An Indistinct Sound

(Originally printed in the Summer 2005 Issue of the MCOI Journal)

In 1 Corinthians 14:8, the Apostle Paul drew a word picture for the Corinthian believers when he wrote:

For if the bugle produces an indistinct sound, who will prepare himself for battle?

This passage has been on my mind quite a bit lately. “But why,” someone may ask, “this short passage?” That is a very good question, and one which I have asked myself. It isn’t the Prayer of Jabez. No magic incantation with a big (phony) promise if it is done repeatedly. It isn’t really even just a passing thought, either for me or for the Apostle Paul. It was a word picture he used to demonstrate a particular problem in the Corinthian Church. The direct context of 14:8 is that of speaking in unknown languages (tongues) which are not interpreted for the benefit of others. The Apostle had developed in three chapters the manifestations and consequences of the problem, which were chaos, pandemonium, and spiritual arrogance. To the detriment of the body, some were pushing their particular spiritual gift and passion to be the most important thing in the Christian life. The result was church splits, division, spiritual pride, and arrogance. The Corinthians had developed a sort of “spiritual myopia” and, as a result, focused almost exclusively on one thing—their passion, while everything that did not reflect their passion became fuzzy or non-existent and, therefore, unimportant. Paul employed the analogy of a body in chapter 12 to demonstrate that there are many things necessary to the life of the body and, by way of example, to the life of the church and individual believers. As we step back and look at the whole of 1 Corinthians, we can see a common thread in the problems associated with the Corinthian church—spiritual myopia. The noise, din, and confusion rose to a cacophony of “My way is the anointed and appointed way of doing church!” which, in the end, resulted in the bugle producing “an indistinct sound.” The tongues issue was but a symptom of the problem which Paul diagnosed in the very first chapter:

For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Cloe’s people, that there are quarrels among you. Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, “I am of Paul,” and “I of Apollos,” and “I of Cephas,” and “I of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 1:11-12, NASB)

For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another “I am of Apollos,” are you not mere men? What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you have believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. (1 Corinthians 3:3-7, NASB)

Spiritual myopia isn’t a problem exclusive to the first century or only to the church in Corinth. It has resurfaced from time to time throughout Church history to varying degrees and with varying consequences. The questions which are asked of us at MCOI (especially over the last several months)—questions such as: “What do you think of the Seeker-Sensitive church?” or “What do you think of Rick Warren and The Purpose Driven Life?” or “What do you think of the Emergent Church?”—are persuading me that what we are encountering is a high degree of spiritual myopia across the church in general which is greatly damaging the Body of Christ

The Good, the Bad, and the Crippling

Early in my Christian life, Joy and I attended a small church in our area. We loved that little church as they were very good at teaching the Bible. I learned a tremendous amount about context, hermeneutics, and how to really understand the Word of God. However, something was lacking. Joy and I often felt like square pegs in a round hole. We really had a passion for reaching lost people, but the church did not seem to place a high priority on that. “Sound doctrine” was their theme. It wasn’t that they didn’t care about reaching the lost, but they seemed defeated in that area. Upon reflection, it seems that this defeat stemmed from their conviction that no one outside of their very small group cared about “truth”—the truth being their particular set of denominational doctrinal beliefs. The church was located in a predominantly Roman Catholic area, and when we would raise the issue of evangelism, I sometimes felt like I was with Joshua and Caleb after they returned from spying out the land. To paraphrase their compatriots in this setting: “There are giants in the land, and they are all Catholic!”

As I observed that denomination, I realized that most all of these churches were small in number. There didn’t seem to be a lot of personal connection. We all went to the same church, knew each other by name, but the common bond was the thing which we focused on—doctrine! Of course, they agreed on the essentials with all other evangelical churches, but the uniting force was their own particular denominational positions—those which they did not share with the Body as a whole. Of course, there were exceptions—people who did care about “outsiders” such as Bob and Helen Farnham. We have stayed in contact with these dear people all these years, and they have been our first-line prayer warriors. Bob has gone home to be with the Lord, and Helen has continued faithfully to support, love, and pray for us. They were, in many ways, a light in a church of good people with a particular Spiritual Myopia called “doctrine.”

