A Student or a Critic?

Posted: January 12, 2010 in Uncategorized

My history with the more progressive “stream” of the emerging church conversation is long and rocky.  While attending seminary in Texas, I was the stereotypical “angry ex-evangelical” who embraced The Young Leaders Network, which morphed into Terra Nova which eventually became The Emergent Village. 

But in 2005, I found myself in the midst of a theological crisis.  My weekly podcast subscription to Mars Hill Bible Church, my Brian McLaren books and my engagement in spiritual disciplines via Renovare and Richard Foster were not helping me to grow spiritually.  In fact, I felt farther from God then I have had.

One day, in the midst of this crisis, my desktop computer crashed and I had to buy a new one.  When I uploaded iTunes to re-subscribe to Rob Bell’s weekly teachings, I accidently subscribed to Mark Driscoll’s!  I didn’t notice until I was in the middle of a long drive across the mountains of West Virginia.  So, I spent the next few hours listening to Driscoll, who I vaguely remembered from the early days of the emerging church movement. 

To my surprise, I was hooked.  I soon found myself often skipping Bell’s podcasts, ignoring new releases from McLaren and putting off my plans for a weekend prayer retreat at a monastery.  Instead, I was listening to Driscoll, reading D.A. Carson and wondering when I could get to a Desiring God conference.  To my utter astonishment (and to my former colleagues total shock), I was re-born as a member of the so-called “Young, Restless and Reformed” movement.

A year or so later, I was the stereotypical beer drinking, alt/indie rock listening, neo-reformed blogger and pastor.  I attacked the progressive wing of the emerging movement as “dangerous,” “heretical,” etc.  I warned people to stay away from Velvet Elvis and dig into The Holiness of God

But by 2009, I was haunted by doubts about this new path as well.  I had certainly grown in my understanding of grace for myself and those around me but not so much for those who disagreed with me.  I echoed Matt Chandler’s concerns as to why so many Calvinists were so arrogant!  “How is it,” Chandler posed, “that a theology built wholly on grace produces people so smug!”  Good question. 

I think Tim Keller may have it right in Counterfeit Gods when he points out that “getting theology right” can easily become an idol.

One day last Spring, I was driving across Michigan (my day jobs keeps on the road a lot) and I was listening to Andy Stanley’s Leadership podcast (highly recommended, by the way) and he urged church leaders to be “students not critics.”  He implored pastors to stay true to their tradition but learn all they could from emerging, from seeker friendly churches, from the neo-reformed, etc.  For some reason, that really hit me. 

So, last year I attended The Poets, Prophets and Preachers conference as well as the 2009 Emergent Village Conversation in Libertyville, Illinois and even took some friends to see Rob Bell on his “Drops Like Stars” Tour. The result? I had a great time and I learned a lot!

Now, please understand me, I am still happily reformed.  I can’t wait for the next two D.A. Carson books to drop, I listen to Matt Chandler every week and I consult my well-worn copy of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology regularly but I want to be a student not a critic.

I’m no longer sure that being a harsh critic, at least, gets you anywhere anyway.  It may cement your own tribe but it doesn’t seem to me to be converting anyone to another position and it is probably only hardening your imagined opponent’s resolve as well.

So, I am a committed evangelical “Calminean” but I will eagerly learn from wise teachers like Scot McKnight, Richard Hays, Miroslav Volf, Ben Witherington, N.T. Wright and gifted communicators like Rob Bell.  I will even be challenged by compelling (albeit wholly unorthodox) thinkers like Peter Rollins.  

I will no longer toss barbs at those I disagree with theologically. 

I will be a student not a critic.

Grace and peace.


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