Should we judge those who judge?

Judge not, that ye be not judged, at least that’s how the Authorised Version puts it.

Words followed words today, tweets followed tweets, judgement followed judgement. All in an oscillating cycle between being right and in being right, or thinking you are right, being wrong.

It was Mark Driscoll’s tweet that set the cat among the pigeons:

I took a moment to take in my shock. But only a moment. I thought I was managing to stay above the fray by tweeting a link to his without any judgement.

But who am I kidding? There was judgement in those words, bucket loads. And predictably it got the retweets I thought it would. And the responses from those agreeing and adding their disdain that he could say such things.

One response, however, stood out from the crowd. It was not an affirmation that I’d backed the right horse, but a gentle prod that perhaps I shouldn’t have got on my high horse.

I cannot do anything other than speculate on the motives Mark Driscoll had for his tweets. I can only comment with any certainty on those driving mine. I was confident I’d get support from those perpetually outraged by his statements. I thought it might even earn me a little kudos in the twitter world.

What I was really doing was looking for support in me being right and someone else being wrong.

I was judging. I could build a defence, I could argue that Jesus saved his harshest words for the judgemental Pharisees, I could say he was representing a view of God that is flatly contradicted by the man Christ who called us to take the plank out of our own eyes before pointing out the speck in another.

That’s what I’m doing now. Publicly taking the plank out of my eye. My tweet was based on wanting to serve my own purposes and rubbish another. And the sneering tone that lay beneath my words made that worse.

But it also leaves me with a question: when and how should we respond to those who judge? Do we let their words go unquestioned, do we let them paint a picture of God that is not who we worship? I simply do not know. I think there’s a space for criticism, there is a space for rebuke: I think that can be healthy. I even think that can happen on twitter and blogs, but I know for me it’s not a forum where that is easy.

I think it’s all too easy to write things in order to provoke a response, words that inflame and do not inform. It is too easy to build an audience, too easy to like attention, too easy to judge the wisdom of your words by the hits or retweets. I know that I have to be immensely careful of my motives when I write. It is also easy to see criticism as an affirmation that you are saying something worth being said.

For now, I simply apologise to Mark Driscoll for judging him this afternoon.

Update:

I like to think that this blog is a place where I think out loud. I do my best to be as honest and open as I can. It’s also been pointed out by Annie Carter in the comments that her tweet to me was actually referring to Mark Driscoll’s original tweet. Yesterday’s post caused a bit of a stir, was I trying to stop people disagreeing? Was I saying to deny what you thought? What role is left for anger?

Simply, I wanted a better tone of conversation. I think it is possible to disagree without judging, and I think there is a place for rebuke. It’s just in my case I was judging and I am not convinced that twitter is the best place for rebuking someone. I think this opens up a much wider conversation as to how Christians do disagreement in public, and my hunch is that we should do it a whole lot less than we do. And I think in a context such as twitter were conversations get confused and responses are short, the potential for perceiving something that wasn’t quite meant is manifold.

I think Anger can be a good thing, I think it highlights things that are not how they should be. But anger unmediated and detached from a relationship can be harmful, and that’s where I think we have to act with care.

I found Mark Driscoll’s comments objectionable but what I had missed until it was pointed out to me was Cornel West’s objection to Obama swearing the oath on MLK’s Bible. So here’s a thought to ponder: why did they provoke such different responses?

To the head or to the heart: a pair of reviews

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‘Unapologetic’ by Francis Spufford

‘Who do you think you are?’ by Mark Driscoll

On Friday afternoon I wanted something to read over the weekend, I was approaching the end of ‘Unapologetic‘ and knew I had plenty of time to get some reading done. I was handed a copy of Mark Driscoll’s latest book ‘Who do you think you are?‘, and read it fairly swiftly.

These are two very, very, different books, and it might seem a little odd to review the two together. But I think they present two different approaches to a common problem, and while Driscoll’s book does so explicitly, Spufford also provides plenty of material for the formation of Christian identity.

Unapologetic is one of the best books I have ever read. The writing is among the most beautiful I have come across and a few parts are simply stunning. Last Saturday I sat in Starbucks in Greenwich reading the chapter on Yeshua and there was a sharp hint of tears in my eyes as I read the words describing with such painful beauty the journey to the cross. They were words that reminded me why He deserves all that I have to offer, and of why all of that would still not be enough were it not for what He did two thousand years ago.

Who do you think you are? is not in the same league, it’s not in the same ballpark. What Spufford’s work is to good writing, Driscoll’s is to bad. That’s not to say in and of itself that it is a bad book, just that the writing is poor. And in parts it is really shocking. I’m a snob about writing I know.

