16 March 2011

Open Letter to Greg Damhorst & Cameron Nations

by Frank Turk

Warning to all readers: this is 9 pages single-spaced in WORD, so pack a lunch.

Dear Greg and Cameron,

First, thanks for your reply to my open letter to Chris Stedman. A reply is always nice rather than, as has been the case in several other open letters, being talked about, or merely scorned via Twitter, and I credit you for it. I see it as an open door to actually making some headway on some of the issues my letter laid out, and then some of the issues your letter laid out either in opposition or as a basis for finding out what the much-vaunted "way forward" is.



Before we get to the text of your letter, there’s also a down-side to what you posted: the substance of the comments which followed. This is the internet, after all, and what’s most obvious about the internet is that someone on it is wrong. That fact drives so much of the bandwidth for most blog posts which real-live human beings read that when one finds a blog post which has no detractors commenting, one has to wonder if anyone has read that blog at all.

And this is Chris’ blog we’re talking about, so I hope that a guy like this who get face time at the Huffington Post will have a few people pass by to check in on him and his exploits. He’s no humanist Challies, to be sure, but my thought is that someone would wander past his blog in the course of three weeks and read your post and find something to critique, if not something to disagree with outright. But there is a curious absence of any detractors.

There are probably 500 hypothetical permutations of why this might be true, but let me say frankly that I know for a fact why it is true: posts with criticisms don’t get past the Blogger approval screen. I know that for a fact because I posted several comments there – all only pointing out that I disagree with you – and they never appeared. I thought it was my iPod for the first post, so I tried from both my PowerBook and my work laptop, and none of those comments appeared, either.

So as we consider the nature of the kind of "conversation" Chris is promoting, at least place in the field of consideration that actual dissention from his version of "better together" orthodoxy doesn’t make the cut when he is allowed to choose the method of engagement. You can compare that to what happens routinely here where people are allowed to say almost anything for dozens of comments before they are asked to reign it in.  Ask yourself which is a "discussion" and which is something else.

Important correction: Chris did chime in in the comments below to say that he did not see my comments at all in his administrative filter -- that in fact those comments simply got lost in the bandwidth. Having been the victim of the Internet at my own various blogs myself, I take him at his word, and I stand corrected on the cause of the lack of detractors on his own blog posts. Let this correct the record.



Now: that's just the preface. I wanted to go through your reply and see if there’s anything I can learn from you, and that with some luck or God’s grace you might learn from me. We’ll see how that all pans out between us.

You begin:
While we as Evangelical Christians discuss frequently on our site the importance of interfaith relationships – including relationships with those of a secular tradition – we are reminded that not everyone sees things the way we do.

Earlier this week, our friend Chris Stedman, a secular humanist and a leading voice for the involvement of the nonreligious in interfaith cooperation, was the target of an open letter written by Frank Turk, contributor to a Christian blog "PyroManiacs" (tagline: "Setting the world on fire…"). We wanted to respond – not because a response was invited, but because we are Evangelical Christians, we disagree with the approach to religious difference that particular Christians ("PyroManiacs" included) have taken, and because we are offended by the idea that someone representing Jesus Christ would make some of the statements that were made toward Chris.
This is an interesting approach to your reply, because I think it goes back to the problem of what constitutes a "discussion". See: Chris is your "friend" who is a "leading voice" and I am a blogger who "targets" him – in spite of the fact that (let’s face it) I am actually a "leading voice" in the blogosphere as are my fellow blog-mates here at PyroManiacs. This blog ranks in the top 10 of all "Lifestyle" blogs consistently, and in the top 5 "Religion" blogs  as well.  I wonder if you intended that immediate distinction between what Chris does and what I do – or if it was unintentional and a function of your already-formed conclusions? You’re certainly welcome to the latter – I think well-formed conclusions are the basis for real dialog and real improvement of all manner of things. But factually, you have started your piece by marginalizing me and telling the reader that Chris is the credible one, and your friend.

In terms of starting a "discussion", I wonder if I started a discussion this way about Chris you would find it in any way fair – let alone constructive.

You continue:
Turk’s "Open letter" centers on a tweet posted earlier this month that read: "Exciting to hear about how @ChrisDStedman is reshaping the conversation between religious and nonreligious." While Turk seemingly attempts to belittle Chris’s work by calling out his sexuality and tattoos, we are reminded of the very need for reshaping just such a conversation. Turk asks "Is that really ‘reshaping’ anything?"—in other words, is Chris really making a difference? And later implies that dialogue won’t change humanity’s propensity to, as he calls it, "err," calling into question the very efficacy of the interfaith endeavor. We contend that Chris Stedman is in fact reshaping the conversation, and that constructive dialogue is playing a great part in this.
One thing I would point out to you here is that your summary of my "open letter" (scare quotes and all) is entirely reductive and frankly unreflective of what I actually said. That’s a far cry from what I did for Chris in my open letter by introducing him to my readers with his own words, and his own description of himself.  In fact I said this to him:
I mean: what I took away from the HuffPo piece was that you think there's a common cultural context that people with and without religion can sort of participate in, and that they can cooperate with each other to achieve some kind of socio-political good together. Is that really "reshaping" anything?

I think it can reshape the atheist evangel, to be sure -- it will move the popular atheist stereotype out of the ghetto of cage-stage positivism and adolescent nihilism/hedonism into a plump, congenial middle-age. This kind of thinking is frankly understood as the norm in Europe, and to say and do otherwise there is shocking. But American atheism has been a lot like American fundamentalism at least from the days of the vile Madalyn Murray O'Hair, and its ability to seek converts through fear and intimidation has probably been a very powerful factor in keeping it a marginal ideology. So kudos to you for being a stand-up guy for humanism rather than something and someone less concerned about a so-called path forward in a multicultural world.
That’s pretty significantly more-generous than your Reader’s Digest version.

