09 June 2006

a cup of water

by Frank Turk

OK -- I'm up late because I'm an occational insomniac, and I was reading some of the blogs from my side kicks. As I was reading, I ran across a link on one of them which just made me shake my head, and in order not to get involved directly with the controversy, I am going to blog a parable about the controversy, and you-all can take it wherever you want to go.

Imagine it's a hot day outside -- not one of those tepid 85 degree days they get in Ohio in late July but one of those 104 degree days we get in AR in early August. I'm in my bookstore, and some fellow walks in who is obviously in some kind of distress.

"Can I help you?" I ask, in honest concern. "Are you alright?"

"Dude," he chokes out, "I need a cup of water. I just walked 10 miles from my broken-down car, and I'm ... I'm ..."

I grab him as he teeters over, and I sit him in one of the reading chairs. He's not unconscious, but he's obviously weak and sick. So I go behind the counter, I get a clean rag, and I soak it in rubbing alcohol (which we use to clean our counters and our windows), and I go back to this fellow in distress.

"Here," I say to him, "This will make you feel better."

He grabs the rag, and it feels very cool and wet to his touch, but as he lifts it to his mouth he realizes by the smell that something's afoot.

"Dude," he gasps, "What is this?"

"It's cool and wet, friend," I say to him, "which is exactly what you need. Go ahead."

Now, without watching this little scene play out all the way to the end, let me ask you: was it a fair substitution to give him a rag soaked in alcohol when what he needed was a cup of water? Put another way, at what place did I stop giving him the aid he required as I was substituting out the essentials of his need with counterfeits or with handy (but inappropriate) spare parts?

And would you be some sort of malcontent or trouble maker if you pointed out to me that it would do more harm than good to give a dehydrated man an ounce of rubbing alcohol to drink?

Let me propose to you that this little scene is a metaphor for orthodoxy in the Christian faith. If we think that somehow we are coming to the aid of someone by bringing them a sloppy mess which has absorbed something that only superficially appears to be like what they need, rather than a self-contained measure of the actual stuff that they need, we're not helping anybody. And clearly, in some cases, we are actually hurting them worse.

You apply that as you see fit.









51 comments:

Even So... said...

Now that speaks volumes to me...

And it goes perfectly I mean it, with a situation I am trying to deal with.

It can be hard to try and make some people understand that the way they want to "minister" to others is actually doing more harm than good, without looking like the bad guy. Especially when it is one of your leaders, who was there 20 years before you were called to pastor there.

I just wrote about this scenario this morning on my blog. I thank God for what He has done through you, and I hope this gives you rest.

3:33 AM, June 09, 2006

Even So... said...

Oh, and this same guy is the one who "called" you. And he is the only other elder in the church. And he is a good friend.

I needed this, Frank, thanks again.

donsands said...

Nice parable.

If applied to the gospel, or any doctrine of the Bible really, it made me think of so many people who mean well, and are kind, but who have so much to learn of what the Bible says the true gospel is; and so much to understand what it means to walk with Christ.

The Word needs to be understood. Why would this guy not simply get this other guy a cup of water? He's not listening, and he's not using the brains God gave him. He assumes and does what he thinks best.

centuri0n said...

Don:

I think you're on to something here. One of my hot buttons is the matter of whether or not people actually understand the Gospel -- which is to say, are they hearing what the Word actually says, or are they hearing someone's anecdotalization of the Gospel.

You know: my parable is not the Gospel in any way, shape or form. It's actually a rework of the old saw horse "how much poison". But its point is that we can our views on a subject for Scripture's views on a subject.

Let me be specific: the actual Gospel is summarized quite ably by Paul in 1Cor 15: 1-4, right? In that definition, we have the actual essentials of the Gospel. But some people -- like C.S. Lewis, for example -- like a "mere" Christianity better than that because if you use Paul's 1Cor 15 Gospel to separate truth from error, you wind up separating (and Lewis notes this specifically) Protestants and Catholics.

