November 25, 2020

A Little Less Squirrelly Discernment

squirrely.jpgUPDATE: One of the watchbloggers has finally gone after Luther and the LCMS Lutherans. I can’t think of a more deserving group of people. 🙂 Thankfully, someone is courageous enough to expose Luther for the false teacher that he was.

Our story begins with the following quote from Dr. John Piper:

THE INDISPENSABLE STRATEGY OF BIBLE MEMORIZATION How shall we use the Word of God to fight for joy? The first answer I have given is to read it with plan and regularity. The next answer I give is to memorize verses and paragraphs and chapters and even whole books of the Bible. The older you get, the harder it is. I am fifty-eight as I write this, and I still invest significant time in memorizing Scripture, but it is much harder now than it used to be. It takes far more repetition to make the words stick to this aging brain. But I would not give it up any more than a miser would give up his stash of gold. I feel the same way Dallas Willard does when he says: Bible memorization is absolutely fundamental to spiritual formation. If I had to choose between all the disciplines of the spiritual life, I would choose Bible memorization, because it is a fundamental way of filling our mind with what it needs. This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth. That’s where you need it! How does it get in your mouth? Memorization. [Piper’s Footnote here: Dallas Willard, “Spiritual Formation in Christ for the Whole Life and the Whole Person”, in Vocatio 12 (Spring 2001)]

The excitement is because Dallas Willard, philosophy professor, Southern Baptist and well-respected writer on spiritual disciplines, is liked by people such as Brian Mclaren and Richard Foster, who are rubbing shoulders with people involved in “contemplative spirituality,” which is sponsored by the Roman Catholic Church’s End Times False Prophet Division, and all comes down, eventually to New Age Witchcraft, right here in River City.

If that last bit bothered you, then please don’t read the real thing at your local reformed Baptist Discernment Watchblog. My personal therapist, Frank Turk, has a common sense reply to this nonsense at his blog, but I think we need to chew on this cud a bit more before we move on to more nourishing topics.

1. It’s completely possible to express your reservations about someone without engaging in character assassination. Note the following examples:

John Piper quotes Dallas Willard, a good man, who is less than dependably reformed and sometimes is cited by those we would disagree with strongly. Piper’s point about scripture memory is, however, well taken.

OR

John Piper has now embraced Dallas Willard, who is a leader of the emergent church, loved by hell-bound Catholics and often read by people who are cultists. Piper can no longer be read with confidence. He needs to answer for this quotation. Those of us who are orthodox want an answer.

More examples are available upon request.

2. If we begin assassinating the dependability of our pastors and teachers with this method, we are going to have same major problems in reformed circles. I’ll borrow Frank Turk’s reputation for a spin around this track:

Frank Turk, in his discussion on grace, has quoted both Augustine and Martin Luther. Both Luther and Augustine are in error on the Lord’s Supper and Baptism. Both, in fact, teach the error of infant baptism in direct violation of the clear teaching of the Bible. Augustine is a “saint” in the Roman Catholic Church and is cited by the pope and many Catholic teachers. Luther rejected the canon of the New Testament and believed in the perpetual virginity of Mary. Teachers with ties to the Catholic Church can lead unsuspecting minds into reading other Roman Catholic books. I believe that Frank Turk should be considered undependable until he can answer for using these infant baptizers as references.

3. As Frank points out, the Bible itself has Paul citing Cretan poets, and I am pretty sure that a chunk of Proverbs may have come, wholesale, from Egypt. I’ll bet smarter people could amplify this tendency to occasionally reference the less than orthodox in the cause of communicating truth.

Any good researcher and aware reader knows that a citation is not an endorsement of the entirety of a source’s work or worldview. The “discernment” bloggers are, in fact, conspiracy theorists looking for ways to connect dots into the picture of a new age/Roman Catholic/End Times Apostasy scenario. There are plenty of ways to express reservations or questions about a source without engaging in character assassination.

This is the same kind of logic that eventually bans Huck Finn from the local library and fires the pastor for quoting a Charles Wesley hymn.

My favorite theologian is Robert Capon. I DO NOT recommend him wholeheartedly to anyone. That continues with everyone I love to write about: Merton, Wright, Luther and so on. It goes for musicians, authors, poets, teachers. Is there something in fundamentalism that just resists the idea of critical engagement, and must have perfect authority figures? Sadly, I believe so.

Good luck finding those absolutely dependable human beings.

