I wrote an article about Ann Voskamp. The purpose was to discuss a Christian’s attitude before rebuking someone. Specifically, I was interacting with the “rebuker’s thoughts” about Ann before they confront her publicly about her beliefs and teachings.
The article set off a firestorm for some individuals while bringing both conviction and blessing to others. The storm troopers would not stay on point, as they continually tried to hijack the article to push their more important agenda on Ann Voskamp’s “heresies.”
Hijacking other people’s points is not a recent phenomenon, though social media has made it easier for the “quick to speak and slow to listen” crowd to push their agenda while disrespecting the time and effort of the writer who’s making his/her point.
You may want to read:
- Why Do You Criticize Ann Voskamp?
- Why Hate the Sin But Love the Sinner Can Be Dangerous Theology
- Three Keys When Confronting Someone
The singular purpose of that article was that it does not make sense to me to enter into a discussion with someone you disagree with by insulting them. I honestly cannot get my mind around that concept. Imagine sitting in front of a gay guy or an evolutionist or any other “form of heresy” person and insulting him/her. It seems to me that you would want to be kind while confronting them on their ideas and the dangers of their ideas.
The most sobering issue concerning heretical people is that they will be cursed (Galatians 1:6-10). Paul was clear that God will curse them to hell if they persist in their heresy. Of course, God will do the “cursing,” not us. My job is to persuade them, in tears, to reconsider and repent of their false teaching. Who is not brokenhearted over any person going to hell?
In the article, I talked about being made in the image of God (James 3:9-10) and being in the body of Christ, both of which should calibrate the heart of any “rebuker” as they “go after” false teachers. Those two things did not deter the theological storm troopers from storming the “gates of my article” to make their points.
Since the dawn of the Internet, there is an unprecedented number of people standing on the public stage to talk about theology. I’m talking about good theology. I would like to think I’m one of those people, and I applaud this “new way” to talk about theology and will do all I can to perpetuate it.
The downside–because sin always gives us a downside–is that there is a growing number of Christians who talk without a social or moral filter; it’s unkind speech patterns, especially when they talk about theological problems and heresies.
It reminds me of what happened at the dawn of the civil rights movement in the 60s that we still see today: Black people held down for so long that when they were given the mic (finally), in all their righteousness, many of them were more divisive than restorative. Being right to whatever degree that may be while being divisive continues today. Think: Black Lives Matters.
You may want to read:
- Ten Responses to a Friend Who Won’t Admit Wrong
- The Art and Care of Correction
- What Is Righteous Anger?
There is a way to argue your points without hiding behind righteous anger when you’re, actually, sinfully infuriated by what a person is doing. And without alienating the very individuals who need to hear your rebukes, but they won’t listen to you because you insulted their leader. Your goal is to compel them to your way of thinking, which leads to the second troubling thing about some of my article responders.
There were a few folks on Twitter who asked, “How do you confront without insulting?” (I’m interpreting the different tweets into one question.) That left me scratching my head. I wanted to say, “You mean to tell me that you don’t know how to make your persuasive theological points by being kind and not insulting, but so compelling with your arguments that you can both confront and persuade?”
A Little Heresy in All of Us
An inability to compassionately confront others has ubiquitous fallout on every level of society. Imagine how problematic it would be if you did not know how to confront horrible ideas in a persuasive, compelling, compassionate, and theological way.
Below are seven examples. Notice how all the “bad people” in the scenarios are “heretical” because of their poor theology, among other things. You don’t become a bad (wrong) person without false theology. Though a “mean husband” is not considered a heretic, the truth is that he is a “form of a heretic” because he denies (by objective practice) the Bible’s control over him.
Heresy, stated simply, is a belief or opinion that is contrary to the Bible. And there is much stratification within that framework, from an atheist, agnostic, and unregenerate, to an immature Christian who believes and practices a life that is contrary to the Bible. The irony is how there is a little heresy in all of us. Ask an Arminian what he thinks about a Calvinist. Then talk to the Calvinist.
I stated above that, “An inability to compassionately confront others has ubiquitous fallout on every level of society.” Here are seven “small time heretics” who are not walking in line with the Gospel (Galatians 2:14).
- A husband’s bad theology manifests as abuse and other manipulations.
- A wife who becomes sinfully angry at her husband is not in line with the Gospel.
- A parent who yells at the misbehaving children and rarely repents to God or them.
- A family member who rebukes the recently gay relative. He cuts off all redemptive possibilities.
- A Christian university that puts black people and gays off-limits.
- A white church (Code: We don’t want black folk in our congregation.)
- A church group that yells obscenities at gay people, as though the “holy church folks” don’t struggle with more respectable sins.
All of these people have “forms of heresy” in their lives, and all of them need to change to a biblio-centric way of living. They need a more sound theology. There is no doubt that their “public stage” is not as wide and far as Ann Voskamp’s, but a little heresy will spoil any person, family, church, denomination, or movement. And the practices and attitudes needed to confront heretical teaching apply to the biggest and littlest heretic among us.
The Gift God Gave You
Being different from others is a long list. Think about the people that are different from you, e.g., dumb, smart, fat, thin, slow, fast, poor, rich, fortunate, homeless, and heretics. Yeah, it’s easy to grab a Scripture or two and call people stupid, but is that all you got? Is that your game? Is that all you’re going to do?
