Shortcutting in the Cul-de-sac
The interwebs has democratized our discourse. Time was when to reach an audience one had to go through a series of gatekeepers. You had to have a publisher of your books. You had to have an editor who would publish your article. You had to raise mountains of money from others in order to buy airtime. Now any one person has the ability to reach billions virtually for free. The interwebs has in turn put the feedback cycle into hyper drive. When I finish writing a book it will likely be at least a year before anyone responds privately or in print with a review. I write a magazine article and it is months typically before it arrives in a mailbox, and weeks later before I might receive a written response. Now, I write an article this morning, post it this afternoon, and am up late moderating comments.
The shortened cycle has lead us I fear into some dangerously shorthand thinking. Labels have their purposes and place. It is helpful for me to know, when discussing an issue with my brother, if he is baptistic or not. It is helpful to others to know that I am committed to Reformed theology, even if I’m committed to it not because it is Reformed but because I believe it to be biblical. The rush to comment, however, can lead us to a rush to judgment.
Years ago I confided to a friend that if my father would be remembered for his teaching on holiness, if he would be the “holiness guy”, and were I to be blessed to be remembered at all, I wanted to be remembered as the “kingdom guy.” It is a passion of mine, an emphasis in my teaching. Of course, the kingdom was likewise high up there on Jesus’ favorite things to talk about. Turns out, in the providence of God, that NT Wright has emphasized the same theme from time to time. Therefore, ipso facto and qed, I must be a Wright-y. And am now guilty of all of Dr. Wright’s errors. That’s how shorthand often works. That guy said a, b, c, d, e, and f. You said a and b. Therefore you are guilty of c, d, and e.
In like manner I recently wrote a short piece explaining my understanding of Sonship theology. I was rather positive about it, albeit with a minor caveat or two. I appreciate their emphasis on our identity in Christ, on our adoption as sons, on God’s unchanging present love for us. But I appreciate those things because I have always appreciated those things. Because they are wonderful gospel promises right out of the Bible. Convicting me of what you think are Jack Miller’s errors because I believe in adoption is like convicting me of being an incipient Roman Catholic because I believe Peter exercised some leadership among the disciples, or because I believe in the Trinity.
It’s certainly possible that an emphasis on kingdom is wrong for me and NT Wright. It’s certainly possible that an emphasis on adoption is an error on my part, and on the part of Jack Miller. But I know I’m no disciple of Wright nor devotee of Jack Miller. I have never met either man. I’ve never heard a lecture, sermon, or recording of any kind by either man. I’ve never read a book or an article by either man.
If you are smart you will be careful with your shortcuts and your guilt by associations. If you are smarter, however, you will recognize that you, just as I do, fail here from time to time. You can own your guilt because you understand the RC Sproul Jr. Principle of hermeneutics- whenever you see someone in the Bible (or anywhere for that matter) being really, really stupid do not say to yourself, “How can they be so stupid?” Instead say to yourself, “How am I stupid just like them?” We’re the guilty ones. Of course, be careful. Don’t tell anyone where you heard it. You wouldn’t want to get the reputation of being a Sproulian Jr.