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When a Culture of Honor Stands for Truth

26 Mar

I’ve been keeping loose tabs on the debate surrounding Rob Bell’s theological position as presented in his new book, Love Wins. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, give a glimpse to my previous post. I don’t really intend to hash out the theology more than is already being done all over the evangelical blogosphere — I trust we can simply state at this point, “Universalism is bad” and leave it alone.

What I have been increasingly troubled by, though, is the backlash I’ve seen against anyone coming against Bell’s position. I expected there to be some squabbling, but I also expected it mostly to arise from loyal fans who have watched every NOOMA video ten times, memorized half of them, own every book, and go to every conference available. But I’ve been surprised by the vast kickback from people who have no particular allegiance to either Bell or universalism, but nonetheless can’t stomach the idea that major evangelical leaders are criticizing him — or in other words, saying, “He’s written universalistic things. Universalism is bad.” Which, to me, seems like a pretty far cry from a public tar and feathering, but you wouldn’t know it from the reactionary comments.

This has started me thinking of a teaching Mike Bickle did a couple of years ago about establishing a “culture of honor”. Basically, this means that our default is to speak in an honoring way of other believers, even if they come from different “streams” than us — that can mean anything from different ministry styles to different lingo to different theology in secondary issues (sprinkling vs. dunking, for instance). All Christians, even our favorite ministries and ministers, are goofy in one way or another. We all see part of the picture and all have our foibles and quirks. Understanding this, we ought to refrain from slandering one another, and instead pray for, bless, and serve one another in humility.

Now, the message doesn’t stop there — there is also something to be said for discerning the difference between quirks (e.g. platform ministry style), errors (significant theological mistakes that do not cost someone their salvation), and heresies (serious theological untruths that break from orthodox Christianity). We should have loving grace with one another’s quirks, we should speak truthfully about the errors (without throwing a conniption fit), but we must directly and clearly confront the heresies. It’s a great teaching, and I would recommend giving it a listen at Mike Bickle’s resource library here.

However, sorting that out is not really my goal in writing this blog post. Neither am I trying to prove how we ought to respond to Rob Bell specifically. But what I have seen in the clashing of the interwebs over this is how crucially important it is for us, the Church, to embrace that culture of honor as a rule.

Some of the accusations I have seen raised are, “Oh, there go those evangelicals, devouring one of their own again.” “Geez, you people can’t handle it when someone disagrees with you in any way, can you?” “You’re just unwilling to have dialogue about this.”

Whether those accusations are justified or not is not my point, but they do illustrate something very important: if we neglect having a culture of honor, we lose the ability to effectively rebuke when a real problem does arise.

Suppose we daily spend our energy, ink, and bandwidth trashing other ministries. That church up the road are the frozen chosen and quench the Spirit. That guy on TV is a charismaniac who does nothing but showboat and ask for money. That preacher is diluting the gospel by arriving at a different application of that parable than I did. That outreach is tunnel-visioned and missing the big picture. Etc., etc., etc. Perhaps our writing is skillful and our logic is bulletproof. Perhaps (however grossly unlikely!) we are actually right in every single area where we have a bone to pick with some other ministry somewhere on planet earth. Perhaps every single thing we publish against another believer is true — the church up the road needs to invite the Holy Spirit in, the guy on TV needs to tone it down, that preacher misunderstood that parable, and that outreach is not addressing the real problem it wants to fix. Suppose we have perfect discernment and effective rhetoric.

What do we do when someone pops up who, say, denies the doctrine of eternal punishment? Someone who questions the deity of Jesus? One who laughs off reality of the Resurrection? What do we do when people have identified us as “that person who’s mad at everyone else in the Church”, and think this is just more of that? What do we do when we have already slung the full force of our outrage at the televangelist’s wardrobe? How do we even say, “No, seriously, this is actually a really big deal” if everything to date has been a “really big deal”?

In other words, we don’t want to be like the little boy who cried wolf(-in-sheep’s-clothing).

