Wednesday, December 15, 2010

How Wrong is Right Writing?

Marcus and Joni Lamb.

Chuck Colson.

Bill Hybels.

And, most recently, even Tim Keller, preacher extraordinaire from Redeemer Presbyterian in my hometown.

All famous Christians, and with the possible exception of the Lambs, revered evangelicals as well. Since the Lambs tilt heavily to the Pentecostal side, their street cred in orthodox Christian circles is decidedly thin.

But still, these are all leaders who have strong reputations both inside and outside the religious world. And people for whom I should hold careful respect.

Which I do - mostly. Even for the Lambs, despite much of their exasperatingly carnal programming, and for Hybels, one of the instigators of the severely flawed seeker movement. Not only do I not wish ill on any of them, I trust that as they yield their lives and ministries to Christ, He will be able to use them as well as any of us lesser Christians who want to serve Him. I also am regularly convicted of the insufficiency of my grace towards them, not only when I write about them, but regarding Christian leaders in general. Indeed, it's almost too easy to criticize and complain instead of edify and encourage.

Yet I don't believe any of us are called to sit idly by when we see fellow believers doing things - particularly in the public realm - that do not benefit the cause of Christ. To the extent that these Christian leaders privately have accountability partners holding their feet to the fire, I'd like to think that perhaps what you and I hear about them in the media is perhaps a less favorable account of what's really going on.

R - E - S - P - E - C - T

I take great care to not criticize fellow believers when the news we see depends more on hearsay than first-person accounts. Therefore, if you examine what I've written about these people, you will note that virtually all of what I discuss is based on provable facts.

In Colson's case, and yesterday for Keller, for example, I quote each man verbatim. While discussing the Lamb's recent predicament, I paraphrased from quotes on their website, as well as those given by one of the plaintiff's lawyers to the media. For Hybels, however, I have to admit that much of my opinion was formed when I worked in a seeker church modeled after his, and, even though I'm not a journalist for an international agency, I feel I must protect my sources.

Still, if anybody has any issue with any fact - and even any personal conclusion of mine - regarding any of these leaders, truth will come to the surface like oil in water.

Contrary to what you might think, I do not enjoy writing things that could be considered negative about people like Keller, Colson, or even the Lambs. Yesterday's essay on Keller wore me out. But I have to also confess that some of what I write just flows from my fingers as I type away on my keypad. It's not necessarily premeditated, or mentally chewed-over, as I analyze ways to organize my essays. Might these instances be inspired writing, perhaps?

Ha - I wouldn't be so foolish and vain - or heretical - to suppose anything I write is divine revelation. But sometimes I wonder if the Lord doesn't loosen my brain cells to let certain drops of conviction drip from my head and onto my laptop.

That's What It Means to Me

I suspect that many evangelicals have become so busy with work, family, and life in general that while we understand the need to be discerning and cautious with the religious material we consume, we simply feel pressured to prioritize other things higher on our daily to-do lists. We don't have time to analyze the sheer volume of Christian-themed data being generated.

Some people just don't like to complain. After all, it's such a negative vibe. Others would say that I should just lighten up, that all the bad stuff will come out in the wash. Still others may suspect I'm jealous, or an intrinsically bitter person. I must get my jollies over seeing other people fall.

Years ago, my boss at the time, who is a believer, was preparing to enter a business deal with a person who had already tricked him once. They wanted to develop a piece of property that used to be a garage. However, while acknowledging I'm not an expert, I pointed out that the estimates for their project seemed awfully low, considering the environmental remediation for which they would be responsible.

My boss pulled me aside with a flash of anger in his eyes, and informed me that I was too skeptical and negative to have a valid opinion. I always saw the bad; never the good. My judgmental spirit was corrosive and intrinsically inferior to the Christian brotherhood I was supposed to share with this partner, who also claimed to be saved. Therefore, I was to keep quiet and keep out of this project.

So I did. And to my dismay, not only was I right about the remediation, but the "partner" eventually turned around and tried to sue my boss for control of the project.

Sock It to Me

Even though I was right, I never taunted, "I told you so." I never said a word. I didn't want to be right. I simply was far enough removed from the heady discussions about the project to have a more objective perspective. That's what I hope to provide with my essays.

Even though I try to be objective, however, I've learned many people don't like it. They're mostly dismissive of objectivity in the form of non-affirmative questions or observations. It's easy to assume that if I'm not crazy mad in love with you or your idea, I'm simply being negative and unsupportive.

Why can't people treat questions as what they are: interrogative statements? Asking questions doesn't mean YOU'RE stupid or wrong; it means I don't understand your position. If anything, people who ask questions or voice observations are the weak ones; oftentimes, we're revealing our inability to appreciate the scope of a situation. If you don't like the tone with which I ask a question, that's one thing; but don't snub me just for asking the question.

Trust is like ice, isnt' it? You need to know how thick it is before you turn loose of your suspicions and stop your questioning. None of us are perfect, and some of us are even worse than imperfect. Maybe it's the New Yorker in me, but I have learned to take very little at face value. I don't care how famous you are, or what kind of degrees you have. If something doesn't make sense to me, I usually like to figure out why. Call it being nosey, curious, or even skeptical. Just don't accuse me of wanting you to fail.

Not that I'm perfect, either. And I invite you to call me out when you think I'm wrong. I hope, though, you'll be as gracious to me as I've tried to be.

After all, I hope to be honoring God by what I say. And write.

Much dreaming and many words are meaningless. Therefore stand in awe of God.
- Ecclesiastes 5:7
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