The next paragraph sounds very nice (we’ll get there in a second), but so far I think that you don’t really mean what you say there – for one reason only: it’s not what you practice. And given that Chris endorses your way of doing this – both by publishing your response, and by prefacing it with his very-glowing approval – I doubt he really wants a "discussion" either. What he wants is people to agree with him, and to talk with people who agree with him. That’s not much of a conversation: it’s more of a mutual admiration society.  What kind of dialog are you looking for when this is how you treat people who disagree with you?
Here’s what you say next, before I go on:
The conversation "between religious and nonreligious" as mentioned in the tweet is not a two-way discussion between Christians and atheists; rather, Christians and atheists are simply two pieces of a much broader discourse among peoples of all different faith traditions, worldviews, philosophies, and perspectives. Whether it is a church being bombed in Egypt, a pastor threatening to burn the Qur’an, or the recent protests of a Muslim community fundraiser in California, we would say that conversations around religious differences still need some major remodeling. And in the arena of atheists’ relationship to religion in particular, Chris is doing phenomenal work to show that being a non-religious person does not mean one has to be aggressively anti-religious. As a religious man himself, Turk should at least grant this much in Stedman’s favor.
Now, this is exactly what I mean. As you can see from quoting my open letter, I did say exactly that about what Chris has done. Turk did in fact "grant this much in Stedman’s favor." It’s hard to deny when you look at it, in fact – but you have explicitly denied it, haven’t you?

Why? Maybe – and I think this is likely – you skimmed my open letter, or didn’t read it at all. What you found was an old guy who said something you believed would be disagreeable about your friend, and you felt like you needed to say something in response which makes it clear that Chris is your friend and I am not. Fair enough: but does actually saying untrue things – you know: saying I did not give Chris any credit for working the Atheist fundamentalists over when in fact I said explicitly that he’s doing that and it is a good thing – work out to improve me, or make some point about Chris contra my point about Chris?

Probably not – but here’s what I’m willing to do at this point: I’m willing to chalk it up to youthful hubris and collegiate spirit because I was once one such as you – or more realistically, more like Chris as I was an atheist in college. I’m sure that’s news to you, but it’s not any kind of a secret. I like to call it the surprise in the Cracker Jack box which is my faith and mission as a blogger: surprising people with the idea that there are really folks who have walked the field of faithlessness and come out the other end with a different conclusion. But I say that only to say this: if there were actually any discussion going on, you’d probably have discovered that.

Instead, you took it for granted that I was one kind of person, and I think – in fact, I know – I am someone else entirely. That you cannot read my most generous statement about Chris in even a remotely-fair (let alone generous) way, speaks to that directly, and clearly, and to your own discredit. That Chris did not see that or offer you a chance to revise your way out of that prior to endorsing you and signing off on you as a credible replica of Jesus also speaks to his own blinders in this matter.

Now, from that, you jump to this without any bridge:
We believe that interfaith cooperation efforts—and atheists/humanists’ involvement in them— are relevant, timely, and crucial in today’s global society, and that they stand in line with the values espoused by Christ to love one’s neighbor and bring peace to the world. Chris Stedman has contributed greatly to the cause of interfaith cooperation, making it a visible and vibrant part of the discussion happening on university campuses all across the country.
I agree. In fact, my quote proves I agree. It turns out that we agree about this – yet with your lead-up to it, the casual reader of your post will think I do not agree with either you or Chris or Jesus. This is especially troubling when we read your next paragraph:
Because the model for interfaith cooperation to which we adhere depends upon mutual respect, value judgments on the morality of human sexuality or concern with one’s personal choices lie largely beyond the purview of the discussion. We, like Chris, simply advance the message of peace and sociological pluralism. Our concern is not with individual religious practice or belief or widespread social concerns except where they intersect with violence, strife, and bigotry. Our own Christian religious identity informs our desire to build bridges of cooperation with those of other traditions and worldviews, but does not in any way muddy our own values or compel us to entreat them on others.
As we say on this side of sociological pluralism, "Aha!"

Let’s start with the underlined part rather than the last sentence. That statement is so utterly incomprehensible in the context you provided it that I have to work through it with you. Let’s ask a simple question: would someone who tells lies, for example, be welcome in your circle of cooperation? I’m thinking not of someone spreading malicious gossip or actually framing the statements of someone else in such a way to make them a bad guy: I’m thinking of someone who was in your fold of cooperation who did not share all your objectives of "peace and sociological pluralism". Maybe this person actually had the objective of eliminating meaningful distinctions between any two of the cooperating sociologically-plural identities in order to eliminate one or both of them. Would that person’s "concern with one’s personal choices" really not matter to you? If not, how can you say you actually want any kind of pluralism – that you actually respect the differences between those who are different?

As you ponder that, let’s then approach your last sentence there with some gusto. You say your desire to "build bridges" does not in any way "muddle the waters" of your own core values – but that is also completely and transparently false. The fact that you’re careless with the truth toward those who disagree with you ought to indicate to you that this is less than compelling – but the fact that this endeavor is itself dubious in real sociological improvement ought to also put a twinge in your "Evangelical" (scare quotes intended) funny bone.

See: you are using great timeless words to describe your objectives – "peace", and "respect" vs. "violence, strife and bigotry." You might as well be saying you’re in favor of ice cream and against feeding babies BP oil spill tarballs. Who exactly would come out and say, "Bigotry saved my family, and I’m proud to hate people based on stereotypes," or "strife is just a hobby; I’m actually a professional force of malevolence?" Prolly no one, I am sure you will admit. Nobody is actually in favor of bigotry, violence and strife – when you put it that way. The problem, of course, is that adult humans never put it that way.



