What do rejected people need to hear?

Our premise matters–especially when we intend to prescribe a remedy for suffering souls.

I came across this line in the promo for a Christian book study. File under MTD, therapeutic:

Rejection steals the best of who I am by reinforcing the very worst that’s been said to me.

Even if this kind of existential theft were possible (it’s not), consider the implications. First, the best of who I am–whatever that is–is assumed. I may not be told how much ‘best’ is part of me but it exists. It’s who I am. The very worst, on the other hand, isn’t me but what’s been said to me. Is it true? Again, I’m not told but I have no reason to assume a factual basis for it.

None of this is to cast aspersions on those who suffer from personal rejection and long for acceptance. We were created for meaningful fellowship on a number of different levels and the loss of that blessing is part of our groaning under the curse. In Christ and in Christian community we should be able to offer the comfort of personal acceptance through reconciliation (Rom 15:7).

But the Christian media complex has flooded the market with spiritual placebos complete with glowing endorsements and customer reviews. Maybe the prescription isn’t thoroughly biblical but it’s awfully hard to argue with success.

Thankfully, American Christianity hasn’t degenerated to bald pragmatism. I haven’t yet heard of any Christian author adopting ‘the end justifies the means’ as his ministry mantra. No one is that crass. But ‘Jesus justifies the means’ is a much easier sell and it keeps one in the mainstream of Christian ministry. And so we’ve come to a point where we’ll forgive almost any content or delivery method so long as the people get a little Jesus in the end [see Exhibit A].

And this brings me back to the blurb on rejection. Our premise matters–especially when we intend to prescribe a remedy for suffering souls. Assuming that Jesus is the remedy that follows the premise above, it’s hard to see how Jesus doesn’t become a  supplement to boost your emotional well-being. ‘The best of who I am’ is a pre-existing condition that just needs a booster against hurtful words. My best + Jesus is the cure for rejection because he sees what my haters don’t (or won’t). So sing it loud & proud:

True to who You are
You saw my heart
And made
Something out of nothing.

But beware the side effects of a quick fix. When everyone has a little best no one is “a wretch like me.” And yet it’s the confessing wretch with no good (let alone best) to speak of who finds acceptance while the man praising God(!) for the ‘best of who I am’ ends up rejected (Luke 18:10-14).

Maybe the first step to finding acceptance is hearing that I’m actually worse than the worst that’s been said to me.

Engaging the anti-critics

Some of us are convinced that AS’s prescription for deconversion will end up doing more harm than good. Should we still keep quiet?

Last week I tweeted a link to Michael Kruger’s response to a recent message by Andy Stanley (AS) in which Stanley asserted that a mature Christian faith can’t be sustained by “the Bible says so” mindset.

Since my massive following on the interweb isn’t a monolithic group of like-minded cynics, critics, and ministerial Luddites, I wasn’t surprised to see contrary opinions toward Kruger’s piece. What was unexpected (but not surprising) was the dismissive stance toward the criticism in general (i.e. the act not the substance).

My purpose here isn’t to rehash any of the details from Stanley’s talk or Kruger’s critique but to offer a different perspective for the anti-critics who seem to fit somewhere within the following cross-section:

  1. The Groupies — Pastor X¹ can do no wrong. In the face of criticism, he is a priori impeccable.
  2. The Ends-Justifies-The-Message — Maybe he shouldn’t say xyz but he’s bringing people to Jesus. God is blessing his ministry so who are you to criticize?
  3. The Matthew 18 Peaceniks — Pointing out the error is just as wrong (if not more so) than the error itself because you haven’t personally spoken to Pastor X.²

Regardless of where the anti-critic finds his motivation I hope these thoughts might lend a new perspective on these friendly skirmishes:

(1) If it’s a conversation then we should converse. AS and North Point don’t “preach” they have “conversations.” All fine and good. But words mean things and a conversation is, by definition, an exchange of ideas. So let’s talk.

(2) Don’t assume the worst in the critic. Yes, there are AS-detractors for whom AS can neither say nor do anything good. Kruger’s critique, however, was a far cry from the irrational rant one would expect from a devoted detractor. His was measured and irenic. Some of us are convinced that AS’s prescription for deconversion will end up doing more harm than good. Should we still keep quiet?

(3) If AS can passionately assert we can certainly tolerate a dispassionate critique. As is true of most effective communicators, AS is passionate in his efforts to win the deconverted. Conviction expressed with passion is infectious. But when a contrary view can’t even be countenanced it’s worth asking what we find more attractive–light or heat.

As a man who is nothing if not hip and relevant, I’m all about continuing the dialogue. Feel free to talk back.

¹Groupies aren’t limited to AS. Every high profile pastor of every theological stripe has his groupies.

²See D. A. Carson’s editorial for helpful clarification and correction on the application of Matthew 18.

Why choose between steam or ice for the water of life?

The most serious objection to systematic teaching, based on the laws of teaching, has sometimes come from [Christian leaders] and others, who have assumed that the principal aim of [Bible study] is to impress rather than to instruct; and that skillful teaching, if desirable at all, is much less important than warm appeals to the feelings and earnest exhortations on the proper occasions. But what exhortation will have such permanent power as that which is heralded by some clear truth? If the choice must be between the warmhearted teacher who makes gushing appeals, and the coldhearted one who stifles all feeling by his indifference, the former is perhaps to be preferred; but why either? Is there no healthful mean between steam and ice for the water of life? The teacher whose own mind glows with the truth, and who skilfully leads his pupils to a clear understanding of the same truth, will not fail in inspirational power.

-John Milton Gregory, The Seven Laws of Teaching [first published in 1884(!)]

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