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.

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A Thought on The MBC

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I want to share a few thoughts I have about the 2010 meeting of the Missouri Baptist Convention that just wrapped up in Springfield.

Newly elected 2nd Vice President, Micah Fries has done a great job recapping much of the optimistic news of the convention. I won’t try to reiterate his post here, but I will share an observation.

I am the kind of guy who reads into things a little much. Maybe too much. However, I’ve always thought that a good measure of the convention is the kind of buzz words we here in the nomination speeches. For example, “He has a proven track record of ministry in Missouri” may mean, “He’s older and that’s important.” Or, “He shares the values of many Baptists” may mean, “This decision is about [insert hot topic]” We’ve had this kind of speech before, but this year the buzz word was missions. At times, the nominations speeches almost sounded like a “I’m more mission minded” competition, but that’s not a bad thing. I’d rather that be our point of passionate discussion. I’d love to see the day where we bring the busloads in to passionately discuss the best way to spread the Gospel. This year, the nomination speeches were a step in the right direction.

Reinforcing this, the convention elected John “3:16” Marshall as president. Dr. Marshall’s church, Second Baptist of Springfield leads the way in missions and looks to be doing the same in church planting. The unanimous, unopposed election of Dr. Marshall shows that Missouri Baptists are ready for missions. Further, the convention chose Joshua Hedger, a church planter/pastor to preach next year’s annual sermon. Is this a new day of missions and church planting in the MBC? Lord, may it be so!

GCR?

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At the upcoming Southern Baptist Convention in Orlando, FL, there will be much debate over a report from the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force. Though the vote to receive the report is not binding on anything in any way, it does seem to set a tone for the direction of the SBC and will certainly bring some new ideas to the tables of all SBC agencies.

The problem is that so much information is coming out so quickly that its hard to know exactly what people are so worked up about.

I confess, I have not read all that I should about the GCR. When the values were posted last year, I affirmed them and encouraged others to do so as well. Since then, I have not been able to keep up with all that has gone on with the task force.

That being said, let me weigh in a few of my own beliefs that effect how I am evaluating all of this:

1) Too much Baptist life is about maintaining the status quo. We often cry “discipleship” when people talk too much about evangelism, as though what we are doing when we are not spreading the gospel somehow defaults to discipleship. Discipleship is not maintaining the status quo. It is not ensuring that offices keep running and dead ministries keep getting funded. Our churches, associations, state conventions, and the SBC could stand to take some nice long looks at what we do and how that compares to the Great Commission.

2) Though I’m not in favor of throwing babies out with bathwater, I think we need to search through the excess bathwater in order to rescue some drowning babies! Alright, enough metaphor. Let’s face it, a lot of CP dollars are spent on things that are not the great commission. Just because it has always been that way does not necessarily mean that it needs to be that way. The local church does not exist to keep the doors of the Baptist Building open. It exists to celebrate and proclaim the Gospel of Christ, to grow in community, and to share the love of Christ with the world. State conventions can help, but IF that is not what they are doing, then they have outlived their usefulness.

So with those thoughts, I muddle through the information that’s out there. Here’s some links for your muddling:

You can learn about the report itself here.

Baptist 21 has a great article on what exactly is at stake in Orlando. Are we voting to revive something, or scrap something in favor of something new?

Micah Fries has done a great job compiling information to show the discrepancies between the great commission and the money raised to further it.

I welcome your comments as well as any other useful resources!