The Elephant Room 2 – Still Missed One or Two

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I have now spent several days ruminating over the Elephant Room, Round 2. I have what amount to two reactions that I feel comfortable making in a public forum. First, I am left with the same major objection after the telecast that I had before the telecast: Exactly what qualifies as a “diverse” perspective to the reformed Evangelical crowd represented by MacDonald and Driscoll? The guests certainly didn’t (and still don’t) seem all that diverse to this Pentecostal turned Episcopalian. Second, while my convictions as an Evangelical have been waning over the last four years, I think the Elephant Room (as a concept and in execution) provides a silver lining to the otherwise gloomy outlook I have had.

I work at an interdenominational school with nearly 1,500 students and over 100 employees. I am a member of the Bible faculty; administratively, I run various programs, head up staff and student projects, provide professional development training and serve as the spiritual director. We have students and staff that span the three branches of Christianity (Protestant, Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox), and we have students that have no Christian affiliation. In short, I understand pastoring a diverse crowd of folks, and it was my idea to take our Bible faculty to this conference. I was excited for the opportunity, and excited to have another chance to spend time interacting in a meaningful way over our commonalities as a teaching staff.

The Elephant Room 2 line up consisted of James MacDonald (Harvest Bible Chapel), Mark Driscoll (Mars Hill), T.D. Jakes (The Potter’s House), Jack Graham (Prestonwood Baptist Church), Steven Furtick (Elevation Church), Crawford Loritts (Fellowship Bible Church), and Wayne Cordeiro (New Hope Oahu). Now, what you should read in the line up is probably fairly obvious, “Our round table discussion between ‘diverse’ perspectives involves seven pastors – of them, seven are Conservative Evangelical Protestants, two are reformed, two are Pentecostal/Charismatic, and two belong to the SBC.” Now, I traveled in Pentecostal circles long enough to understand that diversity is a rare commodity for organizations that are in the midst of what we might call “institutionalization.” They are trying to secure their brand, guarantee their lineage, solidify their influence, etc. – I get it. Nonetheless, I looked at the lineup and had to reread the website’s “about” page, because I was sure I had missed something. Nope, there it was again, “The Elephant Room features blunt conversations between seven influential pastors who take differing approaches to ministry. No keynotes. No canned messages. These are ‘the conversations you never thought you’d hear.’”

While I know many of our readers will agree with me on this point, there is, apparently, a storm of controversy brewing over how outrageous it was for Macdonald to invite certain pastors to his “blunt conversation.” Many of Driscoll and Macdonald’s colleagues in the Reformed tradition are beside themselves over the interactions with T.D. Jakes (see here, here, here and here). For me, though, the attempt was not daring enough. Why didn’t we get to see ministers like Bishop N.T. Wright, Fr. Alberto Cutie, Fr. Miguel Diaz, or Rev. Tom Brock mix it up with these elite seven? I don’t mean to be too snarky, but I think the answer is obvious when halfway through the conference T.D. Jakes quipped that pastors needed to “quit being superman, and start being Ms. Lane” (the point being, that sometimes pastors need saving too), Driscoll almost reverted to high school locker room antics, shouting and posturing about how he’s not into “that stuff” (which, perhaps, was only bested by his sage observation that often we put too much focus on the failure of the men when pastors are guilty of sexual sin. He said that we never pay enough attention to the guilt of wives when pastors go outside of the marriage) I was disappointed that the groundbreaking conversation of the day was how to racially integrate congregations, and not how to take the hateful edge out of the militant Evangelical agendas against women and the GLBT community.

It wasn’t all that bad, though. Which, you may not believe, I mean with all sincerity. Something that did emerge, proving to be quite encouraging, was the emotional tone at the close of the conference. Macdonald was quite clear (and most of the others agreed heartily), that he was done with the Evangelical ethos that demands Christians be defined by what they are against instead of what they are for. He reflected on the day, then asked the others to share their gleanings, and the result was a blissful moment of transparency and vulnerability where some of America’s most influential Evangelicals said, “Yeah, you’re right, my church needs to accept all who claim Christ, not just the ones that want to sign my doctrinal statement” (all, except for Monkey-boy, who declared that the day’s conversations amounted to a whole lot more “fun” than he expected he’d have). Some even lamented the fact that the day’s proceedings had not been influenced by an even wider array of Christian leaders.

