09 February 2011

Open Letter to Ed Stetzer

by Frank Turk

Dear Ed,

Aha! See -- now that it's actually a real blog post, all the fun comes right out of it, doesn't it, Ed? It's all fun and games until it's your name in the headline ...

Let me start off here by saying thanks for your years of internet-style friendship toward me, and your encouragement even when we disagree significantly. Because we can maintain that real tension and still turn to Christ together as our savior, I value your attention, and I hope I don't abuse it here. I am also praying for your new church plant in Nashville in order that Jesus' name is made great.

That said, let me also thank you for your help in getting my 6 minutes on TheNines last year -- the votes of our readers got the attention of the promoters, but your kind words to them helped them over the hump of giving me a shot. And I think the result speaks for itself -- I think I did right by the Gospel and our faith by making a point which was somewhat overlooked in the hours of video in that conference.



Some think this is an affront to God because Len Sweet loafed his chance at theNines to preach the Gospel of Jesus rather than the Gospel of Sweet. As I have tweeted: only some of the people, but all of the time.

Anyway, we have some mutual friends, and I hope they will receive this note the way I am sure you will receive it -- generously, and in the spirit it is written.

So let's get down to brass tacks. I think one thing people often miss about you is that you're a faithful son of the SBC. In that, your research and insights (I think) are usually framed the way any faithful son would approach his family when they are somewhat screwed up: with a bias toward exposing the faults of our ilk. So sometimes when one sees the trend line, rather than choose to tread the media rei, one is instead intent on posing the corrective in a way which steers harder away from the ditch than is necessary to stay in the middle of our right-mined theological and pastoral lane.

So you don't beat the drum of doctrinal purity so hard, right? Because the SBC is the resurgence denomination -- we're the ones who turned away from the liberal course, away from post-biblical theology, and back to the bedrock of inerrancy. We probably don't need the lecture about sola scriptura. We don't need a reminder that the Bible is foundational to our faith and message.

But when you looked at us, what we did need was a little self-awareness. The SBC -- especially in the last 10 years -- has looked a little dated, and that's not because we were being so faithful to a timeless truth. It's because we had embraced one demographic in the American sociological spectrum and were holding on to it for dear life. We had really become a lot more Southern than was probably wise or even useful, and it was overshadowing our great heritage as Baptists.

And in the end, I think that was exactly the objective of all your critiques and your books and essays and insights into church and culture: the SBC had to stop telling itself that the only decent music was Gaither Homecoming, and the only decent attire for a preacher was a deep gray or black suit, and the only method of fellowship was sunday school, and the only way to reach the lost was through revival meetings. We didn't just need to announce the Gospel, or proclaim it: we have to announce it to somebody, and we have to proclaim it to somebody, and that somebody might be a runaway street kid in LA, or a black single mom, or (if we were especially holy) hipsters who know what sort of latte they like and what kind of beer they like and what kind of TV and movies they like.

You know: amen! Amen to that kind of wake-up call. Amen that the church should actually be seeking and saving the lost.

Here's my problem: in doing just that, I think you have also left the proverbial barn door open. Now before I say why, I have an anecdote for you.

You might have heard: I have a blog. I have a couple of blogs, in fact, but that's besides the point. Having these blogs causes people to e-mail me, and most of the people who e-mail me are either lost or otherwise un-Christian. They are folks who, as they say, love Jesus and not the church. And I get to talk to all kinds of people who all tell me the same story: they cannot find a local church who will talk to them about their doubts, their fears, and their inexplicable attraction to Jesus.

So they come to me, and I get to talk to them, and some are just talkers -- but some are actually infants in the faith who just need the right kinds of encouragement. I mention it, btw, because I want you to know I "get it" that this is who we are dealing with in the post-Christian age. We are dealing with people with questions which are profound, but who don't even have the philosophical equipment to frame their questions well enough to get them answered.

I think you and I see that, and we both share the SBC urge to drop the Gospel bomb on them. We want them taken out of death into life -- and therefore brought into the family of God. But as I have read you over the years, I think you are steering hard to get the SBC (and like-minded other church people) out of the ditch of old and dead cultural distinctive, and you re steering toward the other ditch, which is the ditch of community over truth, or unity before orthodoxy.