And therein lies the real problem. Think about the striking civil servants in Wisconsin for a moment. They are causing a lot of strife, no? They have put children out of school, taken police off the street, disrupted the capital of their state, and so on. But if you ask them, what they are doing is combating the strife caused by the Governor and the elected conservative majority in the state government, right? So it’s actually the Governor and his agenda who caused all this strife. Or maybe it’s the people of WI who elected these characters who caused all the strife – you know: they voted for a guy and his political buddies who promised to balance the budget and end deficit spending in state government.

I mean: we’re against strife – but if that’s true, do we overturn the election results in WI to oppose strife? How do we oppose strife in actual examples unless we get our difference out in front of us?

This is where what you think you’re standing up for falls apart – and it’s at the core of my letter to Chris, but you missed it there, so I’ll rephrase it here for your sake. In real life, the problem is not what we might agree on: it’s what we do not agree on that causes us to have to choose a new course of action, and simply affirming each other for what we think are our good points does not get us anywhere.

Should airing disagreement have to be a war of attrition? Your open letter says yes (as above, and as we’re going to get to, below – that is, you have to take the other guy down and out in order to dismiss him [not win him]), but factually it does not. What it does have to do, though, is recognize that there are reasons for our differences, and mull them over in a way which sizes up the real choices we are about to make if we are going to be "better together".

The WI civil employee union strikes are just one example – but others far more wide-spread are easy to think of. Should abortion be legal? If so, is it just a medical procedure? What if our policy causes more black babies in NYC to be aborted than to be born – does it turn out that abortion law is racist in practice? Is that bad? How do we know?

A better example is Chris’ most recent public preaching against hearings about Muslims to be conducted in Congress – and at the same time coming out to say we need to hear "more Muslim voices". Do you not find any irony at all in the fact that the lack of Muslim voices (except for extremists) has caused some of our elected representatives to call for hearings so that the Muslim community will speak up for itself – and Chris opposes that? How do we discover the right way to "hear more Muslim voices"?  Can we do that if our core sociological ethic is to overlook others’ personal values?

In your view, we can just overlook personal moral choices and be joined in some kind of sociological group hug and it all gets better. But in practice – and I mean, to even get off the bench to start stretching before the actual game – there’s no way that makes one iota of difference in effecting change.

Now, seriously – this is my favorite part of your response:
Dialogue, though discounted in Turk’s letter, has the power to produce empathy through understanding. Part of the goal of interfaith cooperation is not simply an end to something (i.e. violence), but is actually a positive, proactive movement built around service that aims to improve our world and address the problems we face. (See Greg’s post on the Million Meals for Haiti even at UIUC for an example of this.)
Again, Aha!

Do I need "epathy and understanding" to think to myself, "huh! The people in Haiti who have been decimated for more than a year by the aftermath of a natural disaster probably need something to eat!" Or do I just need the raw facts? I mean: even the Southern Baptist Convention can mobilize for the Red Cross (and does so) without checking anyone’s baptism certificates. Is that really a wild leap forward for "interfaith dialog", or does it turn out that you guys just found out that this happens in real life all the time, and that it happens mostly when people can agree on really gigantic incidents of suffering? The problem is not seeing the gigantic incidents of suffering: everyone can see those, and no one with a Western values system will tell you that humanitarian aid is uncalled for. The problem is that you guys think that this is new, and an innovation, and a neoteric way to do society – and that it’s the most important thing you can be concerned about.

Here’s how I know that:
As devout Christians, we understand the desire and imperative to point to Christ as the answer to any perceived iniquity; we want our friends to know Christ and his saving grace. Yet we often struggle with the way the church presents these messages of salvation to the world, having been frustrated by our own past experiences.

Chris Stedman, once a church-going Christian himself, doesn’t need a lesson on the teachings of Christ or what the Christian church believes about salvation; doubtless he has picked up on these things through his years as a member of the church and as a student in religious studies programs both at the undergraduate and graduate levels. We, like Turk, desire for Chris to know Jesus as his savior—Chris knows that full well.  But to see the gospel tacked on the end of a Bible-brandishing diatribe in which the author takes jabs at both Chris’s sexuality and his body art comes across as condescending.
You see: you say you want Chris (for example) to know Christ, but because he has rejected Christ – and ask him, because he has – you are willing to settle for a lot less in his case. That doesn’t actually have anything to do with what the church might do: that has to do with your uneasiness with the actual Christian message.  And to make sure I tie that back to you previous statements, you have utterly forgotten that historically the church does both, and that's how the West in particular has changed so much for the better in the last 1000 years.

What interests me is the characterization of my post as a "bible-brandishing diatribe" in order to again score point. If you would be so kind as to indicate how many verses of the Bible I cited to make my points to Chris, I would be glad to retract all of them – but again, I think this falls into the category of you personally not actually reading my open letter, and therefore not actually responding to what I wrote.  There are no direct references to the Bible in my original open letter, and you ought to have seen that immediately.

The final irony, of course, is that you resort in your final arc of reasoning to a little Bible-brandishing of your own:
The Bible states in 1 Peter 3:15:

"But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect"

We’d like to suggest that the conversation of interfaith cooperation – the precise conversation that Chris Stedman indeed does work to shape – presents a better opportunity for giving that answer mentioned in 1 Peter than the method observed in Turk’s "open letter."  Ironically, this verse can be found on one of the "Pyromaniacs" logos plastered all over their site. Yet it seems they’ve forgotten this respect in their determination to criticize our friend and wave the gospel in his face.
This is an interesting way to put this, since you have already decried any "giving an answer" in your sociological approach. You could go to any of the examples I have reaised so far and consider it in the light of what you say here and find yourself in a very challenging position: how do I advocate for the Christian solution to this problem, when I am already committed to making sure I do not bring into consideration the personal ethics of the people I am talking to?

