20 September 2013

Neither disdain nor slavish acceptance

From 2006 to 2012, PyroManiacs turned out almost-daily updates from the Post-Evangelical wasteland -- usually to the fear and loathing of more-polite and more-irenic bloggers and readers. The results lurk in the archives of this blog in spite of the hope of many that Google will "accidentally" swallow these words and pictures whole.

This feature enters the murky depths of the archives to fish out the classic hits from the golden age of internet drubbings.

The following except was written by Dan back in November 2006. Dan warned against opposite dangers with respect to how we treat those of great reputation.

As usual, the comments are closed. 
In our attitude towards Great Men, towards Big Names, we walk a narrow plank. Chasms of folly yawn on either side.

On the one side is arrogant presumption...Each spiritual Narcissus disqualifies himself as a Bible teacher by overlooking a great deal of Scripture. Paul said that he could serve as the Corinthians' example (1 Corinthians 11:1), a thought he echoed elsewhere (cf. 4:16; also Philippians 3:17; 4:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:9). He enjoined his pastoral apprentices to live exemplary lives as well (1 Timothy 4:12; Titus 2:7), so that others could see their example, and gain thereby.

Such vain pretenders know nothing of the godly wisdom which loves those who reprove and educate him (Proverbs 9:8b, 9), loves instruction (12:1), and shows especial and tangible appreciation for teachers (Galatians 6:6; 1 Timothy 5:17).

A wise believer is glad to find models and instructors who, by word or example, point us to Christ. He doesn't find it humiliating, but praises the Lord Jesus for the gift (cf. Ephesians 4:11-12).

In all of these, the apostle Paul is setting high value on living, breathing examples. But I sympathize to a large degree with those who feel that "the best theologian is a dead theologian"—simply from the vantage point that (A) we know the whole course of the man's life (i.e. did he suffer shipwreck?), and (B) we know his abiding influence, if any. This perspective has explicit Scriptural backing as well (cf. Hebrews 11; 12:1a; 13:7).

But there is a danger on the other side as well, the "I am of Paul" side.

Some seem more temperamentally prone to it than others. These folks feel the lunar tide pull of strong personalities, present and deceased. Big-name preachers, teachers, writers, living and dead, functionally become their Canon. In seminary, you hear young preacherlets sounding off, and you can almost tell by their style who their pulpit idols are.

Or these folks wed themselves to a dead theologian, or a school of dead theologians. These worthies may make very fine instructors, but they are very poor gods. The devotees may be about as right as their exemplar—but no righter. If Right Hon. Rev. Dr. So-and-such didn't see it, then by gum they're not going to see it, either. They won't finger a rosary with a Romanist, but they're equally wed to tradition, and equally blinded to portions of the Bible. Just a different tradition, and different portions.

Here's a symptom. Try to talk Bible with such an one. Does he engage the text? Not directly. No, he quotes Dr. So-and-such, or he plucks an allusion from the life of Pastor Thingummy. Instead of instructors and guides, these revered exemplars become albatrosses, coral reefs, or excuses.


Does this actually honor our departed instructors? Think of Whitefield and Wesley on election, or Zwingli and Luther on the Lord's Supper, or Spurgeon and Murray on baptism, or Allis and Feinberg on eschatology. Think it through. It stands to reason, that on arrival in the Lord's presence, at least one of each of those pairs did the heavenly equivalent of slapping his forehead, and letting forth with a resounding "D'oh!" At least one of each of those pairs instantly and painfully wished he'd seen what he missed on earth—and wished he had not taught what he taught.


It's a hard balance to strike. Admire godly examples, past and present. Learn from them. Respect them.

But don't chain yourself to them. And don't hide behind them as an excuse for not engaging the text of Scripture.