Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Art of Not Considering Carefully

The past few days I have been reading, and writing an E-Block article on, a book titled Speaking of Jesus: The Art of Non-Evangelism (SOJ) by Carl Medearis. I don't know if Medearis is classed as an emergent, but he does sound like one, and what I found in the book is so appalling that it would be remiss of me to not give it some coverage here as well.

I'll start with the summary I give in the article (and much of what follows is also from the article, but far from all of it):

SOJ, to be blunt, represents in summary that which is worst in emergent Christianity -- a tragic mix of passive-aggressive arrogance and ignorance posing itself as winsome wisdom while undermining the very foundations of what it professes to believe in.

I don't use such harsh rhetoric lightly. SOJ is full of egregious misconceptions in which Christianity is remade into Medearis' image, or rather, the image of pseudo-tolerant and emasculated Christianity into which Medearis has fallen in an effort to avoid offense of others. For today's Ticker entry, though, I will just focus on one misconception, one lying at the heart of the book's title: The idea that first rate evangelism means just "pointing to Jesus."

In Medearis' way of thinking, Jesus "is" the Gospel. Semantically, of course, this is nonsense; it is like saying Barack Obama "is" the United States. Jesus is not "the Gospel," but the broker and enactor of the Gospel, and its central personal subject, but to wholly codify Jesus as "the gospel" is woefully incomplete, to say nothing of being without Scriptural or intellectual or epistemic support (apart from it being an emasculated gospel).

As Medearis puts it, though: "There is a place for doctrines and dogma and science and history and apologetics, but these things are not Jesus -- they are humanly manufactured attempts to make people think having the right ideas is the same thing as loving and following Jesus." What escapes Medearis here is that without that doctrine, that history, that apologetics, there is no reason to distinguish his "Jesus" from the Jesus who makes Mormon bosoms burn, or from the Jesus who is merely an imaginary friend as the atheists say he is, or the Jesus who is cast as a Hindu avatar who went to India at age 13. The illusion emergents have here is that if they wave "loving and following Jesus" around with a pious flourish, they have dispensed with any priority towards a faith that has epistemic grounding.

Like it or not, though, to get to the point where one follows and loves Jesus, one must first contemplate ideas that give way to a decision to follow and love Jesus. Thus even Medearis must have had a "right idea" to get where he is now. His ideas were less substantial, less clear, and far less defining, but he still had them.

Finally, this bit about "humanly manufactured" elements is a rather sorrowful tactic -- one we last saw here from an atheist (KnownNoMore), which should itself be disturbing to Medearis and anyone who reads SOJ. Humanly manufactured? Yes, but -- so what? How about, instead: Are the attempts accurate? Successful? Sound? Logical? Not that Medearis would bother to find out; in various places in SOJ -- as I detail in the article -- he waves off the importance of getting facts straight, and dismisses the need to correct error in favor of just "pointing to Jesus." (You can tell how little he values fact in that he commits the serious but standard blunder of placing the Zealot movement in the time of Jesus, rather than many years past Jesus -- an error that is easily corrected with even a little homework.)

In SOJ, Medearis' naivete is much like that of the fundamentalist who professes to preach "just the Bible" and gets a bent beak when you suggest that refinement may be had by understanding the linguistic or social context of a passage. Medearis "Jesus" is a decontexualized message rooted in little more than subjective personal experience to which the convert is expected to become addicted under the pretense of it being some sort of "personal relationship".
In terms of the specifics of evangelism, he writes, "We don't have to explain [Jesus]. All we have to do is point with our fingers, like the blind man in the book of John, and say, 'There is Jesus. All I know is that He touched me, and where I was once blind, now I see.' "

Perhaps it ought to occur to Medearis that physical blindness being cured is something which is quite plainly evidential in nature; it can be tested, evaluated, and critiqued for effectiveness. On the other hand, his attempt to apply this passage to something internal is entirely misguided: While it can be tested for results, it is incapable of being distinguished, internally, from an artificially bulletproof delusion like the Mormon burning the bosom. The problem though is encapsulated when he says, "we're wrong when we put our faith in our reason." But that's not quite what we're to do. Rather, we're supposed to back our faith (loyalty) with reasons to be loyal. If it were otherwise, the missionary sermons in Acts would hardly appeal to evidence such as the empty tomb.

Medearis thinks all we need to do is tell people to "follow Jesus," but without boundaries, which "Jesus" will Medearis be recommending? The one who was the literalization of an initiation symbol in Gnostic mystery rites? The one who was just some average Joe God picked out (adoptionism)? The one who is also the archangel Michael? The one who is the Spirit brother of Lucifer?
The shame of SOJ here is that Medearis is believing in his Jesus on the back of his forebears like Athanasius who suffered greatly to be sure that he didn't have to think that hard today.

Scripturally, Medearis' one justification for this simple-minded "point to Jesus" routine is 1 Cor. 2, where Paul says he determined to know nothing but Jesus. The fact that a significant portion of the rest of Paul's letters amount to Paul firmly drawing lines between truth and untruth does not occur to Medearis; much less does he realize that Paul's statement is not a full fledged summation of his evangelism procedure, but rather, a reply to opponents in Corinth who valued rhetorical and pneumatic displays over the preaching message. In other words, Paul is pointing to Jesus not as the whole content of the Gospel, but as his source of inspiration and teaching (versus his opponents, who drew on the power of rhetoric and speaking prowess).

It's fitting that I close today's post with the same closing I have in the article. Years ago, I critiqued a cult leader named John Clark severely, and catalogued the responses of his followers, one of which said the following:

I knew that I probably didn't need to read [Holding]s article] any further. However, I tried. Like you said, I, too, am willing to be wrong and consider. Reading his website reminded me so much of where I was in 1988 - - confusion!
. . . . I could not understand the big scholarly words, Bro. John. But I understand the tender Voice of my Savior. My prayer for the "scholars" is that they quit hiding behind the big words and just humble themselves before Jesus. Then they could just rest and receive from Jesus what they need.

It should disturb us greatly that Medearis' own professions are identical to that of this cult victim.


  1. Although I haven't read his book linked here is an article he wrote for CNN which a summation of what you just described.

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  3. Yes, I saw that too, and a Huffington Post item he wrote. Carl seems to think he's some kind of clever fellow when he plays with the semantics of the word "Christian". C. S. Lewis made the same point -- and with much less of a guilt trip and being far less impressed with himself -- a long time ago.

    It's really nothing that important, and he'd do far better to make sure he gets things like the date of the Zealots correct.

  4. The emergent church has been a bit of a hot topic for my friends and I over the past few weeks. "arrogance" coupled with "ignorance" is actually a really great way of describing it. Looking forward to the next E-Block