UPDATE: Adam O has a good post on the same topic, but with better links 🙂

Comments

  1. Great post. I love Dallas Willard… My problem with discernment is this–once I find a theologian who teaches me a lot, I have trouble disagreeing with anything he/she says. This is a good wake up call to be discerning.

    Hmm, I agree with you most of the time, too.

  2. centuri0n says

    iMonk:

    Listen — I stand by my comments about the ENo thing, but don’t you think this particular post is of the same stripe you would paint on Denise?

    I think Denise made a mistake in saying (as I read it, in words to this effect) “John Piper is asleep at the wheel” when she meant (as I read Carla’s editorial correction/clarification, in words to this effect) “people who don’t know the whole story will take Piper’s one citation as an endorsement”.

    If that’s what happened there — and that’s what they’re saying happened, so points for mercy from guys like you, right? — isn’t coming here to your bloggy blogdom and ripping on the ladies at ENo (and just for good measure, the folks at Slice of Laodicea, who had nothing to do with this post) the same kind of creepy?

    What’s at issue here in the end is being clear about what one is saying — especially when we’re talking about things like whether or not it’s inside the bounds of good teaching form to quote from unbelievers or questionable types. And given that you violate that principle here by putting shot in your barrel rather than one lead ball, your complaint doesn’t get very far before it finds itself in the usual neighborhood with the usual company diving in the usual waste management asset.

    And forces me to mix metaphors.

  3. >don’t you think this particular post is of the same stripe you would paint on Denise?

    Uh…no.

    First, you’ll forgive me for not allowing one author to tell us what another author really meant. The author of that post, and the blog source they routinely rehash into those posts, are clearly dividiing evangelicalism into two camps: those who in any way have anything to do with subject of “personal spirituality” and the true Christians who know what is really going on.

    Second, the problem here isn’t the blogs or the authors. I wish them both long and happy blogging careers and many links. The methodology of playing Six Degrees of Brian Mclaren is unethical. I’m trying to imagine who in the real world would legitimately challenge their pastor for quoting Augustine, or Willard or Marilyn Manson if the context is clear. This methodology is not about saying “this could be misunderstood.” That’s backpedaling, which is fine with me at this point. No, the method is “X quoted Y who is liked by A who spoke at Z.”

    Check out the list of convention speakers published at Slice, implicating every speaker in the errors of all the others.

    I appreciate your point- and I appreciate you and your straightforwardness- but NO, I am not duplicating this method. If I am associating either of these blog authors with anything other than the blogs they liberally borrow from, then please point it out to me. As I said, it’s the method, not the personalities, that needs to be called out here.

    BTW, you are the second person to give me this analysis of what I’m doing, so I’ve thought about it twice.

    >And given that you violate that principle here by putting shot in your barrel rather than one lead ball, your complaint doesn’t get very far before it finds itself in the usual neighborhood with the usual company diving in the usual waste management asset.

    How am I not clear?

    1) There are better ways to say it.
    2) If you go after all these connections, it gets absurd.
    3) The Bible does it.

    ??

  4. Frank…

    Sorry to keep this up, but I actually read Slice, and they have been after John Piper for Charismatic sympathies forever. I have no doubt that Carla respect Dr. Piper and her basic point in her clarification is well taken. But SLice/Apprising consider anyone with Charismatic interests at all to be neck deep in all of the problems they oppose, and Piper has been suspected of Charismatic error by those blogs for a long time. Therefore, it is no surprise to me to read that post.

  5. I never realized Luther was such a big heretic!!

    I enjoyed this example of how we tend to go about skewering anyone and everyone in the worst possible way. Thanks for the warning!

    [Note: the fact I’m posting this here does not mean I endorse, or am endorsed by, this blog site owners. Any views and opinions expressed by me, are mine, and any expressed by him, are his and unless I explicitly agree with him, and he with me, we should not be accused of agreeing with, or resembling, one another, in any way, shape or form.]

  6. Michael,
    part of what you describe has been called a “hermeneutic of suspicion”, and it is not limited to a particular type of truly reformed bloggers. Traditionally evangelicals & reformed have used it to read & interpret R.C. writings, R.C.s have used it to read and interpret Protestant works of any stripe, Lutherans, Reformed and anabaptists have used it to read & interpret each other’s writings, and today “ultra-conservative”, “truly Catholic” bloggers use it to declare Benedict XVI (as well as JPII) a crypto-protestant and heretic.