But this is not a witch hunt against Lewis. This is a warning that the Gospel is what it is, an when we start substituting the "parts" for things which are apparently more accessible for or to ourselves or other people, we are making a pretty terrible mistake.

centuri0n said...

Oh bother.

I typed:
its point is that we can our views on a subject for Scripture's views on a subject.

I meant:
its point is that we can substitute our views on a subject for Scripture's views on a subject.

pheh.

Libbie said...

Plenty of things look a bit like living water.

It looks like living water if you treat people with kindness and generosity, meeting their physical needs and putting a smile on their face.
It looks a bit more like living water if you surround that with 'god-talk'.

But if you haven't got the gospel smack dab in the middle of it, if you're not endeavouring to help them drink in Isaiah 6 and look to the cross, rather than a cobbled together patchwork of texts, well, it might have similar molecules, but there's no life in it.

Mind you, I think being merely Christian does get a bit of bad time these days, largely because of how it gets used.

But I recall that when Lewis uses the phrase in Screwtape letters, he's talking about a very similar thing to you, Mr Turk.
What Lewis seemed to mean by the phrase at that point was using Christianity as a handy stable for your own personal hobby-horse interpretation, rather than the bottom-line focus of the gospel of grace..

Maybe I read too much into that, but it sounds like a good idea to me.

Libbie said...

What Lewis seemed to mean by the phrase at that point was using Christianity as a handy stable for your own personal hobby-horse interpretation, rather than the bottom-line focus of the gospel of grace..

That should have been round the other way I think, in terms of what is 'merely Christian'. Forgive my fuzziness...

Carla said...

"And would you be some sort of malcontent or trouble maker if you pointed out to me that it would do more harm than good to give a dehydrated man an ounce of rubbing alcohol to drink?"

In the opinion of many, yes. But you already knew that.

Jonathan Moorhead said...

I thought this had to be a good post since you were quoted over at the Moor. However, I like the band-aid over gangrene rather than amputation illustration better. BTW, you weren't drinking any of that strange water when you wrote this post late an night were you???

marc said...

Frank,
Is this all just a backhanded ploy to introduce a new Pyromaniac branded Bottled Water?

Chip said...

"And would you be some sort of malcontent or trouble maker if you pointed out to me that it would do more harm than good to give a dehydrated man an ounce of rubbing alcohol to drink?"

Hey, who am I to tell you how to best help someone?

I have to assume your motives were pure, right?

I mean, you were doing what you were doing out of love and that's what really counts, right?

Besides, who's to say alcohol won't work for some? Or motor oil? Or gasoline? Or sand?

Isn't it arrogant to claim there's only one way to rehydration?

Mike Y said...

Frank,

I'm not sure I'm with you on this. I just drove through Arizona, on I-10, this weekend and it was 109 degrees. That was hotttttt!

But concerning the bait and switch, I'm sure you knew better what he needed. After all, he was dehydrated and delusional.

In all seriousness, the big difference with applying it to the gospel, and I know you said we could take it where we want, is that alcohol does not taste like water-- ever. I was a sailor before my conversion :-)

However, to an unsaved man, a false gospel of easy believism can seem more like water than the true gospel. How does he know the difference?

Just a thought. Again, I'm sure can make other applications of your thought provoking parable.

Thanks for it.

-Mike

Phil Johnson said...

I think you're bing too hard on the guy doing rubbing-alcohol therapy. He's just trying to improve his first-aid skills. What's wrong with trying new methods?

Besides, lots of dehydrated people will throw up if you give them a cup of water. Don't you care about their felt needs?

Speaking of felt needs, nothing feels better than a rubdown after a 10-mile walk in the heat. What's the matter with that? Do you have some kind of manic need to keep people from feeling good?

So I think you should stop this incessant criticism of the new first-aid methods.

As my friend from "Church Marketing Sucks" might say, It's just like speaking skills. . . . What's wrong with a preacher learning good public speaking skills and putting them to work in order that nothing will distract from the message? In my humble opinion, that's the point of the contemporary first-aid methods.

