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.


Book Review: Radical Reformission by Mark Driscoll

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I’m coming late to the party. Radical Reformission was published 6 years ago, and has been debated every which way since. Even Missouri Baptists have grown tired of arguing it, which should indicate that I am very late to the party. However, it is more recently that I have become more interested in what Mark Driscoll is saying than in what people are saying about Mark Driscoll. Those two things seem to be very different, so I decided to pick up this oft-quoted book and read for myself.

By now, you are probably tired of the Driscoll drama as well. If you are newer than I am at this party, don’t bother stirring it up now. I have no intention on listing surprising descriptions of biblical events, or presenting an argument for church brewed beer. Despite all I have heard of this book, those really weren’t main points. Evaluating a book by skipping the main thesis is a worthless project, that I won’t undertake.

So what is this book? For starters, it’s a harsh critique. It’s a harsh critique of the separated fundamentalist and of the culture-adapted liberal theologian. It’s a critique of modernism and post-modernism. Driscoll knows that sin effects any culture, any model, and any philosophy, so he doesn’t advocate one over the other. Thus, if mission is to be reformed, that reform would be radical.

Driscoll carefully shows the treatment of three components: Gospel, culture, and church. Where the challenge is for the church to take the Gospel to the culture, many fail. Some churches embrace the gospel, but reject culture. They do this out of the mistaken idea that the church is culture and that all that exists outside of it is something foreign that will soon pass. Others reject the Gospel and embrace culture. They do this out of a desire to be relevant, never realizing that without a message, there is no point. The challenge here is to view the church as a missionary and where we live as a mission field.

To cut through opposing views to find something else entirely takes a sharp knife. Dricsoll hacks away with the sharpest of swords: God’s word. His arguments throughout the book are well-founded in scripture. Say what you will, this book has more scripture in it then most best selling Christian books. What Driscoll argues for is not one approach or the other, but simply taking the Gospel to culture. Proclaiming it loud and clear while we still can. He reminds us that a day will come when the Kingdom of God will be complete. When sin-effected culture will be erased. Until then, we live in sin-effected culture, so its there we are to carry the Gospel.

When a successful pastor writes a book explaining his philosophy, it seems to be only natural than many will read it and attempt to copy the pastor. There are far too many attempts to clone Saddleback and Willow Creek that we don’t need a cloning of Mars Hill. I live and preach in South Central, rural Missouri. Most of what Driscoll describes as culture sounds like a travel log of some faraway land. To copy what works in Seattle in my church would be, at best, comedic, and at worse, tragic. Instead, the real lesson here is to look deep into culture and see how it is all tarnished by sin. With this understanding of my culture, I am better equipped to take to it the hope of the Gospel.

This book is controversial, so there is a temptation to suggest that although I found it beneficial, I don’t recommend it. However, I find that Driscoll’s ideas are challenging and well founded in scripture. I recommend this book, not to weigh in on arguments, or even to search for off-color descriptions of people in the Bible, but to be challenged toward the Great Commission.