And this is the greatest challenge to your attempt at a rebuke here which you simply do not see: you call yourselves "Evangelicals". In your defense, that title doesn’t really mean anything today except "sociologically-Christian," so Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses and all manner of post-Christian cults might be rolled up under that umbrella. But the title "Evangelical" actually has a meaning in reference to one’s theology as it was historically understood. According to Wikipedia, this term means:
Evangelicalism is a Protestant Christian movement which began in Great Britain in the 1730s. Its key commitments are:
  • The need for personal conversion (or being "born again")
  • Actively expressing and sharing the gospel
  • A high regard for biblical authority, especially biblical inerrancy
  • An emphasis on teachings that proclaim the death and resurrection of Jesus
David Bebbington has termed these four distinctive aspects conversionism, activism, biblicism, and crucicentrism, noting, "Together they form a quadrilateral of priorities that is the basis of Evangelicalism."
And this, really, lies as the foundation of all your other problems. You self-identify with "Evangelicalism" and call yourselves "Evangelicals", but you are no such thing. An "evangelical" thinks proclaiming the Gospel is of the highest priority; you think it is a hopeful secondary objective. An "Evangelical" has a high regard for inerrancy and Biblical authority; you believe that the Bible’s authority is as one source of information in the secular context. An "Evangelical" thinks that teaching what the death and resurrection of Jesus means is a key emphasis; for you, it hasn’t yet come up – and can’t, because it will offend the personal ethics of those you would have to tell it to. You assume they have heard it and that is enough. Finally, an "Evangelical" places the conversion of others to being followers of Christ – not just admirers or glib flatterers of Christ – as the key objective of the Christian faith; for you, playing well with others is the key objective, and if that objective means they don’t hear the Gospel or respond to it, there’s always tomorrow.

With all that said, WORD says I have waterfalled over 9 pages in response to you – which I think is more than adequate. That’s 3X what I usually limit myself to for a Wednesday blog post. I have addressed your concerns line by line, and have added my own points of contention with your approach, theology, and objectives.



What I will leave you with, then, is this: If what you want is a secular, sociological philosophy which fosters pluralism and only focuses on doing good deeds on the largest scale without reference to any specific epistemology for knowing what is right and wrong except that we are "better together", I’ll be grateful for you to do that. I’ll be pleased that someone has found for themselves a goal they think is worth spending their life on. But there are three things I cannot do with that:

1. I cannot pretend that when you advocate for that, and need to suspend the use of truth to do so, you haven’t done anything wrong. There are probably humanist reasons I could advocate for here, but I’m not a Humanist. As a Christian, I am offended (but not surprised) that the first line of reproach against me is to tell the world something false about what I have done.

2. I cannot pretend that your version of what you say you mean to do is better than what has come before it. At least the old main-line Liberal approach stood in the Sermon on the Mount and in Leviticus and looked for the longest possible list of good works to produce rather than to a reductive consensus which everyone can agree on. Your version compared to your intellectual fathers is not even compelling in terms of what it is seeking to accomplish.

3. I cannot pretend that what you are advocating for here is "Evangelical" – unless we change the meaning of the word to be "something people who grew up in church call themselves".

If that further offends you, so be it. But in that, I offer you the chance to repent of your mistakes. The real message of Jesus is that when we turn away from what God has actually said to what seems right in our own eyes, we can repent if we believe that Christ died for our sins and was raised to new life to prove his work was worthy.

This is your chance to repent, if you believe. You can repent of abusing facts to advocate for social ends; you can repent of neglecting evangelism for the sake of making more friends; you can repent of denigrating the authority of the Bible; you can repent of making Jesus into merely a good example.

And I call you to it. I am travelling on business this week, so my availability to moderate the comments here and respond further is severely limited.  I am leaving the comments open only for the sake of fostering further actual dialog here, but if they get out of hand I am sure Dan and Phil will shut them down.  However, if you want to discuss this further in another forum, my e-mail address, as always, is frank@iturk.com.  My thanks for your time and consideration.







49 comments:

Steve Berven said...

For 'evangelicals' they seem to take a remarkably Emergent view of things. That they feel honor bound to jump to the defense of their secular humanist friend because some mean ol' blogger had the temerity to actual deconstruct his publicly professed worldview....by deconstructing your publicly expressed worldview, speaks volumes.

They serve up a cloying dish that is a slick combination of hubris, intellectual dishonesty, and philosophic hypocrisy presented under a shiny cover of righteous indignation.

In classic form, they seem to take greater offense not at WHAT you said, as much as the fact that you were so unkind and divisive to, you know, actually SAY it.

Fred Butler said...

This was one epic letter for this strongly evangelical website.

Hideous-Rex said...

I think the world could learn a lot about dialogue from what is done here on pyromaniacs. While many things said here are ‘hard things’, You all strive not to make a straw man out of your detractors. This can mainly be seen through your conscientious quoting of your critics rather than merely summarizing them with belittling language (a tact that your opponents almost always seem to employ).
This was truly dialogue, which is something the "Worshipers of Dialogue and Conversation" seem to be incapable of doing.
Well done brother.

Brad Williams said...

You know, the downfall of the world is lack of exposition, be it from the Bible or the letters of others.

At least if someone quotes me correctly, I can rest in the happy bliss that comes from having been read and understood, even if I have been an idiot.

Cathy M. said...

Very informative and instructive. Thanks for another great open-letter.

stratagem said...

Perfect.
captain obvious hat on: What makes him a "leading voice" and you not, is that he agrees with him, and doesn't agree with you. So you can't possibly be a "leading voice." /captain obvious hat off

I think at some point we have to just admit to these types, up-front, that our goals are not to foster greater understanding, sociological goals, body art, multiculti stuff, etc., but to foster the truth as defined by the Bible. If that turns out to be in direct conflict with the previously mentioned transitory "goals," then so be it.

