Why All this Reformed Friendly Fire is Getting Old

Erik Raymond —  January 28, 2011

I don’t have the time to follow the blow by blow of what is going on all over contemporary Evangelicalism. I try to stay informed though. I do.

However, now it is not only my time that is lacking but also my stomach.

Every time I turn around it seems like someone is going after someone else. I am talking about even within the camp of those who are soteriologically reformed. The friendly fire is getting old.

The off hand remarks, open criticism, and open letters seem to flood my blog and twitter feeds. Then there is the reaction. And then the reaction. And so forth.

This makes me wonder about what people really think and talk about. Do all of us gospel-centered, Christ-centered guys just walk around meditating on who we can take shots at, who is wrong, and who disagrees with us?

I know it is always fashionable to pummel the doctrinally uncordinated church growth guys for integrating business practices in their philosophies of ministry, but, take it from a guy who worked in a corporate environment for awhile, many of you evangelicals who like to point the finger so much have the corporate look themselves.

This is what I mean. If you work in a business environment, in particular a Fortune 500 type company, you have this undercurrent of attack. People are always plotting, scheming and ruining other people. Nobody is safe. Everyone has a target on them. The one thing that is consistent: everybody talks about everybody else. And what is the result? Nobody talks about their own weakness. This is because of fear of vulnrability.

You know what else doesn’t get talked about? –the strength of their product.

From my seat this is what I hate about what I see and hear. The guys that criticize are always so right and they always talk about everyone else and the gospel (product-if you will) gets muffled.

This is not the environment for a gospel explosion. It is not healthy to have the posture of concealing our weaknesses while over-stating and sometimes falsely caricaturizing others’. The gospel gets benched while the players brawl.

Maybe the gospel is not as popular as we all think?

I wonder how different things would be if we really thought deeply about Jesus. By this I don’t mean just to get some fresh hollow-point argumentation to blast someone with. Instead I mean the deep, refreshing, heart stirring, pride smashing, contemplation of the gospel. Spurgeon talked about dying our hearts with the gospel. I think this is good. What would we look like if we truly marinated in the gospel?

My fear is that we don’t. A movement that is supposed to be caught up in the gospel walks and talks and sounds like, well, something else.

As I was thinking about this yesterday I read Justin Taylor’s blog. His post was timely reminder amid my frustrations…

When Christians meet, they talk to each other about their Christian work and Christian interests, their Christian acquaintances, the state of the churches, and the problems of theology—but rarely of their daily experience of God.

Modern Christian books and magazines contain much about Christian doctrine, Christian standards, problems of Christian conduct, techniques of Christian service—but little about the inner realities of fellowship with God. Our sermons contain much sound doctrine—but little relating to the converse between the soul and the Saviour.

We do not spend much time, alone or together, in dwelling on the wonder of the fact that God and sinners have communion at all; no, we just take that for granted, and give our minds to other matters.

Thus we make it plain that communion with God is a small thing to us.

But how different were the Puritans! The whole aim of their ‘practical and experimental’ preaching and writing was to explore the reaches of the doctrine and practice of man’s communion with God.

—J. I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness (Crossway, 1994), p. 215 (chapter 12).

So many of you brothers have so much to say. You are more gifted and have far more exposure than the rest of us. So, here’s a plea: serve us and one another by promoting the gospel. Use your ‘powers’ to drive yourself and others into the precious things of God. I think we all would be better for it.

Erik Raymond

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Erik has been writing at Ordinary Pastor since 2006. He lives in Omaha with his wife and kids while pastoring at Emmaus Bible Church. Follow regular updates on Twitter at www.twitter.com/erikraymond

28 responses to Why All this Reformed Friendly Fire is Getting Old

  1. Thanks for this Erik. Good to remember the fight and the passions we need to have.

    • Clyde, it is always good to hear from you and get your perspective. Your thoughtfulness and input last week was helpful. We should connect in India again!

