Dear Chris --
Back on 2 Oct 2011, as the Elephant Room controversy was really kicking into high gear, Pastor James MacDonald re-tweeted the following from Rick Warren:
And I knew I have most of the open letters I had to write lined out for me for the rest of the year. To keep the "open" readers of this letter fully informed, Warren's bit.ly link is to this blog post from Thabiti Anyabwile which outlines the massive failures of the Multi-Site church movement. But as I made a mental list of the open letters I had to write based on this tweet from Warren via Pastor MacDonald, I knew the first one had to be to you.
Now, why is that? They didn't mention you there -- didn't even link to a post that you had, at that time, either worked up or worked over. Why would I think of you when Rick Warren decrees that a pastor calling the Multi-site trend "from the Devil" is "burning [other christians] while the world goes to hell."
Well, that's easy: I owe you an apology. Back when you were kind enough to exhaust a couple of hours with me to do an interview about the Mike Horton dust-up, we talked briefly about whether or not Rick Warren was in the tent or out of the tent -- and I told you you probably couldn't convince me that he was out. Well, you never know what the future holds.
Let's think about a couple of things:
Thabiti's article is stellar. The high point for me was probably not the high point for you (you being a wicked Lutheran and me being a wicked Baptist), but when he says this:
A very thoughtful pastor pointed out this morning that we surely need a better theology of the unity of the church beyond the local church. But I think the multi-site, multi-campus strategy that is not speedily and intentionally moving to church planting unravels the local church with an absentee pastor model. Indeed, “church” becomes a strange moniker for this situation. A “church” is not just an assembly, it’s an assembly that is also a “family” where the members do all the one anothers and also a “body” where the joints are connected to supply to one another and a “flock” kept in a corral where the shepherds feed, bind, lead, and guide in personal relationship. Multi-site churches reduce the family, body, and flock to an anonymous assembly. In that way it trades in the lowest common denominator (assembling) while effectively mimicking “local.”The argument is pretty much over. Sure: there are no bible verse numbers decorating his statement, but even the marginally bible-literate observer can fill in Titus 1&2, 1 Cor 1-3, Acts 2, Rom 14, etc. to get Thabiti's rudimentary point. Everything after that is simply working through the yeah-buts.
His context was from the Gospel Coalition website, and to the TGC Network of readers and pastors who may or may not have seen Pastor MacDonald call congregationalism "from Satan". That context is not a watchblogger context -- it's not a reactionary, discretionless context where someone is always finding something from someone else with which to make an example of them. If anything TGC is usually too genteel to name names (except when they link or otherwise recognize the remarkable Carl Trueman, selah), so when Thabiti unleashes the frank facts about his position and those who are making an idol of their ministry, their personality, their technology and their pride, it's a stunner. But it's not like this is Thabiti's usual approach. It's not like he's one of the bloggers Warren and Perry Noble and many people kvetch about when they are put under the open-source microscope of internet discernment. But it's the right kind of stunner.
And his motive? Pastoral. He wants those who are doing this to reconsider and, insofar as is necessary, reverse course. He didn't throw anyone out of the church or under the bus. It was a post we could all read and get something out of, from his tone and his biblical reasoning to his actual point and how it applies to our local churches.
But Rick Warren dismissed it with a single tweet -- and said this post was "burning other Christians." This post -- where no one was called out, and no one was particularly exemplified, and no one was told to do anything but repent from putting "me" ahead of the church and the welfare of God's people -- has broken out the torches and the pitchforks. This from a guy who says he always learns something from his critics -- or tries to. This from a guy who says that doctrine matters to him deeply. This from a guy who wants to gain friendship and credibility from the T4G crowd and, I think by association, the TGC crowd. The bridge too far for Warren is not, for example, T.D. Jakes appearing at the Elephant Room: it is when a third-world pastor tells first-world trend setters that their view of the local church is, frankly, not God's view.
You know: I see Rick Warren as, in many ways, the average SBC pastor. He has all the strengths and weaknesss of the breed. So when he fibs a bit in public because he wants to be a gracious guest in whatever circle he is in, I can offer good will and read that as polite manners and not wobbly doctrine. When he writes books that do a lot of trading of translations to find the right version of a verse of Scripture to make his point (even if that translation isn't a good translation or taken from the right context), I can offer good will and chalk that up to baptist populist homiletics, for good and ill. And when he simplified the Gospel to "Come and see," I can offer good will to cut him the slack he requires to make his point that, in some sense, the call to be reconciled to God is an announcement and an invitation from God to all men -- a sort of grammar school view of how Christ may be lifted up. He means it for the sake of evangelism and not for the sake of anything else, if we off him good will. In all those things, I have a history of giving him the benefit of the doubt and saying he definitely means well.
That is, until we find him here excluding the good will he requires of others when someone indicts a trend he endorses. His willingness to actually trade in good will is here exposed as fraudulent, and his reaction to biblical counsel from a credible source is simply a giveaway for who he really is and has been all along. Because now it's easy for him to say, "I like my way of doing it better than your way of not doing it." It's easy for him to now say that he has better things to do than actually engage this issue, "like ministry". He can toss out the critic as someone who is burning heretics and therefore not deal with him at all. He puts himself in the place of the uncorrectable teacher, which means that all the good will we have granted him for all the other issues has to now be questioned.
So that leaves me with some unenviable questions to consider. Why should we grant him good will in his abuse of Scripture when he rebukes those with kind, pastoral biblical counsel? Why should we grant him good will when he intentionally waters down truth and the Christian message when he slanders those offering him the truth as the Bible expresses it? Why should we offer him good will toward his double-minded talk about the Gospel in other cases when, in this case, when the cause of the Gospel is utterly clear, he calls the counsellor with Christ in mind a person callous to the world as it goes to hell?
There is only one answer to those questions, and it prompts me to this: to you, Chris, I apologize. I was wrong about Rick Warren, and he could not have made himself clearer. Please forgive me for contesting your good judgment with what was essentially only my act of good will. I was wrong, and I hope you and others will forgive me for it.
Please keep up the good work at Fighting for the Faith, and my God richly bless you for it.