Frank Turk said...

Strat -

What I think is especially weird about whwre these dudes come from is that the real historical case for what the Christian faith might be is that the greatest impact the faith has made in the last 2000 years has been when it is both faithful to the truth of the Gospel both in proclamation and in living as if it is true.

It does not have to be either/or. That they say it must be is to assume an inherently-faithless perspective. It's a shame they think this is somehow "evangelical".

John Dunn said...

The "gospel" that embraces the world and courts the world rather than offending the world and standing unapologetically contrary to it is not the Gospel.

Keep up the good work Pyromaniacs. Set the world ablaze with the glorious shame of cross!

Yours in the Gospel (and with subtle irony), a Fire Prevention Officer.

Solameanie said...

Once again, these guys fall to what I call the "Monty Python Trap," i.e. - "No, no! You can't read my writing!"

"It's typed."

stratagem said...

Frank - Yes indeed. Not only faithless, but a non sequitur to boot.

St. Lee said...

I absolutely loved this:
"Evangelical" – unless we change the meaning of the word to be "something people who grew up in church call themselves".

Sadly, it is closer to the truth than the original meaning these days.

I couldn't help but think that if Greg and Cameron didn't care for your letter to Chris Stedman, they would be horrified to read about Jesus confronting the woman at the well with her sins.

Jay T said...

I really hope those guys (carefully) read both this letter and the previous.

A lot of kids who grow up in the church have no category to explain non-Christians who do good works and are seemingly good folks. When they encounter this phenomenon they have two options: mature in their understanding of common grace or marginalize the gospel.

Tom Chantry said...

So far the crickets are really chirping in this "conversation." Damhorst protects his tweets, Nation has tweeted nothing, their website is silent - even the com-thread at their post is empty.

One can hope that the reason is that they are carefully reading this post, preparing to respond by carefully quoting it and interacting point-by-point. Well, one can wish anyway.

DJP said...

Oh Chantry, you starry-eyed dreamer.

Esther said...

Frank;

Don't you think that it would have been better to contact Greg and Cameron privately and sit down with them over cofff....

whoooossssshhhh!!!

Wow. A vortex of irony just sucked all the haircare products from my stylish bedhead!

Let me tell you, that'll make a person stop their foolishness!

besiderself

P.S. WV="cocist"--sort of what Chris, Greg and Cameron are suggesting. Which sounds a bit too much like a medical condition instead of a way of life.

John From Down Under said...

Finally got my Google account working again!

He’s no humanist Challies, to be sure

Challies is a humanist?

Robert Kunda said...

Fine, I'll squish a cricket.

This is your chance to repent, if you believe... you can repent of neglecting evangelism for the sake of making more friends...

And it's gems like this which (among other reasons) make these letters so beneficial for public display. Other than what seems to be a legitimate correction, it's often the case that we (I?) make the same mistakes.

Thank you for this letter. I echo Tom's wishes. =)

Aaron Snell said...

John From DU,

I believe Frank meant that he was not a humanist version of Challies.

John From Down Under said...

Thanks Aaron, as in Challies’ blogger popularity. Makes sense.

We suffer from the Osmocote effect ‘slow release’ down here some times :)

Strong Tower said...

Rob Bell coined a new word recently, inexclusivism. Well, two can play that game. What Greg and Cameron engage in is exinclusivism.

An LATimes piece said that we need to support NPR because it is unbiased and nonpartisan...

I immediately picked up the phone to call my representatives to express my unbiased opinion.

Frank Turk said...

I wouldn't worry about another response. 9 pages is a lot to take in. We'll be very fortunate to get a mention again.

you can't make a living waiting for people to really reconsider their chosen way of life.

Strong Tower said...

about another response...

Softly so sings Katy did her moon glow lullaby
Among the bushes where she clings bare-skinned awaits her love's reply

cb said...

"you can't make a living waiting for people to really reconsider their chosen way of life."

Too true, yet you plead with them for the sake of the gospel anyway and for that I salute you.

We need more of this.

Chris said...

Frank --

Chris here. I'm in the middle of leading the service trip, am working VERY full days and am not really online, so I just saw this, and don't have time to read the full thing and the comments. But I wanted to clear up one thing: I went back and checked for your comments -- I checked the spam, everything, and don't see them anywhere. I promise you, they were not discarded.

I recently switched servers, and have had a difficult time with comments recently, but it has nothing to do selectively screening challenging comments. You can browse through any number of my posts to see them, as I've gotten MANY (here's one example of a post with some: http://nonprophetstatus.com/2010/08/09/911-was-the-atheist-stonewall/).

I have a policy of approving ALL comments, whether they agree with me or not. So whatever the issue was with your comments, it had nothing to do with me. I hope you will consider amending this part of your post, because it is untrue. Again, I apologize for the issue with your comments -- you're not the first to come forward with this issue, and it is incredibly frustrating.

As for the rest of this post -- I look forward to reading it in full ASAP. Still working on a response to your first open letter, but it will have to wait until after my trip, etc.

All my best to you,
Chris

Frank Turk said...

Chris --

Welcome back from your service trip, and thanks for your clarification -- I'll note the correction in the post.

I look forward to your response.

Frank Turk said...

For the record, I don't have anything against administrating comments. We administrate them here -- without using the screening feature, to be sure. My concern in the preface to the letter was against a policy which does not allow dissenting voices any opportunity to be heard, and Chris says he has no such policy. That's a good clarification for me, and for the state of this exchange.

Steve Berven said...

