Thinking Out Loud

February 3, 2012

What The Shack and The Elephant Room Have in Common

I had a bit of an epiphany responding to Tom’s comment left at Tuesday’s Elephant Room piece here, but it was too good to leave buried in the meta.  You are welcome to read first read the comment that sparked what follows, or it can stand on its own.

Many of the people who are commenting on the whole ER2/Jakes thing are in ministry, but many are lay-leaders, or bloggers, or just people who have an opinion on the matter that they want to share.

One common thread unites those in ministry however, especially if they live in a small or medium sized city or town: They all attend monthly ministerial meetings. Unless you’ve been to one of these (and I’ve attended two of them in another city) you have no idea of the dynamics involved in bringing people together around a discussion table. These monthly get-togethers are awkward for all concerned, and none of the ministers I’ve spoken with on this subject are particularly enthusiastic about attending.

But attend they do. Catholic. Orthodox. Seventh-Day Adventist. Word-of-Faith. Independent Baptist. Evangelical. (And, in some places, Baha’i, Buddhist, Muslim, etc.) All of them sitting around the same table united by commonality that must seem rather elusive at times. And sometimes some actual work gets done for the benefit of the broader faith community, or the community as a whole.

And you know what: Each one of them gets up from the table with a better understanding and resolve as to who they, themselves are and what they represent.

If Jakes claims to be a Christ-follower, but his practice of that faith includes cutting the heads off chickens, I still think giving him a place at the table on a unique, singular, special occasion is a Jesus kind of thing to do.

That said, if you are organizing such an event, you want to invite audience members who buy into the agenda for that particular day and exclude people if the entire tenor of their ministry runs contrary to the spirit of conversation.

Furthermore, I don’t believe we need to build fortresses to, as someone put it, “protect the body of doctrine.” The body of doctrine is quite capable of protecting itself, just as easily as Jesus was able to deflect his critics; something He did mostly by asking questions, a format not dis-similar to the Elephant Room.

In fact, I’ll go so far as to say I think that under more 21st Century circumstances, Jesus would attend something like ER2 — it’s not a stretch from his time as a 12-year-old asking the rabbis questions in the temple — nor a stretch to think He might have organized something like ER2 himself.

And frankly, you don’t want to think of who He might have invented.

But then, I got to thinking, this is all plain dumb.  I realized this whole debate is one giant deja vu of the whole debate over The Shack. And probably the same people are lined up on the same sides.  So I added this, responding to specific issue the blog post raised about the guy whose registration for the event was revoked:

I realized later that trying to get agreement here is like trying to get people to agree on The Shack. You either understand the mindset or you don’t get the book’s purpose and decide to condemn it.

For example, in the meta, “Anon” wrote:

Chris is very critical of these guys and comes off as self righteous. His coverage has been unfair. Does he ever reach out to these leaders for their side of the story? I doubt it. He couldnt be trusted to behave himself at ER2. That’s just my guess.

To which the blog replies:

Anon, that is too funny. C.R. [name shortened here to avoid web-spiders creating unnecessary links to this story] absolutely has reached out to these guys. They want no part of him. He has attended these guys conferences, at Nobles’ church for example. He is not disruptive in any fashion.

But then again, maybe they assume someone critical of a pastor is a “threat”.

So, we reduce the criteria to the fact that he hasn’t acted out yet at such a conference when really he “acts out” all the time on his radio show. His purpose in being there is not to attend with an open mind and see where the event leads.

You would do better to invite the secular media.

Some people can think in terms of abstraction, but for others everything has to be black and white.  “The Shack is a bad book because it portrayed God as a woman.” “James MacDonald should not have invited T. D. Jakes to the Elephant Room because Jakes is a prosperity preacher who doesn’t believe in the Trinity.” “Mark Driscoll’s Church was right to tell its members to shun Andrew, because Andrew sinned and would not subject himself to their church discipline.” (Yes, that story is totally related, because you’ve got the same mentalities lining up on either side.)

Black and white.  But not in a positive, ebony and ivory sense of the phrase.

So let me sum up the week with this:

  • The Shack wasn’t really written for us, nor does its author believe that God is a black woman with a southern accent.
  • The Elephant Room sought to bring together people with diverse takes on how to do ministry and T. D. J. was invited particularly because there have been questions about the orthodoxy of his beliefs, not as endorsement.
  • People unlikely to buy into the basic premise of ER2 should not see any problem with being asked to surrender their seat at the live event to people who do buy into its inter-denominational (not inter-faith) dialog.
  • Andrew was remorseful and repentant but felt, as did Matthew Paul Turner’s readers, that the manifestation of the authoritarian form of church government he had once been attractive to him, was clearly crossing a line in its attempts to administer correction and restoration.

But I’m not changing anyone’s mind by writing this, am I?

And that’s the way it was, last week of January, 2012.

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