Evangelical Controversialists

I consider myself an evangelical. I am a pastor in the Christian and Missionary Alliance, so this ought to come as no surprise.  However, there are several things about evangelical culture which bother me. One of them, which has flared up recently, is controversialism. I don't even know if that is a word.  

It seems that some members of the evangelical community just... well, either they are out looking to stir up controversy and get a reaction or they are firmly in the 'leap before you look' camp of reacting strongly to vague news without any real basis. I think it is both. 

Why has this come up? Two recent events are the source of this week's vexation. 

First of all was this post, forwarded to me by an equally irate friend, who had it forwarded to him as a tweet by Piper claiming that this article was more reliable than C.S. Lewis.  The author attempts to take C.S. Lewis to task for his misty atonement theory teachings in "Mere Christianity." In my opinion the author of this article has not only misunderstood Lewis' argument but, more importantly, he has misunderstood the nature of evangelicalism and Christianity.  I actually completely agree with Lewis, that the important thing about the cross is to believe that Jesus died for my sins (and everyone else's) and that theories of how exactly this works out are secondary (though admittedly very interesting and fruitful theological grounds of inquiry). That Lewis is not quite as high up on the penal substitutionary horse (or not on it at all) as the author of said post would like him to be is of no account.   

Propaganda: 1.  Substance: 0

Secondly, and more recently, is the reaction to Rob Bell's upcoming book. This book has not been released yet, no one has been able to quote from it (though some are claiming to have read pieces of it), and yet some are already saying goodbye to Rob Bell (Piper again, tweeting away his reactionary controversialist responses to everything under the sun). Meanwhile, another article on the gospel coalition website has come out asking what Rob Bell is thinking (though it has now been severely edited due to the response it is generating). I am not saying Bell is right; I certainly don't agree with him all the time. But could we at least wait until someone has read the book? 

Propaganda: 2. Substance 0. 

I list these as victories for propaganda over substance because that is exactly what they are.  Neither of these collections of articles/responses/tweets actually explores the issues involved, nor do they interact with the authors of said heretical (or nearly heretical) positions. Instead, they are blanket assertions of a preformed position which is, apparently, feeling the slightest bit threatened by these others and has, accordingly, lashed out.  

This bothers me. It bothers me because we seem to have made so little progress since Mark Knoll's scathing diagnosis in "The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind." It bothers me because there is an extreme lack of grace and patience evidenced in these proceedings. It bothers me because these trends continue to fold to the populist method rather than striving after the difficult path of wisdom. It bothers me because I see these trends lived out in church congregations and individual Christians who are much quicker to judge and react than the evidence warrants, who would rather protect their supposed orthodoxy (while ignoring, for as long as possible, that we are all inevitably heretics and mistaken in many areas of our thoughts and beliefs) than their grace and love, and who would likely find themselves standing against the woman caught in adultery, stone in hand, as Jesus said to them "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone." 

Propaganda: 3  Substance: 1 (Or so I hope :) 


Anonymous said...

this is hilarious! in attacking propaganda you write propaganda so perhaps this "blog" should end:

propaganda 3 substance 0!!

christine said...

To the anonymous commenter: would you like to substantiate your own comment by clarifying how the post is propaganda? It would be very helpful.

Anonymous said...

The definition of propaganda in the post is "I disagree with comment by blogger so the comments made are not substance but propaganda"

It is not propaganda to say CS Lewis is wrong! It is not propaganda to say CS Lewis is Christus Victor rather than penal substitutionary. That isn't propaganda that's an opinion. One that you may disagree with, but an opinion none the less!

A blog by it's nature is not propaganda. Propaganda is using something that appears to be factual to influence a community to a particular view. Someone holding a contrary position (especially when they allow comments on their blog!) is not peddling propaganda but an opinion. A big difference!

I know people do not like opinions that differ from theirs, but hey people have different opinions, even conservative evangelicals have opinions! you might disagree with them but that hardly makes them propaganda!!

so this post, on its own definition of propaganda is....em....propaganda!! hilarious!

Hope that clarifies for you Christine and that it is helpful! its called irony or satire, hope those definitions are helpful as well!!

Andrew said...

I would operate on a much larger definition of propaganda than that, in that it is not always negative nor false, but rather any form or persuasive communication. Thus all blogs would be propaganda in some form, especially those which peddle opinions (mine included).

I should have clarified, however, in contrasting propaganda with substance that the two are not diametrically opposed. I meant it in the same sense that rhetoric can sometimes win over truth; not that you can't have both, but that sometimes the concern over rhetoric overshadows the concern for truth and thus truth is lost.

Thus, my criticism of these posts, which I admit is not very clear in my less than well thought out post, was not that they were opinion but that the concern for being persuasive and how things looked over-stepped the bounds of proper Christian grace and love, as well as leaving truth behind.

The difference between my post and there's are several, though mine is certainly not without weakness.

1. I am critiquing a known and completed work which is accesible to the public.
2. I have interacted with the authors of said posts, via the comments.

These were two of my clarification as to the precise problems which made the original posts more propaganda than substance.

The third, that of exploring the issues more fully, I didn't do as well as I could have.

For the Lewis post, I mention that the author has missed Lewis' point, and that Lewis' point was to keep first things first. In response to this, the post on Lewis claims that Lewis was wrong because he didn't include an affirmation of penal substitution theory. But Lewis precise point is that you don't need to be that specific. Thus, the author of the post does not engage Lewis main point, instead asserting his own conclusion. A bad form of argument which lacks substance, hence my point.

In the second case, with Rob Bell and attendant posts, I took it as self evident that judging someone before the evidence is before you is a lack of Christian grace and displays over-reactionary tendencies, thus I didn't feel the need to make that argument.

I have no problem with people whose opinions differ from mine. And if Rob Bell is actually publishing a book which argues for universalism, then I will disagree with him as much as Justin Taylor has. However, for now, my problem is that people are reacting far too quickly and harshly given what we know.

So, I would, and now have, ended my post this way: Propaganda: 3 Substance: 1 (I hope)

Dana Ouellette said...

For the record C.S. Lewis a terrible author and an even worse theologian. I dare you to read C.S. Lewis' "the problem of pain" the argument isn't even slightly plausible. It is one of the worst arguements about theodicy i've ever read.

Secondly, I think evangelical christian would be a title I would also be slightly ashamed to hold. Not because of random douchebags making a huge deal out of nothing, like you mentioned (although that stuff is annoying). It is more your latter argument. I, (this is only personal experience here) have never seen love or mercy or grace in the evangelical movement. I only see intolerance and hatred towards homosexuals, anyone who is pro-choice, and anyone who presents logical arguments about religion. I read an article today about how many death threats John Dominic Crossan receives. You should see this too (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ZuowNcuGsc) it's a hilarious video of Richard Dawkins reading his daily hate mail.

You are right. Evangelical christians are all about making a huge deal about things that aren't huge deals, and in my limited experience most are all about judgement and intolerance. With no offense to you, as you've always been tolerant of my opinions, evangelicalism is a definintely a group i would be ashamed to be associated with because in my mind evangelical is associated with only negative things (hate, intolerance, gay-bashing, unmerciful).

Andrew said...

Thanks for the links and comments Dana.

It saddens me to hear that this particular association is so strong for you. While I have run into more than enough of what your talking about, I still see a lot of good things too. I try not to make too many blanket statements, but my irritation gets the better of me at times.... I think that is the real problem with this post, not that it is propaganda, but that it kind of puts me in the same camp, just on the reverse side.