When the use of quotation marks around a word is used to pejoratively describe someone it is a bad sign. The description of a liberal bible scholar is not given more power by putting quotation marks around the word scholar. You can disagree with the scholarship, you can think it is poor scholarship but using quotation marks not for grammatical propriety but to aid an insult is lazy.

Who do you think you are? could be good, it could be a simple and effective guide to forming your identity in Christ. And in parts it does that: some of the sections are clear and sometimes they provide a useful starting point for thinking about different aspects of the Christian life. But as one reviewer said, this book has been written thirty thousand times before.

When it is not simple, this book is simplistic. And unfortunately that is most of the time. I could pick at some of his theological positions which reach toward the extreme of the reformed part of evangelicalism, but when I picked up the book I expected to disagree with more than I did. Each of the chapters, which are based around an ‘I am…’ statement drawn from Ephesians as part of understanding Christian identity, contain at least one story to illustrate the point. Some of these are engaging and powerful, and they get better as the book goes on, but while purporting to have a more pastoral emphasis all the stories do is present case studies of people who have succeeded in finding a stronger identity in Christ.

The problem, and this is what lets the book down the most, is there is virtually no acknowledgement of the ongoing challenges of becoming a disciple of Christ. That sometimes it doesn’t always work out. That for every story of success there will be others of recidivism. So for a book that is supposed to be pastoral it barely offers any advice as to how to handle the ebb and flow of growing closer in likeness to Christ. It presents a victorious life as too victorious, and unreality doesn’t provide a good basis for constructive discipleship.

Spufford’s book is unlike any other I have read, it was apparently written without research, and that shows. It is stream of consciousness writing, and in this case that makes it very good. In effect it is Francis Spufford telling everyone why he is a Christian. And it inspires me, and it enthralled me. His premise is to avoid the academic arguments often used to justify Christian belief, but to instead for why, despite everything he believes it to be true. He uses rhetoric to inspire and prompt you towards knowing Christ more deeply and more beautifully. It was a book that made me fall in love with God again.

If you are looking for a doctrinally tight book then Unapologetic is probably not for you, he certainly doesn’t tick all the boxes of evangelicalism. Francis Spufford also swears quite a lot, including in his relabelling of sin as HPtFtU (the Human Propensity to F?#! things Up). If you know exactly what doctrine you want then Driscoll’s book will do it for you, but then if you know exactly what you want then there is little reason to read the book except for to confirm your own rightness.

Spufford appeals to your heart while Driscoll speaks to your head. This is the fundamental incongruence in Driscoll’s book, it is a book about identity, and about how we need to have our identity in Christ. And yet it does not affect the heart, it tries to tell the head what to do. If you digest everything in Who do you think you are? You will have acronyms to avoid idols, (IDOLS) and to help your prayer life (yes, PRAYER). You’ll also have a list of things to help you develop gifting and understand salvation.

Counter productively a book written in this way gives us 16 different things to do to understand your identity is in Christ and not what you do.

Unapologetic gets one big thing right, this is an unfinished process. “We’re the league of the guilty after all, not the league of the shortly-to-become-good. We are a work in progress. We will always be a work in progress. We will always fail, and it will always matter.”

A bit like my reading of the book. I haven’t finished it. Almost not wanting to close the back cover on a book that cuts to the heart of the relationship between us and God. A beautiful account of who we are and who God is. When I do finish I am sure it will not be the last time that I read the words between the covers. I’ve taken my time over it, reading it in chunks, and slowly at that. Ironically Driscoll’s book did not take long to get past my reading eyes. I wanted to get it finished quickly. I was disinterested in truths that should be life changing, so frustrated with empty prose that barely warrants the label – almost justifying the use of quotation marks around the word prose.

If you want to know that what you believe is correct then read Who do you think you are? (as long as you believe everything he does). It’s not a particularly bad book, it did not plummet to the depths of my expectations. But the more I thought about it, the more I felt it was one that didn’t need to be written.

Unapologetic, on the other hand, is a book I would recommend everyone to read.

Celebrity and the Church


Does the church in the UK need more big name preachers? That’s the challenge that’s been circulating the internet over the past couple of days.

Why, when organising a big conference or festival are speakers imported from overseas, usually from the US, why are worship bands brought over from Australia? I do not think it is just because they are great preachers or worship groups. I think there is something slightly less savoury about it.

It’s because we want to ensure that crowds come, that we hit the break even point. I’ve been in a hall with over 2000 crammed in to listen to Rob Bell, I’ve queued for hours to listen to, and worship with, Hillsong United. If there’s someone with a recognised name on the flyer then it’s a more or less guaranteed way of filling the room.

