Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Pastor Matt's Olive Branch for Wolves, Part 2

Let’s now have a look at a few more words from Pastor Matt on the use of harsh language.

Debate like that was common in the first century, but it isn’t now, and in our culture!

That’s true. But that’s not the real question. The real question is whether the lower rate of occurrence is a good or a bad thing, and in what contexts. Pastor Matt seems to think we can never use harsh language, but he doesn’t explain the virtues of a total moratorium on it to any real depth. One of the reasons he gives is the old “we’re not Jesus” canard, which as we noted before, comes back to bite us on the butt. That’s also his best argument, as the rest of them show.

My own reply is that in modern culture, we are plagued with a lot of egocentric people who were told by their mothers that they were special, and never stopped believing it. In the parlance, such people need to be taken down a peg, because if they don’t, they’ll run roughshod over others. On the other hand, if we use Matt’s kid gloves, they’ll take it as verification that everyone is suitably impressed by them. Is this so hard to grasp?

I hope we are trying to bring people to God not just win an argument!

Yes, I hope so too. But Matt seems to think no one gets harsh unless they’re trying to “win an argument,” or are angry, or insecure. Why would he think that to be the case – unless it is the only reason HE would get harsh?

Paul said to be kind to enemies and heap coals on their head!

Kind of funny here, because Matt misuses Paul on this one the same way an atheist did who I confronted long ago:

We are told here that "Paul advocates what he calls love in order to defeat one's enemies" and thereby "undoes Christ's work and returns us to the pre-Christ era." [41-2] 

Really? As Klassen shows in his article "Coals of Fire: Sign of Repentance or Revenge?" (New Testament Studies 9, 1963, 337-50) the phrase in Proverbs is alluding to an Egyptian ritual of repentance in which the subject willingly carried embers in a bowl on their head as a public sign of repentance. It is unlikely that people in NT times were aware of this detail, but the Targum commentaries Paul would have been familiar with did still grasp that the person in Proverbs was a former enemy who had been turned into a friend.

All that said, Matt fails in the usual way to grasp the public-private dichotomy that existed in Paul’s world: These instructions, like “turn the other cheek,” were meant to be applied to private relationships, not public confrontations. 

Using harsh language to evangelize flies in the face of common sense!

So it would. But this isn’t “evangelism.” It’s tying down wolves so that you can clear the way to evangelize open minds that won’t be deceived by their lupine rhetoric. Again, I rather doubt Matt has ever dealt with anyone like “YHWHisaHomo” from YouTube. Nor has anyone he cites as a role model (like the churches of Keller and Chandler).

We’ll wrap this up next time.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Pastor Matt's Olive Branch for Wolves, Part 1

I’m activating the Forge today for a series on a somewhat oblivious character styled “Pastor Matt”. Though he has something of a concern for apologetics, he also has fallen for the usual failed perception that it’s only useful for feeding sheep, not disabling wolves. Like many such commentators he thinks the two functions are mutually exclusive.

In particular, our focus in this series will be on a post (and comments) in which Matt asks if Jesus would post on Facebook. I’d have to say no, because Jesus would likely go for far more efficient ways to spread his message to the widest number of people. In his day, that’s what he did – preaching at the geographical, cultural and social crossroads of the greatest empire of his day; recruiting apostles perfectly equipped to communicate his gospel to the greatest number of people in the most efficient way, and confronting the greatest powers of his day in the chief city of the day, such that he was publicly crucified at the time of one of the most prominent holidays when gossip of the day would ensure that news would get to as many as a million at once, and be spread across the Diaspora. No, Jesus wouldn’t bother with Facebook.  He’d get time on Fox and CNN, and not waste time with penny ante stuff like Facebook.

Which is not to say that we can’t, or shouldn’t. Not all of us are capable of speaking on a national stage, and the Body of Christ is equipped to do different things. The mistake many make when answering “WWJD?” is in assuming that the answer also limits our options. Jesus wouldn’t bother with Facebook for the same reason most CEOs or national leader wouldn’t do so: That wouldn’t be his job, because as our ingroup leader, he has to take the point in more appropriate and honorable venues. Which means saying Jesus wouldn’t get on Facebook doesn’t mean we don’t. 

Matt does get one thing right: In venues like Facebook, we are “often challenged with political questions that aren’t really questions.” As I’ve said in other posts here, fundy atheists and others on places like Facebook and YouTube are there to do the GPA Dance – goad, provoke, and annoy – not ask honest questions. Matt also rightly observes that,  "Some fire back at these challenges and justify their actions by pointing to the way Jesus shredded opponents like the Pharisees.” But then he fails miserably with the tired retort that, “none of us are Jesus.  All of us are incapable of looking into the heart of an ‘opponent’ and few of us are good at threading are way through hot button issues.”

This is a hilarious response for a couple of reasons. One is that Matt is himself judging those who use such confrontational methods in the same way he says we shouldn’t judge our own “Pharisees”. He’s reading our hearts and gauging our abilities, based on his own judgments, which he admits are incapable. And if they really are that incapable, then he’s without a basis to judge our own competence. 

The other reason is that, as Douglas Wilson has pointed out in The Serrated Edge, the same logic also dictates that we can’t help people the way Jesus did, because we’re not Jesus. Jesus knew the difference between a person who really needed to be healed so he could work, and the person who wanted to be healed so he could get back to committing highway robbery. We can’t read their hearts, so we can’t imitate Jesus.

The point as well: I have multiple years of experience dealing with the sort of people Matt refers to. Based on his own reports, he doesn’t. So Matt is certainly not competent to judge anyone else and tell them what to do. That’s especially obvious in that, in further comments, Matt relates such tactics to “the desire to fight back” and “pride.” It apparently never occurs to Matt that this reflects his own weaknesses, not those he criticizes. Ironically, that’s a manifestation of his own pride, and desire to fight back, against those he criticizes.

That leads to one good point Matt makes, which is that you shouldn’t go into such debates intellectually unarmed. Don’t debate evolution if you don’t know evolution. But at the same time, Matt himself doggedly makes a highly misinformed and presumptuous judgment against those who engage in Facebook and similar types of debate. 

I have news for Matt, though. If he thinks his 5-step system, which includes “affirm[ing] the person insulting you” and using “The Columbo Method,” will have any positive effects when dealing with the typical YouTube or Facebook atheist, he is sadly mistaken. Christian like Matt who use such tactics are nothing but fresh meat to users with usernames like, “YHWHisaHomo.” (Yes, that’s a real username from there.) They eagerly await such Christians, because they see it as a chance to spread more elephant dung. They’re not trying to “understand” anything. They’re trying to carve the living heart out of believers.

What Matt doesn’t get is that we don’t need “helpful ways of truly understanding what he or she is saying or questioning…” with such users. That is, unless Matt is so oblivious that he doesn’t easily understand such sentiments as, “F___ you and your biblegod!” especially when repeated dozens of times. Again, rather ironic that he feels competent to advise us on our behavior, but isn’t competent enough to judge that of someone like YHWHisaHomo.”

Next time we’ll look at some of Matt’s insensate comments in reply to criticisms of his post.