The Scary Other, Or If You Are Not For Me You Are Against Me

Yesterday, Alan commented on my recent post on “Risking the Ethics of Critique.” He did not understand why someone of John Piper’s stature would feel the need to engage Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost so negatively after reading only a paragraph of a referenced book. Maybe, he wrote, it had to do with Piper seeing himself at the headwaters of the Reformed stream and he needed to keep conflicting influences away. Gatekeeping? Could be. Certainty requires me to know the mind of John Piper. Not happening.

But, it appears some know the mind of God better than others. The result is a stridency about his or her position that they frame all others as “scary.” In Piper’s post in question, the “scary other” is euphemistically referred to as, “false to the gospel.” Any good conservative knows false to the gospel could well be short-hand for false teacher – and so scary. What will Piper say of McKnight after reading a paragraph of his new book, The King Jesus Gospel?

My tribe often has high-profile figures who convey that sentiment to others. I recently read a post by John Stackhouse who evidently is aiming at a bit of controversy. Notifying his readers that a book to which he contributed was forthcoming he vetted those who dared to read further.

The book, The Spectrum of Evangelicalism, is one of those “four view” styled books. Out of the gate, Stackhouse admits the writers are far from representative of the diversity found among Evangelicals. That is, unless the aim of the editors is to confirm what critics have said, “fundamentalists have won the battle for ‘Evangelical.'” Could Stackhouse be hinting here? The following quote caught my attention,

Since Al [Mohler] seems to imply at every turn that his position is the one all right-thinking Southern Baptists, evangelicals, Christians, and human beings ought to hold–since he thinks it is simply the gospel truth . . .

We do seem faced with this sort of gatekeeping whether in the Southern Baptist Convention or within Evangelicalism. Chris Tilling perceptively caught this same sentiment when reading a blurb from the back cover of Chan and Sprinkle’s Erasing Hell. The “blurb that went wrong” in question was,

This is not a book about who is saying what. It’s a book about what God says.

Tilling’s response,

Seriously?! To be more precise, this is a book about what Chan and Sprinkle think the bible says, but this is not quite the same thing!

And, it is not the same thing. Not when Piper speaks, or Mohler speaks, or Driscoll speaks, or me. When high-profile theologs from any quadrant of the Christian Tradition  assume to speak for God it takes on the intimation, if not outright assertion, “if you are not for me you are against me.” Thus, any objection makes of the objector the “scary other.” Any hint at hearkening to the story in Matthew 12 hijacks Jesus’ words about the Kingdom of God and applies that to one’s own kingdom. Such a move begs the question, “What about receiving rewards on earth.

The best part of Alan’s comment came prior to his musing about Piper. Meeting with a group of church planters from other denominations created an occasion to discuss Baptists distinctives. He then wrote,

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.

We should have room for discussion, even debate. But, it seems best that these moments work clarity in us. The kind of experience Alan describes leads to transformation. The once scary other becomes ally and not adversary. We learn what our real differences are and not what we perceived. We gain clarity about our own convictions and may need to make some adjustments. We help others clarify their own beliefs and practices.

Don’t you think it is time we put and end to the scary other?

About the Author
Husband to Patty. Daddy to Kimberly and Tommie. Grandpa Doc to Cohen, Max, Fox, and Marlee. Pastor to Snow Hill Baptist Church. Graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Reading. Photography. Golf. Colorado. Jeeping. Friend. The views and opinions expressed here are my own and should not be construed as representing the corporate views of the church I pastor.