I find approaches to ministry like that of your subject confusing to say the least. What exactly is it we are calling people to, if not the Gospel? What is it you "evangelize" if the bulk of your ministry is building a socially-acceptable consensus based on a heavily ecumenical ministry model which puts equal emphasis on appealing to agnostic humanists, cafeteria Christians and avowed atheists?

It would seem they are far less interested in conversion than conversation.

I'd call that talking people to death.

REB said...

I agreed with and liked the four points used to define what (and, more importantly, WHO) is an Evangelical. I shall use these in future as a succinct way of expressing my 'Evangelicalism'.

I felt that the courtesy of your writing added weight to the arguments you expressed.

Carly said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cameron. said...

Hey guys!

Glad to get involved in the comment stream here. I apologize for our silence; as a student, I've had final exams in preparation for Easter break and have not had time online save for checking my email and the news. (Greg too has been rather busy.) We do plan on responding to you, but it may take a few days. Despite what you believe, we did read your letter to Chris, Frank-- many times, in fact-- and also much of the material on your site.

You bring up some valid points in your response. Look forward to better articulating a few of our own stances, and hopefully dispelling a few of the assumptions that you and your readers seem to share about Greg and me.

Best,

-Cameron Nations.

Carly said...

Turk,

I would like to make a few comments and ask a few questions about your reply. First, I would like to note how angry your post sounds, especially as compared to Greg and Cameron's response to your first letter. Perhaps you should work on your tone if you don't want others to think you're attacking those around you. Second, you make quite a few assumptions in your post about Cameron and Greg, none of which seem to be founded on information in their post. Perhaps you shouldn't commit the same sins you accuse others of committing. My real question though is, what is your stance on judgment? You seem very quick to judge Chris, Greg, and Cameron, even telling the latter two that this is their "chance to repent." First, is it really your call to be making such judgments? Isn't Jesus in charge of those judgments? Perhaps it's you who is "denigrating the bible." Second, you accuse Cameron and Greg of not being true Christians because they wish to work with those of other faiths in non threatening environments. Remember, it was Jesus who accepted the Gentiles and rejected the high brow, pharisee Jews. So why should we, as Christians, not strive to show God's love to those who are different from us? Perhaps, that love will win them to Christ. I shudder to think that the hell-fire and correction you seem to want to throw at them would do a better job of evangelizing than Cameron and Greg's approach to love. (Surely you must realize that Cameron and Greg did not specifically address their views on their own approaches to evangelism in the open letter to you, and therefore you can make no assumptions regarding it...see above complaint--you really shouldn't accuse others of doing things if you intend on returning the favor--it really reflects poorly on your credibility no matter how intently you attempt to establish it. Though you may have not inferred this from their letter to you, Cameron and Greg are looking to discover what evangelism looks like in an interfaith environment.) I have MANY other problems with this post, but, honestly, it's not even worth my time. This comment has taken me long enough already.

Sincerely,
A Christian who almost became an atheist because of Christians like you and your friends. (Hint: You or your friends cannot say, "Well, good riddance if she doesn't want to be a Christian!" because that would be exceedingly un-Christlike.)

Strong Tower said...

Carly-

You sound bitterly hateful and mean. Your judgementalism is obvious and quite unlovingly not Christlike.

Can you possibly calm down and without the emotional spikes, point to something of substance with which you disagree?

Oh, by the way... do you really think it is wrong to call people to repentance? Then what are you doing here calling for Frank's?

"I shudder to think that the hell-fire and correction you seem to want to throw at them would do a better job of evangelizing than Cameron and Greg's approach to love."

So, we're to take it that Jesus was doing a poor job of evangelism when he said, "So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.

Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person's enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it."

Yeah, that sound like the elusive butterfy love, alright.

Carly said...

Dear Strong Tower,

I'm sorry that I came across as spiteful, but behind that spite were legitimate questions that I specifically addressed to Turk. I am perfectly willing to wait until he comes back from his week hiatus to hear his answers.

Carly

Frank Turk said...

Cameron --

Thanks for your note, and for Greg's e-mail. I only really blog once a week these days, so there's no harm in taking your time to respond. I did take about 2 weeks to get to your letter, so the least I could do is give you that much time to think about my rejoinder.

No hurry, but please: respond to what I have said and not what you think my real concerns are. My real concerns are plain here:

1. Demonizing or misrepresenting people to make you point look better is dubious at best, but it is what you did in your letter.

2. Your idea isn't new, and it isnt half as compelling as the liberal Christian activism that came before it -- except that it doesn't really believe that a Christian moral foundation is needed to act on it.

3. Your view isn't the least bit "Evangelical" unless we change the definition of that word.

If you ignore every other word I have posted on this subject and respond to those 3 concerns as I have expressed them, we'll be getting somewhere.

ANd I thank you again for your time to consider it.

Frank Turk said...

Hi Carly --

| I would like to make a few
| comments and ask a few
| questions about your reply.

Super: that’s called dialog, and I welcome it.

| First, I would like to note how
| angry your post sounds,
| especially as compared to
| Greg and Cameron's response
| to your first letter. Perhaps
| you should work on your tone
| if you don't want others to
| think you're attacking those
| around you.

I. Didn’t. See. That. Coming.

Could you indicate one sentence in this post which has an improper tone, and what that tone is? I’d be extremely pleased to see it and to, therefore, amend it to a tone which would not offend you. To say “the whole thing” is to say, “I can’t be bothered to make any sense here – just trust me that you are offensive.”

In Greg & Cameron’s letter, as I pointed out, the began by demonizing me: Chris is a “leading figure”, and I am just a blogger who “targets” him. The tone there is obvious: moral superiority – which, we must admit, is funny given their lack of real urgency about morality as a basis for driving social improvement.

