Monday, January 21, 2008

Rightly reading the words of others: A friendly reply with regards especially to Ken Silva (part 1)

I have been interacting with my friend Rick Ianiello over at his blog post here. Due to various reasons, Rick does not think too well of discernment ministries in general, and Pastor Ken Silva is one of the people he has a problem with. Both of them are my friends, and I also have no interest in defending people per se as compared to God and His truth. Nevertheless, I think it is good that there should be no unnecessary conflict (key word: unnecessary) within the body of Christ, and it is in this spirit that I would like to defuse the criticism aimed against Pastor Ken. That does not mean Pastor Ken is sinless, or that he does not have areas of improvement, or even that he is totally correct all the time. But we should always be gracious to fellow believers and discern properly what they are saying in the best possible light. Unless the person is out to destroy the Church or corrode God's truth, we should aim so as to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:3).

It is in this spirit that I would like to approach this task of mine. Rick has posted a more extensive critique of Pastor Ken's articles in a subsequent blog post here, and I would interact with this so that we can rightly discern the words of others.

The very nature of discernment ministries

Rick made a remark that it is alright to expose error, but typically ministers of the Gospel are not preoccupied with that and do exclusively. He is definitely correct, in so far as we are not called just to expose error, but to teach the truth, and see exposing error as something we must do because we love Christ, not because we love to expose people. It is definitely true also that discernment ministries are focused on this seemingly negative work, and I guess perhaps Pastor Ken's large output of articles exposing various groups here and there would definitely place him in the unenviable spot of being seen as overly focused on exposing error.

Now, this being said, let me offer a response to the charge of undue focus on exposing error. Discernment ministries are by their very nature focused on exposing error. If you go and read discernment websites, don't go there expecting to find nice little devotionals, exegesis of Scripture, expounding of doctrine etc unless they fit in with the theme of discernment. And that's why Christians are not meant to read articles on discernment ministries as if that is their Quiet Time material. Such articles are to be treated as news and information so that we can know what is going on in the visible Church and enemy forces she is facing both from within and without. It is so that we would be less naive and less easily duped by the enemy. So to attack discernment ministries as being unbalanced is a fallacious charge, since they are specialized ministries in the first place.

Of course, then the question will move to whether such ministries ought to exist in the first place. Since I have likened the articles put forward by discernment ministries as news, let me continue on with the analogy. Disernment ministries would therefore be analogous to a media company. Is news necessary? Why, of course, unless you want to be ignorant about what is happening around the world. There is just too much news that you cannot expect any single person to go around experiencing or finding the information from the direct people involved in such news. Similarly, with communications being global such that for example this article can be read and will be read by people from Singapore, US, UK and possibly even by an African or Arab if he stumbles onto it, and the increase in new movements everywhere within the visible Church, it is impossible that we can keep up with the latest going ons, which may well inpact all of us. For example, something which originated in Orange County, California has the ability to create division in the churches even as far away as South Africa or Singapore. Yes, pastors and elders are supposed to do the job, but pastors are overtaxed. With the harvest plentiful and the workers being few, those who are supposed to do the job oftentimes just do not have the time and energy to keep up with all this new information. Not to mention that most churches are not functioning as God intended with politicking, power-grabbing going etc, not to mention the problems faced created by the embrace of all forms of unbiblical church polity. Compounding this, the strength of the church is sapped becuse of the effort needed to stem the tide of heresy, which could easily be diverted elsewhere if proper church discipline was to be administered and the command of biblical separation obeyed. As such, we need specialized people in discernment ministries to help us, so that all parts of the Body of Christ aid each other in the work of God.

With regards specifically to Pastor Ken, it must be seen that both Christian Research Net, and Apprisng Ministries are discernment websites. As such, it should be natural that almost anything there would be with regards to exposing people. As such, there should be no grounds for complaint. We must also realize that such posting probably does not take a lot of time, and that the rest of the time may be spent on other forms of "positive" ministry like preaching, expositing the Scripture to his congregation etc. Now, I do not know whether that is the case, but it could be, and just as we shouldn't judge a book by its cover, we shouldn't judge a person solely by the stuff posted on websites which have such a purpose. We must realize that people may use the Internet for one purpose only, and not others, and we shouldn't judge a person based on the one side he has revealed on the Internet (surface judgment cf Jn. 7:24).