Now, hear me out -- because I learned my lesson with the Horton letter. I am not saying you're a heretic, or a coddler of heretics. I'm not saying you have ditched the confessional clubhouse. What I am saying is this: I think you have advocated that "method" is only a pragmatic choice and has not much theology to govern it, so it is a matter of pastoral freedom. So for example, we should embrace without a lot of questions the methodologies of Saddleback, Willow Creek, and Mars Hill as all equally-acceptable. Because they "work" and they seem to draw a lot of people, I have seen you point to these as say, "We reformed types could learn a lot from Bill Hybels."

Well, when Bill Hybels decides that it's his job to teach the Bible rather than teach people to be "self-feeders" (cf. the book of Titus), I'll ask someone to open up the floor for him to start teaching reformed people about Christianity rather than business process. There's no doubt us reformed people and our chilly churches need at least a spoon full of spiritual fructose, but it should be from the fruit of the spirit and not the bleached processed sweetener that comes in a generic, humanistic label you can find both at WAL*MART and at the Mormon church.

I could riff on that all night, but here's my point: you're not just a smart guy. You're not just a large cog in the Lifeway juggernaut. You are a church planter, and a man who has held spiritual authority and has reaped a good harvest. And you do know better: you know that people who just get self-help advice over a cup of coffee are not actually better for it. So my note to you is simple: find a better way to say what you mean.

I remember reading Comeback Churches and wanting to like it -- wanting to see it as more than just a travelogue of charismatic front-men who used local cultural hooks to draw people in. But it never got to the punchline. It never got to the place where it made the specific and unadorned point that bringing people in without bringing them to Christ was pointless. It does mention that a couple of times, but in spelling out how to make a church "Come Back", it never really spelled out how the Scripture and its centerpiece in the life of the church actually sets all the boundaries we need to be a church and not just another community group.

You can do better than that. I know it because I have heard you preach, and I have spoken to you. I know what kind of person you are. I know Christ is precious to you. So with that in mind, I leave you with the question: how can one make sure that this is the message and the overarching method behind ministry? How can we be that faithful?

And I leave it to you in Jesus' name. God be with you.







58 comments:

Venkatesh said...

Bro. Frank,

I am Venkatesh from India. I follow your blog posts regularly. I have enjoyed many of your posts in the past. Of late you have been posting a lot of open letters. How effective are they? I think you should be writing personal letters rather than open letters. This strategy of yours, I am afraid, will only solicit a defensive response from the person you are addressing rather than anything else which you might expect.

sonofthunder7 said...

Venkatesh,

Frank's purpose in his open letter series, besides that of addressing the recipient, is to edify the Christian world at large. As the recipients of these letters have very public ministries, it is fitting for Frank to write a public letter. His letters have been in the spirit of graciousness and it is good for all of us to consider what he is writing and why instead of immediately assuming there will be hurt feelings because a person has been addressed publically. Proverbs 9:9-10 is illuminating here. I do so hope that if I am ever in a public role or position of influence, I will be humble enough to take any words of rebuke or correction, no matter if they be public or private.

Frank Turk said...

Venkatesh -

Thanks for your concern. My opinion is that the only difference between what I have a 6-year history doing and these letters is that these letters are engaging the readers (not just the people to whom the letters are addressed) in ways they do not expect. These letters are causing people who read them to think about their own biases in a way which causes more reflection.

I still have 46 more to write, so stay tuned.

Pastor Dan Rolfe said...

I think the open letter series is an excellent way to take a much closer look at some very public ministries/ministers. And to give the rest of us not-so-public ministers some challenging things to think about.

We all know the ole' saying, "If you can't stand the heat..."

Nice work, Frank.

Venkatesh said...

sonofthunder7 and Bro. Frank,

Thanks for your responses. Although I am not fully persuaded yet I will give a good thought to the reasons you have stated.

DJP said...

Another terrific letter. Thanks, Frank. You are a well that keeps giving.

Doug Hibbard said...

I hadn't seen that video---you look like Phil Collins. Perhaps I need more coffee and a second opinion, but now I know what to look for when I'm in Little Rock.

Whether it's for a hug or to run you over, I guess we'll never know....

I wouldn't run you over.

Doug

Chris Tolbert said...

Frank,

Nice job once again. I'm so glad you posted the video. It shows your passion for Jesus and enhances your writing. Sometimes you come across to me in black and white as a pompous jerk, but once I see your passion and hear your tone (oops, did I just say the "t" word) I see that your not just out to exalt your own intellect but to exalt our Savior. God bless you and your family, and you have definitely challenged the way I think about things.

On a side note, do you still work much with the GIMP. I checked out your GIMP blog, but noticed it's not very up to date. I'm currently pulling my hair out trying to learn it.