Besides, at least the guy with the alcohol on the rag is doing something. What are you doing, besides writing critical blogposts attacking people who out there on the front lines trying to minister to all the dehydrated people in the world?

Steve said...

Your parable applies to today's church in many ways, Frank. There's a lot of "substituting" going on in the name of new methods and meeting "felt needs."

Great post.

BugBlaster said...

Perhaps there is more to the parable. Perhaps he's already been to another bookstore, and been offered a cup of water, but turned it down. Perhaps he is saying "the water is not real, and besides, I'm not thirsty." Perhaps the rubbing alcohol guy will be offering him water, but wants to prepare the way a bit.

rwbannister said...

Pretty funny Phil. "Prestating" (I just made that word up) the response before the "felt needs group" can even bring it on.

Frank Martens said...

Yup I agree, the gospel should be present in everything!

The problem sometimes in some of these controversial debates is recognizing whether or not that's something that isn't already understood and needs to be understood.

But then again, every doctrine needs the gospel attached to it. Every Doctrine depends on the gospel.

Kim said...

Maybe the guy giving rubbinb alcohol has lost his sense of smell and doesn't know that he's offering rubbing alcohol.

candyinsierras said...

Rubbing alcohol evaporates quickly leaving a sticky residue behind. Chew on that awhile.

I used it recently to get rid of aphids.

David Cho said...

I see the point of where the parable is getting at, but would make one modification at the end.

The bookstore clerk, instead of bringing a cup of water, brings a load of books about water and dire consequences of dehydration. After all, it is a bookstore, and the clerk is running a business.

That is what conservative Evangelicals do to the world in need of the gospel. Instead of living out the power of the gospel, we just hammer them with lectures about it. There are tons of books, tapes, and blogs, but who is living out the gospel?

Carla said...

David Cho...

you paint with an extremely wide brush when you say "That is what conservative Evangelicals do to the world in need of the gospel. Instead of living out the power of the gospel, we just hammer them with lectures about it."

Quite honestly, I'm rather tired of reading this baseless accusation against conservative evangelicals (that usually being spoken with contempt as if we're some sort of blight on the church).

How many conservative evangelicals are there? Do we know? Do we have some sort of uncanny ability to know what they're all doing for the glory of God? No we do not.

We don't know what a lot of folks are doing toward that end because to boast about it would be sinful and arrogant, as to say "look at me, look at what I'm doing for the Lord!".

It is entirely accurate to say SOME conservative evangelicals have gotten lazy. It doesn't take a genius to figure that one out - but when I keep hearing that blanket statement that "conservative evangelicals have dropped the ball on ________ (fill in the blank) it's not only false, it's misleading, annoying and insulting.

It is NOT an accurate representation of us individually or as whole - not by any stretch of the imagination.

donsands said...

david,

I agree with Carla 100 fold.

I would also add that I believe there are many Christains who are living Epistles, and who also preach the gospel unashamedly. We need to do both really. From the leaders of the church to the children, I know Christians who love God and love their neighbor, and love to speak the truth in love.
We do need to live in the power of His grace, and preach the Word in the power of His grace.

Would you mind sharing how you define a conservative Christain. Would that be the Christians on this blog? Presbyterians? Baptists? Reformed?

Steve Sensenig said...

It is NOT an accurate representation of us individually or as whole - not by any stretch of the imagination.

Hmmmmm, interesting. And yet, when EC-ers (of which I am not one, just enjoy reading the interesting takes by both sides) use this same response.......

Bill said...

Carla wrote: Quite honestly, I'm rather tired of reading this baseless accusation against conservative evangelicals"

What she said.

This is spoken repeatedly by the EC crowd and accepted by the Christian Left as readily as the tired "Bush Lied" blather is by the Kos-ites. Care to back up your assertions with some evidence David? Do you have statistics that demonstrate that the bad old Conservative Evangelicals do nothing for those in need? How many Evangelical churches/denominations have you attended over the years to come to this unsubstantiated conclusion? I suspect the number is statistically insignificant.

