I attended the Band of Bloggers meeting in Chicago on Tuesday. It was a lot of fun and instructive. I had a chance to meet a few people and we had some interesting discussion on the dangers and blessings of blogging. Before I make my point, let me share some of the things that were discussed.
- The thrust of the meeting was “gospel-driven blogging” – what could be more noble? But one of the discussion leaders (I didn’t take notes and can’t remember who said it) said that “gospel” is in danger of becoming another undefined buzzword, much as “missional” has been. Actually, this is the point I will build on later.
- There was a fascinating discussion of the fact that blogging is inherently self-aggrandizing is some sense. I start blogging believing that I have something to say that the world should hear. We’ve got to be very careful that we do not allow our blogging to become an exercise in egotism.
- One of the ways to build readership is to blog on controversial issues and to write in a provocative way. I track the traffic at this blog, and there is no doubt that controversy brings attention. But, is it our goal to glorify God or to build traffic? It is right and good to deal with controversial issues as they come up, but there is a place at which it stops glorifying God or enlightening God’s people and one becomes a scavenger, gnawing at the bones of an issue.
- Another presenter mentioned the importance of humility in blogging. Some bloggers act as if they are the arbiters of all truth and speak with the authority of the OT prophets: “Thus saith the Lord.” It is hard to discuss with these people, because they leave no room for discussion. In a world of uncertainty, people are often drawn to such dogmatism, and those who agree love to have their prejudices bolstered. But one thing I have come to see is that on most issues we discuss, there really are different ways that faithful Christians can see the issue.
Now, I would like to make two points about discussions that took place at the Band of Bloggers and some that have taken place here – especially related to Howell’s articles about patriotism in worship services. I have said some of this in comments in that discussion.
The Gospel Hammer
I have seen a growing tendency to use the term “gospel” as a hammer with which to nail one’s theological opponents. The presenters at the BoB meeting addressed this issue. The gospel is about Jesus and his amazing grace. It is right and good that we would try to live out the gospel in every area of our lives.
I am concerned though, that it is becoming something of a buzzword, especially among us Calvinists. We use the term “gospel” as a synonym for Calvinist. Being gospel-focused by implication is working out the effects of Reformed theology in our churches and in our lives.
I am calvinistic in my theology, but I do not believe a lot of the Reformed trappings of the sovereignty of God are as biblical as some think they are. I’m not interested in having another discussion of the “doctrines of grace” (another term I have a problem with – if you aren’t Calvinist, you don’t believe in grace?). My point is pretty simple.
The gospel is not a hammer for me to use to nail those who disagree with me. The gospel is about Jesus and his wondrous grace. I should be very careful to use it in my discussions on disputed issues.
In a discussion with a friend recently, he continually used phrases like “you are not understanding the implications of the gospel.” Wow, that leads to healthy discussion. By disagreeing with his point, I was evidencing a lack of understanding of the gospel.
Of course, there are equally intemperate examples among the anti-Calvinists in our convention. One bloggers posts a relentless series of attacks against Calvinists that demonstrate neither an understanding of Calvinism nor any desire to engage in productive discussion.
I am calvinistic in my theology, but I don’t have a Calvinistic agenda in my church. But I have non-Calvinistic and even anti-Calvinistic friends who love Jesus and the gospel. I just think it is wrong to try to co-0pt the gospel on one side of the issue or the other. If we are truly gospel-centered, would we not extend grace to those who disagree with us on issues like this.
Let’s discuss in a reasonable and biblical way the issues related to Calvinism. But as long as Calvinists insinuate that those who are not Calvinist do not understand the gospel, and as long as certain bloggers keep on employing theological McCarthyism against Calvinists, we will not be able to have a productive discussion.
The Idolatry Bludgeon
I have been out of touch for several days, and have only checked in on SBC Voices from time to time. I have the cutest and most wonderful grandson in the world and he takes priority over this gnarly lot of bloggers! Sorry, but it is so! But I have watched some of the discussion of Howell’s posts. It has been pointed, but all in all productive. I think the topic of patriotism is a discussion we American Christians need to have.
However, I’d like to weigh in on the use of the term idolatry to describe the mixing of patriotism with Christian worship. I’m only going to weigh in on the discussion in the most general of ways here. But I think that the term idolatry can be used a lot like the term gospel – as a bludgeon with which to beat one’s foes.
In my church in Cedar Rapids, we used to have a service near the Fourth of July in which we used some patriotic hymns as part of our worship. I have been idolatrous in my life at times. Sports has been an idol which the Holy Spirit has convicted me of many times. I remember watching the Boston Red Sox win the series in 2004 (also known as the Year of Great Evil.) It was an abomination, and I watched the fans rejoicing with such hatred in my heart, that suddenly I found myself under conviction. “How can you hate people for whom Christ died (I’m not a five-pointer) just because they live in Boston.” So, no, I am not immune from idolatry. None of us is.
But I do not believe that what we did in our worship services was idolatry.
- We thanked God for the blessings he has given us through our nation.
- We “render unto Caesar” respect, but worship was given to God alone.
- In my messages, I always make it clear that America holds no special place in God’s heart, that he does not love Americans more than anyone else. I make it clear that our first loyalty is to God.
You can disagree with how we did it, and by all means, you are free to decide as a church how you will handle these things. I just think that bludgeoning those of us who do this with the term idolatry is unfair. Why can people not disagree with a practice without using terms like this?
So, let me lay it out for you. I think that we need to realize an important fact. On most of the issues we discuss, people who love Jesus, honor the Word and center their lives on the gospel can disagree.
Why not say, “I disagree with you…”? Why do I have to say, “You do not understand the gospel”? Why do we have to accuse people who disagree of idolatry when it is simply a different approach to honoring God?
Calvinists and non-Calvinists both love Jesus and the gospel. Let’s not use terminology that implies that one side is not gospel-centered.
I don’t know of ANYONE who worships America. I know some who do not distinguish the goals of the nation and the goals of the Kingdom of God. They are unwise and need to be instructed. But idolaters? Really?
We need to leave these tactics behind except in the most extreme and warranted instances. I didn’t even mention the “liberal” brass knuckles, the “moderate” horsewhip, or the “heretic” handgun. There is a place for each of these. There are liberals and heretics and gospel-deniers and everything all around. But most of the time these words are used, I am convinced that they are completely unwarranted.
So, in my very best Rodney King voice, I will ask a simple question: “Why can’t we all just get along?”