Again, thank you and God bless!

Frank Turk said...

Chris:

Clearly I have at least one blog too many, but I do use GiMP exclusively for graphics editing.

If you have a specific question about GiMP, e-mail me and I'll see if I can come up with a useful tutorial.

Frank Turk said...

Doug --

"Phil Collins"?

That's the most hurtful thing said about me this year. Ouch.

DJP said...

Would you prefer John Malkovich?

Rhology said...

Even though you're a total heretic, this letter was really good.

Frank Turk said...

Yes, DJP, but that's funny because it's true.

Frank Turk said...

Rho --

Even a broken clock can be used to clunk somebody on the head, and more often than twice a day.

Arthur Sido said...

"Phil Collins"?

That's the most hurtful thing said about me this year. Ouch.


Huh, I was going to say James Carville.

DJP said...

And now we cross the border from "hurtful" to "actionable."

Bverysharp said...

Dear Frank,
Have you ever thought about in your your next 40+ letters to address an open letter to yourself with all the same effort into the critique of your ministery? Personal failings in light of the Spirit? Many more men and women have been designated by you alone to receive this type of open correction with some praise... will you bare all, laying down your flesh for the sake of Truth and doing the same as you would have for others? I am not asking you to write an open letter of praise to yourself, although I suspect you could. I know with your intellect you think this is a silly question and so will your 'followers'.
Frank, I have found that it is very easy to correct someone, I am good at it myself, but what I am not good at is receiving the correction and I suspect based on many who have tried to possibly bring light to your need for some, if only minor correction, you puff up your chest against it, like I would and some others... but far more than probably most of the people you are correcting.
Come on Frank... how do you fail in the effectual love of the body in your trying to help it live in Spirit?

Pierre Saikaley said...

A good and timely letter.

I am not SBC, and don't know Ed Stetzer, but the issues raised in this letter are applicable to what I see in my own church context.

Hopefully, the recipient(s)will take to heart what is written, i.e. that your not multiplying kisses but faithfully wounding for a good thing in the Gospel.

Rhology said...

*by the aforementioned*

Bverysharp said...

To clarify Frank, I'm not asking you to comment on my comment. I'm asking you to write an open letter to yourself... fall on the same Sword for the body that you use on the body.
If the Japanese could fall on their earthly swords for their earthly country how much more as 'citizens of a new country' should we fall on the Sword? Wielding the sword is easy, a babe can pick up the Sword and wield it and hit some targets correctly and injuring many with it, all the while cutting off a few cancers in the action. Can you wield the same Sword and cut yourself where neccesary and openly?

Everyday Mommy said...

@Rhology

Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. – 1 Peter 3:9

But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. – Matthew 5:39

Ed said...

Frank,

I am honored. ;-)

In the days to come, I am writing an article on how to give and how to receive criticism. One of the keys is that the person being criticized should recognize the subject of the criticism. And, I do in your article. In other words, I can see how you came to those conclusions. That is important and shows the integrity of the criticism.

Now, I have written tens of thousands of words on some of these issues, so I won't do that here. My words are out there. Like you, I am a blogger living with my mom. ;-)

But, I think iron sharpens iron and I will think through your criticism. As you can guess, I have been criticized on this issue many times before, so I also have thought it through a bit, but it is always good to think about it again.

One final thought... Here is a brief excerpt from an interview with Preaching Magazine will probably both inflame and inform as to what I am doing.

[W]hen I'm with different groups of people I bring a different message. There are churches, and they love the Lord, and they're preaching the Gospel, and they understand the Gospel; but what they've not done is engage culture. Some of those are in my own denomination. So, when I'm speaking to my own denomination, often I'm telling them to engage the culture in context.

Then I go to other settings, and I'm speaking where they "get" the cultural engagement. They're excited and passionate about it, but I don't hear them talking about the gospel. I talk about a rediscovery of the gospel. So, if you come with me when I'm preaching at a denominational meeting compared to when I'm preaching at a young gathering of urban, hip whatever, I have a very different message because I think they need a very different nudging.

I straddle these worlds in a weird way. I'll talk to probably 10 different denominations in the next year. and I'll just be different depending on where I am. When I'm with the contemporary church crowd, I'll tell them, "Don't forget the gospel, and stay true to the Scriptures," but when I'm with the traditional church crowd, I'll tell them, "Don't forget the culture and engage the context."


Now, one final thought. Let me encourage you to listen to some of your commenters and make me the last open letter. ;-)

BTW, I thought you video was great and I am glad they used it.