Objecting to my tone and pointing out where that tone is evident are two different things, and I welcome you to do the latter. Right now I’m not compelled by your complaint as it has no substance.

| Second, you make
| quite a few assumptions in
| your post about Cameron and
| Greg, none of which seem to
| be founded on information in
| their post. Perhaps you
| shouldn't commit the same
| sins you accuse others of
| committing.

Again, any evidence of this would be welcome. Asserting I am naughty doesn’t do anything for me – least of all, give me a basis for improving my activity in the future. Help me to be better.

| My real question
| though is, what is your stance
| on judgment?

In one respect, it is the same as yours: one should do something about what is wrong in the world when one witnesses it, and especially when one is the victim of the mistakes or intentional sins of others.

In another respect, it is different than yours: it doesn’t matter how someone else’s actions make me feel. I said something in the post which, according to Chris, is patently wrong: he didn’t filter my dissenting comments, but they were lost by the comments system. You’ll notice that, rather than call Chris a liar with a tonal problem, I immediately posted a retraction & correction.

It doesn’t matter how I feel about Chris’s correction: I should do something about what is wrong in the world, even when it is me.

And our views of judgment are different in another way: I think judgment is how we actually improve things, and you think judgment is how we ruin things. See below.

| You seem very
| quick to judge Chris, Greg,
| and Cameron, even telling the
| latter two that this is their
| "chance to repent."

Let’s make sure we get that last part right, Carly: it is their chance to repent of misrepresenting me, of discounting and dismissing the real Christian efforts which surround them and came before them, and of pretending to be “Evangelical” – either by becoming actually-Evangelical, or by repudiating the use of the term.

See: judgment is how we improve things. If they lied about me, they can do better. If their ideas are not new and there is a deep Christian history of doing better than they are proposing, and if being “Evangelical” means something different than they mean by it, they have things to repent of. In exactly the same way I needed to repent of my false accusation of Chris and the comment stream, they have at least 3 things to repent of.

The discussion improves when this happens, but you don’t see it that way at all. You think telling someone to “repent” is somehow unkind or unwarranted. I think it’s what Jesus actually said to do.

One of us is wrong.

[more]

Frank Turk said...

[con't]

| First, is it
| really your call to be making
| such judgments?

Yes.

| Isn't Jesus in
| charge of those judgments?

You don’t seem to understand this, but Yes.

You know: it’s actually the purview of you local municipality to set speed limits in your neighborhood. Once the speed limit is set, it is what it is.

But if they set the speed limit in my neighborhood to 15 MPH, and there’s a person who repeatedly drives 60 MPH thru my street where my kids are playing, it’s entirely right of me to say to him, “Hey bub: the speed limit is actually 15 MPH. If you don’t stop driving 60 MPH on this street, you might actually kill one of my kids, but you will most certainly eventually get a ticket.”

If he says to me, “Oh yeah? Shut up! Well the police are in charge of that judgment!” What he is saying is that he’s not guilty unless they catch him. That gets it exactly backwards: they will catch him because he is guilty, and my telling him to stop or else he’ll get the punishment is not executing the judgment but warning him that it is coming.

Is it Jesus’ call to throw liars into Hell? Why yes: it is. Is it only Jesus’ job to warn liars that hell is waiting for the unrepentant liars? Not according to the New Testament. And, you might be surprised to find out, not according to anyone who thinks that discussion is healthy and useful.

| Perhaps it's you who is
| "denigrating the bible."

That’s a nice assertion. I think that if we open up the Bible, you’ll find that you have no idea what you are talking about.

Here’s what you are saying: “Because only Jesus hands down the final judgment on people and their sins, there are no ordinary means by which people and judge each other without supplanting Jesus and denigrating the Bible.”

Here’s what the Bible says:

My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins. (James 5:19-20)

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:8-10)

See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. Even though he sought the blessing with tears, he could not change what he had done. (Heb 12:15-17)

I could go on, but you get the idea: the Bible is pretty keen on the idea that we should offer correction to each other for the benefit of one another. It’s a shame you don’t agree with the Bible.

| Second, you accuse Cameron
| and Greg of not being true
| Christians because they wish
| to work with those of other
| faiths in non threatening
| environments.

Actually, I did not say that at all. I said they were not “Evangelicals”, and I spelled out exactly what that means. Please re-read that, and if it needs further clarification, I’ll be glad to answer your specific questions.

[more]

Frank Turk said...

[con't]

| Remember, it
| was Jesus who accepted the
| Gentiles and rejected the high
| brow, pharisee Jews. So why
| should we, as Christians, not
| strive to show God's love to
| those who are different from
| us?

I have no idea how that statement applied to what I actually wrote. Where did I say that Greg and Cameron should not love other people? What I did in fact say is that their version of “love” (if you think that’s the right way to put it) excludes the authority of Scripture, the primacy of the Gospel, the work of Jesus Christ, and the specific need of personal conversion. It also excludes the Christian basis for making moral choices – because they intentionally exclude Christian moral reasoning from their basis of cooperation.

Are they Christians? Let’s say “yes” without any qualification. Is what they are doing a function of Evangelical sensibilities? You can’t demonstrate how that can be true.

| Perhaps, that love will win
| them to Christ. I shudder to
| think that the hell-fire and
| correction you seem to want
| to throw at them would do a
| better job of evangelizing
| than Cameron and Greg's
| approach to love.

Can you indicate where I threatened anyone with Hell? I asked them to stop demonizing others, and stop hiding under the cover of a movement they don’t belong to, and to stop pretending that many (I would argue “most”) Christians aren’t already a light-year ahead of their new-adult status in the Christian life.

