19 June 2013

Full-Contact Rugby

by Frank Turk

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.

But:

Of course to say that there's never a time or place to publicly discuss such things seems, at least, a little bit priggish or weak.  For example, as we considered last week (thanks to the anonymous internet reader's objections), Tim Challies has been on quite 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.

Our reaction to a bad report also ought to be holy.  This is the one all of us fumble from time to time because for something to be "holy," it has to be, by definition, exactly what God would do -- not merely what we imagine God would do.  The quest for our reaction to be "holy" creates both permissiveness and legalistic condemnation, but we have to strive against that so that our reaction is both inside the Law and outpouring the Gospel.  It should not just name what it wrong, but also plead for what's right through the means of Jesus Christ.

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.








42 comments:

E1970F said...

Thank you for that Frank. Too many believers today prefer to operate without any backbone and too thin skin. I am reminded of C.S. Lewis' portrayal of manhood, in the Chronicles of Narnia especially. Very rough, very dirty, but full of courage, love, and the pursuit of Christ (well, Aslan, at least).

On a side note, do you think you could translate your greek for the barbarians among us? Google was helpful but probably didn't provide the particular usage and perfect clarity you had in mind.

Frank Turk said...

it means "more noble," as in Acts 17:11.

Paul Reed said...

I just wonder how the average person is defining "pastoral". American Christians are some of the most easily offended Christians the world has seen. It's hard to say anything bad about anyone. I just wonder how the average congregation in America would react to the preaching of a Paul, let alone Jesus.

Nash Equilibrium said...

Great points. As someone who has experienced it firsthand, there is no worse pastor than one who doesn't give a flip about you personally. So the pastoral point is critical: Even more so in this internet age, people want to know how much you care before they'll care how much you know.

Frank Turk said...

Paul:

I gave the rudimentary definition of "pastoral" (as it relates here) in the post. I would think someone taking this advice would use that definition.

Frank Turk said...

Nash:

That last sentence always makes me cringe.

Nash Equilibrium said...

Me, too. It's a truth I often forget, myself.

Frank Turk said...

I don't actually believe the maxim. I think it lacks detail - it equivocates on the words "care" and "know" to sound clever without saying anything actionable.

Frank Turk said...

Maybe the right revision of the maxim is, "People will engage you to the degree and extent that you engage them."

Alex Philip said...

Dealing with bad reports in a fraternal manner assumes that the one being badly reported is a brother. If he's only posing as a brother then fraternity is not what is called for at that moment. I'm thinking of the difference between Peter's dealing with Simon the Sorcerer and Peter's dealing with Ananias and Sapphira.

Frank Turk said...

Suit Yourself. Until you are as equally-informed about the will of the Holy Spirit as Peter was, I think you're pretending to be someone you're not.

Alex Philip said...

Does examination of fruit require being as equally informed as Peter was? I'm thinking of Matthew 7:15, 16. I ask sincerely. Thanks!

Frank Turk said...

I think, for the average Christian, the answer to the question you are asking is "yes."

you are asking, as I understand it, whether or not we can apply the ecclesiological death sentence on them. I think non-elder non-pastor Christians is called to seek truth-based reconciliation with people falling off the wagon. Pastors/elders are called to take more drastic action toward the unrepentant.

if you are not asking the question I am answering, please re-ask.

Alex Philip said...

Thank you. Asking not so much about the "death sentence" as much as about the false prophet - sentence. Surely any believer with eyes, ears and a Bible should be able to come to that sentence.

Frank Turk said...

what should be done with that person who is a false prophet?

Chris H said...

Every week you should post that screaming dog video and say, " weeks ago, I showed you this video of the screaming dog," and then move on to your topic, quite regardless of whether the Screaming Dog has any relation to the topic.

Frank Turk said...

What I want to do is to lift the audio from that video and create Terry Gilliam-esque videos of the appropriate objects of derision howling like the lap dog from Dante's 7th circle.

Nash Equilibrium said...

I want to see that, Frank; it would make a divine comedy.

Alex Philip said...

1. Proverbially plug my ears.
2. Caution others to do the same.

swimthedeepend said...

When I think "pastoral" I think "shepherd." When the shepherd hears reports about a bear or a lion or a pack of wolves roaming the nearby countryside, what does he do? Gather the sheep someplace relatively safe, and stand watch at the entrance, staff and rod at the ready? Send a messenger to the next pasture over, to warn the other shepherds about the danger in turn? Take the initiative and go out looking for the predators to put a violent stop to them before they reach the sheep? I'm having a hard time picturing the shepherd inviting a wolf to Starbucks for a personal, face-to-face chitchat about his dining habits.

Frank Turk said...

SwimTheDeep:

Yeah, you know what? What if it's just a fellow who's made a mistake?

For example -- and I know this is hard to imagine, but let's just imagine it for a second -- what if I made a mistake?