I’ve travelled across the country, I’ve paid money, I’ve given time. All the symptoms of sacrificial worship. But what is it that I’m worshipping? Is it the God who created all things, or the celebrities on the stage? I’ve also watched in despair as teenage girls queue to have their photo taken with the latest heart-throb worship UK worship leader, and others run across the grass to catch the home grown speaker and talk to them. So that they can then relay through innumerable conversations about when they were talking to so and so.

I’ve criticised such an attitude, and I’ve been called out on it myself. I’ve been close at hand, and raised my eyes to the sky, when other fawn towards the well known names. And then recounted the tale: on one level just so my friends know my contact is superior to the type I’m criticising.

And even telling that tale here, perhaps parading my humility for your own compassion, including the information that I know people you might not, and somehow that puts me in a position of advantage.

Not a lot of people read this blog, but then I don’t know what classifies as a lot. Every now and then I post something which picks up quite a few readers, my post about Mark Driscoll did exactly that. I knew it would, written just hours after the story had first came out, pushed out on twitter and facebook, me doing what I could to encourage people to read my thoughts.

There’s an irony here that nearly knocked me cold as I pondered it last night. I posted Thursday evening just before my small group was about to begin. We were talking about greed and contentment, and all the time my phone was buzzing with tweets about the post, as things drew to a close I checked the comments, found a bunch and saw the stats had gone through the roof. I slipped away into a world of my own, more bothered about what other people were thinking about me and what I wrote, than about the very real relationships with the people in my front room.

I’ve done a little bit of preaching and public speaking, and it petrifies me. I was visiting a church for work and had realised it was a bit bigger than I’d expected, the night before I lay in bed churning over what I was to say, and how I would come across. I was worrying about what they would think of me.

My reputation, whether it is when I speak in person, or when I write is of too much concern to me. I wanted more people to read what I had written all the while discussing avoiding greed and seeking contentment.

So I was reflecting about all this last night while listening to the majestic new and final album from the Dave Crowder Band (buy it!). While wanting more readers I am at the same time uncomfortable with the idea that I am in my own ridiculous microcosm occasionally in a position of authority, not an idea I had really entertained to date. That means that there is a responsibility on me for what I say, how I say it, and how I interact with those reading or listening.

In my criticism of Mark Driscoll, was I fair, was I right, was I right to post it even if I was right in the content? Am I responsible for other people thinking negatively about a fellow Christian? How do I feel about many people I have never met reading my words and interpreting them in their own way?

I wanted the status of being highly read without the responsibility of being in a position of authority.

Surely the church needs the exact opposite, people who can deal with the responsibility of authority without the need for the status?

Ignoring Mark Driscoll

I may have said that when I write I have in mind what people want to read and that effects what makes into on the page. But some people take it a whole lot further.

Writing to meet your readers’ demands is one thing. Writing to provoke a response can have its place. Even courting a bit of controversy to get people thinking can be accepted.

But there is a line. We could probably even select a passage of scripture and create a grid of what we should and shouldn’t do. Maybe along the lines of what is permissible under the law, and what is helpful. I can see the attraction in that sort of approach, it would help us know where we stand. What is fine and what is beyond the pale.

Because someone who belittles men because of their personality or effeminate manner shouldn’t be paraded as a hero.

And hopefully we can agree that advocating fighting as an expression of Christianity is not the best way of imitating the suffering saviour.

Surely we can see that a book about marriage should have at it’s centre the model of Christ and the church. But instead spends too much time in crude, reductionist, interpretations of scripture.

Without a doubt we should know that encouraging a nation to intentionally raise up celebrity pastors is a step in the wrong direction.

Because when these sort of messages are pushed it harms the church. When these things are said it cannot just be accounted for and excused by looking to the following the author and speaker has, or the size of his congregation, or his place in the Amazon best seller charts.

It is not enough to say that because someone is popular and have had success in building a church they should be given license to say what they like.

It is nonsense to say that certain messages are necessary because men are leaving the church. The problem is not solved by taking lessons from the worst parts of a consumer driven, sex obsessed, violence glorifying, celebrity culture.

When such things are said by people with a following it is even more urgent that they are not allowed to get away with it. That they are corrected, and rebuked, and then in the future ignored. No more invitations to conferences, or interviews in magazines – then trailed to increase publicity, building second hand on his penchant for the controversial. Just left alone.

Maybe I should just man up, get on a flight to Seattle and pull him into the car park and smack him down. He’d probably have some respect for me if I did that.

But that would miss the point, because that’s not how I work, or who I am. Instead I’m just a granny in her pyjamas writing behind the invisible walls of the internet.

I’m not going to call anyone out in a fight to prove I’m right, after all, I’m not always sure I am right, especially about all this. If I’m wrong I’m sure Pastor Mark will be happy to help me out.

My hypocrisy evidenced in this post is duly noted.