An inability to “hold the gifts God gave you (sound theology)” with humility as you confront those who have not come to your enlightenment is a serious matter (1 Corinthians 4:7). I tell my students,
If you learn something wise, smart, or theological, also learn how to steward God’s kindness to you by your word choices.
I’ve seen this up close and personal in the biblical counseling (BC) movement. When some new counselor-types first hear of Jay Adams (or their favorite BC mentor), they follow, slurping all the Kool-aid provided. Soon after, they are whacking off the ears of every Malchus (John 18:10) in the land: Dobson, Crabb, Chapman, or any individual with less BC precision than them. They do this in the name of truth because they are guarding the truth while keeping God’s sheep from being persuaded by inferior psychology.
They offend many of God’s sheep while giving BC a bad rap. The former National Association of Nouthetic Counselors (NANC) became a verb: You “NANC someone” if they get too close to the integrated psychology line. The “word policing” was so strong, you didn’t want to be around them. Ironically, this practice rarely pulls those “misguided folk” back from the line. If anything, the “clarion callers” convince them that they need to be where the NANC guy is not.
We have seen this played out on other stages too. If I were unregenerate and was looking at the gays and Westboro Baptist Church engaging each other, I would more than likely join the gays, though I’m against the gay lifestyle. There is a way to confront, and sinful anger redefined as righteous anger is not the way.
On Righteous Anger, Mocking, Satire, and Jesting
If you study the righteous anger of Jesus, you will see three things He accomplished when He cleansed the temple (Matthew 21:12-16).
- His anger was not divorced from His humility.
- His anger had a redemptive impact.
- His anger drew people to Him.
Some of the critical responders to my Voskamp piece reminded me that it was satire, as though there are a biblical category and permission for this, or that satire is set apart from Scripture’s scrutiny. Maybe Christians should be less about Saturday Night Live and more about truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). Everything we do should be for the Lord’s fame (1 Corinthians 10:31). Here are four self-assessment questions I ask myself when thinking about rebuking someone whom I know or don’t know.
- Do all to the glory of God: do my words spread God’s fame?
- I am to work hard at persuading folks to embrace the gospel: do my words (or satire) accomplish that?
- I am to love God and others most of all: does my speech fulfill that mandate from Jesus?
- When Elijah mocked, it was to prove the power and rightness of God’s way: does my mocking bring that kind of conviction?
On Elijah’s mocking, it is true; yes he did, for which I have two responses:
- It is a bad hermeneutic to make narrative normative.
- After he had mocked them, he called fire down from heaven to prove what was real and false.
If you mock heretics and want to use Elijah as your example, what is your next move that will demonstrate the power of God in such a way that you convince the recipients of your mocking that you have truth and they do not? Don’t cherry pick the first thing Elijah did (mocking) and never mention the end of the story (the fire fell from heaven), if you’re going to make narrative normative for you.
Rebuking in the Public Domain
If you’re going to rebuke someone, you must be self-aware. A practical way for me to stay self-aware is with Lucia (my wife). I have the Holy Spirit, a conscience (inner voice), and a loving wife who knows me, my likes and dislikes, plus my tendencies, especially when I attempt to spiritualize my sin so I can say un-redemptive things to other individuals.
Illustration: I let her read “that email I’m about to send to someone with whom I’m irritated.” Invariably, she would appeal to me not to hit the send (sin) button. She is always right. And, yes, I have ignored her and pressed the “sin button” to my shame.
Stunningly, I have the ability to ignore the Spirit of God, my conscience, and my wife. I think if a person has a healthy dose of self-suspicion and a few close friends, in addition to the Holy Spirit, he can make better decisions.
Also, you have a responsibility to steward the relationships that hear you speak. There are always less mature people around you; it’s imperative to present the clearest possible picture of Christ to them. Disrespecting others is not a habit I want to pass along to others, especially my children.
Paul warned us to be careful about how we steward our knowledge (1 Corinthians 8:2), and though he was talking about young converts, how much more do we want to be careful among those who don’t know our Jesus? That is the primary reason I will not allow critical comments on my Facebook page.
We have thousands of lost individuals and hurt Christians coming to us. The last thing I want them to see is argumentative, critical, Christians.
- What “form of heresy” still exists in you? You probably don’t know the answer to that question since you don’t learn such things until the Spirit of God enlightens you. So, how would you want someone “confronting” your heresies?
- Go back and review my questions under the “On Righteous Anger, Mocking, Satire, and Jesting” section.
- How do you confront your spouse, child, or close friends about the things that are theologically wrong with them, as borne out by their practices?
- How will your public rebuke of a public figure win the “figure” while convincing their followers that you have a better way? Or are you not about that; you just want to fire off a rebuke with no thought about the redemptive purposes of your rebuke?
- Do you usually “preach to the choir” when you’re going off on someone publicly? How does that affect your “choir?” Does it grow them in humility or foster a critical self-righteous spirit in them?
It is always best, when possible, to speak to the individual in person. Be sure to assume that you do not understand them fully. You want more clarification on what you’re hearing. This is wise and humble. Perhaps you’re not as clear as you think you are. With that said, you should always be ready to speak against theological problems or heresies. However, your first call to action is to make sure you understand and are applying the content of this article before you open your mouth.
Also published on Medium.