  7. Not that they have a corner on the market, but this “baby with the bathwater” stuff tends to be a hallmark of the TRs. I cited another example here and it earned me the moniker of “black sheep Calvinist” — a title which I bear with much pride. 🙂

  8. Michael, I appreciate this post. I read the links you gave (as well as some others along the same lines) and your reaction really does summarize the issue correctly. I’m not sure what Frank isn’t understanding, or why he thinks that you are doing the same thing.

    And for the record, I appreciated Frank’s post on this topic, too. Read that from the link you gave.

    Carla always baffles me. I just can’t figure out where she’s coming from. I understand the whole “defend truth” posture, but it always feels like I have to sift through a bunch of logical fallacies and harsh rhetoric to get to the point. And the point usually is “If it smells like Emergent, or looks like Emergent, or some emergent type likes it, it’s evil.” I think that was what you were trying to point out here.

    It wears me out considerably.

    steve 🙂

  9. Michael,

    First, I’m sorry for the recent loss of your mother. My thougths and prayers continue to be with you.

    Second, while you were engaged in more important activities, I took some of the heat usually directed at you. Carla banned me from E-No for raising questions she didn’t feel able to respond to. I tried to engage her in a discussion of her critical analysis of McLaren, but she refused.

    Third, Ingrid has misrepresented my position at Slice by saying that I defended a rather lame rap video simply because I said that I didn’t agree that it was blasphemous. In an attmept to ridicule and humiliate me, she has done me the favor of showing the world that I don’t agree with her.

    Fourth, I’m glad you’re back at it. It’s not much fun trying to dialogue with people who only know how to shout and make personal attacks.

    Fifth, how did Carla ever get the reputation for being reasonable and fair?

    God Bless,

    Rod

  10. I have run across this problem numerous times. In these shifting times, I have been excited to re-evaluate hermeneutic and apologetics in light of learning how different philosophies influence us, whether modern or post-modern, balancing that with 2000 years of history. At worst, I have been accused of heresy. At best, I have been rejected as “liberal” or “one of them.” If I dare quote someone who does not hold to every theological interpretation as the possible listener, I am red-carded with quoting a heretic, and they can easily dismiss my points. (Example, I quote Madeleine L’Engle. This particular person labeled her a heretic because she believes that Jonah is more a parable than an historical occurrence. I dare to see spirituality in “non-Christian” movies or music or philosophers.) There has been a lot of name-calling and dug in heels and feelings of rejection and defenses on all sides. The wagons are circling in to protect the people from the crazy world.

  11. ‘Nother thought:
    I’m not sure where in the Bible we are commanded to “defend the Truth” as if God needs us to defend Him. Rather, we are told to love the Lord our God, to love our neighbor as ourselves, and to be one so that the world may know that God sent Christ. Maybe truth is more in how we as the Body of Christ treat each other and treat the world in the midst of all of the different interpretations and all that jazz. I’m not saying we can’t have the different interpretations, but different (godly) people, all of whom I’m going to assume are working through things in a relationship with God and with a community of believers, come to different conclusions. When did we move from setting broad boundaries (i.e. Apostles, Nicene, Chalcedonian creeds) to pinpointing Christianity?

  12. Rod: I don’t comment about the persons involved in these matters. I’ll comment on the blogs, but personalities are irrelevant. The most I have to say is that it is odd that a denomination that doesn’t allow women to teach seems so willing to allow a world-wide ministry of discernment by women. I’m all for it, but no one can explain to me why a person on a laptop in the car can do so much, but once inside the church building they have to go throw the elders.

    I also support the right of reformed Baptists to judge whoever they want however they want in comparison to their own confessions. Please, take the London Confession and go after Mclaren, Keller, etc. But telling the world that Keller is unsound because he endorsed a book, that Driscoll is unsafe because he speaks at a convention, and Piper is unsafe because of a quote is simply unethical.

    It’s the methodology, not the persons. The methodology is unethical and needlessly divisive at the cost of personal reputations. There is no debate over the ethics of “guilt by association.” Determine guilt by what someone says or done, openly.

  13. Michael,

    I am one of those heretics who believes that is OK to ordain women. But I too find these women to be inconsistent. I really don’t see how they can ratoinalize their actions with what they believe.

    This seems to be an outgrowth of my main problem with these people. There seems to be an institutionalization of arrogance. They are convinced that they have the exact truth and that they are doing God’s work by denouncing everyone who disagrees with them.

