21 August 2014

A right way and a wrong way to be "careful"

by Dan Phillips

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 excerpt was written by Dan back in February 2012. He contrasted good ways and bad ways of being "careful" (or "nuanced" or "helpful") in our speaking and writing.

As usual, the comments are closed.
"Careful" has become a shudder-inducing word for me. Like "gay." In fact, very like "gay."

That's too bad, because it's a really good word in itself (like "gay"!; I'm going to stop saying that). It's a great word, in fact. Your kids are going on a hike, or to play touch football, or to the shooting range. "Be careful," you say. Right. Or I was chatting with a lady police officer the other day, and parted with "You be careful" and a prayer for her safety.

But lately the word has joined "nuanced" and "helpful" and "thoughtful" to give me the shudders. I don't think any of the words are irredeemable. But what I do fear is that all those words show up frequently in the writing of elites who think God's truth and damning error are nothing really to "get het up about," and certainly not worth passion or bareknuckled, plain-spoken, frontal, clear, and — let's just say it — masculine rhetoric. Not worth risking angering anyone, or being perceived as angry.

Isn't it good to be "careful"? To be sure, "careful" is a necessary and important adjective in many contexts. Don't we want to make careful distinctions between trinitarianism and tritheism,  between the Biblical gospel and libertinism, between inerrancy and bibliolatry, between elder leadership and totalitarian thralldom, and a hundred other things? If we preach on prophecy, don't we want to be careful, sticking to the text and avoiding wild conclusions and leaps or cowardly equivocations?

Of course we do. But as used in those contexts, "careful" means factual, warranted, clear-cut, concise, unambiguous, forceful. It is a servant of truth, an enhancer of truth. It serves to make the truth of (say) the Trinity and the Gospel clearer and more obviously distinct from error and false teaching.

So when is it bad? I think elites are sometimes — and I want to be careful here, haha — using the word as a code-word for "dainty" or "harmless" or "toothless." I think they are using it sometimes to mean "nobody (and no ruinous error) actually got hurt." I think they are using it to mean "false teaching and particularly its purveyors are treated with kid gloves." I think they mean "false teachers are treated with great respect." I think they mean "false teaching is described, but inoffensively." I think they mean "nobody is made to feel too bad about perpetrating or embracing heresy or ruinous idiocy."

Plain enough?

See, that paragraph is an example. It was plain, wasn't it? It also had necessary qualifiers and distinctives, didn't it? It wasn't unnecessarily inflammatory, was it? Isn't that being careful, in the best sense?

But no elite is likely to link to this as a "careful" post — any more than they ever do to any of my posts, whether they're about atonement in Proverbs or repentance in a false teacher or anything else.

Why? Truth is, I don't really fully know. And I am also pretty sure (being honest, not sugar-coating) that my very real shortcomings, which I'm trying to overcome but am still a work-in-progress, haven't helped.

But I've come to think that it's partly because they are deeply, deeply concerned that no one feel too bad or get too worked up about soul-damning or otherwise ruinous false teaching. Perhaps we might reluctantly be forced to conclude that some course or doctrine is unadvisable, but we don't want anyone too upset, and we want to protect the respectability of apostates and false teachers and their enablers. (For instance, we won't apply those labels; that wouldn't be careful.)

The question I think we are left with is: which best serves Christ and His church? Which more effectively alarms sheep against wolves, encouraging and admonishing and instructing the former while exposing and refuting and repelling the latter?