  2. Amen, Erik. I totally agree with you. Unfortunately, and I hope that I’m wrong, but you will probably now be targeted by these types who are always right about everything and anyone who disagrees with them is whittled away or verbally assaulted and then banned from commenting.

    May we find our joy in being HIS, instead of being “right”.

  3. Amen.

    Best policy I find is to simply ignore it and try and model a different style.

    “doctrinally uncordinated church growth guys”… wow.

  4. Great post, Erik. I share your sentiments 100% I truly hope you’re wrong about the post not getting much attention; what you said needs to be heard and heeded. Thank you.

  5. I have been thinking the same thing. We cripple the proclamation of the gospel when we spend so much time trying to cripple fellow soldiers. I have been guilty of this myself at times.

    • As have I (been guilty). It just seems like it’s all the time now.

      In the nearly 5 years of this blog the posts that got (and still get) the most traffic are the controversial ones. There is very little attention given to the day to day devotional type writing. I think people like writing and talking about themselves. And if that is indicative of the tone of a movement, then it’s not very gospel-centric.

  6. Thanks Erik, I was thinking the same thing this week. It often seems that knowledge and being right is more important to Christians than holiness.

    • That’s a hard pill to swallow, but it may be true.

      btw, it was good to see you the other night. your kids are getting so big. time flies.

  7. A helpful reminder Erik.

    I think it is vital that we have robust discussion about doctrines other than soteriology so iron can sharpen iron. The real questions in my mind is in what forum this should take place, and how it should be undertaken to not drown out the Gospel proclamation.

    I’m not sure if the church has really worked through these questions fully in light of new media and the Internet.

    • I am all for robust discussions about doctrines. I engage in them myself. My concern is tone and format. There is a charitable way to disagree, and even debate. The gospel should actually impact how you would engage in this debate. Humility and pride shine through like afternoon sunlight.

  8. Gospel proclamation comes through the unity of the body: “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel” (Phil. 1:27).
    Gospel growth comes through the unity of the body: “and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God” (Col. 2:19; cf. Eph. 4:1-16).
    Christ prayed that we would be one, as He and the Father are one so that Christ would be glorified (John 17).
    In light of all these truths, if I was an enemy of Christ, I would seek to destroy the unity of Christ’s body. Appreciate your post Erik! Thanks for pointing us to the gospel!

  9. I agree with your heart Erik. I have to admit, I seem to be one that finds himself smack in the middle of these debates. I hope maybe I’m a peacemaker. Or at least help to bring a very, very minute difference, and help bring unity, and at the same time sharing my own heart on the subjects that are being set forth.

    here’s a comment I left in the midst of one of these “friendly fire”:

    Jesus says, “…apart from Me you can do nothing.” Then He says, \“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

    In fact, a bit earlier Jesus says to His disciples, just after His last supper, and after He had washed their feet: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. BY THIS all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

    So, there is no doubt whatsoever, we are commanded to love. Many people will say you can’t command love. Well, our Lord takes a different stand, doesn’t He.

    But, can we genuinely love one another?

    If I said to my Savior, \Lord I can’t love this one guy. He drives me nuts.\
    The Lord says, \You must love him. You must care for him, and try to get along. My charge is to love others, as I have.\
    For it is by our love,– not our Bible studies, nor our worshipping together, nor our fellowship dinners,–that ALL people will know we are Christians.

    But I can’t do it: Not without Christ in me.

    Yet, by faith, and in the Holy Spirit, I am able to love others, even people that hate me. So, faith in Christ, and His Gospel, and love for Christ, which I have only becasue He loved me first, work in harmony, like our blood system works withour bodies, both are needed to have life.

    I asked our Father to give me, and fill me, with His Holy Spirit today, so that I might live this day for Him; in His grace and love. And it was His grace and Spirit that helped me ask.

  10. I like your point and especially the idea that the gospel should inform even how people engage in these “battles”.

    I sometimes avoid pastors whose theology I love for weeks at a time when they get into these things. Perhaps they would brand me immature, but frankly I find it discouraging and there are just so many awesome podcasts out there, I have no trouble filling the gaps.

