet still feel comfortable dialoging with other voices. The phrase “spiritual insecurity” comes to mind!

  • Constantine

    Dr. Olson,

    What – exactly – is “The Jesus Way”?

    To presuppose that TJW is represented solely by “little Jesus meek and mild” seems to me, at least, to lop off critically important parts of the Gospel. After all, it was Jesus Himself who “fashioned a whip” to drive people out of the Temple (John 2). It was He who called His lead disciple “Satan” for straying from the message (Matt. 16:23) and it was our Lord who repeatedly addressed the religious authorities as a “brood of vipers” (Matt. 3;12;23: Luke 3).

    Are we correct to ignore THAT Jesus? Was Jesus “behaving badly” and was He “incongruous” with Himself in so doing? Should Jesus have followed Brett’s advice and toned it down a bit? Or, did Jesus fashion His method to fit His audience and teach us something in the process?

    TJW seems somewhat very much more nuanced than how Brett – however beautifully he put it – put it.

    (I’m pretty sure this comment won’t be elevated!, but thanks for your consideration.)

    Peace to all.

    • Apparently you haven’t been following the discussion thread carefully. I have EMPHASIZED over and over that my objection is to the neo-fundamentalists’ tactics which are often less than fully honest and often very harsh and mean-spirited. I have never objected to strong, fair criticism that leaves the door open to dialogue and correction (if the criticism was misguided).

  • Becka

    Thank you so much for this post Roger, & for your whole attitude on this blog. As someone who is having a painful ( to say the least) struggle with the kinds of issues you address here, I’m so heartened to see kindness & gentleness being used in this discussion. I love the fact that people are not slapped down with scripture, & respect is shown to other opinions. It makes me feel more hopeful.

  • Brett,

    Loved your comments. It inspired me to lay down a few thoughts alongside of your insight.

    Jesus’ truth and Jesus’ way: great points! Add to that Jesus’ time (Chiros).

    We have too little information for us to adequately unpack the pig-headed behavior of Paul and Barnabas whose actions would embarrass even pigs. From the beginning the disciples argued about who was the greatest (Jesus’ closets followers), who was accepted (\salvation was of the Jews\ i.e. by birth or by becoming Jewish which is what being a proselyte was all about) and many ethical differences. They argued grace and law… something settled in Acts 11 by brought up again in Acts 15 and Galatians and 1 Corinthians and Romans 14, etc. Then (before or after this – a matter of debate) there was the incident in Galatia where Paul confronts Peter and even Barnabas (you can hear Paul’s pain). Because of their desire to be accepted, Peter and Barnabas compromised the Gospel… having a desire of prominence it made a handle for being manipulated by visitors from James. Indeed most of the NT has stories of Christians behaving badly or at least was written because of bad behavior in the background.

    Paul was concerned about a way of thinking while others were concerned about what to think. Paul was concerned about the spirit while others were concerned about the facts (gifts without love becoming useless).

    How often does Paul talk about the destructiveness of judging, anger, pride, distention, acting without thought for others, being self-absorbed, etc.? How well was he acquainted personally with that pain? How long have we as the Church been acting badly and why are we surprised when we when we are supposed to know Satan’s devices?

    How is it the hard core Christianity calling for forgiveness \from the heart\ is excused by the level of difficulty we face from the bad behavior of others. We issue indulgences for the level of difficulty which makes victims of us all… or at least good story tellers. As Gene Edwards warned us in \A Tale of Three Kings,\ it isn’t the Saul on the outside that is our main trouble but the Saul within us individually.

    Indeed, it is only because of the bad behavior of others that we actually have the opportunity express Cross carried/Resurrection empowered Christian character worthy of the title \anointed ones.\ Christian, as we interpret that title, are described by what God’s Spirit does with His anointing in Isaiah 62 and Jesus used that same verse to announce His own ministry.

    It is only because of suffering unjustly we share in the sufferings of Christ… and if we do it understanding the real truth, the way and sensing His timing… this IS a God moment. Apart from that opportunity, we are just dealing with Jesus truth, but when God’s timing arrives we can live Jesus’ way.

    Maybe we are yet to understand the depth (maybe the height) of 1 Corinthians 11:19, “For first of all, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it. For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you.”

  • I don’t see anyone condemning in Brett’s comment. I would agree that his comment is a worthy one for discussion. And the conversation about the separation of orthodoxy from orthopraxy is an incredibly important one. We find Jesus saying this in John 8:31-32, “To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Doing what Jesus teaches (orthopraxy) is the natural result of true orthodoxy. Between John 13 and 17, Jesus tells his disciples “if you love me, do what I teach,” seven times. In 1 John 5 we are told, “This is love for God that you keep his commandments…” For Jesus orthodoxy absolutely leads to orthopraxy. Orthodoxy and orthopraxy are two sides of the same coin.

