Sunday, April 22, 2018

Jake Meador on the crisis of Christian discipline has half as many categories as seem germane to our moment.

Among a strata of American and British Reformed thinkers ... there's been a crisis of or about church discipline for about twenty years. 

Over at Mere Orthodoxy Jake Meador has written about the crisis of Christian discipline. Much of what he has written is stuff that, if you're familiar with Mere Orthodoxy already, I probably don't have to really unpack or explain.  I'd rather not cover ground Meador covers well enough himself. 

That said, he lists a mere three categories ...

Second, the obvious failures of our existing institutions raises further questions about discipline as it relates to spiritual and theological formation and as it applies to major institutions.

We can see the failure of evangelical institutions under three main headings.
§  Sexual Failings
§  Race-related Failings
§  Dogmatic Failings
Just those three?  I’d say that’s missing a fourth and fifth and sixth category.  These failings do not seem any less significant, though I hardly want the above three categories to be treated lightly, either.
4 Financial failings
5 Intellectual failings
6 Misuse of power (either in terms of application of acquisition)

Not coincidentally these three additional categories are available from consideration for how things went down at the late Mars Hill Church.

FINANCIAL ISSUES-who gets how much for what?

For those who are not already familiar with the late Mars Hill a financial controversy was over the transparency and purpose of Mars Hill Global.  When Mark Driscoll announced Mars Hill Global in 2009 it was clearly a fundraising approach, inviting any and all who were consumers of Mars Hill products of ministry to financially support the expansion of the Mars Hill brand. If you listened to podcasts and sent money in that would go to support Mars Hill's global expansion.  How that would be implemented was not really a question. During the Sutton Turner era, however, more Global fundraising was done with an eye toward promoting foreign missions and resource distribution yet the distribution in practice had not changed.  One of the crises associated with Mars Hill Global concerned questions about the ethics and clarity of using images of kids in Africa to raise money for Mars Hill Global if it turned out that only a fraction of the monies raised were ever actually going to overseas activities. 

While those who did and would defend Mars Hill Global as having been entirely above board have protested that everyone who gave knew their money was going to get used where ever Mars Hill leadership thought it was needed that's not exactly the point of the objections.  Non-profits have some expectations and requirements that fundraising activities have something observable to do with the means of raising.  The gap between observable means and applied ends made Mars Hill Global a controversy because some, even many people, felt that the use of African children to raise money for expansion that would involve getting real estate in the state of Washington was not of a piece with African children.  Had the Mars Hill elders made films petitioning people to give to Mars Hill Global so that Mars Hill could land some sweet real estate in Bellevue or Tacoma or Spokane would that have been as powerful a marketing tool as using African children?  No, perhaps, but it would have arguably been more honest fundraising.

Then there was, of course, the Result Source controversy in which it was revealed that Mars Hill Church contracted a company to secure a number 1 spot on the New York Times bestseller list for Real Marriage. Not too much needs to be said about that by now.

On the whole, the financial controversies of Mars Hill could be summarized as concerns about the fiscal competency and viability of the financial practices of the church.  When I stopped being a member about 2008 my concern was the church was committed to an expansionist policy that was not going to be fiscally solvent in the long run.  I was also not convinced Mars Hill leadership was competent enough of transparent enough to be trusted.  So that's a sliver of my own story in connection to this whole category.   Where your treasure is your heart will be also and arguably way, way too many celebrity Christians are not transparent about how much treasure they have here and now or about where their hearts might be with these earthly treasures. 

Which, I suppose, gets me to another controversy within the culture of Mars Hill.  When Driscoll kept talking about the challenges of urban ministry in Seattle it was not a small deal that it turned out he had been living in Woodway for a year or two, an expensive city to live in that wasn't even in King County.  A Mark Driscoll who could afford to live in Woodway who still hectored members about needing to give more sacrificially was trying to avoid transparency about his own location.  Sure, he cited safety reasons but that's not entirely separable from his public persona (hint, William Wallace II).

INTELLECTUAL ISSUES-wanting to be taken seriously as thinkers using second and third-hand thoughts (without always giving credit where it's due)

As for intellectual issues, Driscoll's plagiarism controversy alone should suffice for that but I'm surprised how many evangelicals and socially conservative Christians don't regard the intellectual property issue with Driscoll as ultimately salient.  But Driscoll is not even the only celebrity Christian for whom intellectual integrity by way of intellectual property could be a concern.  It's not as though Doug Wilson and Randy Booth didn't have a failure of scholarship with A Justice Primer.  Comparing the plagiarism controversies of Mark Driscoll and Doug Wilson was something we looked at over here.

To avoid rehashing a lot of old material, Doug Wilson may be a grandstanding soapboxing hack in a way similar to Mark Driscoll, but Wilson has gone a long time without singularly alienating his own support base.  That he had to retract A Justice Primer after it was shown to be riddled with plagiarism didn't hurt his intra-group reputation, apparently.  The irony that a book that was praised by the likes of Kevin DeYoung as relevant to the question of justice in the age of the watchdog blog was retracted after being shown to be full of plagiarism by a watchdog blog of sorts would be hard to overstate.