    As a music teacher, I once saw a teacher-trainer do an experiment where a person was sent out of the room, and upon their return they were supposed to figure out what to do by the input of the crowd. First we were instructed to shout, “NO!” whenever they made a move away from a certain chair, and remain silent if they approached it. (Kind of like the hot and cold game with no response for getting hotter.) It took them forever to get to that chair. Run the same experiment with only “YES!” and they practically stroll to the chair.

    Teaching through correction is a skill (different than calling out NO!), and some of the pastors/teachers I respect most simply have not developed it. The body would benefit if they considered this skill important to their ministry, particularly in this internet driven era.

  11. Thanks for your thoughts, Erik. You said what I’ve been thinking the past few days.

  12. Erik,

    Thanks for saying this, especially in light of the whole WHI/WTS/Frank Turk thing. Too much picking of nits, too little appreciating our partnership in the gospel.

    Phil

  13. James1:19 Let everyone be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger;,,,,,James 1:21 There fore putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness in humility recieve the WORD implanted, which is able to save your souls,,, James 1:26 If anyone thinks himself religious and yet does not BRIDLE his TONGUE BUT DECIEVES HIS OWN HEART, THIS MANS RELIGION IS WORTHLESS. james 1:27 THIS IS PURE RELIGION AND UNDEFILED RELIGIONIN THE SIGHT OF OUR GOD AND FATHER,TO VISIT ORPHANES AND WIDOWS IN THERE DISTRESS, AND TO KEEP ONES SELF UNSTAINED BY THE WORLD.

  14. Thanks for the exhortation, Erik. I echo your sentiments because I worked in both inside sales an in part-time ministry at one of these megachurches for several years. I think you hit the nail on the head.

    And at the same time, I was convicted by this post. I need the reminder daily.

    I’ll be subscribing from here on!

  15. Excellent blog. I know it’s lousy but I sometimes wonder how many of these controversies are a bit contrived because controversy increases blog readership and increases book sales, etc.

    If everyone could just handle differences with others as maturely as I do. lol

    • I think this is a very good point that I have had to come to grips with myself. I have my own blog, and I had to early determine what the purpose of my presence was, and how to go about it. One thing I have determined is to exhibit the fruits of the spirit as much as possible. The results speak for themselves – in 19,000 hits, I have gotten maybe four comments. Or maybe I’m just boring :-)

  16. “To be honest Chris, I don’t think I (and this [blog post]) will get much attention. There are bigger fish to fry.”

    Well Erik, Tim “the God-blogger” Challies sends his readers your way. Trust me, this post has gotten folks attention. ;)

    Erik, you truly are a breath of fresh air in the sometimes “cranky” Reformed blogosphere.

    Keep up the transparent, honest tone of your posts. Love ‘em.

    ~ Erik K.

  17. I’m not sure that a lot of the people who have caught wind of the recent “controversy” have even read the blog posts that are under discussion.

    I, for one, was edified by Turk’s original letter to Michael Horton, and grateful that he wrote it. He went over-the-top saying that he was thankful for their ministry, but was honest (brave/concerned) enough to share the one concern that he had.

    I think Turk exemplified in that post what Erik pleads for in this one.

    Its sad that Turk’s original concern and admonition has been all but drowned out by the ensuing discussions.

  18. Erik,

    Just came across this fantastic example of going the opposite direction of friendly fire…encouraging others with an open letter.

    Kudos to Jared Wilson on this post, which we al should emulate:

    http://gospeldrivenchurch.blogspot.com/2011/01/open-letter-to-ray-ortlund-jr.html

  19. I appreciate your blog yet, while we can cast aspersions at the silly antics of dancing arminians, we refuse to see the speck in our own reformed eye, i.e. John Piper becoming less and less reliable in more and more areas of his theology. It seems that we can call to account the public proclamations of wayward arminians but don’t touch the golden conference goose of the popes of predestination.

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