Well I don’t know if that is an actual apologetic category, but as I’ve watched internet discussions ignite over John MacArthur’s Strange Fire conference and its polemics against Charismatics, I’ve been reflecting more broadly on this approach of using a conference platform as a polemic against certain teaching. And in this case, its against a broad swatch of folks who identify as Charismatic, some of whom are genuinely orthodox. Rightfully, they are really hurt by this approach. In my opinion, the approach is problematic more so than the content, which I pretty much agree with. It’s not so much that there is some strange doctrine and practice that needs to be addressed. For the abuses on the fringe that are deceiving a lot of people, yes absolutely. And the pushback I’ve heard validating this kind of approach is that false teaching needs to be called out.
To be fair, I’ve engaged in this myself when shai linne released Fal$e Teacher$. He called some prosperity/WoF folks out specifically by name. It was bold but got much support from people who agreed with him. And I did, so I chimed in here and pepper my blog from time to time with the intent to demonstrate that there is some teaching a lot of Christians are claiming as truth, is actually non-Christian.
But there’s a question that keeps popping up in my mind – are the ones who really need to hear this listening? You can blast false and distorted teaching all day, calling out its teachers. But those who adhere to the teaching are generally convinced of its truth. And I couldn’t help but think that this tactic probably has the opposite affect. The more you call out names and movements, the more its followers will probably tune out. What’s left is raising a megaphone to people who already agree with you. How fruitful is that, especially when unnecessary division has occurred because of failure to make proper distinctions?
It made me think of my own theological conversion 7 1/2 years ago when I moved away from the Charismatic movement and WoF philosophies. It was not because some popular evangelical personality got on a platform and condemned the teaching. In fact, I recall at one point I had stopped listening to Hank Hanegraff (that was then, don’t judge me) for about a year, simply because he took a stand against TD Jakes, of whom I was a big fan. I couldn’t believe this man was talking such nonsense about Jakes, that he was teaching falsely. Who was he? Obviously somebody without the Spirit. Click! Tata Hank.
You see how that goes?
No, it was not because of calling out apologetics because clearly that didn’t work. Rather, the Lord used one individual who started challenging me in conversations whenever I got on my experiential phenomenon soapbox. He wanted me to back up strange philosophies with Scripture. If I could actually find a verse or passage that I thought backed it up (sometimes I couldn’t even though I was so convinced I knew the Bible!), I was usually not considering the context of the passage within the point of whatever the author was making or literary genre. But more importantly, it was because I didn’t correlate these isolated tidbits with the overarching theme of redemption accomplished in the Son and how everything prior pointed to Him instead of examples for us to follow.
My point should be obvious by now. It wasn’t the calling out from a platform, but one dear saint working patiently and prayerfully with me, helping me to discover important connections that I was not making.
But more importantly, it was because of the Spirit’s work that illuminated by understanding. Could that happen with a calling out platform? Well, maybe. But my experience of my own shift as well as observations that I’m making from reactions against MacArthur’s tactics, is that folks that don’t agree with him anyway are repelled. They’ve tuned out.
If I’m really honest, I’d have to say I get turned off even with people I do agree with. Every time someone brings up a theologian/pastor/teacher that they have a problem with and don’t miss an opportunity to deride that person and his or her teaching. Or bring up the same polemics of the same doctrine over and over and over. Ack! Its a turn off and makes me tune out. How much more for those who are already convinced that the person is wrong anyway?
Now I can hear the retort of addressing false teaching. After all, doesn’t the New Testament give us specific instruction to not tolerate strange teaching? Well yes, but I believe that the ones to whom this was directed were those who had some governance over the church. In other words, shepherds must protect their sheep from strange teaching. But last I checked there aren’t any Protestant popes and web-site or conference authority chairs by which an evangelical leader has this charge. Internet streams and conference sessions is not your flock.
So I don’t know. all this makes me wonder if some approach modification might be in order…and maybe a better perspective on who really changes hearts regarding truth.