Practicing Faith from Edge of the Inside

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Risking the Ethics of Critique

Social media creates any number of occasions for errant critique. Ernest Goodman interrupted his regularly scheduled programming about Scripture translation to raise the issue of the ethics of critique in a global social media world subject to the whims of those able to push “publish.”

John Piper and the Gospel Coalition took aim at missional authors Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost. Incidentally, I facilitated an online course with Hirsch on his book The Forgotten Ways for Biblical Seminary a few years ago. According to Piper, in the video, he received a paragraph of a recent book by Hirsch and Frost, The Faith of Leap, from the Gospel Coalition. I have not read the book so any opinion I formed about the book would be un-informed. Too bad others refuse to assume such a position.

Goodman likened Piper’s critique to a MacArthurian move. May be. I think it follows the pattern set by D. A. Carson. Rather than investigate the claims of some in the Emerging Church at the time, Carson read what he felt he needed to then wrote a book that suggested he knew how to be conversant. I realize that in a bygone day that meant something like becoming familiar with and so reading someone’s thoughts may well have sufficed. That was then, this is now.

Tim Keller recently remarked that he wished we were still living in the day when what someone wrote had the time to be ruminated over – maybe as much as two years – before being blasted. Would that then over that two year period, given the modernization of communication, someone might pick up a phone, offer to Skype call, or get a little Face Time, and ask questions before declaring a position false to the gospel. Even more so in our day since these possibilities are real. Not Piper.

Ernest pointed out that the move was reminiscent of the now in-famous “Farewell Rob Bell” tweet. Making harsh claims with little more than a paragraph read seems more tabloid-esque rather than Christ-like. But, who of Piper’s peers would dare call him and suggest he may have exhibited a bit of theological hubris and if not careful may end up ignoring the Sword of Damocles? It seems no one. As Goodman pointed out in the comments, every Piper fan-boy would gladly re-tweet all the good. When, however, he may have demonstrated a less than thoughtful approach, it is left alone.

I am sure Hirsch and Frost would have considered a conversation with Piper if he would have asked. But, maybe Piper is only open to doing so with Rick Warren who likely has greater visibility than the Australian friends. Surely, before you could allege the pair are “belittling the glory of God” and “damaging the mission of Christ,” you would want to be more informed about their views than less.

The demand for site traffic makes actions incongruous with Christian charity more the norm than the exception.

What would be your solution? Goodman seems to suggest the need for established guidelines. I am not sure a new law would help except that if we have no peers to whom we are accountable, then maybe we need more an external guide to remind us of Jesus if our internals seem a bit out of balance from time to time.

  • http://downshoredrift.com Alan Cross

    Good post. It seems that we must keep denouncing people and ideas so that our own identity will somehow rise up to the top, as if we don’t know who we are unless it is in relief with someone we claim to disagree with.

    Re: Piper, I have always liked him, but I became frustrated with him during the NT Wright debate. It was as though he never read Wright at all or he completely MISread him – at least it appeared that way to me.

    • http://www.toddlittleton.net Todd Littleton

      Alan,
      You identify a trademark of what I think is post-Reformation tribalism. Before the Reformation, most debates centered on responding to questions from outside the church, responded to apologetically, and inside the church as a clarification of the meaning of Scripture as it intersects other disciplines/issues/etc related to the way the church would formulate its growing self-understanding in light of those same Scriptures giving us polemics. After the Reformation the divergent responses created the need for each new group to outline their group’s particular confessional/creedal formulations. Most often, as you note, this seems to come in relief with other “competing” groups. Bill Leonard has recently said that with the loss of Protestant hegemony, in the Unites States specifically, denominations and their associated churches face the task of self-identification directed toward those in their local communities to whom they bear witness to the Gospel rather than the former declarations “We are Baptist, Methodists, Presbyterians, etc.” This forces churches to have a grasp and handle on their own self-understanding in the mission of God rather than an identity related to a monolithic denomination.

      • http://downshoredrift.com Alan Cross

        I met with several church planters for prayer yesterday of the Presbyterian and Lutheran persuasion. After being introduced as Baptist, they continued to bring it up throughout our time together, seeking to compliment me on Baptist distinctives as well as point out differences. They kept speaking as though they knew me because they knew something of Baptists. Finally I stopped them and said that our church resembles little of what they know of Baptists and it is made up of people from many different viewpoints – the majority are probably not Baptist. During a conversation begun by the Lutheran on the Real Presence of Christ in Communion, I was able to affirm that Baptists likely had it wrong on that one, or at least that our view was probably incomplete in reaction to Roman Catholic excesses and we could stand to learn from one another. Then, we spent quite a bit of time praying through the Lord’s Prayer together. After we got the denominational stuff out of the way, there was no doubt that we were in agreement on far more than what divided us and we were able to spend a beautiful time in prayer to our Lord, the kind of prayer that changes you.

        I don’t get Piper’s growing desire to criticize others. I wonder if it is because he finds himself at the headwaters of the Reformed stream and he feels the need to maintain doctrinal purity against all comers for all of his followers. I do not agree with all that Hirsch/Frost say, but they have definitely opened our thinking to the missional nature of the church and deserve to be engaged and listened to with more than a cursory glance at a paragraph followed by a public denunciation.

        • http://www.toddlittleton.net Todd Littleton

          Alan,
          Little doubt the experience was refreshing. I liked the line, “After we got the denominational stuff out of the way.’

          On Piper – at the headwaters? Maybe. I am often wondering when we will break out of the rigid categorizations. If Piper finds Hirsch/Frost unsettling, I cannot wait to see what he will do with a paragraph or two of McKnight’s new book.

          • http://downshoredrift.com Alan Cross

            I have McKnight’s book on pre-order and am looking forward to it when it comes out next week.

          • http://www.toddlittleton.net Todd Littleton

            As do I. I have been reading Joel Willits early review.

  • http://www.wdavidphillips.com David Phillips

    Alan, remember the conversation we had about Piper & Wright? How Wright wrote a 40k word response to Piper’s manuscript about how Piper misread Wright. And Piper just ignored it!

    • http://www.toddlittleton.net Todd Littleton

      David,
      The part of the video that struck me, “I get/am angry . . . .” How does one choose to act on a fear that the Gospel might be undermined by a particular position when you have decided what the authors mean reading one paragraph? Let’s take book titles and do the same. John Piper – Don’t Waste Your Life, Joel Osteen, Your Best Life Now, John Ortbert – The Life You’ve Always Wanted. We could assume by titles these books address the same subject and do so comparably. Simply reading the titles in no way gets at the heart of these three books. There is little difference in taking a paragraph and condemning the author and reading the book title doing the same.

    • http://downshoredrift.com Alan Cross

      Yes, David. I believe that Wright wrote about that at the beginning of “Justification.” I don’t understand it. My take on Wright is that he is expanding the meaning of Justification through varying models of the Atonement, without forsaking penal substitution/forensic justification. If you proclaim a Calvinist theology alongside Kuyper/Schaeffer’s perspective on the Cultural Mandate, you aren’t far from Wright’s view at all. I don’t understand why the need exists for these bitter disputes. Like I said, it seems that our identity is tied to who we are NOT as much, if not more than it is tied to who we ARE.

  • http://downshoredrift.com Alan Cross

    Do you have a link on the Willits review?

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