Put up or (be silent).

Bill said...

Steve said and yet, when EC-ers ... use this same response.......

Yes, but at least the Conservative Evangelicals don't write books about how wonderful their shortcomings are...

David Cho said...

bill and donsands,
- 8 years in and around John MacArthur's Grace Community Church.
- 3 years at David Hocking's Calvary Church in Santa Ana.
- 10 years in two Calvary Chapels

That is just the surface of my resume. Calvary Chapels are somewhat better in reaching out to the poor, but they are often looked down upon by my conservative friends for what they perceive as doctrinal sloppiness. Was heavily warned against attending CC by a friend who is now a TMS grad.

As to elaborating on what I am saying, I have a couple of entries on my blog under a series called "Coming to terms with fundamentalism." There will be about seven more. I am afraid that anything beyond what I have to say here will be deemed either off topic or too long in violation of the rules.

donsands said...

david,

John MacArthur's church doesn't live out the power of the gospel? They just hammer people with lectures?

I have never been there, but I thought the Lord had has hand on the people of this community church.

centuri0n said...

Sensenig:

One of the significant differences between what Carla said here and what EC'ers do is that this is the EC primary defense while Carla uses the statement as a supplemental argument.

centuri0n said...

By the way, I owe David Cho an e-mail, so rather than start a new kerfluffle with him here, I'll reply to that e-mail and see where it goes.

Carla said...

Steve S.,

the ECM folks use the same defense (and understandably so) when they are also unfairly and inaccurately painted with the same broad brush. I'm well aware of it, and have (in my critique) tried very hard not to do that. In fact, I've made a concerted effort to put disclaimers in any critique I offer by saying such things as "this is what is being put forth, but at the same time, not all who consider themselves emerging would agree with this".

It's actually one of the reasons so many people have a hard time understanding what the ECM is all about - because you cannot make a blanket statement to define the movement. It would be unfair.

Phil, on the other hand, has done a great job and you can read what he had to say at the Shepherd's Conference in the series he's posting at Pulpit Live, from the transcript of that message.

I would encourage you to begin with part 1, as well as download the audio of this message.

Bill said...

Good for you, David, you've attended four churches. So have I. Two E-Free, one SBC, one PCA since 1984. All four have had numerous ministries for reaching out to single moms, foster parents, homeless, overseas missions, etc. All four had significant congregational participation in these missions and ministries. So, I guess my four Conservative Evangelical churches trump yours. Next question...

Phil Johnson said...

Cho: If you're claiming you were "8 years in and around John MacArthur's Grace Community Church" and you still insist that "instead of living out the power of the gospel, we just hammer them with lectures about it, I say you are lying.

To cite just one example: if you attended the church for that long, you certainly know what the deacons' fund is—since a special offering for that fund is taken every time we observe the Lord's table. (That's been the routine for all 25 years that I have been here). Did you ever contribute to the deacons' fund? Do you have any idea how much money goes through that fund each month specifically to meet the needs of the poor?

I'm frankly beginning to wonder whether any of your incessant criticisms are sincere. You seem to be a disgruntled man with a sinister agenda, looking for a public venue to air out some bitterness you have nurtured for years. It's become very tiresome, and this is not the venue for that.

So that's your last disparaging remark about Grace Church on this blog. Any more of these trumped-up grievances from you against my church will be automatically deleted. If you want to continue gossip-mongering, you'll have to do it on your own blog.

Bill said...

I suspect that many of the disgruntled ECM adherents are actually disgruntled about how the Conservative Evangelical churches don't cater to their personal political ideologies. Many (most?) suffer from the mental disorder of liberalism and they are drawn to churches that lean that direction. Since their ideologies rotate around things like governmental social programs, egalitarianism (societal and religious), anti-war and anti-Bush leanings, pacifism, "freedom of choice," "gay rights," and other leftist causes, they feel out of place in these Conservative churches. So excuses like "these churches don't serve the poor" give them an out to flee to friendlier pastures.

candyinsierras said...

