Thursday, January 26, 2012

Thoughts on the Elephant Room

A friend recently asked me on Twitter if I was going to the Elephant Room, and why (or I suppose why not, depending on the answer to the first question). Rather than try to cram it into a DM on Twitter, I decided to answer here.

The answer is “No, I didn’t go,” though late last week I re-tweeted a tweet offering free airfare, entry, and lodging to a randomly drawn winner. I was willing to win and actually go because I think it would be interesting on several different fronts, even though I intentionally live in a far different theological and ecclesiastical world than most of those participating.

(I say “most” because I can’t speak for all of them, since I don’t know who all is there. And I am perfectly willing to let them answer to God for wherever they stand.)

But I didn’t win. So I didn’t go because, in addition to not winning, (1) it’s too cold to play golf in Illinois right now (though it would be cheaper than the entry fee to ER), (2) it’s expensive, (3) it takes me away from my family when I would rather be home, and (4) a couple more reasons given below.

To start off, let me say that I like the idea of the Elephant Room (ER). Getting men in the same room to interact face-to-face about their differences is a great idea. Participants could present their positions, discuss them, ask questions, and answer questions, give nuance, correct misrepresentations, etc. No more making stuff up.

We see far too many people addressing caricatures of others’ positions. I have seen blatant lies, half-truths, and subtle (or not so subtle) innuendo offered in the name of “taking a stand.” It needs to stop. It needs to be repented of. By all sides.

Sitting down together to talk about differences is not sinful. It is not partnership or fellowship. In fact, it gives the chance to explain why one is not a partner. It provides an avenue in which biblical obedience can be carried out because we are talking directly to people about where we believe they are wrong rather than talking about them. In such a context, we can challenge the position of others. It may not be wise in every situation (though it may be in some), but it is not sinful in every situation either (though it may be in some).

However, I think ER is too narrow in its scope to be of great value. All of the participants come from a fairly narrow stream of modern, American, Christianity. This one branched out a bit (perhaps even outside of Christianity, a problem in and of itself), but it was still pretty narrow. IMO, getting a bunch of guys to challenge each other who already agree for the most part isn’t all that engaging, helpful, or interesting, at least not for the amount of money it would take to get there.

If you want a good ER3, get Driscoll, Chandler, Hybels, MacArthur, Dever, Trueman, and me.

Okay, leave me out. But get the other six. And then actually ask tough questions and allow discussion.

The challenges I saw in the clips from ER1 were rather weak, IMO. So I didn’t have high hopes for this one.

Those hopes were not surpassed if the reports I read from yesterday’s ER2 (Trevin Wax, Tim Schraeder) are accurate. They seem to show that challenges were virtually non-existent this time.

And it raises the question: What is the point of having differing viewpoints in order to challenge each other if no challenges take place?

The most direct challenge I recall from the notes was in the exchange between Driscoll and Graham over the topic of how many churches were actually planted in Haiti, and how many would be around in five years. It’s a good question, and should have led to more interaction about the nature of church and the gospel, particularly in third world countries. Driscoll could have even pointed out that there were no nationally known pastors in Haiti, and someone could have challenged him on that because he certainly needs to be.

But the number of lasting church plants in Haiti seems a rather small matter compared to the prosperity gospel and Word Faith doctrine of T. D. Jakes which apparently went unmentioned, and even his views on the Trinity were not really hashed out much. Apparently it’s all cool because Jakes says there is “very little difference” between Driscoll and him on the Trinity (as Wax reports). Driscoll’s closed-handed issue of complementarianism didn’t even come up.

The number of churches in Haiti after five years also seems small compared to the Code Orange revival which apparently was mentioned only by Furtick in a reference to baptizing his son. What was going on there? Why did you think that was going to bring revival? What is revival? How would we get it and how would we know it if it actually showed up?

The number of churches in Haiti after five years seems small compared to the resignation of MacDonald from the Gospel Coalition council while fellow ER participant Crawford Loritts remains on the council. Now there’s an elephant in the room. Why didn’t anyone challenge that? What actually happened? Why does MacDonald think TGC is wrong?

Where were the prophetic voices to speak into this?

You have a group of men known for being bold proclaimers of truth, writing books, and calling out all manner of stuff. Yet here they suddenly came down with lockjaw?

Why? Scared of being called haters in Furtick’s next video?

Scared of pulling the main post out of the big tent and causing a gigantic crash of the ER?

MacDonald didn’t have any problem taking a few shots at fundamentalism. Why not take a shot at the prosperity gospel? Why not take a shot at the circus church mentality? Why not take a shot at the crudeness of Driscoll?

This failure is interesting to me. And concerning.

And it’s why I am not enamored with the ER. And it’s why I didn’t go.

So to sum it up, while I thought ER2 would be interesting, I didn’t think it would be worth the time, money, and effort to go. Now, my reading confirms that I made the right choice for me.

Were it free and local, I would probably go. Were it cheap and local, I would be tempted because I find the conversations interesting, and I don’t mind getting out of the office in the winter time.

But as it stands, it is too broad in who it calls Christian leaders, it is too narrow in perspectives represented, it lacks real challenges to issues of significance, and it costs too much money to offset any of those problems.

So I didn’t go.

So what do I make of hosts MacDonald and Driscoll?

Actually, not much. And what I mean by that is not pejorative. I just don’t think about them much. It’s like the pastor who asked his pastor friend, “What are they saying about me over there?” The answer came back, “Nothing. They’re not even talking about you.”

Neither one, in fact no one on this panel, has particular influence in my present sphere of ministry. I doubt one person connected to my church would know them. So I don’t think about them very much.

I do think there are some significant concerns on some issues of real substance, Driscoll in particular, which demonstrate that they do not serve a vital role in public ecclesiology and theology. I wouldn’t recommend them or their ministries as models to be emulated.

We can learn from them, and indeed should. In fact, we should learn both good and bad from them, and there is some of each.

I will rejoice in people that are saved and lives that are changed. But that won’t alleviate my concerns.

I don’t need them to be faithful to the task to which God has called me and therefore I don’t think about them.

And I don’t feel compelled need to drop a half a grand on entry fees, hotel, food, and travel to go hear them.


Steve Davis said...

Hi Larry:

Thank you for your observations. I have not followed the ER and don't see much interest for day to day ministry or benefit for the work of Christ.

Steve Davis

Jon Gleason said...

Funny comment about Driscoll and nationally known pastors, Larry. :)

Larry said...

Jon, Driscoll had said a lot of weird things in his life, but that comment about nationally known pastors in Britain was at the top of the list of the bizarre, wrong-headed things he has said. I was stunned by that.

Jon Gleason said...

You have to read it in context. He was saying they don't have courage, and he's already defined courage as "willing to be crass."

If I'm reading him accurately. What he was really saying is that British preachers aren't willing to be "courageous" like him, and the fact that none of them are famous is just a further symptom.

Very bizarre. And ignorant. It takes a lot more courage NOT to talk like him.