If those three things are true about them, they ought to repent of them. If they are not, I’ll be glad to stand corrected. But asserting that I somehow used the moral equivalent of a “God Hates Fags” sign to talk to them about how they are making pretty serious mistakes is, well, laughable. Your moral outrage so far in this comment is a lot more highly-charged than mine was – and I only mention it because tone is a concern you have put on the table.

| (Surely you
| must realize that Cameron and
| Greg did not specifically
| address their views on their
| own approaches to evangelism
| in the open letter to you, and
| therefore you can make no
| assumptions regarding it...see
| above complaint--you really
| shouldn't accuse others of
| doing things if you intend on
| returning the favor--it really
| reflects poorly on your
| credibility no matter how
| intently you attempt to
| establish it. Though you may
| have not inferred this from
| their letter to you, Cameron
| and Greg are looking to
| discover what evangelism
| looks like in an interfaith
| environment.)

They actually did speak to their approaches to evangelism in their letter to me, and then in the comments here again, and then in private letters. They do not deny in the least that evangelism is, for them, only a passive activity “they hope God will give them the opportunity to do”.

Seriously.

That’s not an Evangelical attitude toward evangelism: it’s too passive to be such a thing. It might actually be hypercalvinist – there’s no telling really why suddenly God’s sovereignty is such a delicate thing for them when his sovereignty over the moral law is pretty much an invisible attribute in their philosophy.

| I have MANY
| other problems with this post,
| but, honestly, it's not even
| worth my time.
| This comment
| has taken me long enough
| already.
|
| Sincerely,
| A Christian who almost
| became an atheist because of
| Christians like you and your
| friends. (Hint: You or your
| friends cannot say, "Well,
| good riddance if she doesn't
| want to be a Christian!"
| because that would be
| exceedingly un-Christlike.)

… speaking of tone …

[30]

Frank Turk said...

I love having internet access in the airport.

Steve Berven said...

I think it is appropriate at this juncture to consider the words of that inimitable sage and philosopher Inigo Montoya, when he said, and I quote:

"You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think that it means."

Yurie said...

Steve stole my line that I was gonna steal! You, sir, are a mind bandit. But well-played nonetheless.

But otherwise, whenever I read peoples' responses to Frank's posts I wish that dictionaries the world over would file them under "Irony" first, and then "Log in Your Eye" second. This coming from a logger extraordinaire.

Merrilee Stevenson said...

"Cameron and Greg are looking to discover what evangelism looks like in an interfaith environment."

First of all, why? Is that what we as evangelical Christians are commissioned to do, ultimately?

Secondly, I think a reading of the book of Acts, especially Acts 17:22-31 would be a good place to look if Cameron, and Greg, and Carly want to discover what it looks like. Then, when given opportunities to be heard, try to emulate what Paul said and did. That I could agree with.

DJP said...

Um... isn't evangelism pretty much by-definition always " an interfaith environment"?

What kills me, over and over again, about Emerg*'s and their enablers, is that they re-hash 1920's liberalism, as if it were a newly-launched expedition.

Merrilee Stevenson said...

Gonna have to flash my ignorance card and say I don't know about the 1920's liberalism. But I think I know the difference between a religious anthropologist and a missionary. We are called to be the latter.

Stephen said...

The authority Frank Turk displays from speaking biblical truth boldly and in a loving manner is refreshing! Especially in a culture that, kind of, doesn't like that stuff, you know?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SCNIBV87wV4

Jugulum said...

[quote]
| Isn't Jesus in
| charge of those judgments?

You don’t seem to understand this, but Yes.

You know: it’s actually the purview of you local municipality to set speed limits in your neighborhood. Once the speed limit is set, it is what it is.

But if they set the speed limit in my neighborhood to 15 MPH, and there’s a person who repeatedly drives 60 MPH thru my street where my kids are playing, it’s entirely right of me to say to him, “Hey bub: the speed limit is actually 15 MPH. If you don’t stop driving 60 MPH on this street, you might actually kill one of my kids, but you will most certainly eventually get a ticket.”
[/quote]

Frank: Oh, thank you so much. I'm remembering that one.

It would also be good for taking a conversation to the issue of the reality & clarity of revelation. (Given the existence of posted speed limits, your point is blatantly obvious.)

Kirby said...

DJP -

Um... isn't evangelism pretty much by-definition always " an interfaith environment"?

I.Love.That.

I was pretty much thinking the same thing, except, my mind wandered to: Maybe they are looking for strategies to infiltrate false religions so as to subtly challenge them with the true gospel.

Then I thought, "Nahhhh, I'm a hopeless romantic about people using the term 'interfaith' as a strategy for real evangelism, and not just some huggable ecumenism."

Besides, I've never seen infiltration in the Bible. Jonah walked through Nineveh and pretty much said, "40 days and you're destroyed."
And he didn't even have good intentions or a good attitude. Talk about tone issues.

Frank - an excellent letter. Keep 'em coming

-Kirby

Robert said...

I often wonder if the people who invoke "love like Jesus did" have ever really read the Bible. In the four gospels alone, you can see Jesus directly confronting a Samaritan woman at the well about her own sin and pointed her to the truth and she came away rejoicing and spreading the word that Messiah had come(John 4). Or how about the rich young ruler? Or when He told the adulteress who He pretty much saved from being stoned to "sin no more." (John 8:11) And then there is Revelation...where He intsructs John to write letters to the churches about what He had against them.

Robert said...

Just caught this as I was perusing the internet this morning:

http://www.faithlineprotestants.org/?p=404

I am not sure if this will lead into further posts here ar on your blog, Frank, but I am looking forward to how this dialogue works itself out. I felt compelled to leave them a comment regarding 2 Corinthians 6:14 and how they think the interfaith movement meets with Paul's instruction there because that is the first thing that comes ot mind for me with movements like this. Jesus certainly didn't see the need to partner up with people who had false beliefs. Although He did take the time to show them the truth.

Frank Turk said...

Here's an active link to Cameron's response:

Cameron's Response