Polemics is a big, bad and scary monster and we mustn’t let him out.
In the spirit of genial tolerance, leave the horror of polemics out. Or hide the monster. If the monster resides in your heart, you are kind of a monster yourself. That is, the biblical instruction to contend for the faith is really a bad monster. We need to leave that out now. Therein lies the reason for my spiritual constipation.
Apologetics is good. Polemics is baaaad!
Apologetics is a defense of the historical, orthodox Christian faith against those outside the Church. Polemics is a defense of the historical, orthodox Christian faith against the false teaching of those who are inside the Church.
When I was an atheist, it was the hypocrisy I hated. I mean, if you’re going to choose not to follow The Word, then just say, “Hey, I know what the Word says but in this case, I’m going to diverge. I don’t dig that doctrine so much.” That way, when the non-converted are looking in, they see The Word as one thing and your actions as something different. Just don’t say that you’re following doctrine or that you love Jesus. That leaves non-believers feeling crazy annoyed by you and then they simply desire to avoid Christianity because they can’t stand the confusion. And see, as a Christian, I haven’t changed my mind. I haven’t suddenly decided that, well, if you love Jesus…say whatever you want about Him. You can even say you don’t believe the Bible is the Word of God, but you love Jesus. Well, Jesus who, then? Based on what, then? I’m confused and I’m confused about if I can say that I’m infuriated.
If you love my best friend but you say that she said things that she didn’t say or didn’t mean things that she did say or pay tribute to my best friend because she’s a huge jazz fan and an advocate for narcotic legalization, for example, but she is actually a lover of classic rock and opposes narcotic legalization, well, I’ll probably correct you. But, if you blaspheme our Lord, I need to be quiet. I mean, I don’t have time to talk about Joyce Meyer, Joel Osteen and Benny Hinn and a hundred other folks that make me scream inside. I’ll just touch on two people, then, out of a hat, Rob Bell and Beth Moore.
At first, in the late 1990’s, or around that time, it was a primarily urban, disproportionately young, overwhelmingly white, group who said they were disenchanted with either the gospel or the church or both. Emerging from that came guys like Brian McLaren. A new gospel began to rise and trickle into churches all over the place. Before long, opposition to the adding on and taking away from the gospel was narrow minded. Richard Rohr wrote of McLaren’s book, The Spiritual Migration, “Brian McLaren is always filled with insight, courage, and creative theology, refining the meaning of orthodoxy in our time.” That quote is used in a book promotion but when I read it, I saw a critical comment. I don’t get how creative theology became a compliment.
Rob Bell, a former pastor at a mega church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, began talking about everybody going to heaven and, while he talks about Jesus in an affectionate and loving way, he, at the same time, props up the idea that the stuff written in the Word isn’t all accurate, especially the part about some people going to hell. With every provocative and pleasing element added, Bell rose to stardom with Oprah hyping his highly popular books, doing the speaking circuit and even landing his own show on the Oprah network.
I see people going into this movement in small and large ways, and in every way in between. The only reason, I suppose, that I can write about it is because I haven’t been tempted to enter. I mean, not even in any small way do I want to say, “Okay, yeah…love it.” He’s savvy and an intellectual and he knows the Bible. I like that. I’ve read and listened to Rob Bell to the point of exhaustion so I do know what he’s saying. He’s such cool dude. But, no, he’s not right. He presents falsehoods well, though. He got caught up in the fame, maybe, and just loved himself a lot more than he loved God. And now, he is merchandising the Hell out of people.
It’s kind of like Beth Moore being so cool and, unlike Bell, true to the gospel a lot of the time. I know that she doesn’t always properly exegete Scripture. She allegorizes too much to make Scripture say what she wants it to say but that’s not lethal, I guess. She goes outside of orthodoxy in a couple of other ways but it was when she preached her direct vision from God; a vision where she was looking down from above and in which God made clear to Moore that Catholics were to be integrated into the Church (that’s pretty bold, Beth. I mean, directly from God?) that I discovered that I just didn’t believe her. And I don’t believe Bell. I think they both just got caught up in the thrill of it all.
God could have described the nature of the way to Him and eternal life in any way He wanted. He’s God. But, He chose the word, “narrow.” Jesus said that. I didn’t say that. It’s not the right thing to say, at all. I understand. It’s become the worst thing to say. Yet, Jesus said it. I think He meant it. And the only time Jesus showed anger was at the temple. He turned the tables over because of Christian merchandising.
And Beth Moore is wildly popular so she has become an untouchable. If you love her sermons and teachings, then love her. Please just don’t try to get around the man thing. She does preach and teach to men, and not in a support role. She is the lead role. You can’t get around that fact. So, if you want to pluck the teaching on that out of the Bible, don’t knock plucking hell out, I guess.
But, I write to release. It is a horrible time to talk like I write. It’s the attitude of the age in which we live. If we are all Christians, anyhow, somehow, all is well. Do not let us argue about doctrine, let us all be Christians together and talk about the love of God. The message is that you are a divider if you contend for the faith.
It wasn’t always like this.
In Matthew 23:15, Jesus told the Pharisees that they travel over land and sea to evangelize one single convert only to make that person more a child of hell than he was before. The Apostle Paul in Galatians said, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse! Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
The prophets were accordingly polemical and they were executed by the very people against whose judgment the prophets were trying to warn. It seems that the whole progress of biblical revelation and church history through the ages were propelled out of the controversy and the often-livid struggles over truth. It is these great debates that have preserved the church from error and when the church grows lethargic and unconcerned, unwilling to be corrected, the world loses its only hope of salvation. It is never easy to correct, and it is not enjoyable, but we are asked to “preach the truth in love.” Martin Luther did say, “Unity whenever possible…,” but that wasn’t the end of his statement. “Unity whenever possible, truth at all cost,” was his complete declaration.
Polemics alone, without love, can be damaging. People have, indeed, merchandised polemics. Controversy for the sake of controversy and conflict oriented everything attracts people, too. Some people have gotten caught up in the drama of it all. It can be compelling. But, you know, to murder polemics by making people feel as if they are dividers if they speak…that really blows. Puzzling how it is so.
But, I kind of feel like I’m in that last, haunting scene in Rosemary’s Baby when she finally just gives in and rocks the spawn of Satan. It’s so stupid. But, yeah.