To the extent that evangelicals may ask where the Christian intellectuals are the answer to that may be there won't be any for as long as Christians assume that the kinds of plagiarism scandals that surrounded Mark Driscoll and Doug Wilson are not indicative of intellectual and moral failure.  If you think that Doug Wilson made a couple of boo boos but that he's basically defensible in the wake of retracting A Justice Primer then you're most likely not the kind of person who care enough about scholarship to become an intellectual, Christian or otherwise. 

But this is not just a failure of individuals, it's also a failure of industries.  The more I waded through Real Marriage and the more I and Warren Throckmorton and others went through the plagiarism issues with Driscoll the more I realized that without publishers to not be bothered to flag this stuff down before publication the plagiarism controversy as it played out with Mark Driscoll simply could not have happened.

The young, restless and Reformed crowd and the neo-Calvinist, new Calvinist crowd have become so insular overall that the odds that they can introduce any intellectual heft seems ... remote.  The insularity of the neo-Calvinist scene is something I've written about before and I'm not even the only person who's taken this up.  But ...

As for misuse of power ... there's a litany of blog posts with the tag "governance" that you could consult.  Misuse in the accumulation and application of power will basically get you to all the aforementioned categories of sin.
It’s not that Meador’s wrong to highlight the first three because those are all important.  An evangelicalism that confronts sexual sin, racial animosity and false doctrine will also have to confront financial abuses, scholarly incompetence and dishonesty and the power brokering that so often is associated with defending those entrenched habits of mind and heart.  Meador's list of failings is both sexy and obvious, the stuff that's fairly easy to say publicly we need to tackle because we do, but what if we propose that those kinds of sins are the acne that is a reflection of underlying skin issue that led to the acne?  Skin-deep analogy, I suppose, but it's what I have at the moment.  Meador's mere three categories could look like a desire that the zits go away without addressing the skin condition. 

Now, of course, Meador would likely argue that if we had real church discipline that had teeth we really could deal with the underlying issues.  Yes, I suppose we could.  But that's also why I'm proposing the additional three categories that weren't in his litany.  Jesus, as I'm sure Meador knows, is someone progressives have described as being more confrontational about the acquisition and use of money and power more than about sexuality.  There's something to be said for that even if the way progressives tend to handle things is itself also dubious.  The Hybels situation suggests the possibility that the egalitarian and complementarian divide that Anglo-American Christians fight over is a secondary or even tertiary concern.  If we're fighting over whether rock star pastors should be complementarian or egalitarian rather than rejecting the ethos and praxis of the rock star pastor then we've already lost the more significant battle.  Sometimes I get the impression that when evangelicals ask where the Christian intellectuals are too many of them mean they wonder why we don't have more rock star pastors.  They don't put the question that directly, of course, but a perceived crisis of a lack of individuals we could call "intellectual" seems denotative and connotative of rock star rather than scholar. 

I have been feeling for the last five years that both the religious left and the religious right in Anglo-American scholarship, as well as the critical theory scene, too, have all reached points where the way to describe them is ... insufficiently dialectical. ;)  The insularity of the neo-Calvinist scene or new Calvinist scene seems to be such that they're never actually going to matter but they can certainly hope that they will. 



Cal of Chelcice said...

The quest for the high octane public intellectual really begs the question, presupposing there's a clear cut idea of public arena. Hence the rock-star intellectual is what is imagined. And as Alastair had pointed out, those past evangelical intellectual leaders held posts in national intellectual machines (universities and the like). None of this has to do with the caliber of intellect, only its currents. Origen was probably one of the most brilliant intellects in the whole history of the Church (pioneering several fields of inquiry and engagement), and who, exactly, was he writing for or talking to? By the Edict of Milan (over 100 years after Origen) Christians were still only 20~% of the Empire, and mostly concentrated in the East. Origen engaged with other intellects, but I think he was generally unknown in imperial intellectual hubs like Athens or Alexandria. He wrote to/for Christians and to/for churches. I don't think insularity is a problem, as long as it accompanies a capacious mind for interaction with all sorts of things. You won't conquer the "culture", but who cares?

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

My own impression over the last twenty years has been that the Christians who ended up being historically influential spoke chiefly and primarily to fellow Christians but addressed issues that societies at large considered actually salient problems. The good news has never been "we can and/or should be running things" but "Christ is risen and here are the implications and consequences we should see in the lives of those of you who profess to love Him."

So I agree that the insularity in and of itself isn't the problem. J. S. Bach reportedly was never able to travel more than sixty miles from his birthplace for the majority of his life and yet, clearly, his music has been among the most influential and significant in the Western tradition. Haydn, another of my favorites, was in what would now be regarded as a minor region in the Czech republic if memory serves, but he influenced Mozart and Beethoven. These are people who were not necessarily seeking to be world-changing influences, though.

As I'm thinking about it there's a line that Bruce Timm and Paul Dini said that in the film industry on TV the joke is you never actually win the Emmy by going for the Emmy. They didn't think they'd get an Emmy for something like "Heart of Ice" but were happily surprised to get it. In all sorts of ways the YRR/neo-Calvinist scene is constantly and conspicuously "going for the Emmy."