God bless,

Ed

Everyday Mommy said...

@Rhology

Or, as my mother would say, "I don't care who started it."

Steve said...

Frank, great job on the video. You have a warmth and earnestness in the video that is very compelling, and the points you made were excellent.

Josh said...

Sadly Christians seem to find discussing issues out in the open to be an unbiblical and uncharitable action.

Since there is never any ad hominem in these letters, but the discussion of issues that are truthfully much bigger than any individual addressed in the letter, would it not be profitable for us to think through the issues discussed to ensure sound doctrine?

All of this idea that this should be one on one is simply ridiculous. Read church history and show me where they did not come together to discuss what was happening in the church at large. They contended earnestly for the faith together and the church was better for it.

It is not more loving to discuss publicly propagated ideas in private, in fact I would suggest that is actually the hateful thing to do because you do not show concern for those caught up in bad theology and provide for them an opportunity to come out of it.

Bverysharp said...

I cannot imagine a more Godly in Christ response to Frank's letter than what Ed ( whom I have never heard of before Frank's open letter) than the one Ed has just written.

Frank Turk said...

Bverysharp --

I have actually done this once -- I personally think it's a fantastic idea. As you can see in that post, it wasn't well-received.

I will reconsider the idea that I should write an open letter to myself, but only under the premise that I will link to this request for it for the sake of clarifying that I am doing it as a request from readers who think it adds to the entire context of these letters.

BrettR said...

I like your tone...

Frank Turk said...

Thanks for noticing -- I have lost some weight lately and I sorta like that my pants fit again ...

DJP said...

Yeah, the walking-around-with-no-pants-on thing was getting old

shakes82 said...

I don't know why, but I always pictured Dan looking like Jim "Mad Money" Cramer and Frank looking like The Comic Book Store guy from the Simpsons. And I don't even have a visual of Phil, it's like he's a voice from heaven.

Everyday Mommy said...

@Rhology

If you'd like to contact me via email, I'd be happy to correspond.

everydaymommy at gmail dot com.

Ron Suarez said...

I recently came to the conclusion that Ed Stetzer looks like the cartoon guy on Hotels.com. Just say'n

ANiMaL said...

I appreciated this and your last letter (ignoring RSC bonus letter) more than the others because I am actually trying to see whats going on outside this very un-churched county I live in (Benton County Oregon, least churched county in the USA, woohoo), yet have become overwhelmed by all the "stuff" that is out there. My wife knew about WHI and Ed Stetzer, but only barely. I only know the guys on radio (Hocking, MacArthur, Sproul, "The Narrow Path", etc) and Mark Driscoll. Because of idiots like John Bevere (is that acceptable tone?) and psychos like Rob Bell (that's how we kindly refer to him in our house), who were both introduced to us through our church(AoG), I have been very cautious and extremely weary of trusting any new name.

Having people talk "Frankly" about good people and on good topics really helps me deal with the flood of stuff my wife and I are dealing with. Knowing what teaching we can trust has become very important to us.

So thank you again.

stratagem said...

Well-balanced, like iron sharpening iron.
And I still like your video a lot.
thanks

Aaron Snell said...

Frank,

"We are dealing with people with questions which are profound, but who don't even have the philosophical equipment to frame their questions well enough to get them answered."

This is the money quote for me, and should be developed somewhere, sometime into a full post.

Everyday Mommy said...

@TUAD

And, allow me to say that my exchange with Rhology has been a blessing, indeed.

jbboren said...

Frank said- "These letters are causing people who read them to think about their own biases in a way which causes more reflection."

I say- "It's working."

Rhology said...

I refrained from my usual string of profanities.


(Word verification: gyrapyxi
Definition: That which my little daughter becomes every morning when she puts on her ballet costume.)

Phil (the Doulos) said...

Regarding the whole open-letter meme, gotta say I'm not a real fan of them. But then, thinking about this I realized that the first 3 chapters of Revelation are just that - open letters, from Christ to His churches. Commendation and correction. So that's changed my mind a bit. Of course, Frank's cool, but he ain't Jesus.

That said, and still not comfy with the open letter thing, I do appreciate your stated reasons here in the comments for this - not to pick nits and such, per se, but to provoke the rest of us to examine our own biases and camps. As long as you and we keep that as an assumed purpose for these letters, they will be of use.

DJP said...

Not just those two chapters, Phil.

Phil (the Doulos) said...

Shameless self-promotion, Dan. But I forgot about that one, too. OK, so pretty much all the NT epistles can be considered open letters, to specific churches from specific apostles. And we get to read their mail.

