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02 May '11

Uncivil discourse and professional heresy hunters

Posted by T.J. Addington in The heart, theology
The level of discourse in the public arena, whether in Washington or Madison or town hall meetings has become distressingly low. Talking heads on television do nothing to raise either good discourse, or civility either.

I expect this in the public arena but am distressed by the same lack of gracious discourse in the Christian arena. Take for instance, the many websites and numerous heresy charges against Rick Warren. It is not infrequent that another long missive appears in my in box with new charges of false teaching or character assassination by proxy since he is friends with people who don't have impeccable theology by the standards of the writer. The level of invective and anger is high while the biblical evidence of the charges is beyond low. These folks specialize in taking quotes out of context and calling foul when a careful reading would indicate that the charge has nothing to do with reality. Even if the charges were true (which I don't for a moment believe) the way the message is delivered is "behavioral heresy" as it does not reflect the gracious attitudes of believers. Jesus was full of grace and truth. 

I once was in a meeting where the litmus test was whether I endorsed The Purpose Driven Church (If I did I was in the heretical and suspect camp). I looked at the individual who asked the question and said, "few churches have had the impact that Saddleback has had and the key is that they have a purpose and stick to their purpose. How does your church compare?" That of course was the irony of the question. These are people who like to divide people into groups: those that are right and those that are wrong. They define the rules, see no room for a different way of looking at the issue and are uncivil in their discussions.


Even where robust dialogue must take place (Rob Bell), there is no need to engage in character assassination. It is possible to explore the issues from a biblical perspective while preserving the dignity of the author. I love reading N.T. Wright, for instance and would not agree with all of his conclusions but would never attack his character because I disagree. 


It would be sad to get to heaven and realize that we had split theological hairs so closely that we had done harm to God's people and God's kingdom. There are clearly heretical positions and snake salesmen (think late night TV) peddling themselves. But, there are also many professional critics looking for demons behind many good people and ministries. These are the very endless arguments that Paul warns Timothy to avoid in his letters to him.

My radar goes up when I hear from black and white folks for whom there is no theological gray, who are quick to judge others (see my blog on self righteous), who join groups who look for "false teaching" and seem to find it even among mainstream leaders and whose attitudes do not reflect the graciousness of Christ. 

If the mark of a believer is love, all of our discourse must be marked by civility and love. And we ought to be very careful before we throw stones at fellow believers or their beliefs. Orthodoxy is a wide tent and much of the stone throwing has  nothing to do with orthodoxy but rather with personal preferences or a narrow reading of theology.