Last week, I made a point to say that nobody wants to be, by analogy, this little fellow:
That is, nobody wants to always be the one with the voice that can peel paint off the walls when it comes to being the bringer of bad news. And in some sense, that's what Keller and Powlison were on about 5 years ago when they published their paper to the internet about how to respond to bad reports. It seems to me that yes, indeed, we should season our words with love and compassion and good will in that we do not want to be people who, frankly, thrive on gossip and slander.
a tear into the use of pornography. For him to do that, at the very least, requires the assumption that there's a bad report out there about someone's use of the internet -- someone on the internet, apparently, is wrong. All the posts thereafter finally don't follow any of the advice of Keller and Powlison. Tim does not suspend judgment. Tim does not bother to think about whether he knows the heart of the people he's on about. He certainly didn't speak to anybody personally. Yet as even marginally-objective readers, Tim did the right thing by making every effort to recriminate the use of porn.
I think it turns out that we can be serious, sober, and kind -- and not have to face the world with a blank expression and a sphinx-like silence -- when we are faced with a bad report. But if we find this to be true -- and I can list examples for you if you're interested -- then what do we do with the original essay which I said I agreed with? What about the idea that we need to approach bad reports in such a way that we do not become the equivalent of the Hound of the Baskervilles trapped in the body of a fluffy lap dog?
Well, I think the first word missing from the Keller/Powlison essay is "pastoral." You know: last year I spoke at two conferences and a church anniversary, and the greatest compliment I received from those events came from a single person who came to me and said, "you come across much more pastoral in person than you do at the blog." Whether that's true or not, I think, is utterly subjective because I didn't write anything for those talks I hadn't written previously at one of the menagerie of blogs I keep from getting deleted by blogger. But that point simply cannot be made too keenly: there is something pastoral necessary in dealing with bad reports.
The thing we should observe about being pastoral is that not everyone is called to be a pastor, but every Christian is called to somehow demonstrate the truth in love. Every other internet christian cogitator thinks he is a Berean or follows the Berean methodology, but what's the sense of being a Berean rather than a Thessalonian? Luke says that the Bereans were "more noble" than the Thessalonians. Everyone gets very exercised about being as "biblical" as the Bereans, but the word which distinguishes them from those who attacked Paul in the previous city is that they were "εὐγενέστεροι." What if we expressed our "εὐγενής" in Christ when we encountered a bad report as the first step -- because that's a pastoral thing to do. It expresses the real care for the souls of those watching and care for the souls doing the things being reported as bad because it has the highest regard for truth, and that's the heart of pastoral virtue.
There also ought to be something brotherly or fraternal in our response to bad reports. The problem with saying it that way, of course, is that it offends the egalitarians. However, anyone with a brother knows for a fact that getting correction from him rather than from Mom or Dad or a Sister is not the same as from another source. It's a combination of full-hearted love and full-contact rugby. And because it is both loving and rough, it is unmistakable as meant for permanent change. While it's nice that Keller and Powlison mentioned all the loving parts of responding to bad reports, somehow they omitted stuff like Prov 27:6, or Prov 27:5, or Prov 27:17.
And that brings us to the final point: our reaction has to be redemptive. It has to show the other person that there is a path home in Christ for them. The ultimate purpose in the Christian life is not to show others how poor, wretched and stupid they are: it is to show them that their poor, wretched, stupid problems are resolved by Christ, and that they can repent and be reconciled to God and to other people.
If you are doing that, you can be Tim Challies without any blushing. You can be PyroManiacs without wincing. You can receive and consider bad reports without disgracing yourself.