Loving our critics not fighting truth wars...

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John MacArthur is an American christian with a significant radio/book ministry, 'Grace to you' which is international including an office in the UK. He is currently critiquing the emergent church based on exerts from his book to be published this spring called 'The truth war' and you can read here part 1, part 2 and part 3. I have mentioned before that I think christians should welcome critique from within and without but it does raise some Qs as to how to respond when the feeling that the critique is more like criticism, which is unsubstantiated/un-evidenced/unexperienced/general in nature etc...

Dan Kimball, responds very graciously to some of the points raised by MacArthur in this post: Please don't stereotype the emerging church with a couple of good follow up posts exploring construtive engagement.

A critique motivated from a right heart... When I read John's comments I think here is someone who is trying to be helpful in good intentioned but maybe bad researched ways - seriously I think this dude is trying to help, he is

probably confused, puzzled, worried that these emergent types are drifting off from theirmoorings or busy dismantling their foundations (from reading part 1 it would seem he has similar concerns with those who don't agree to inerrancy, charismatics and seeker services).

The former conservative in me knows that one of the callings/charge almost of anyone with any authority in the modern conservative church is to stop people straying from the heard, to keep on the straight, narrow and true and that means agreement with structures/forms/theology that has arisen during modernity. To move away from these forms can therefore look distinctly like a move away from God, the faith etc, afterall if these forms are now symbolic of our christian identity to change them is I guess in his eyes, maybe, like renouncing them. I am sure it is his pastor heart that encourages him to write, worried that the flock may be straying into difficulties and confusion. I would say that we would agree on importance of truth and the centrality of Jesus declaration that he is the way/truth/life but where we differ is how generous our orthodoxy can or can not be.

Talking in a language I don't speak I also think there is a problem in terms of language, mystery for instance is the room for me to admit that God is God and I don't understand, know all the answers etc. That to someone else can look fundamentally flawed, heh we've got the bible, it tells us the answers, or at least the answers that we see through the interpretation grid we use. Language therefore becomes something of a problem, not just the words but the understanding of those words. For example in part 3 where John refers to Brian McLaren's oft quoted comment that there should be a moritorium on talking about homosexuality, I think John reads that as a sign that the emergent church does not want to talk about morality. I think Brian however is making the point that it is not about having a view on morality but more how we express that view and the danger that we perpetuate the image that the church is homophobic...

Now I don't want to make this about polarisation, I am not saying modern bad, post-modern good, mystery good, insight/answers bad... cos that would be just dumb - major HT to neo conservative evangelicals and their whole engagement with apologetics for instance, what a great model of really trying to engage with the philosophicals at the time using the grid they had to use...

How should we respond to our critics?

Here are some thoughts of how I should respond...

1) avoid fighting ire with ire - can we be loving to John and our fellow critics, let's not start up any new divisions, any fresh attacks on personalities, grumbles about how we're better etc - let's just say some of what he says is probably true to some degree for some of us at some times in some places. I liked Dan's post, it was not about attacking John but trying to deal with some of the issues he raised and provide evidence/examples from his own experience of emerging church. Afterall Jesus had some of his strongest things to say for how his follows should treat their critics/enimies - do we pray for them? do we love them? Do we seek to think the best of them, encourage them, support them, build them up?

2) an excuse to engage in dialogue - we could all drop John a line, say heh thanks for your thoughts, i appreciate you caring but this is my good experience and these are some of my worries about emerging church and these are some of the things I appreciate about it too. In other words we have some common ground in that we have no doubt at some stage thought/wondered about EC, the good, the bad and the fluff :).

3) examine ourselves - just what are our flaws /blindspots- we ain't perfect so this is a good chance for us to examine ourselves and say, for example, hmmm maybe we just aren't very good explaining ourselves (perception is reality)? Maybe we are too enamoured with x but not with y, maybe we grumble hear about this or react against that instead of learning/building/reconstructing? It might be a faulty critique but it doesn't stop us asking with the Psalm writer for God to search us, God to shine in his light and reveal darkness within us, mistakes we are making, etc

4) practice forgiveness/grace/generousity - some people will i am sure find these critique hurtful/personal/annoying etc. It would be easy to dislike/disassociate ourselves from this person and grumble about dinosaurs/dictators/dipsticks and why they should shut up or ship out to their own religion... or we could recognise that we are all brothers and sisters in christ, all pretty dumb and as part of this great big God family are called to bare the marks of suffering servanthood, love and compassion. That might mean forgiving people who don't know what they are doing, even if they haven't asked for it and are infact not even looking for it. If I am wanting to be A new kind of christian rather than just playing the religious game I need to go beyond name calling, thinking in terms of pharisees and religious right wing agenda and start trying to practice a gracious/generous response - let's welcome our critics and love them, own our own frustrations/anger and let God use this to grow and shape our character...

5) Deeper church not just broad church - as Dan suggested here is a chance to live beyond our fears and invite each other to share our spaces - we need a deep church, one that encompasses ancient, medieval, modern and post-modernvtraditions. One of the great things about the church I need to remember is that we can have different practices/expressions within a common tradition - it is not bout conformity of trying to make everyone think like me but of celebrating the diversity we can bring and share with each other. The church is both reformed and continually reforming and therefore as God does new things we should not forget the old things are stil valid too. It is important for us in the emerging church to embrace both doctrines of immediacy (God doing a new thing/new wine/the now) and mediation (the image of the suffering servant, following Jesus through the cross and loving/helping the world as christians have done for centuries).

What do you think?

That's what I think, but I'd love to hear from you..?

Paul Mayers