Does it warrant the nuclear-level response you advocate here, or is there at least one intermediate step before mutually-assured imprecatory prayer?

Chris H said...

"What if I made a mistake?" If only more people asked themselves that question when reading the Bible... Me especially.

I try to give a person the benefit of the doubt when she does something I think is ill-advised/wrong/moronic/dangerous/etc. Part of that is actually asking the question of them: "Did you mean this? I ask because, if you meant it then there's a larger problem. If you did not, then you may want to revisit it and revise what you've said."

I have no problem asking the question publicly if the public person has said something publicly. I prefer to reach out in private if it's a private person who's said something private.

If the person does, in fact, mean this dangerous/foolish/wrong/etc thing, then I have no problem with a public comment in which I publicly state to the public that Such-and-Such is wrong/etc for the following reasons.

Otherwise, why should we even care if people are running around saying all sorts of horrible things about Christ, some of which might lead people to think they're saved when they're damned? I wouldn't want my silence on my conscience.

Or did I just poorly restate what Frank painstakingly crafted...

Frank Turk said...

at least you understood what said, Chris.

semijohn said...

A months ago I showed you this video of the screaming dog . . . now here's my recipe for red pepper alfredo.

E1970F said...

Ahh, Frank. Google told me that. This issue strikes hard at home. How do we differentiate between the wolf and the just 'wrong'? Especially when the wrong are aggressively and very adamantly wrong? And many of the sheep and a few of the 'shepherds' agree? I am relatively sure that none of the folks mentioned are maliciously wrong, or devouring the sheep, rather it may be a case of the very well-intentioned blind leading the blind. What does charity require? Should we bear with their faults in love, strongly oppose, or just leave?

Paul Reed said...

@Nash Equilibrium
"So the pastoral point is critical: Even more so in this internet age, people want to know how much you care before they'll care how much you know."

Only in that true in the case of pastors. Could you imagine saying that about any other occupation?

"Dr. A is board-certified surgeon, absolutely brilliant, and has a proven track record of the surgery you need."

"Okay, but does he really care about me? I'm leaning more toward Dr. B. I'm not even sure if Dr. B. went to med school, he's really warm and friendly and seems to really be concerned about me. I think I'll use him".

Robert said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Frank Turk said...

There are some people who just can't get the commenting thing right.

Let's work harder on that, people.

Robert said...

Good post, Frank. Thank you for the advice on handling bad reports.

Nash Equilibrium said...

Paul
That may be true of surgeons, but caring ("bedside manner") would at least be a good tie-breaker if you had to choose between two good ones.

In doctoring as well as in pastoring, caring can't make up for ineptitude.

swimthedeepend said...

I did not advocate a nuclear-level response.

Frank Turk said...

SwimTheDeep:

So you say. what does, "Take the initiative and go out looking for the predators to put a violent stop to them before they reach the sheep," mean?

swimthedeepend said...

It is one of four alternatives proposed for consideration. Relevant to the post, it means going to directly confront a false teacher with an eye to stopping the spiritual carnage before it reaches the shepherd's particular flock. What do you think the verb "advocate" means?

Paul Reed said...

@Nash Equilibrium

I suspect that if people actually believed in a literal hell, they'd be a lot less concerned with how warm and friendly their pastor was. But they aren't, because most pastors don't take it seriously.

Frank Turk said...

Paul:

It's a shame you don't account for Titus 1 in your pronouncements.

"For an overseer, as God's steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. "

Nash Equilibrium said...

Paul - Pastors primarily exist for the saved, not the unsaved. No saved person wants an uncaring pastor, because an uncaring pastor is essentially a CEO, and has a CEO-like attitude, spending his time with "key people" who can advance his organization, and not spending time with the rest of us. I have experienced the CEO-type firsthand. Since I am an executive in a large firm and report directly to a CEO, I have enough CEOs in my life, so don't need another at church!
That's why I think a shepherd who actually loves the saints makes all the difference in the world, versus one who is simply trying to advance his career.

Paul Reed said...

@Frank Turk

I didn't see "warm", "friendly", or "likable" in that passage (traits considered most important by American Christians), but if those are Biblically required characteristics for a pastor, then I ask this question: What could be more unfriendly and cruel than to know someone may be headed for eternal torment, and for us to do nothing?

Frank Turk said...

It's a shame, Paul, that you can't read. You'd learn a lot if you could.

You get the last word -- but mind your manners. Your intransigence is putting you hazardously-close to getting classified as spam.

Frank Turk said...

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Except for Pastors, apparently, according to Paul Reed.

Michael Coughlin said...

Just wondering, did you mean "excited?"

Everyone gets very exercised about being as "biblical" as the Bereans,

If so, great post. If not, other than my misunderstanding of the use of the word "exercised," great post!

Nash Equilibrium said...

"exercised" usually is synonymous with "agitated" over some controversy. (Before it became associated with athletics.)

Michael Coughlin said...

Then great post, it is!