‘A time to break down, and a time to build up’

‘A time to break down, and a time to build up’ October 10, 2012

“To everything there is a season,” the teacher writes in Ecclesiastes 3. “A time to break down, and a time to build up.”

I was reminded of that by this wise discussion by John Fea of Tracy McKenzie’s talk at the Conference on Faith and History:

Academically trained historians must teach the church with care and sensitivity. For example, they cannot go into an adult Sunday School class and start dropping historiographical bombs in an attempt to kill off cherished myths about the past. Such a practice may be quite common at academic conferences and history graduate programs, but it will only alienate a church audience. In fact, I would even argue that sometimes historians speaking to church audiences must be willing to listen and converse before debunking and correcting false understandings of the past. They must gain trust by behaving more like a Christian than an academic. I have found this approach absolutely essential (although I have often failed in applying it and have learned a lot of hard lessons), especially when speaking to a group of churchgoers whose knowledge of American history does not extend past David Barton or Peter Marshall.

That’s both kind and shrewd. “Dropping bombs” risks breaking a bruised reed. A gentler, more gradual, approach based on relationship over time may persuade many who might only become more rigidly defensive if confronted directly by facts that challenge their “cherished myths about the past.”

So there is certainly a season for that approach. But there is also, I think, a season for dropping bombs, for direct confrontation and direct challenge.

Some of those “cherished myths” nurtured by Barton and Marshall and the like are not innocent or harmless. A lot of them are, at best, self-aggrandizing and chauvinistic. Many others are much worse than that.

Some myths appeal to noble impulses and noble desires. Others are intrinsically unappealing to the better angels of our nature. The appeal of those myths — reassuring tales of tribal and national superiority — is such that they only take hold when less noble impulses and desires hold sway. As such, I don’t think they can be regarded as matters of mere misinformation. Such myths were not embraced due to reason and gentle teaching and it’s unlikely that such methods can dislodge them.

There is a time to build up and a time to break down. When we encounter those clinging to cherished myths due to ignorance and misinformation, then gentle, gracious persuasion seems both kind and prudent. Those who do not know the truth can be gently introduced to it. But when we encounter those clinging to cherished myths due to a preference for such lies over the truth, well … bombs away.

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Warren Throckmorton is back in the saddle, blogging-wise.

Here he is, reassembling a quote from John Adams to show how it was distorted and disconnected by David Barton to claim something Adams never said.

And here he is showing how Barton’s “Founders Bible” cites pro-slavery sources as evidence that America is a “Christian nation.”

It’s good to have him back.

I also want to highlight Throckmorton’s “Thank Yous” post.

His heart attack and subsequent triple-bypass surgery had many Christians praying, asking God to bring him a full recovery. Throckmorton thanks us for our prayers and expresses his gratitude to God as well. But first he thanks, by name, the many doctors and caregivers whose skill and good work saved his life.

We Christians too often fail to do that. If your kayak capsizes and you find yourself stranded in open water, then by all means pray. But when the Coast Guard rescues you, don’t just thank God for answering your prayers — thank the Coast Guard too.

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Via Ed Stetzer, I learn that the Next Big Thing for big-time evangelical evangelism consultants is something that may sound familiar to long-time readers of this blog: Hospitality.

The discussion includes some bumpy phrases, such as “strategic hospitality” — which strikes me as potentially one of those phrases in which the adjective negates the noun. But for the most part, and certainly in the conclusion, it presents hospitality — an accommodating love for the stranger — as an end in itself and not as a manipulative means toward some other goal. Good to see.

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