Hey, rubbing alcohol is cool and soothing and is an antiseptic. Anyone....want some about now? :)

donsands said...

bill,

Who is this Michael Savage/ I read where "he makes Rush Limbaugh seem tame".

Is he a Christian? I have never heard of him.

Personally I do listen to conservative non-Christians, but I sometimes feel they may do more harm than good, or at least the same amount of harm to the gospel as liberals. I suppose this would be a another subject for another time.
Francis Schaeffer said, "Conservative humanism is just as wrong as liberal humanism."
Have a blessed day in the Lord's grace and love.

David Cho said...

Centurion, thank you very much for the thoughtful email. It will take me a bit of time to digest it and get back to you.

David Cho said...

Phil, I was just answering people's questions since they were curious about my personal dealings with conservative Evangelical churches, and I had no intention of singling out GCC in that regard, and please accept my apologies for coming across that way.

But in your critque of the ECM, we seem to be somewhat in agreement.

They are right to point out that millions of American evangelicals live lives of gross hypocrisy and narcissism, ignoring the needs of the poor while indulging themselves with entertainments and luxuries

That is, unless you were refering to liberal evangelicals of whom I've met only 2.

As to my affiliation with Grace, as I said, I was in and around for 8 years, but attended consistently for 3, not 8. Attended a different church for 5, but almost all of my college friends had very close ties to the church. Because of that, I heard about JMac all the time while in college, and after graduation, GCC was my natural choice.

Yes, I do remember the deacon fund. It was collected as a seperate offering typically after the first (usually during evening service, if my memory serves me right) for the specific purpose of helping people in the community.

Phil Johnson said...

David Cho: "we seem to be somewhat in agreement."

I don't think so. What I said was that "millions of evangelicals sin by indulging themselves while neglecting the needs of the poor."

I'd be happy to dredge up some actual statistics for the claim I made, if you like. Such statistics do exist.

What you said was that "conservative Evangelicals" are particularly guilty of this, and that all they ever do is "hammer [needy people] with lectures."

When you were asked for the evidence of that, you cited anecdotal evidence based on your "8-year" experience at my church. I'm suggesting that you were actually bearing false witness.

I'm also pointing out that disparaging throw-away lines about Grace Church have figured in too many of your comments, so I don't think this remark was as innocent as you now suggest.

Matt Waymeyer said...

David, I would suggest that how much you gave to the deacons’ fund during your time at GCC may help you discern whether you are driven by a sincere concern for the needy (and for churches like GCC to reach out to them), or by some kind of ill feelings you have toward GCC. To be fair, it could be a measure of both.

Phil, to answer one of your questions to David, he has absolutely no idea how much money goes to the poor each month through the deacons’ fund at GCC. But I guess you already knew that.

Bill said...

donsands, Savage is a conservative talk radio host. He's more "harsh" than Limbaugh (I won't link to his web site, as there's some objectionable stuff there), but he's less of a Bush administration lapdog than a lot of the conservative voices out there. The book I linked to (I used the link because I like the title, and I *did* read it) beats almost as hard on President Bush as it does on Liberals. Savage is a staunch conservative, as opposed to being a staunch Republican. This is analagous to being a staunch Christian as opposed to being a staunch Presbyterian, Baptist, etc.... I'm more interested in the belief system than the "affiliation," although one is often indicative of the other.

The politics discussion (outside the context of the Emerging Church) is indeed one for another day/blog. I'd rather not go into it here. I read both conservative and Christian books. On my in-process reading table right now is a Sunday School text on the Westminister Confession, Calvin's "Institutes", Michael Smerconish's "Muzzled", John Stossel's "Myths, Lies and Downright Stupidity", and "The Tipping Point" by Malcolm Gladwell. I think all of these have bearing on the life of a Christian in today's society.

David Cho said...

Phil,

I'd be happy to dredge up some actual statistics for the claim I made, if you like. Such statistics do exist

Yes, I am very much interested in seeing stats. Been doing some research on that topic and have not been able to find much. Many thanks in advance.

