On Sojourn's discussion/message board, The City (think Facebook + old-school chat room + newspaper classified ads + online church directory), a few discussions of late have just caught fire -- one about John Piper inviting Rick Warren to speak at a conference, one about Dallas Willard and whether or not he's orthodox, and one about The Shack that only died finally because the "listen, it's fiction and it speaks to people's pain" crowd bowed out of the conversation.
And ohmygoodness, I think I've nailed down what those three discussions have in common AND why stuff like that tends to be tinder just waiting to be set off.
What they have in common is what I'm going to call the "Driscoll" factor -- high profile, prophetic, controversial. The reason Mark Driscoll chaps people's hides is that he's got a prophetic ministry, calling to folks from the front lines, being a bold voice in just a few areas. The reason I love and appreciate him is that the Church needs men like that who are willing to take a whole lot of flak because they're passionate about seeing the gospel applied in places that we want to ignore. We desperately need Driscoll and guys like him to shake us up about our self-righteousness, our confusion about sexuality, our immaturity.
When it comes to the discussions I mentioned above, the Driscoll Factor means that they draw people on both sides who are passionate, even outspoken and fiery, about that particular issue. So, with The Shack, for example. On one side you have people who say, "Look, not everyone resonates with the Puritans or a systematic theology text. This book can speak to people in their pain, and that's a good thing." What's at stake, to them, is the faith of their wounded brothers and sisters. It's an issue of love. On the other side are the folks who say, "We have to protect the body of Christ from error. Letting heresy slip under the radar because it's in a work of fiction is not okay." What's at stake to these folks is the Gospel, and it's an issue of Truth.
God bless my brothers and sisters at Sojourn, because a conversation like that could so easily have spiraled into name-calling and judgment-pronouncing, but the tone stayed civil and gracious.
And it occurs to me that we desperately need both those voices in the church. We need people to stand up for the hurting, to encourage us not to snuff out the smoldering wick, to remind us of grace, to display mercy and demand mercy from us, as people who have received so much mercy from our loving Father. Without them, we'd be a bunch of loveless, cranky pharisees nit-picking each other's theology until we all spontaneously combusted. We need folks who will thoughtfully defend the Rick Warrens and Dallas Willards and C.S. Lewises of the church for the sake of adorning the Gospel with love.
And we need people to stand up for the truth, to encourage us not to settle for mediocre theology or a watered-down gospel, to remind us of reality, to display integrity and demand integrity from us, as people who have received the very counsel of God in his word. Without them, we'd be a bunch of hippy-dippy weirdos, wallowing in our feel-good love fests while the blinding glory of the gospel slipped through our fingers. We need people who will boldy stand up for the gospel and not back down from exposing error no matter what.
The reason these kinds of discussions get so fiery is because you've got people from both ends of the continuum calling to each other, often without realizing that they're all contributing to the life and health of the church just by having the conversation in a gracious, godly way.
We need each other!