Doug Hibbard said...

Back off-topic :)

It was early, the glasses were dirty, and I hadn't had enough coffee.

Plus Snowzilla was heading towards this part of Arkansas, so maybe I mistook Frank's likeness.

Keep your snow plow clean in Little Rock today.

As to content: it probably wouldn't hurt more of us in ministry to get 'open letters' that do just what this one does: highlight the strengths and weaknesses of what we've done. I easily develop a blind spot from the good parts of my arguments and methods and miss the drawbacks.

Of course, I'd take it personally and get all grumpy if someone wrote one with my name on it, but in the abstract I think it's a helpful thing.

donsands said...

"I straddle these worlds in a weird way. I'll talk to probably 10 different denominations in the next year. and I'll just be different depending on where I am." _Ed

I guess this can be good.

I wonder, if simply preaching the Word for the most part is what all these different saints need. The Gospel, or the good news of Christ, when preached with love and compassion, while surrounded by the whole Word of God's truth, the Bible, will surely be the power of God to chnage all the things lacking in all these different churches.

The Gospel will change a heart to embrace the community, so that lost souls can hear the truth. The Gospel will cause hearts to be hungry for more of the Word of God.

Sure, we can discuss everything under the Sun, and have stradegies to change this traditional church, and that contemporary church, but there's going to be a weakness in doing it this way.

I think this is what Frank was saying, if I'm not wrong.

Another great letter. You have a gift Frank Centurion Turk.

Keep on.

James S said...

It's funny how we humans are.
when we see someone we all seem to have to figure out who (or what animal even) they look like.

I guess we are all that way, but can you imagine that when we finally see all the bible characters in the hereafter, we will be doing the same thing?
Even scarier, when we actually see Jesus?

For the record, I don't think Frank looks at all like any of the people mentioned so far.To me he's unique looking enough to have his own look, and I will now probably say down the road that somebody looks like him.

Good post by the way. I like how Josh put it in his reply, and agree.

Also I appreciate that Dan and some of you finally have pointed out that the whole NT is open letters to people.
Look at poor Timothy, he's had even more than one...and he was guilty of nothing as far I can tell.

Aaron Snell said...

From the video:

“I’m a blogger, which is like saying…I have a Star Wars costume in my closet”

It's like you're peering into my soul.

Halcyon said...

My favorite quote from the comments comes from Phil (the Doulos):

"Frank's cool, but he ain't Jesus."

Ain't it the truth (of us all).

thehasbeenhymn said...

i definitely appreciate these open letters. it doesn'y hurt that i have completely agreed with them so far. truth be told i find them quite enjoyable to read, and i highly anticipate the next one forthcoming. atta be, frank!

Morris Brooks said...

Well, Frank, I would certainly agree with your post, and it is most charitable. If you were dissatisfied with Comeback Church, you should read Transformational Church, a joint effort by Ed and Thom Ranier, but in which Ed does the vast majority of the writing.

In Transformational Church, Ed does everything you take him to task for in your letter, and does it well. Maybe, too well. I don't know Ed, have not met Ed, but from listening to him and reading him I certainly think he loves the Lord. But with that being said, I also think that he is more off track methodologically and more sold out to sounding cool and being trendy than you give him credit for.

Ed is extremely popular and has a position of influence in the SBC, but if it is the real Ed coming out in Transformational Church, he may well be the most dangerous man in the SBC.

Rob said...

I love your language of "Chilly churches" that need "at least a spoon full of spiritual fructose" - to me, brings to mind visiting the local OPC not long ago. Fructose, or maybe one of those Monster-drinks.

Regular Pyro Reader said...

Well, this ‘Open Letter’ concept is starting a copycat trend. So I guess imitation is the best form of flattery???

Frank Turk said...

RPR:

Troll.

:-)

Frank Turk said...

Morris --

Let's please not disenchant a nice comment thread with that kind of language.

Morris Brooks said...

Reprovement taken Frank. My apology to both you and Ed.

Morris

Solameanie said...

Don't mess with Phil Collins or Genesis, guys. Or else I'll send you a bunch of Bay City Rollers CDs. ;)

Frank Turk said...

Morris --

Just trying to keep the thread from becoming (what did they call it now?) a "shark tank". Thanks for being on the side of the angels.

Caleb Kolstad said...

Thank you for these-

Oscar said...

It is refreshing to read that Frank Turk admits to learning lessons. I mean that as a compliment.