Thursday, May 31, 2007

Dumping the Mental Desk

On Separation: it is interesting that those who don't believe in "secondary separation" (separation from disobedient brothers) accuse those who do of being divisive. Ironic, isn't it? If the goal is unity of the church at large, shouldn't you refrain from harming the unity of the body by calling people who differ from you divisive, especially when you complain about them doing that?

On preaching: the problem with some preachers is that they are more in love with their message than they are with their people. What I mean is this: For some preachers, the pursuit of the perfect homiletical outline has overridden their obligation to think about the audience to whom they are preaching. While the message should never compromise because of an audience, it should also never fail to communicate with the audience. The preacher must begin his preparation with two eyes on the text. He must finish his preparation with one eye on the text and one eye on his audience. One pastor I read talked of doing his final sermon prep at the food court in a local mall. He would see the people walking about and think about how his sermon would plug into their lives. It's not a bad suggestion.

On slogans: slogans are great tools. They are generally bad solutions. They are, by nature, usually memorable, but simple. I love those who can take a complex truth and boil it down to a simple memorable statement. But we must be cautious about naked sloganeering. Most of them need the clothing of explanation and application. For instance, I frequently give the whole message of the Bible in two words: God wins. It's a slogan. It's true. It also needs explanation. God's victory includes a lot of things along the way that need to be explained, defended, applied, and accepted. So by all means, use slogans when you can, but use them carefully.

Finally, on analysis: if you are going to do an expose of something, make sure you do your homework. Case in point: John MacArthur has recently written a book about the emerging church movement. It is being roundly criticized by some who believe that MacArthur did not do enough homework in preparation for the book. Though I have it, I have not yet read it (not sure if I will anytime soon). Questions are being raised: How many emergent church services did MacArthur attend? How many interviews with emergent church pastors did he conduct? If the answer is none, that is bad. When the people you are writing about do not recognize themselves in your writing, there may be a problem. Now I recognize that people being critiqued are not always objective about their problems, but they should at least recognize some of what you are saying. MacArthur's book is probably not entirely wrong, but it deserves some caution. I recommend reading both sides of the issue before you make dogmatic statements. It may save you from being wrong.

I think the emergent conversation has some severe problems. I think much of it is a distortion of historic Christianity. But I think we can show that from what they believe and do. We do not have to make stuff up, or paint the worst possible picture of a situation. Their own actions are sufficient.


Frank Sansone said...


I like some of what you said here, but I really question this statement:

"How many emergent church services did MacArthur attend? How many interviews with emergent church pastors did he conduct? If the answer is none, that is bad."

The logic behind this is not fitting for what I normally expect from you. You do not have to attend an e.c. service or interview an e.c. pastor to understand or deal with the issues of the e.c. any more than you have to attend an R.C. church service or interview the Pope to confront the errors of the RCC. There is plenty of books, articles, blogs, etc. that have been put out by e.c. guys to be able to deal with the e.c. You can read Bell, you can read Paggitt, check out Emergent Village, etc.

I have not yet read the book, so I will not make a hearty defense of it, but I have listened to the CD that I understand covers some of the same material and I have found it useful. Part of the problem, however, is that saying that "the e.c. teaches X" is difficult to do due to the nature of "the conversation."

I don't want to hi-jack anything, but when I read that comment it raised a red flag - similar to the one that was raised when I read some of the comments on Andrew Jones' review of the book in which the commenters argued that JM should have dealt with these people privately before writing the book.

Just my thoughts,

Pastor Frank Sansone

Larry said...

Couple of comments.

First, if one is going to do a serious critique of something, then it should be done from first hand research including interviewing people and visiting as much as possible. I would say the same about publishing a critique of the RCC, or anything else. It is always better to do first hand research. If nothing else, it takes the club out of their hands. If someone is blowing off steam on a blog, or writing an opinion piece, first hand research is not as necessary.

Second, the emergent conversation is markedly different than the RCC which makes that comparison invalid, IMO. The RCC has a published historical record of virtually monolithic beliefs. The EC does not. What describes one EC does not necessarily describe another. This was the same flaw in Carson's book. He treated the whole EC as if they were Brian McLaren. I think Carson's book is helpful, but these problems need to be understood. I think someone like Mark Driscoll is a much more effective critic of the EC for a lot of reasons, including the fact that he was one of them in the beginning and is familiar with them firsthand.

I don't think we should lump the whole EC together. There are some issues that they have in common. I think Doran's message on it last year at a church planting conference in Mentor OH was a very good critique in a short space. But to brush them all with a broad brush is dangerous.

I heard one presentation of MacArthur on this topic. I don't know if it was the same one, but I think it was flawed in some respects.

In sum, as I say, I haven't read the book. But I think firsthand research ought to be a part of it. I have seen Dan Kimball around on the blogs. He is willing to engage with people including his critics. I think Pagitt is the same way. These guys are not inaccessible. Their material is available, and so are they.

Frank Sansone said...


I guess we will end up disagreeing on this. I don't see a need to visit or interview guys who have made their views public as long as you deal with what is already public. (In other words, don't address what goes on in e.c. service unless you have reliable information about an e.c. service - such as their own words about what they think constitutes a good service, etc.)

You have also alluded to one of the other problems with requiring first-hand research on something as nebulous as the e.c. - there are so many variations out there that people can simply say, "Well, he did not address/visit/interview my favorite e.c. guy(s), so his criticisms are invalid."

Another issue with "first-hand research" is that it tends to be more subject to charges of inaccuracies. If I say that I spoke to McLaren (for instance)and comment on what he said, many people will call into question my reporting of what he said (e.g. "he did not really say that" or "you misquoted him" or "you took that quote out of context"). If I quote something that McLaren has actually written and can be verified in his writings, my critique will generally hold more water.

I would also point out that I was not addressing the monolithic nature of the RCC vs. ec, but merely pointing out the fact that there is enough public information available from both to be able to deal with what is already public without requiring the kind of "first-hand" research for which you seem to be calling.

I also wanted to clarify that I am not against first-hand research (after all, I took the time to read The DaVinci Code when I wrote my critique of it, even though there was enough public information that it could have been done without it), but I do think that the lack of first-hand research is not a valid criticism against someone's analysis when the thing being analyzed has plenty of public record to critique.

Maybe I am making a mountain out of molehill, I just have concerns when I see this kind of criticism being leveled. Perhaps I am responding out of my bias, since I have usually heard this type of criticism leveled when someone is using it as a shield to protect something that should rightly be criticized (e.g. "how can you criticize Marilyn Manson if you have never been to a Marilyn Manson concert") and I have also seen this defense elevated to its next logical step - you must not only have "first-hand research", that first-hand research must have been to this depth to be valid {e.g. "just because you have visited an e.c. church or two doesn't make you qualified, you must have been actively involved for X amount of time to show that you truly have an understanding of 'the conversation' before you can accurately criticize it").

You have not done this in any way, but your seeming acceptance of this line of argumentation is what has raised my red flag.

In Christ,

Pastor Frank Sansone