Thinking Out Loud

December 4, 2018

Mark Clark on the State of Online Discourse Among Christians

Mark Clark is the pastor of Village Church in Vancouver, Canada and is the author of The Problem of God, which we reviewed here in September, 2017. Yesterday evening he posted a thread on Twitter that probably few of you would happen to see.

Increasingly, Twitter is becoming a long-form medium, but experience teaches me that many may not bother to click through to see an entire series of posts. So, as we did with a Skye Jethani thread around the same time last year, I’m going to take the liberty of sharing it here. (A few things are softly edited because there’s no character limit.)

December 3, 2018

Christian: Reformed or Charismatic, left or right, get out of your own echo-chamber. Your naive, dogmatic, tribal and simplistic ideological ideas are painful to read over and over again. Straw men arguments are not respected. Dig deeper. Let’s work together around ACTUAL data.

No, pragmatics aren’t the enemy! No, good doctrine isn’t the enemy. No, passionate preaching is not empty. No, doctrinal preaching isn’t always boring.

No, that successful pastor in the States with the big house and big smile probably isn’t Satan’s servant. No, the local small church pastor of 200 isn’t less qualified for ministry. No, your non-educated self isn’t more organic or Spirit-filled than “educated” pastors.

No, that church’s view on women, or governance, or preaching or whatever isn’t the enemy; Satan, sin and death is. No, video preaching isn’t wrong. No, faithfulness to expository preaching isn’t wrong. No, fighting for experiential Christianity isn’t wrong.

No, big churches using methods you don’t aren’t WRONG. No, small churches aren’t better or more godly. No, God doesn’t love big churches more.

No, unhitching from the Old Testament isn’t a good strategy. No, ones who suggest it from a missional heart aren’t necessarily heretical or false prophets.

No, ‘those’ churches aren’t always weak and flashy. No, ‘those’ churches aren’t always boring and irrelevant.

No, celebrity pastors don’t always sell out and do it for themselves. No, small church pastors aren’t always humble and selfless.

No, your self appointed group is not the standard holding Modern Christianity ‘accountable’. No, the solution is not to dissolve all accountability.

With that, Mark suddenly breaks the thread. But there are a few more postscripts which follow individually:

No, systemic racism is not over or a made up myth. It’s real. No, the ‘white man’, or men in general, are not to blame for all our problems.

No, our government leaders aren’t Messiahs. No, they aren’t completely evil and incompetent.

No, atheists aren’t always smart. No, Christians aren’t always smart.

I hope that, like me, you were able to see some people or institutions — or most importantly, some part of ourselves — in what Mark wrote. All our online activity, from scholarly insight to common ranting, won’t in itself change the world or advance the Kingdom.

I’ll concede that as it stands, what’s above is a short essay in desperate need of a closing statement or paragraph. (Update: In a note to me on Twitter, Mark explained that his phone’s battery ran out! That got me wondering if Martin Luther would have gone past #95 if he had more paper.)

So where do we go from here?

That’s up to me and you.

 

June 3, 2011

Elephant Room Conference: The DVD

If you missed the Woodstock music festival in 1969, you had to wait a full year for the movie; but just weeks after James MacDonald convened the Elephant Room one day seminar which was simulcast to two dozen cities, the DVD is already available for purchase, so we decided to jump in and bought one for ourselves and a couple of extras.

The phrase, “the elephant in the room” is used to denote the thing that is hovering over a discussion, but is never mentioned.   The idea here is that pastors have things they wrestle with that are discussed backstage when they meet up at major events, but are never shared with a larger audience.  The goal was to bring those subjects into open discussion.

The seven pastors were MacDonald, Mark Driscoll, Greg Laurie, Perry Noble, David Platt, Mark Chandler and Steven Furtick who was cast as a bit of a newcomer to this “big league” group.  Actually, Furtick came across very well, presenting some very timely insights into the subjects, and the very nature of the debates themselves.  Topics included:

  • Building numerically versus building depth
  • Responding to culture
  • Compassion and social justice
  • Unity and discernment
  • The multi-site church trend
  • Money issues
  • Loving the doctrine of the gospel but not sharing the gospel

An eighth session dealt with questions that had been texted in during the conference and was actually the most interesting in many ways. 

Over the past few years we’ve seen a growing interest in ecclesiology — the study of what constitutes ‘church’ —  among what would have been traditionally called “the laity.”  Books that would have formerly been written for the exclusive reading of pastors and church staff are now being purchased and discussed by the widest range of Evangelicals, many of whom are forging ahead with startups of home churches or alternative churches.  In a sense, the things the pastors discuss quietly backstage at conferences are being discussed in church lobbies, living rooms and over kitchen tables back home. This DVD set, and the topics it discusses are thereby of interest to everyone.

But it’s not the major takeaway from watching the seminar.

What is most striking is the camaraderie that exists between the pastors themselves.  While they do disagree on some minor points, there is a genuine agreement on the things that matter; what Driscoll well-defines as the difference between national borders (which wars are fought over) and state borders (for which wars are not fought.) 

There were some highlights and lowlights in the video.  One highlight was the overall production quality.  Another was the way they kept the discussion moving, with a moderator and two rotating key opponents followed by a more open forum that allowed the other four pastors to contribute.   Another highlight was seeing that with issues such as multi-site — so much on the minds of people as changes take place quickly — the pastors themselves do not undertake moves lightly, but truly agonize over the ramifications of growth.   A lowlight — and it really has to be said — is the way James MacDonald dominates every discussion, rolling over everyone else like a freight train at times.  I guess it was his party, so he got to call the tune.

I do love the concept, however.  This was a great series of conversations and I would hope that either MacDonald’s crew, or somebody else, would put something like this together this time next year, perhaps with a different mix of pastors and church leaders.  Rather than attempting to describe it further, you can watch a few sample clips here and here

What we call church really matters, and you don’t have to be among the ‘professional’ clergy to care.


Read another review of the conference here.

Link here to an index Trevin Wax provided of participants who live-blogged the event.

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