Let me give you a personal example. Not too long ago, I was accused and judged with regards to service in the Local Church, or more specificaly, I was judged to be spending too much time just stirring up controversy and not serving the body of believers. And how did the person came up with that? Perhaps it was due to the amount of posts I posted, plus I was tackling many issues and especially exposing the Purpose Driven paradigm. While I did spend a significant time blogging and being on the Net, the person is judging me based on appearance, not knowing the true situation back where I am, nevermind that my largest blog category then and now was on the Christian life! Just because I did not blog about my other 'non-electronic' areas of ministry (as if I must boast on my blog what I did for the Lord) means I am automatically condemned as being someone who is like the Pharisee. And furthermore, that person has the mindset that anybody can just decide to serve in a church in any capacity anytime and they would just allow you to do so. Needless to say, that person has judged wrongly. And therefore I do not like to judge on surface appearance. In the same way, just because Pastor Ken seems to spend a lot of time expsing error may not be so and actually may just be taking up 10% or less of his ministry time. It may be either way, but we do not have proof either-way. So let us be gracious and think of him in the best possible light.

On Doug Pagitt

Rick does not like Pagitt either. However, he finds fault with others who questioned Pagitt about his various beliefs. In summary, Rick thinks that Pagitt is not as bad as how oters make him out to be because his focus is not on such matters.

Now, I must first of all state that I have listened to the Crosswalk program with Ingrid Schlueter, and Todd Friel's Way of the Master program with Doug Pagitt. However, I have not listened to the one MacArthur commented on the article Pastor Ken linked to, so I can't comment on that. First of all, I agree with Rick with regards to his evaluation of Todd Friel's performance on that show, in that Friel's question was too cookie-cut and is something suited for those who deal with a historical evngelical mindset. This is not to say that Pagitt's inability to understand the question is a good thing (he should since he claims to be a pastor), but it wasn't a good thing. Nevertheless, I disagree with Rick's conclusion over the matter, in that I find Pagitt to show forth his views as heretical at the end.

It must be stated that Rick, perhaps being in the Vineyard movement which stresses a 'Kingdom-based' theology, sees things less dualistically and more 'holistically', in the sense that some things are 'both/and' rather than 'either/or'. That seems to be the take on Rick's defence of Pagitt. Yet, the problem is that such will not work in defending Pagitt. Remember that Pagitt is here in the Todd Friel radio program stating that topics such as heaven and hell, salvation from God's wrath and hell are things which are not important. Notice the word 'not' there. Pagitt is already disregarding the entire focus of historical soteriology. If truly he is embracing a 'both/and' theology, then he would agree with Friel but then add that there is more to the issue than just heaven and hell (ie Rick Warren's approach). By stating that salvation as understood historically is unimportant is an attack on the very nature of Gospel itself, not as Rick thinks is a postulation of a 'both/and' theology.

With regards to the part about the interview with Pastor Bob Dewaay, I guess Rick perhaps overlooked the fact that readers are given a link to buy the CDs/ DVDs of the DeWaay/ Pagitt debate, where they can make the conclusion themselves. And the issue here is that Pastor Ken is using the authority of two pastors to prop us his case, just for those people who have more respect of your position when they know other (more influential) pastors agree with you perhaps. Anyway, is being vague (which the Emergent Church loves to be) somehow a Christian virtue? I don't think so.

Now, we will look at specific quotes. Rick quoted this:

Ingrid Schlueter: So what you’re saying is that the question of whether the Gospel exists in other religions is a thrilling question that we should be asking.

Doug Pagitt: I think it’s the biblical question. Yes, I think it’s the right biblical question. I think, I find that you couldn’t read the New Testament without that question being raised and without the answers to it being the answers that we should be paying to; which is there is no culture or religion which holds God in complete isolation or purity. (15:25-15:56)

To this Rick added in another segment of what Pagitt said:

There is always the act of the Spirit outside of our religious systems. That's true of ... all religions. There is nobody who should be able to say that what we believe is the end of the story and that there is nothing else that God can contribute through people in the world. Or that there is nothing else that God is ever going to do in the world. That is a serious overstatement. There is no Christian expression which is not also a cultural expression. We do not have a culturally neutral Christianity. So what we have in any system of belief ... we are now engaged in a culturally invented Christianity which has its limitations.

Rick tries to defend this by talking about culture and Christianity. He syas:

Secondly, isn't Pagitt correct that we package our Christianity based on our culture? As one who travels the world, I get to see first hand that Christians everywhere are not alike in all that one may easily consider part of the Christian tradition.

