Thursday, June 07, 2007

Around the Blog in 80 Seconds

A few things that have caught my eye over the past few day....

1. Debate among Reformed African Americans. When debate erupts in a camp over something as basic as preaching, then one of three things has likely occured. The "movement" has grown large enough to include divergent views and healthy enough to discuss them. Or, the "movement" is potentially splintering before your eyes. I guess a third option may just be that someone has a quirky perspective that neither threatens or strengthens; it's just different. I'm not sure what I'm watching in the comments here and here. But apparently there are now enough Reformed African Americans in the blogosphere to have a debate about expositional preaching in the predominantly African-American context (HT: Anthony Carter).

2. Useful to all bloggers, especially those debating theological matters. Martin at Against Heresies has done a three-part interview with Carl Trueman on guarding ourselves against theological error. As usual, Trueman is helpful and insightful. His comments on theological blogging and ministry are especially instructive. Here's a snippet from part two:

Q: What signs of potential doctrinal drift and danger do you need to keep an eye out for in ministerial students?

I was convicted recently by a minister friend quoting to me 1 Tim. 1:5-7 (ESV):

The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.

My friend made two observations about this passage. First, the drift into dubious theological discussion is here described as moral in origin: these characters have swerved from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith; that is why their theology is so dreadful. Second, their desire is not to teach but to be teachers. There is an important difference here: their focus is on their own status, not on the words they proclaim. At most, the latter are merely instrumental to getting them status and boosting their careers.

Thus, what concerns me most is that students may simply desire to be teachers. If that is their motivation, then they have already abandoned a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith, and their theology, no matter how orthodox, is just a means to an end and no sound thing. It is why I am very sceptical of the internal call to the ministry as a decisive or motivating factor in seeking ordination. Nine times out of ten, I believe that the church should first discern who should be considering the Christian ministry, not simply act as a rubber-stamp a putative internal call which an individual may think he has.

Further, such students whose first desire is to be teachers are more likely to try to catch whatever is the latest trendy wave. Orthodoxy is always doomed to seem uncreative and pedestrian in the wider arena; if the aim is to be a teacher, to be the big shot, then it is more likely that orthodoxy will be less appealing in the long run – though there are those for whom orthodoxy too is simply a means to being a celebrity.

If a prideful desire to be a teacher, to be a somebody, is the fundamental problem, then one other aspect which is increasingly problematic is the whole phenomenon of the internet. Now anyone can put their views out for public consumption, without the usual processes of accountability, peer review, careful editing timely reflection etc. which is the norm in the scholarly world and has also been the tradition in the more theologically responsible parts of the Christian publishing industry. The internet has few quality controls and feeds narcissism. Again, I have a friend, a minister in a North American Presbyterian denomination who says that, as he reads many blogs, his overwhelming feeling is one of sadness as he sees men seriously undermining their future ministry through the venom they pour out on others. I think he is right.

Of course, all young theologians and aspiring church leaders say stupid and unpleasant things. I still blush about comments I made 15 or twenty years ago which now seem arrogant and offensive, and certainly unworthy of a Christian. But for those of us who are older, the sins of our youth are thankfully now long vanished from the public sphere; yet such sins committed today can live on indefinitely in cyberspace. I shudder for those who have not yet grasped this basic fact and who say some frightful things on the internet which will come back to haunt them the very first time a church googles their name as part of doing routine background checks on a potential ministerial candidate. But more than that: I shudder at the kind of self-appointed arrogance among ministerial candidates and recently-minted graduates which the internet can foster and intensify.

Paul’s words to Timothy seem prophetic in times such as ours. Students should cultivate pure hearts, good consciences, and a sincere faith. That way they will safeguard their theology from becoming idle speculation.

Part one, two, and three (HT: Dave)


Anonymous said...

Brother Thabiti,

I appreciate the word on the goal of refuting error being a pure heart, a clear conscience and sincere faith. It is a passage that is close to my heart as it was reading/studying this that I first sensed the innerward call to ministry.

We have to resist the temptation to just want to be teachers and, in effect, men-pleasers (in this case that man is self). We must, as Paul, be servants of Christ first and foremost.

If you perceive me to be at all uncharitable or have anything other than the glory of Christ and his Word in view as I dialogue with X - please let me know.

Appreciate your ministry.

Jude 2,


FellowElder said...

Good to hear from you bro. I didn't sense anything but grace and a lot of wisdom in your response/exchange with X. I was thankful for your response and instructed in humility and insight by it. Keep soldiering brother! Thankful for your ministry,

Anonymous said...

thanks so much for the encouraging words bro. Look forward to meeting you someday soon.


Shawn Abigail said...

"not simply act as a rubber-stamp a putative internal call which an individual may think he has."

And those who are worthy of being called elders should have the moral strength to tell a man he is not gifted in a certain area or not ready for a certain ministry yet. Too often a man believes he is "called" and nobody has the moral strength, good sense, personal goodness or loving care to put the breaks on his fantasy.

The corollary is that real elders must constantly survey the flock, looking for evidence of gift and calling. What experiences will help a young believer to develop? Would a certain man benefit from a traditional or non-traditional training program. And has a specific man been called to something other than the traditional "pastor" type of ministry (urban evangelism, apologetics, writing, etc).

Thanks for the article. I appreciated the way it got me thinking.