    Finally how can we forget James’ and the best known call for orthodoxy to become orthopraxy? James 1:22-25, ” 22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.”

  • Zach

    Yeah, I agree that it’s on point. I’m reminded of NT Wright describing how for some “neo-fundamentalists” (conservatives, whatever) Jesus could have been born, hopped on the Cross, died, and rose again and that would have been fine. Would spare them the trouble of fighting those moralistic “heretics”. I’m also amused by the ironic thought I read in article about these folks, that their doctrine of radical depravity often lead to radical hubris instead of radical humility. Enjoy your work a lot, Dr. Olson.

  • shadowpspring

    Bottom line for me: so many people, especially youth, are turning away from Christianity as a religious tradition (not necessarily rejecting Jesus, but rejecting church) because of the impossibility of being an intelligent, honest, sincere person who by thinking, prayer and reading the Bible, comes to different conclusions than the power-brokers in church deem acceptable.

    They can secretly take over seminaries, put their men in power, discredit those who disagree with them, condemn those who object to their sneaky, unethical tactics as being “unforgiving” or needing to “turn the other cheek” and they CAN win. But win what?

    People in my world are leaving churches in droves. They quickly recognize that there is no place for them at the table, or (in my son’s and his generations case) would rather suffer outside the christian community with the marginalized than seem to share in the sins of the excluders. So while these neo-fundamentalists get more and more aggressive about controlling church culture, the actual people willing to support it financially and with their participation dwindles more each day. In the end their little kingdoms will be well-defined and dying, but it will be all theirs, and I suppose that will feel like victory to them.

    I am talking a generation raised on nightly devotions, many home-schooled, taught apologetics and raised on world-view seminars. They are doing what we taught them, testing all things, holding fast to that which is good, and they have discovered that the church that brought them up is morally bankrupt and corrupted.

    Thank God for Greg Boyd, Rob Bell and Paul Young, or there would be no Christian authors I could even share with my young adult/teen children. They are too savvy, too well-taught, to fall for the schlock their mother and father were raised on.

  • Sam

    I see in several comments here a great deal of vitriol and ad hominem attacks toward whomever the commenter has judged to be “them.” They have their idea of truth and stand vindicated within its light alone. From that place, they feel free to attack others. From high school through seminary and beyond, I’ve been attacked in my lifetime from left, right and non-believers, each one standing on what they are sure is authoritative truth. It all feels the same, even from those who share most of my beliefs.

    In contrast I’ve been blessed by Christians from very different traditions who, despite a different understanding of Biblical concepts, continued to love even as we worked to reach a common understanding. That also always feels the same, exuding warmth and peace.

    The problem of attacking others to justify oneself and one’s beliefs is not endemic to “neo-fundamentalists” or any other sub-group; it is a problem of humanity, a problem from which we can be saved when we embrace the “Jesus way.”

    When Jesus took the whip of cords to the money changers, it was not to justify himself, but to challange the status quo, to unmask those sin that had become institutional within the temple itself, and that for the glory of God and the good of those who were being hurt. We should confront and we should battle for orthodoxy, and seek to see the church cleansed of institutionalized sins, but we must always do so with love, with the goal of God’s glory and the good of others being our guide.

  • Sam

    I see in several comments here a great deal of vitriol and ad hominem attacks toward whomever the commenter has judged to be “them.” They have their idea of truth and stand vindicated within its light alone. From that place, they feel free to attack others. From high school through seminary and beyond, I’ve been attacked in my lifetime from left, right and non-believers, each one standing on what they are sure is authoritative truth. It all feels the same, even from those who share most of my beliefs.

    In contrast I’ve been blessed by Christians from very different traditions who, despite a different understanding of Biblical concepts, continued to love even as we worked to reach a common understanding. That also always feels the same, exuding warmth and peace.

    The problem of attacking others to justify oneself and one’s beliefs is not endemic to “neo-fundamentalists” or any other sub-group; it is a problem of humanity, a problem from which we can be saved when we embrace the “Jesus way.”

    When Jesus took the whip of cords to the money changers, it was not to justify himself, but to challenge the status quo, to unmask those sin that had become institutional within the temple itself, and that for the glory of God and the good of those who were being hurt. We should confront and we should battle for orthodoxy, and seek to see the church cleansed of institutionalized sins, but we must always do so with love, with the goal of God’s glory and the good of others being our guide.