So, in short, the conference was a little disappointing, because the Evangelical notion of theological diversity is still quite narrow. However, there were great moments where it was obvious that the Spirit of God was driving these leaders to a broader ecumenical vision – that part was really exciting, actually. Consequently, a few parting thoughts on the periphery of my memory: I respect Driscoll less than when I started, I love T.D. Jakes (who knew?), I still can’t believe that Jack Graham opened by saying that the SBC isn’t a denomination, rich white guys that run churches (like the rich white guys that run congress) still have no connection to what the poor, disenfranchised or minorities of America are dealing with on a daily basis, Steven Furtick is my new man-crush (seriously, he is bad ass – I want to be his friend, or watch him cage fight Mark Driscoll), and I see a future where a whole lot of angry little bloggers get a lot of mileage out tired theological fights like “modalism.”

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12 Comments

  1. Mark Driscoll… Reformed??? That is pretty funny. If he were Reformed, he would have a hell of a lot more common with you Anglicans. “Reformed Church” is shorthand for “Reformed Catholic Church.” Mark’s theology is a veritable hodge-podge of evangelical, charismatic, baptist and calvinistic ruminations. But as much as I appreciate some things about him, I would not call him and his so called “New Calvinism” Reformed by any stretch of the imagination.

    Reply

  2. Todd,

    I may be missing something, but all of the sources I have read through say that the Reformed Tradition finds its origin in the Calvinists that sought to distance themselves from the Lutherans. As such, the Reformed Tradition has been inexorably linked to Calvin, Zwingli, and Melanchthon in the Reformation specifically, and the “Calvinists” neo or otherwise generally.

    If you have access to information I do not, I am happy to be instructed.

    As to your other point, I appreciate some things about what he does as well. I have often said to people that I agree with 70 percent of what he says and hate 90 percent of the way he says it.

    Reply

    1. Hey Shawn,

      Thanks for the reply. I appreciate your musings on this blog. thoughtful stuff. I am a minister in the Christian Reformed Church, just to lay my cards on the table. I am also a member of the A29 network. These are two streams I swim in, that have somewhat of a tension for me. I am part of the A29 because I agree with it on bare essentials, regarding preaching the Gospel. I like how you put the 70% thing. My agreement with Driscoll might be lower than that. It really all comes down to how we look at the Chuch Shawn. Driscoll is a non-denominational guy. I think you can appreciate how radically different that is from guys like you and me that stand in longstanding catholic traditions.

      Driscoll is part of a new movement of Calvinism that he has given a name. He calls it the “new Calvinism” which is not to be confused with the “Neo-Calvinist tradition” of my denomination (Kuyper, Doyeweerd, etc). It is different from the historical continental Reformed in that it leads with TULIP rather than covenant theology. Like Driscoll, it tends to define Reformed by five point Calvinism, rather the more well rounded catholic understanding that you find in Calvin, the Heidelberg, etc. He will quite proudly wear the moniker “evangelical” which we approach cautiously. This New Calvinism tends to be a more Evangelical/ Baptist movement like we see in John Piper, Driscoll, etc.

      The bottom line is that this new movement is using the term “calvinist” primarily in regard to the five points of calvinism. This is a truncated usage that rips it from a much larger theological system that is sacramental and historically catholic in perspective. This way they can claim the legacy of Calvin & Luther without having to deal with the real challenging issues of covenant theology, infant baptism, the means of grace, and all the subjects that evangelicals like to give nice pat answers to. The Five points (canons of Dort) are a planet in our solar system, not the sum total.

      All that to say, I generally find a lot more in common with a more conservative Anglican like yourself than I do Mark Driscoll. As a minister in the Reformed church I cringe when hearing him referred to as Reformed, because he is not. A brother yes, and one I deeply appreciate for sure. Reformed Church means “Reformed Catholic Church” which is rooted in Nicene Orthodoxy and the centrality of the covenant in Christ with a robust theology of the Church.