I'm also pointing out that disparaging throw-away lines about Grace Church have figured in too many of your comments

I have commented in six threads on this blog including this, and I am not sure how you have come up with that assessment. Are you refering to other blogs? I might have mentioned GCC once on ENo.

But this is your blog and I am here as a guest, so further comments regarding GCC will be carefully vetted.

Phil Johnson said...

David Cho: "I am very much interested in seeing stats."

Gladly. Statistics posted at "Generous Giving" seem to call your claim into question and demonstrate evidence for mine. Conservative evangelicals are actually more generous in their charitable giving when compared to other demographic groups. Yet they clearly aren't doing all they should.

On the one hand, "American evangelicals gave four times as much, per person, to churches as did all other church donors in 2001."

On the other hand, "Thirty-three percent of U.S. born-again Christians say it is impossible for them to get ahead in life because of the financial debt they have incurred." They aren't getting into debt because of their charitable giving, however, because "The average donation by adults who attend U.S. Protestant churches is about $17 a week."

There are many other stats at that site—some encouraging, and some disturbing.

Dan Paden said...

Miss Carla, this We don't know what a lot of folks are doing toward that end because to boast about it would be sinful and arrogant, as to say "look at me, look at what I'm doing for the Lord!". was truly le mot juste. Personally speaking, I made up my mind a long time ago that as much of my giving and my do-gooding would be anonymous as possible. I seriously doubt that I am alone in that.

Dan Paden said...

...what the ECM is all about - because you cannot make a blanket statement to define the movement. It would be unfair.

On the other hand, it is certainly possible to make accurate general statements about the Emergent Conversation/Church/Movement/Thingie.

David Cho said...

Phil,

Thank you so much for the link. No amount of googling could land me a site as such, but this is exactly what I have been looking for. That website is a goldmine.

Carla said...

Dan,

I know you're not alone in that. Boasting about what we do, while coming down on others with the assumption that they do less (without any idea what we're talking about) is nothing more than vanity and a means to puff up self.

This is not to say I think it wrong for example, for a church website to list different ministries they have for sharing the gospel, or for someone when asked, to explain the work they're involved in.

Just wanted to clarify that.

Scott Hill said...

Frank, I must admit that sometimes when you do these little parables type post I have no idea what you are talking about i.e. the one about the monkey. But on this one I am right there with you. uqhmz

James Spurgeon said...

david cho and Phil, this is wholly anecdotal, but I couldn't help but think of it as I was reading the comments and noting the convenient and inaccurate portrayal of conservative evangelicals as unwilling to help the poor. Here's what I thought of. I have relatives who are members of a Lutheran church that is a part of the ELCA. Of the three Lutheran synods in the US, they are the largest and they are the liberals. My uncle is fully liberal in his theology and radically leftist in his politics. At the last family reunion he freely joked about how his branch of the Lutherans was considered the stingy branch. What I assumed he meant by that was that they have less giving on a per capita basis than the other two synods. I would be surprised if the statistics did not bear that out.

David Cho said...

James,

From the link that Phil gave me, I couldn't find much to indicate that evangelicals give more to the poor.

Sure that they give more to churches as Phil points out, but that does not automatically translate into giving to the poor. What the study has to say about the "the church's squandering of resources" is truly disturbing.

If you see something from the website that Phil provided that I don't, let me know.

Scott Hill said...

David Cho, that's a mighty nice digital camera in your hand on that profile pic. I bet that would have fed a lot of hungry people.

I know this is probably side tracked from Franks original intention (or maybe not) but David this is a never ending argument. You could have bought a cheaper shirt or less trendy glasses or left the white paint instead of wall paper.

It has not been the churches main priority in scripture to feed the poor. It has been their responsiblity to reconcile lost sinners to Christ.

Frank Martens said...

Scott...

Save those who are non-believers. But doesn't the church in acts show them taking care of those who are a part of the church? I.e. the poor who are now believers?

I'm not advocating for anyone in the threads here... It's an honest question.