I haven’t been writing much. Thanks to William and others for holding down the site during my unscheduled, sort-of sabbatical.
It’s been intense at the church and a time of family crisis (both of my parents have rounded the final turn and are headed for the finish line), plus some stuff I can’t talk about, but to be honest, I have been burned out, discouraged, and disillusioned with blogging and social media. I have been mulling in my own mind whether it still has value and what my place is here. Last week I had two conversations, one with one of our contributors here and another with a prominent SBCer that helped me sort out some things – I will be saying more about that in the next few days.
I read today about a blogging brouhaha that crystallized my struggle – argument #12,045,536 over the value of giving an invitation. It put me in mind of something Dr. Mohler said during the debate over Calvinism in 2006. He said,
I’ve known Calvinists who will walk across the state to debate one of the 5 points of Calvinism but won’t walk across the street to share Christ with a neighbor.
It is a criticism worthy of both sides in these unceasing debates. There are people who have a neverending appetite for arguing over the finer points of Calvinist (or non-Calvinist) doctrine. The issue of invitations has been a favorite since blogging broke onto the scene. The actual discussion is irrelevant since it follows a familiar pattern. This pattern holds not just when discussing how we end services, but many other social media discussions.
1. Each side states their case in absolute terms casting aspersions on the biblical commitment, theological prowess, and Christian commitment of those who take the counterpoint. (caricature alert)
- The party of the first part says: the presentation of the gospel requires an opportunity to respond (to which I say amen). To them, an opportunity to respond means an invitation at the end of the sermon. Those who do not want to give an invitation either don’t really want to see people saved or they believe that God will save who he wants to save without our help. Only Hyper-Calvinists don’t give an invitation.
- The party of the second part says: invitations are manipulative human means that replace the work of the Holy Spirit in accomplishing salvation. Those who use invitations believe that WE SAVE sinners by our artful means and twist salvation into a product of human works. We must call sinners to repent and believe by avoiding these human manipulations. Invitations corrupt God’s work and produce false conversions.
2. Of course, there no nuance or subtlety is permitted. In social media, there is a tendency to turn all arguments into food fights between the extremes of two positions. All issues are binary. You are either a Hyper-Calvinist or an Arminian – there’s no in-between. You either adopt human means to accomplish salvation by your own power or you are Hyper Calvinist. There can be no compromise. But on this issue (like most), there is nuance. The truth is seldom found with sledgehammers.
- I can tell stories of abusive and manipulative invitations that I have witnessed. When I was a kid, we had two-week revivals (yes, I’m that old) and then they became Sunday to Sunday. I remember a citywide crusade in Cedar Rapids by a regionally well-known evangelist at which I served as a counselor. I was part of the “third-wave” of counselors who primed the soteriological pump. When he first announced the invitation, group 1 came forward, and hopefully, a few sinners came with them. Then, as he added a second, more passionate appeal, wave two came down the aisles, dragging the penitent in their wake. A third appeal to come to Christ was followed by me and my third wave compatriots flooding the aisles. That entire week felt spiritually abusive to me. Fundraising appeals, invitations – everything we did was as processed as Cheez Whiz. I recall another evangelist’s lengthy invitation when I was a kid. No one had come forward after several verses of Just As I Am and he told us we weren’t going anywhere until people responded. A few of us fell on our swords and “rededicated” ourselves. We all went home and had roast beef. I have seen plenty of invitations that were everything that the hardcore opponents accuse them of being.
- On the other hand, one does not have to use manipulative means to give people an opportunity to respond to Christ – even a passionate one. On Pentecost, Acts 2 tells us that Peter preached and called on people to respond with repentance and a public display of faith (Acts 2:38 – repent and be baptized). His proclamation called for a response. Verses 40-41 say this.
With many other words he testified and strongly urged them, saying, “Be saved from this corrupt generation!” So those who accepted his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand people were added to them.
Peter exhorted them with many words to respond. There was no emotional manipulation, but there was a passionate call to accept his message, repent and believe.
I eschew emotionally manipulative invitations but I still give people a chance to respond. I invite them to trust Christ and ask them if they’d like to come to the front and talk to me about it. I never even hint that coming forward is necessary for salvation, but I give an invitation every week. This isn’t an either-or thing.
3. The discussions become strident and those who engage in them determined to paint the other side in the worst possible light. Commitment, theological fidelity, and even Christian identity is called into question.
4. There is little attempt to listen to opposing viewpoints and learn from those who disagree. My side holds all truth, of course, and the other side is in heretical error. We throw bombs but we never listen. I see productive discussions from time to time, but they are rare.
1. I see this repeatedly. I was told yesterday by a now-muted Independent Fundamentalist that he left the SBC because of our support for homosexuality and woman preachers. Really? The SBC is a conservative, complementarian convention (with some differences on what complementarian means) and we reject homosexuality nearly universally. Winning arguments and defeating opponents has become the goal and we are willing to paint others with whatever color we need to win the fight.
2. The truth is widely disregarded. It amazes me how cavalier Christian people are about telling the truth. I read a blog post yesterday that was a stream of lies from start to finish. Harsh? Perhaps, but I know it to be true. Lies about JD Greear, Dr. Moore, our seminaries – they are prominent day by day. If our God is truth how can the people of God care so little for truth?
3. We turn every issue into a partisan, dualistic, binary, us vs them, good guys vs. bad guys thing. Most issues aren’t. Nuance is rejected, scorned, and ridiculed.
4. It is true that the Bible calls us to expose evil and be on guard for false doctrine, but I issue a challenge. To make it simple, just read the Epistles of Paul (add Peter and John if you wish). Take a red pen and underline every admonition to confront evil and expose falsehood. Then take a green pen underline every command to honor the Body, to seek unity, to love one another. Your Bible will look like a Christmas tree with a few red decorations. The sheer weight of the text will astound you. I know people who think the mark of maturity is calling out others. The Bible says we are known by our love and makes building the Body the sign of Christian growth.
Try it and report back.
5. Social media is a minefield for me. I am committed to not joining in these games, but I cannot seem to avoid getting down in the mud with some of these folks. I admire men and women who seem to be able to rise above it, but when I see the misrepresentations, the nonsense, the social media sewage, I ignore my own advice and jump in the mud pit. It’s Romans 7 over and over again. The flesh is stronger in me than the Force is in Luke.
What to do? Can I do better? Can we do better? I think so. I hope so. I want to. I have been thinking, praying, talking with others, planning. I don’t want to give up on blogging, but I don’t want to continue if it is business as usual.
We are the redeemed of Christ. We can do better.
I can do better.
By the way…the last thing I want here is ANOTHER food fight on the efficacy of invitations. I used that as an example of how we conduct social media discussions. I really am not interested in talking about that topic.