Emir Caner, Acts29, and The Problem With Public Christian Debate

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It began with a tweet. A short, sarcastic tweet that went something like this:

The military found a stockpile of pornography in Osama Bin Laden’s compound. I didn’t know Muslims had their own Acts 29 network.

The tweeter responsible is Emir Caner, president of Truett-McConnell College. His comment sparked a Twitter firestorm. Many people were upset. Some were personally offended. Most called for repentance. Some called for the trustees of Truett-McConnell to take action.

By morning of the second day, the tweet was removed and a link to this statement was posted:

I have come to realize over the past few days that Driscoll’s vulgarity is far too serious an issue to simply put out a satirical tweet. While it is easy to find Driscoll crossing the line (see articles by John MacArthur and Cathy Mickels) it should not be likewise with me, and for that I apologize.

Judging by the ongoing Twitter discussion, I do not believe many are satisfied with this statement.

One to one, in our homes and churches, Christians often try to relate to one another as the Bible teaches. We are careful not to offend, we submit for the sake of peace, we confess, we repent, and we love. Unfortunately, in public, we blend with our surroundings and relate to one another in ways that are much more worldly. In a short tweet and an almost as short statement, Caner displayed three of the problems that most Christians have when we disagree publicly.

Being Funny is Better than Being Honest

Caner’s tweet was hyperbolic. He admits that he was being sarcastic, and sarcasm often uses hyperbole for the sake of humor. This is why a reference to Mark Driscoll was expanded to include the Acts 29 network, and why vulgarity was enlarged to read “pornography.”

A tweet about Mark Driscoll’s vulgarity would not catch as much attention, nor link in a humorous way to recent stories of Osama Bin Laden, so Mark Driscoll’s Vulgarity becomes Acts 29’s pornography. Maybe it is funnier that way. Maybe it makes a point. These are the standard excuses for using hyperbole.

The problem is that hyperbole only serves two purposes in a debate: humor and swaying the uninformed. If the goal is to expose truth and lift up Christ, hyperbole is not going to be very helpful.

Using hyperbole ignores facts and hopes that the reader will understand this. However, when the reader is a stranger, reading text, it is more likely that the hyperbolic statement will simply become the normal understanding of the facts. Which brings me to the next problem.

Choosing the Shovel over the Truth

The original tweet associated Acts 29 and pornography. Ironically, I can think of few organizations more active against pornography than Acts 29. In the later statement from Caner, he simply addressed “vulgarity.” That is a stretch in and of itself, but what of this issue of Mark Driscoll’s vulgarity?

Driscoll’s early years in ministry were marked by the use of vulgar language in the pulpit. This is something he has admitted and shown repentance. It became well known when Donald Miller jokingly referred to him as “Mark the Cussing Pastor” in his book, Blue Like Jazz. Driscoll’s critics seized on that phrase with gusto, though I am not sure any would be in agreement with much else in Miller’s book.

Strangely, a group of people committed to the idea that sins are forgiven cannot seem to let go of this issue with Driscoll. It is my hunch that people don’t like Driscoll for the same reason we tend not to like anyone that is successful and popular. We are jealous. Saying, “I’m jealous of Mark Driscoll” is not likely to attract the masses, so we resort to digging up dirt.

Digging up dirt on someone we don’t like is something we learn from politicians. It is not something we learn from Christ. It is a practice that has no place among brothers and sisters in Christ. I know that the response is that we need to be on guard against false teachers and we need to hold one another accountable. However, when the truth must be ignored to do so, we have left the realm of Christian accountability.

Stiff Statements Without Reconciliation

Another tactic we have learned from the world is that of the formal apology. Politicians, movie stars, and CEO’s caught in scandal do it. When the truth is out, they make a very brief, cold statement of “I apologize.” Of course, saying “I apologize” is not saying, “I’m sorry.” It is saying, “I make a statement which says I am sorry.” It is one step removed, but that step means a lot.

The reason such statements are accepted in the world is because it is believed that there is some penalty being paid for the wrongdoing. The statement is just the humiliating salt in the wound. The movie star will miss a few roles. The politician will lose the next big election. The CEO will retire early. He makes the statement and everyone is happy. Everyone is happy, because in the world, a contrite spirit and repentance do not mean a lot. In the Church, they should.

Further, it is a worldly standard that demands the formal apology for a public sin. The biblical standard is not apology but reconciliation:

23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Matthew 5:23-24, ESV

Sadly, too many Christian leaders (large and small) have learned to apologize from the world and ignore scripture on the matter. We might preach repentance and forgiveness, but we rarely model it.

This problem is bigger than just Emir Caner and Acts 29. The problem is that Christians have accepted a worldly way of debate and public slander that ignores truth, repentance, forgiveness, and humility.

Granted, it can be tricky in a world where social networking lets us interact in crowds that are larger than our imaginations. However, scripture must remain the standard. If we will learn to handle our disagreements in such a way, Christ will be seen…even on Twitter.

Cowardly Christians and Brave Birds

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This afternoon, I mowed my yard. I love to mow my yard. I inherited my father’s cub cadet mower, and its pretty fun to zoom around my yard with that 24 horse power mower. Today, as I mowed I noticed a Robin that seemed unafraid of the mower. I would get within a couple of feet from this bird before it flew away, but it would return very quickly. It stayed with me the entire time I was out there.

It took me a while to realize why he stayed so close. Eventually, I got it. You see, my yard has been water logged lately. I haven’t been able to mow because it was so wet. So today, as I mowed the tall grass across soft ground, I was stirring up a lot of earthworms. The little bird knew this. He braved the mower because that’s where the harvest was!

Christians can learn a lot from my feathered friend. It seems we would rather stay away from the places and things in this world that frighten us or that may even be dangerous. We have plenty of places we won’t go and people we won’t talk to. The tragic reality is, those places are where the harvest is.

I pray I can become as brave as that little bird.

Book Review: Craig Groeschel’s Weird

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“Normal is to strive for the center of what the world lives like. Weird is to live to be in the center of God’s will” p. 120

Craig Groeschel claims to be weird and he encourages his readers to be weird as well. Why? Because normal just isn’t that great. In his book, Weird, Groeschel compares the norm for time management, money, relationships, sex, and values with biblical teachings in order to show that “weird” is better.

Groeschel does a very good job exposing the pitfalls of normal ways of life. I think the honest reader would readily agree. In each area, Groeschel delivers biblical insight and practical steps toward something different. Some of his advice will seem very familiar, whereas some will be more challenging. Groeschel attacks the prosperity gospel in his section on money, which may surprise many readers. He also teaches sexual purity for adults, whereas most Christian authors seem to only address this as a topic for adolescents.

However, much of the book just doesn’t seem to go far enough. It loses steam. The sections on time and money are much more detailed and valuable than those on relationships and sex. In the end, I think Groeschel could have gotten his point across in a magazine article. To truly get a lot out of this topic, a series of books may have been better.

For many, this may be a good start. Perhaps it is the initial challenge to no longer consider the Christian life as synonymous with the “American Dream.”

If your use of time and money has become a problem or you struggle in your relationships or with sexual sin, this book may be a good place for you to start. If you are already reading David Platt or Francis Chan, there is nothing new here.