Monday, January 23, 2012

Is Elephant Room 2 a stunt waiting to happen? is this possibly a rhetorical question?

Driscoll said we should reserve final judgment until, well, until he gets to moderate some kind of discussion with Jakes about whether Jakes is still a modalist.  Reserve final judgment?  Well, if we want to play the pious game only God gets to decide that, right, so that's what would have been good to point out. 

Now I'm going to admit to being cynical here.  Driscoll is simply not the only person to have ever heard that "maybe" Jakes has a modalistic view of the Trinity.  It's not as though the Christian Research Institute and other groups and researchers haven't discussed Jakes' background in Oneness Pentecostalism in the last, oh, twenty years. Of course if you spent your teens and earliest twenties connected to Pentecostalism like I did you might be more alert to this stuff than a jack Catholic would have been so it's understandable not everyone would remember this stuff even if they heard or read of it.

All the same, asking us by way of a website to withhold final judgment until Elephant Room 2 and that since Jesus died for us the least we could do is ... get on a plane?  Heh heh heh why I don't disagree with that.  That is, in fact, the least you could do because having your assistant book a flight so you can go somewhere isn't much, not in terms of mental effort.  If Driscoll plans to eviscerate Jakes for modalism then I won't feel bad for Jakes but there have been earlier opportunities to do this.  This does not have to be a theological boxing match on the order that Dead Men was supposed to be ten years ago.  By the way, the guy who made the case for infant baptism didn't do a bad job.  I'm not 100% committed to infant baptism nor am I against it.  Compared to modalism it's a lower level issues, isn't it?

So if by Elephant Room 2 Mark decides to hammer Jakes one of two things will happen.  Jakes gets shown up to be a modalist and Mark gets to be a theological superhero praised on the order of being some new Spurgeon or Athanasius (which might make him feel pretty good about playing an important role in global Christianity). Or if it turns out Jakes isn't all that modalist Mark gets to be there for the coming out party of Jakes' formal orthodoxy.  It's a can't lose scenario. 

Since Mars Hill's core appeal is ostensibly to young men and at a practical level to a lot of white young men should the fur fly and things get unfriendly Driscoll doesn't have a ton to lose, the predominantly white neo-Calvinists that are drawn to him anyway won't have to consider that there's more than just a theological dispute that may end up at the heart of an Elephant Room meeting of the minds.  Even from the earliest days some family and I wondered if the "counterculture" Driscoll kept talking about was only really a counterculture if you considered middle-class American white suburban life to be the ideal counterculture to Seattle.  I've never been sure that it really is, and I've never been sure that the so-called counterculture Driscoll has urged Christians to embrace is a counterculture at all.  It could be an edgier version of underwriting the American dream.

Not that the American dream is necessarily always, only, and ever a terrible thing but it's not the only way to live. There's plenty to be said for financial and social stability. It's okay to enjoy reading books and loving to read books. But as Halden Doerge put it a few years ago, there can come a point where collecting books and reading thousands of them can constitute its own form of consumerism.  Other bloggers more on top of things than I have remarked about how the internet has made a whole generation or two of us knowledge junkies. 

If knowledge puffs up we are a generation primed to be puffed up faster than any generation that has existed before us in the course of human history.This has nothing to do with choosing to be uninformed or informed and everything to do with whether or not we are vigilent to cultivate even a modicum of humility.  When we have the opportunity to consider the fact that of the writing of books there is no end and that knowledge always grows far beyond what we can grasp we can let that humble us and give us opportunities to be grateful to learn or we can consider ourselves more on top of things than the next person and live accordingly.  Too many self-appointed discern-o-bloggers tend to land in this second category, as do a few too many preachers.  When Paul resolved to know nothing except Christ and Him crucified we know that this did not mean he couldn't quote Greek poets or philosophers. 

Something along the lines of what Paul was getting at is that we should be willing to associate with the lowly.  There's the social, political, and ethnic implications of that.  It may be that in your neighborhood or my neighborhood there's only so many lowly folks you may run into but some of the apostolic admonition is more basic than telling you to hang out with the down and out.  We're admonished to be willing to hang with anyone and not just a pet group.  It'd be fun to hang out with writers and artists and musicians and intellectuals and talk about policy and music and literature and all that, but if I hang out with electricians and their kids and play board games that's fun, too.  The electrician with a wife and a few kids has a vast wealth of experience, wisdom, knowledge, and friendship I value as much  (or more, really) than the relationship I might have with folks in a blogging circle.  Both kinds of relationship are precious to me these days, all the more seeing as I'm about to end month 27 of a hunt for steady work. 

