Friday, November 7, 2014

Emergent Gurus: Carl Medearis, Part 2

From the September 2011 E-Block.
We now offer Part 2 (and last) of our close evaluation of Carl Medearis' Speaking of Jesus (SOJ). 

97 -- Medearis' supposition that whether Christianity is "winning" is reckoned based on number of converts reflects a simplistic understanding shared by Skeptics. Regardless of number of converts, Christianity wins or loses based on nothing except the Resurrection-- even if the number of people who believed it happened was zero. Medearis typifies emergents who fail to so much as pay lip service to the historic event of the Resurrection as the basis for the validity of their professed faith. 

99 -- In line with his reform program, Medearis makes far too much of worrying about people feeling "attacked" when they are evangelized. Does it not occur to him that even his mild "point to Jesus" evangelism can be deemed an "attack" by someone who simply decides to pretend (or just plain decides!) to be sensitive enough to be offended? Does he bother to ask if any first century people felt "attacked" when they were evangelized -- and whether it matters? Isn't it better to understand that those who pretend to, or do, "feel attacked" by evangelism are simply (to put it bluntly) whining too much, or looking for excuses to not have to perform a close evaluation of their own beliefs?

While I am not denying that there is such a thing as “attack” evangelism – it kept me away from Christianity when I was much younger – that is no excuse for letting others define “attack” whatever way they want. Also, if Medearis believes his "point to Jesus" program is the solution to stopping offense, he is wrong. Instead, the ground he gives away will be taken and then overrun, and before he can turn around twice, being "really nice" and "talking about Jesus constantly" (103) -- his own version of "evangelism" -- will within a short period be decided to be an "attack" by those who simply want to avoid confronting the truth. And in fact, this is already happening in my personal experience.

109 -- Ironically, Medearis does realize that Jesus tuned his message to his audience, including being "[d]ownright mean to the Pharisees." But he does not at all perceive how this is in contradiction to his own instructions for evangelism and dealing with others.

112 -- Just as ironic is Medearis' emphasis on presenting the gospel as "good news". Yes, that is what "gospel" means, but he has no realization that the content of the gospel was anything BUT "good news" to the first century person who first heard it. In reality, it was offensive, disgusting, and entirely contrary to critical means values held close to that social setting.

This of course is not to say we ought to add offense to the message gratuitously. However, Medearis' desire to avoid offense is simply a fantasy.

115 -- Thankfully, Medearis here at least admits to the importance of sound doctrine (even as he had been saying the opposite up until now). However, he advises against "lead[ing] a conversation with doctrine rather than Jesus Himself." And this means what exactly? That's not too clear. He tells a story of having ignored a Muslim doctor who interrupted a Bible study he held with other Muslim doctors by asking his fellow Muslims how they could sit with someone who believed Jesus had been crucified. Rather than answer the man, the host asked him to join the study, which proved embarrassing to the man.

I detect some problems here. The first is that these Muslims (who were from Lebanon) undoubtedly adhered to an honor-shame social view. In that light, the host's refusal to answer the question -- whether Medearis understood so or not -- was actually a shaming device which told the man that his question wasn't worthy of being answered. So in a nutshell, Medearis has mistaken a public shaming for not wanting to "lead with doctrine." And he has also offered an example that would have failed miserably had the group been made up instead of American atheists, for example.

Second, there is nothing "doctrinal" about Jesus being crucified. That is a matter of historic fact or not. Muslim insistence that Jesus was not crucified is, to put it bluntly, an embarrassing contrivance. (And for that reason, the public shaming of the man was all the more appropriate.)

Finally, in light of all this, Medearis is wrong to suppose that this shows that "fighting over doctrine" would have been "a huge error" any time such a situation arises. It would not have been at all times. In this group, he tells us, everyone was a doctor; they were all social equals, and the host was quite able to respond in kind as he did. The situation would have been quite different had the objector been a social superior to the host -- or an inferior. Medearis has unwittingly fallen for the sort of one-size-fits-all methodology for which he expresses disdain.

117 -- In the end, Medearis' one other anecdotal example in this matter is to merely suppose that "possibly" a Jewish man he spoke to had not converted to Christianity because others had "led with doctrine." Possibly, and two anecdotes, isn't sufficient basis for any conclusions of any sort.

122 -- a minor but amusing error as Medearis refers to the Romans as "pantheistic". He means polytheistic, but is apparently confused by the use of the word "pantheon" to describe a collection of deities.