I don’t have any particular author or organization in mind as I’m writing this, except for me and my own little soap box in this corner of the internet. Undoubtedly many leaders have been unjustly accused of being this kind of judgmental scrooge when it comes to dissimilar ministries. Undoubtedly some have been justly accused of it. Surely those internet commenters have been both right and wrong in calling such behavior out. It’s not my job to sort out all those people, and not in my power to do much about it.  But what I can do is cry out for God to set a guard over my own mouth. I can ask Him to give me more compassion and more discernment. I can commit again to honoring my brothers and sisters in Christ, so that when I do speak out about something, it actually has weight to it. I want it not just to be another indignant diatribe in a droning string of sour notes, but a clear trumpet call from someone who loves the Body of Christ well. By the grace of God, that’s something I want to set my heart towards.

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6 Comments

Posted by on March 26, 2011 in Theology

 

6 responses to “When a Culture of Honor Stands for Truth

  1. brianbeattie

    March 26, 2011 at 1:05 pm

    Good post! I’m sure there is a reaping and sowing thing here. How many times does the thing we most aggressively criticize turn out to be the place we ourselves are most apt to fall? Does God correct us most sternly in the area where we display the least love and mercy? I bet now is a good time for fresh revelation that Eph 2:8-9 applies to every believer.

     
  2. Alison Lam

    March 26, 2011 at 10:23 pm

    Really good post, Amanda.

     
  3. Will

    March 27, 2011 at 12:29 am

    good stuff… HONOR needs to be our posture…people love tearing others down.

     
  4. dale

    March 27, 2011 at 1:01 am

    Your article was posted on my facebook wall by a friend. Thank you for pointing out a culture of honor. So important these days that we can learn to disagree with charity.

    What I have found interesting about the Bell debate is that it is a curious thing for non-Bell fans to stand up against those attacking Bell. I have also found it isn’t about theology, per se, it is only hidden in theological verbiage. When talking theology, we should be civil. But many of those attacking Bell are in the fight for political reasons. They’ve become *known* to pounce on others and have created a financial industry out of it. Bell’s recent book just revealed how powerful those voices are. These are the same groups that claim that if you believe a woman is equal to a man then you don’t believe the gospel (yeah, ouch).

    I think the church is beginning to take notice of these groups and starting to call them out for the sake of the church and the love it is supposed to bring to the world. Bell’s book just happened to be the catalyst of the most recent debate (interestingly enough, some of the attitudes about the gospel that Bell address early in his new book are the same attitudes his critics hold to… I think they looked in the mirror and didn’t like it… so they shot the messenger and called it a theological debate rather than humbly taking it to heart).

     
    • Amanda Beattie

      March 27, 2011 at 4:03 am

      Dale, I am definitely aware that there are people out there who are politically motivated in their opposition of other ministries–however, I don’t think we can claim to identify them with too high a degree of accuracy. We don’t have much insight into anyone else’s heart. For my part, I want to give the benefit of the doubt wherever possible. Rob Bell’s book does blatantly contradict some long-standing theological belief, so I would imagine that many, many people who claim to have theological disagreement with it actually do have theological disagreement with it. (I would, in fact, be one of those people.)

      I’m not saying that everyone arguing against Rob Bell has pure motives — it is a very human thing to have mixed motives about anything any of us set our hands to. Some are surely mixed, some are surely fully in the wrong, and maybe a few are actually above reproach. Bitter things have undoubtedly been said all the way around. But nonetheless, we can’t accuse anyone of simply shooting the messenger any more than someone can accuse egalitarians of not believing the gospel. 🙂

      I would agree that Bell’s book is catalytic in bringing out the good, the bad, and the ugly in an awful lot of things. But it also actually does contain some serious theological falsehood, and that isn’t lessened at all by opponents who may themselves be in error.

      I hope that made sense. 🙂

      And, P.S., just to reiterate, the point of this post is not really to try and sort out who is right and who is wrong in how they’ve been saying what kind of things about which sort of people. The point is that if, as a Christian community as a whole, we live in a critical spirit, we compromise our ability to make a strong stand for truth. I can’t do anything about “those other people”, but I can choose to do my part to rein in my own tongue and pen and keyboard. And if we all start reaching for that, it will change the emotional climate of our community.

       

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