To the extent that it is possible the pursuit of knowledge as a way to serve others is a wonderful thing.  You generally will not fail to benefit from this quest yourself but if you can make yourself useful along the way it helps others.  If you pursue knowledge to establish yourself and your reputation you might do that but a weakness that can come with that is that somewhere along the way you may reveal that you got into this venture for yourself.  While it remains to be seen how things will go down in the Elephant Room 2 there's little of me that ultimately cares how it goes down.  Megachurch pastors talking about how they do their business will "probably" not effect my life as much as whether Christians here in the Puget Sound area are willing to help me network job leads or get some new glasses.

That is to say that there are treasures stored up in heaven and there are victories that have a more temporal value.  Jesus warned to not do your good works for the praise of men or you have received your reward.  Because plenty of people have taken issue with Jakes' theology in the past a venue like the Elephant Room may present a monstrous temptation to people who go to it and people who pay money to watch a bunch of guys ramble about things that won't effect their own lives. 

Does that mean theology doesn't matter?  I'd be the last person to say that seeing as I have relatives who are Eastern Orthodox, at Mars Hill, are not attending church, or are Pentecostal while I myself am Presbyterian.  There's pretty much no family event in my life, ever, where I'm not constantly considering what might be helpful or divisive in a family social event depending on what theology is or isn't brought up in casual conversation.  I used to want to discuss and debate these things all the time.  Obviously I still like to discuss and debate things a lot of the time.

I guess what I'm trying to articulate is that one of the things that I began to learn over ten years connected to Mars Hill is that there's a lot of stuff a person can be proud of being part of that turns out to be nothing more than the reinvention of the wheel.  This often comes because an impressionable guy in his twenties doesn't realize, per Ecclesiastes, that most of it all has been said and done before.  In the case of the core teachings of the Christian faith it has also been done better before, in most cases incomparably better. The most Driscoll will pull off is a Cliff Notes' version of Athanasius.

Best case scenario if Jakes is a modalist and needs to get thrashed it's been done before.  About all that we get out of it amounts to a pay-per-view dog and pony show.  A few rock star pastors get to feel good about having engaged with big issues that matter while not much changes in the trenches.  The thing about people who think wars are won by the air war is they know jack about actual military history.  Nobody has ever won a war through aerial bombardment.  Boots have to touch the ground and it's the boots touching the ground that get things done.  In fact if boots don't touch the ground one of the great axioms of 20th century conflict kicks in, "If it flies, it dies."  Why do you think we've switched so steadily to drones ... or were some of you folks talking about "air war" paying attention?

Which, ironically enough, may still totally fit!  The air war is increasingly being done by remote control, by gamer types whose abilities become relevant to a new approach to recon work. The knights of the air stuff won't go away completely but as air superiority technology has evolved in the last century (keep in mind that aerial combat is not even truly a century old yet, at least not until 2015) that the rules of engagement change even as the core tactics and concepts don't.  We are potentially arriving at a more remote control air power.  This not only true of the military that does actual fighting, it may also be true of evangelical/neo-Calvinist leadership.  The air war may increasingly be done by way of the ecclesiological equivalent of pilots sending out drones through whom they wage their part of the air war. 

An event like the Elephant Room 2 may just highlight this by anachronistically going back to the dueling pilots of a century ago.  What people may not realize about those old fighters like the Red Baron is they knew their role was fairly insignificant.  Want to know what the real point of the air war was? To control intelligence gathering operations and mapping procedures that guided the infantry and artillary movements in the ground war.  If war is what is pursued when diplomacy by other means has failed the air war is what happens when propaganda and information gathering have not quite done the job and you need to compensate for a possibility that the other team has made more progress than you want them to. 

By now I've probably stumbled upon my point by way of discovery, air wars do not win real wars and air wars in American Christendom are simply not the same as shared lives.  If the Elephant Room is air war it is perhaps simply guys talking about how the air war should be conducted on the assumption that, why yes, strategic bombing does change the course of military campaigns.  Except that it doesn't, not without things like army and navy folks going and getting things done. If Jakes is a modalist and Driscoll throws down will this impact how many church members Jakes has?  No.  If Jakes isn't a modalist and Driscoll says he's a brother in the Lord will this change anything?  It will be business as usual. Of course either way it will work out fine for Mark.  He's got nothing he can possibly lose.  But whether or not this does anything meaningful to advance the kingdom of God is not exactly an issue.  Ten years ago I would not have said anything this jaded but a lot can happen (or, perhaps as importantly, not happen) in ten years.

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