I'm really sorry, but sometimes I just want to scream. I am an Asian Chinese and I think so far the only orthodox Evangelicals who try to defend something like that with such arguments are the White caucasians (Really sorry for stereotyping). To be sure, there are many different cultural expressions of Christianity, yet to think that this fact somehow creates a relativizing force on all cultures in general, and into faith in particular is ridiculous. We all came from Adam, from Noah, and were dispersed at the Tower of Babel, so please quit thinking as though we are all so alien. All cultures are not equal, neither are they all correct or all wrong. But all of this have nothing whatsoever to do with the faith and the Gospel itself. Furthermore, Pagitt is advocating religious pluralism, not just cultural humility. Religion, not just culture.

And this whole thing about seeing good in other religions etc is one of the fruits of the most perverse form of "Common grace" (Richard Mouw's type) teaching around. God is the source of all good, and all Man are desperately depraved and wicked (Total Depravity). Whatever good the unregenerate have is a reflection of the little which originates from God, so why should we look for good in them when we can find it in God and so much more and purer? Why do we need acknowledge good in culture and religion even though they have a bit of it, since theirs is a mere shadow compared to the fullness found in Christ. It is like marveling at the microscopic wavelet caused by a swimming bacterium because it looks similar to the large waves left in the wake of a killer whale.

And noticed that Pagitt says that God is working in other religious systems? Is God really doing that? I submit to you no. How can God be working in a system which is rank idolatry at best? God is working to brig poeople to Him, not to 'redeem' religions.

The next portion of the interview is also interesting:

Ingrid Schlueter: So we could interpret what you’re saying as how is God at work; how is the Gospel present within Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism—all of the different religions of the world.

Doug Pagitt: Yeah, for sure because—I mean—Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism, those are not—I me—they are the right way to say ‘em. They are “isms,”right; so they are a school of thought, and they are also embedded in a particular cultural setting. And so I think someone could say, “yes, I can see how God—how God is expressed, talked about, understood, through these schools of thought.” Which I find to be quite helpful and they’re not all in contrast with my Christianity. (17:05-17:47)

And Rick adds the following segment, which doesn't actually help Pagitt,

And I could find other parts of those same systems that I think I could say I don't think that is at all the way God operates in the world. But I find that very same thing inside the Christian context.

Rick thinks Pagitt is saying that

He acknowledges clearly that there is false teaching in these other systems. He just isn't willing to say every word that flows from someone in another culture is false

Unfortunately, this is not what Pagitt is saying. Pagitt is first stating that there are good points within all religions which come from God; in other words he has already conceded that truth can be found in other religions and that God is working within them. As mentioned, this is the most twisted form of "common grace" ever to be seen and it leads to religious pluralism. In distinction, biblical Chrisianity's position has always been that we start with the truth of God which we have, and that any truth which is found in other religions is a shadow of the truth found in Christ. Just because some religions have some truth does not make that entities to learn from. For example, almost all religion tell you that stealing is wrong. Are we to say that we can learn from them because of that?

So wrapping this up, how can it be denied that Doug Pagitt is a heretic? The statements by Pagitt implicate him through and through.

Ecumenical fairytale and Rick Warren

The next thing to look at is Ken Silva's piece An ecumenical fairytale. In this piece, it is true that Pastor Ken did not specifically quote anyone, but this is the type of piece along the lines of the PoMotivator posters by TeamPyro. In other words, this piece presupposes that you have read all the previous material and therefore are able to follow along with the satire. I know Rick hates the PoMotivator posters, so I don't think he will like this piece by Pastor Ken too, but other than that, I don't see any other problem.

And with regards to Rick Warren, I had replied that because Norman Vincent Peale mentored Robert Schuller, and that Schuller had influenced Warren, therefore the link is there. Furthermore, Warren can be technically correct, but that is a red herring, for the main question is not whether Warren has met Schuller and they are great fishing buddies for example, but whether Schuller's ideas on things like church growth have been passed down to Warren. This is not a guilt-by-association tactic as supposed, but is valid since the thing being passed down is not something facile like 'have been taught by this person before', but that they do share the same mindset with regards to church growth for example; in other words a transmission of ideology.

We will look at Rob Bell and Erwin McManus later, in the next post.

[to be continued]

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