      For what it is worth, I am not alone. Almost no one in my denomination or Calvin Seminary for that matter consider Mark to be “Reformed.” I also don’t believe in wearing the name as some sort of badge of honor either. Being Reformed is nothing to stick your chest out about (like many of the New Calvinists do). It is just a term that describes a tradition of the Reformation.

      Reply

  3. Todd,

    I had wondered from your initial comment exactly whether you were closely related to A29, because that seems to be the largest source of push back that Mark is experiencing on the blogosphere after ER2.

    Thank you for being so candid with your situation, beliefs, and understanding of the Reformed tradition. I see your point, and I think I better understand your criticism of Driscoll.

    I do have to say, though, that within theological frameworks, we tend to talk a lot about who “really belongs” and who belongs only nominally. If you only have tangential relationships to theological identity, what is your real identity?

    Having said that (and because of it), I have long wondered how long this “non-denominational” animal is going to survive. This mutation of the Christian Church does not seem ultimately to be a favorable adaptation. There are just too many ways and places for a church CEO to get sideways, and then to never be held accountable.

    Reply

    1. Thanks Shawn,

      I am constantly trying to navigate this mine field having a generous attitude toward Christians of all stripes while being governed by what is historic. This is why I could not agree more with your assessment of non-denominationalism in particular and I would apply it to evangelicalism in general. I think it represents the archetype of heresy, that is an independent spirit that “chooses” for itself. Never has the Church seen more division than in the ranks of Evangelicalism and non-denominationalism. In general they are anti-creedal and anti-tradioned expressions of Christianity, which is self-contradictory. I have my roots within evangelicalism as you do and so cannot write it off. There is no doubt that God has worked within it, but that still does not justify the damage this independent spirit has done to the Church.

      I am a little unclear on the question you are asking when you say: “If you only have tangential relationships to theological identity, what is your real identity?” What do you mean by “tangential relationships to theological identity? Are you asking this in reference to my relationship to Acts29, Driscoll, etc. I am having a hard time understanding what you mean, because I I sit squarely as you within a well defined theological tradition like you do. Thus I have a “tradition” that serves as a backdrop for which to compare the theology of a Driscoll etc. That is precisely my issue with the above, that it is tangential and a buffet served up to fit the individual rather than the Church.

      Reply

  4. Todd,

    My apologies for lacking clarity.

    The question, “If you only have tangential relationships to theological identity, what is your real identity?” was included rhetorically in reference to the previous statement. It was not a question directed at you or anyone else in particular.

    I mean to say that theological perspectives become cultures of their own within Christianity and are defended almost as avidly as orthodoxy. There seems to always be a tug-of-war going on between those who are at the center of any theological ethos and those who are on the fringe.

    Reply

    1. Thanks for the clarification Shawn. My thought was that it was rhetorical, but was not sure. I agree with you on your point about how such perspectives becoming cultures all their own and in our minds, become also an orthodoxy all its own. That brings my back to my comment about Driscoll’s theology seeming to be a veritable hodge-podge of evangelical, calvinist, charismatic, and complementarian issues rolled up in one. We all have our ideo-theologies. That is inescapable, but I find myself more and more wanting to judge myself against what is tried and true, not what is theologically in vogue right now. Thanks for taking the time. If you have a chance, check out my blog here: http://sjchurch.org/blog/

      Thanks

      Reply

  5. Shawn,

    By the way, I thought I would point you to a great book by W. Bradford Littlejohn called “The Mercersburg Theology and the Quest for Reformed Catholicity.” This is a great little survey of the Reformed Catholic work of J. W. Nevin & Phillip Schaff in their conflict with the sectarian Calvinism of C. Hodge and the Princtonians in the late 19th century. In this book littlejohn points out how these guys had far more in common with Calvin and early Reformed thought and how Hodge (in his proto evangelical way) distanced himself from Calvin. There is also a chapter in the book that compares the Mercersburg theology to the Oxford movement (Tractarians) which I think you will find particularly helpful. All this to say, if you have the chance to take a look, It will prove that I am not a lone nutcase in saying that original Reformed thought was much closer to Anglicanism than the stuff that goes under the name Reformed today. Thanks

    Todd

    Reply

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