126 -- although rightly describing discipleship as something long term, Medearis anachronizes (typically) by calling it "a journey of relationship that encompasses support, trial and error, and difficulty" while claiming it isn't "based on the explanations and doctrines of a religious system." In reality, it could not have been conceived of as the first, and the second would have been regarded as one essential part of being a disciple (though not the whole). Not surprisingly as well, he offers the common error of overfamiliarity which imagines God in terms of modern friendship (141). The reference to "difficulty" is reflected as well later when it is suggested that "struggling with Jesus is part of Jesus' plan." (145) Could it be? Not likely: Otherwise there would have not been any sort of accessible revelation.

148-9 -- and of course, though I am by no means inclined to all conservative political causes, there is the typical misapplication of "love your enemies" to the interactions of nations.

151 -- Medearis is much exorcised by Christians being perceived as "against" things. Two things ought to occur to him. The first, as we have noted with prior emergents, much of the "against" is in itself a reaction to those who are so vicious and voracious "for" something else, and use the media, the government, and all else they can to achieve their goals. Second, why not consider that the perception of Christians as "against" is merely a manufactured excuse that doesn't deserve credence, or a case of spin doctoring to avoid the more serious issue (like “pro-choice”)? Medearis refers to those who say Christians "fight us and judge us and hate us." To pose questions as emergents are so fond of doing: What if the fight is legitimate and necessary for the greater good? How about the fact that we are called to judge rightly (but not hypocritically)? What if "hate" is just coded language for, "I don't like being told I am doing something wrong"?

152 -- relatedly, it is amazing that Medearis does not see that Jesus could just as readily be defined as "against" things if those who complained about it wanted to "spin" it that way. It also does not occur to him that the reason they do not is that they have never read the New Testament in whole -- and that his own edited Jesus does not aid in revealing that to them. It is also amazing that he thinks there is something unusual about defining a football team by who they have beaten. I am no sports fan, but I have seen enough to know that teams or players are often defined by who they have beaten, particularly if there was a great upset. To this day, for example, the 1981 defeat of the Dallas Cowboys by the San Francisco 49ers is regarded as a defining moment in the latter's history.

161-2 -- Medearis gives space to a non-Christian friend who recounts negative encounters with Christians, but who admits in the end that "most of my personal interactions with Christians have been positive." If this is so, then this is a clear anecdotal case of Medearis' "point to Jesus" by way of living example failing to work. His friend sees in Jesus: "The intrinsic value of all. Total forgiveness. Love. Kindness. Giving." Is that all? What about the condemning of the goats, the conditions of forgiveness by joining the new covenant and forsaking all else, the railing against the Pharisees, the demands for obedience?

175 -- it is perhaps understandable why Medearis is so confused about doctrine. He uses the analogy of an egg to explain the Trinity, but that illustrates tritheism.

180 -- in a rather contrived effort, Medearis suggests that Jesus did not use the "I'm the only way" tactic "typically" because "it's a door-closer." His desire not to offend is so great that he offers a three-page, convoluted answer as a way to avoid offending people by indicating that damnation is the fate of the unsaved -- even when that is the very question they directly ask.

In sum: There is nothing extraordinary here, at least not with respect the emergent church: Medearis is evasive, too prone to compromise for emotional reasons, and does little to further progress.


  1. I suppose many (if not most) Christians think of discipleship as being long-term, but according to the Gospels, Jesus had many disciples who, not being believers, turned away from Him. oday (just as in the New Testament days) it is the believers who are long-term. Disciples come and go ... kinda like you-know-what through a goose. But true believers endure because we are kept by the power of God unto the day of redemption.

    And saying that the use of an egg to illustrate the trinity is actually illustrating tritheism is just a bit ridiculous when you consider that an egg, comprised of the shell, the albumin and the yolk, is just about as perfect an illustration of the concept of three-in-one-ness as we're ever going to see on this earth. After all, you take away just one of these components and you no longer have an egg!

    Some theologians have illustrated the trinity by using water, ice and vapor, but that could just as easily (and more accurately) be a better example of modelism. I wish we could stop straining at gnats and swalling camels when it comes to analogies about God. Actually there is nothing in the entire created universe like Him, and all analogies (even the good ones) do not, and cannot, accurately illustrate His nature and being.

    1. Nope. It's not ridiculous at all. All three of those elements have completely individual identities. And it isn't the best illustration at all either. The best analogy is a light source, light, and heat.

      Even it isn't 100% but it is far closer to what is offered than the egg analogy.