    This arrogance allows them to engage in character assasination and personal attack without hesitation. And they characterize it as “kindness.” They also seem impervious to constructive disagreement.

    As a side note: Please send me an e-mail if you ever feel that I cross the line in any of my comments. I try to remain as objective as possible, but I don’t want to get to the point where I dismiss all feedback as “opposition” and “persecution.”

    Thanks,

    Rod

  14. centuri0n says

    There’s a lot going on here, but let me (begrudgingly) agree with you that the hyperbaptistic tendency to attack anybody who says (like Piper does) that we can’t rule out the Holy Spirit working in “apostolic” ways today (even if we don’t personally say that we have an apostolic gift) is not very good. That doesn’t mean that cross-polinating Denise’s poor choice of words with angry-eyebrows at Slice is a great argument.

    I wish I had time for more as I think there’s a very useful scuffle to be had on this particular sand lot, but I am simply shipwrecked with work.

  15. chrisstiles says

    This is related to your earlier post on education. A large number of people are simply using ‘problems’ of this nature to avoid dealing with the real issues.

    To be honest, I think that a large number of the ‘reformed discernment bloggers’ are bullies pure and simple. They use lines of argument which are full of logical holes that wouldn’t survive inside a class of elementary Philosophy or Logic 101. When challenged they’ll just repeat their points ad nasueam, as if repetition was proof of truthfulness. Less made in the image of God than aping the image of contemporary adversarial talk TV/radio.

  16. I took the tour of Carla’s post. Why are some of us so afraid of mental stillness and bodily engagement? What do we do with “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind?”

    I also think it’s ironic that we’re so afraid of Eastern thought–Jesus came from an Eastern culture.

    Are we confusing Christianity with Western thought? And interpreting the Bible through that filter?

    If Carla ever read my blog, she’d black list me, too.

    If the true church ever really “emerges,” (and I believe it is now!) it will break out in every subculture,language, and nation. It won’t look like American conservative evangelicalism.

    It will look like Christ.

    Get ready!

  17. Beyond Words (I tried to look at your blog, but the website would not come up),
    While I agree that American conservatism does have its faults and its limits in hermeneutics, I would be careful to use words that claim that the “true church” has not existed at all. The “true church” is the body of Christ, with all of its faults and redemption. To say that it has not existed is to say that our perspective is right while their perspective was wrong rather than saying that both are limited but both see an aspect to God that the other did not (and both have a continuity with the other). This is arrogance, as if God works through us but hasn’t been working the past 2000 years. More than that, it is ethnocentric, as the “true church” is measured by what is happening in the States.
    I want to affirm that I am excited about many of the things going on – the theology and hermeneutic that is being re-evaluated so as to open up new perspectives, some of the return to ancient practices, the emphasis on spiritual formation and disciplines (which include meditation that involves the heart, soul, mind, and body), how post-evangelical and post-liberal camps are moving to closer to each other. The church in the past century was responding to questions of culture. Most of those questions are antiquated and it is time to missiologically respond to the questions of our culture. As N.T. Wright says, we need to find out who we as the church need to be for the world. We are a kingdom of priests, of mediators. We are the body of Christ to incarnate His love and Truth to the world. I know God will work in this culture as He has worked in other cultures. And I’m sure that we will have our fallen and corrupt aspects that a later generation will correct.

  18. Heather, I’m sorry if my comment seemed to imply that the true church has never existed. In the context of this thread, I was making the point that those who are against the Emergent church are fighting against the true church itself–which is constantly emerging and has been for 2000 years. It’s the ethnocentricity of the past couple of hundred years of the Western church, in fact, that concerns me the most, as the church continues to emerge. The church is bursting with new believers in many parts of the world–like India and China and Africa–my concern is that those who cling too tightly to a Western conservative definition of the church will miss the chance to be mediators of Christ to the subcultures here, as well as to all the rich, diverse cultures of the world.

  19. BW,
    Thank you for your clarification. I agree whole-heartedly with you and, like you, am also very excited about the developing diverse shape of Christianity. The diversity unveils a larger picture of God and His mosaic creation but also gives us a deeper unity. I look forward to the day when Indians and Chinese and Africans are sending their missionaries here!

  20. Dan Price says

    Great post. Luther called John Huss (who died on the stake for not believing in transubstantiation) a “heretic to be burned.” The was after the 95 thesis, after the reformation had started, etc…

    By the way, I believe I will be coming to your school in a couple months with Noel H. I’m the music guy. Nice to meet you.

    http://www.danprice.net

  21. Heather, I heard a rumor that some Korean Christians want to send missionaries here… 🙂

  22. “How shall we use the Word of God to fight for joy?” I hope you don’t mind if I respond in my own particular, and please, forgive if my technical analysis offends thee, Im a computer/Bible Geek, KJV only … 4 all seasons … fully justified it’s inerrant and authorized by a king, prophets, priests who according to the O.T. had conversations with God, and had gifts from God such as to author and build the Tabernacle and Solomon’s Temple for God for example.

    Am I being too picky or technical. As an natural gifted analyst the Bible is more too me that a book to read and memorize verse, chapter, to book. I have to know what it means, not just memorize what it says. You probably see why now I prefer to speak out side the walls of a congregation. They think I am too deep and it does not take all of that, therefore what I know can’t be spoken there.

    I am an Urban missionary without a car nor offerings received ever. That does not jive in buildings either. I’m supposed to go along with the program but I can’t. 10 + 7 months to get Bachelor of Biblical Studies and Clinical Pastoral Education with prior computer analysis since 1970 makes me not.

    I don’t have a place to lay my head on the bus for long. Seems like Bishops or Deacons who call themselves pastors because they want to be according to Pauls instructions to Timothy and Titus don’t like me very well and I can’t stay in Church very long, back on the streets again. O My, mercy me, O LORD !!!

    How shall we use the Word of God to fight for joy? That’s how I do it in part. Got Red Sea ???

    www. Chaplain Winston .com

  23. Berean Girl says

    Michael:

    Guilt by association is questionable as a tactic for reasonable or even Biblical criticism, but isn’t quoting someone in your published writings an implied endorsement to an extent? Your examples of correct criticism using a disclaimer would also be proper, I would think, for someone like Piper to use in his quoting of Dallas Willard in his book. (Especially if he would want to distance himself from some of Willard’s other doctrinal beliefs.) If we are serious about contending for and defending the faith, I think we should at least consider the charges of “guilt by promotion or endorsement” in some cases.

  24. Bearean Girl wrote:…isn’t quoting someone in your published writings an implied endorsement to an extent?

    Is it really practical to consider that we should research everything about a particular author before quoting them? And what if they write something after we have quoted them?

    I guess what you’re saying is that a disclaimer would prevent from this causing any problem, but I think it seems a bit annoying to constantly have to disclaim something in order to use it.

    Just my thoughts.

    steve 🙂

  25. Jeremiah Lawson says

    Berean Girl, if we use the principle that quoting implies endorsement then when biblical authors cite or allude to pagan or apocryphal writings does that mean those carry the weight of Scripture? Most of the people who would jump on Piper for quoting Willard would say we can’t possibly make this kind of category mistake … at least not when dealing with an author of a biblical text. But all bets might be off for anyone else.

    I can imagine how many people wish Jude had put in some disclaimer saying the books he alluded to weren’t going to be in the Bible. 🙂

  26. Berean Girl says

    Steve: I can see your point about how tedious it would be to have to read continual disclaimers coupled with other author’s quotes. It is an option, though, if the author is really set on using a quote from someone who he doesn’t agree with on important Christian doctrines. Ideally, when communicating spiritual truth or principles, Piper should quote someone he could endorse as Biblically sound or at least solid as far as the “majors” of the Christian faith. (Actually I haven’t done any research on Willard and don’t know where he is doctrinally although many seemed concerned about his beliefs.) I don’t know how others respond when reading quotes in Christian books that are instructional or devotional, but I will often look up some of the quoted author’s works if I am intrigued by what he or she had to say. I DO assume that, for example, if Piper quotes Willard on Bible memorization that Piper is holding him up to the reader as a sound spiritual teacher. I don’t think that it would take “exhaustive” research to confirm that, but I do think there is a responsibility when quoting others in regards to spiritual teaching, exhortation, etc. Surely, there are “safer” sources to choose from in regards to encouraging Bible memorization. Actually, my pastor recently used a Robert Schuller quote to emphasize the importance of hope in one of his sermons. I think he could have quite easily have chosen someone else to quote (and should have). I think there is an unconscious “approval effect” that takes place in people’s minds when they hear that in the context of a sermon (much like a book). We can definitely take this too far, but isn’t it worth considering in the cause of guarding God’s truth?