On a personal note, it may seem strange that I would list emphasis on doctrine as a form of Spiritual Myopia, since I stress doctrinal education as a very essential facet of church health; and even feel that, these days, it is a much-neglected essential at that. But doctrinal soundness, to the exclusion of other areas of importance, can be as unhealthy to the Body as “loving your neighbor” is when it excludes doctrinal education.

One man, Frank Peters who began attending this little church with his family, agreed with their doctrinal positions but continually attempted to persuade them there was far more to the Christian life than merely their particular doctrinal position. One concept he espoused, that was very compelling to me and has stuck with me to this day, was his view of the church. He suggested that a healthy church is like a three-legged stool, and the legs are all the same length to prevent the chair from wobbling. The legs of this “chair,” he called the “3 ‘E’s”. They were Evangelism, Education, and Edification. This church excelled at education. They had very limited edification and nearly zero evangelism. Sadly, some years ago the church closed its doors and sold the building to a false religious group—the Christadelphians.

As I have thought on these things in recent days, it occurs to me that Frank was almost correct on his “3 ‘E’s” but not quite. I believe the church needs another “E” to keep from falling over. I would go with a four-legged stool instead.

Education – Training believers in how to think, develop a Christian world view, study the Scriptures, and defend the faith.

Edification – Create an environment where believers can get to know and care for one another intimately and deeply. The result is that they will actually pray for each other, and bind up the wounds which result from living in a fallen world. They will rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep, and worship the God of the universe together.

Evangelism – Being prepared, built up, and prayed for, to go out and defend the faith, share the Gospel, and reach the lost as something that is an integral part of being who we are in Christ. The Holy Spirit does the work; we simply need to be available and knowledgeable.

Empathy – Good works and social concern. When Jesus sent out the 12 to proclaim the Gospel, He gave them instructions to “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. Freely you received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8). These 12 had spent time being educated and edified and returned frequently to Jesus for both during His earthly ministry. They were then sent out to evangelize and minister to those in need.

I don’t think we are doing too much damage to Scripture if we view these four elements, or legs of what we might call the “Church Chair” or possibly even the throne on which our Lord sits, as the core elements of a healthy church. Notice, none of these things particularly concern “nickels and noses.” A healthy church could be large or small, financially well off or struggling; but if it has these four elements, it will be a spiritually alive and healthy church. I suspect that, perhaps, the majority of churches focus on just one or two of these essential elements. Some may have three, but it is rare to find one with all four.

Myopic Faddism

If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? (1 Corinthians 12:17)

In looking at this issue, I think we need to acknowledge that it seems to be inherent in human nature to focus on what is most important to us, either individually or corporately, in a local body. In the case of the local church, that tends to be the area which is the primary focus of the pastor and elders. In many cases where the spotlight is on “church growth” (however that is defined), the local church will jump on various church growth fads that wind up not “working” for their particular body, leading to great frustration both to the leadership and the “followship.” Whatever the current church fad, it is viewed as “the thing”—the silver bullet which will solve the church woes and make them “successful.” Much of the time, “successful” has to do with “nickels and noses” rather than a biblical view of success. Attracting the lost, which may be the ostensible rationale for “growing the church,” is not the primary result of the process; by far, most of the nickels and noses attracted by these fads come attached to people who are already a part of another Christian church which deprives this sister church of much needed resources and people!

Paul’s teaching about the exercise of spiritual gifts within the body at Corinth is an important one and again reaffirms the idea that although there may be levels of importance, all of the core elements are necessary for good health. In an article such as this, we cannot comment on every nuance of each issue we will address; we can only look at them in generalities. Because we don’t mention something, doesn’t mean we are unaware of it, nor are we saying any such unmentioned issues are not important. However, with limited time and space, we will focus in on very core areas.

Not all churches subscribe to the church-growth fads to the same extent but may use elements of various “programs” to varying degrees—some to the benefit of their local body and some to their detriment. I would suggest that the originators of a particular “movement” tend to pull it off the best because of their particular gift mix, common calling, and shared experience which makes it succeed. Others may be able to duplicate the form but so lack in some of the key areas of gifts and calling that only a shell of the original is actually there. In these cases, abuse by leadership can result as they drive people to produce the results that are being sought.

We are trying not to be too harsh in our judgment of the people who are seeking to grow their churches. Some have seen their numbers dwindle as the flock moves off to the next “new thing” and may feel that they have to adopt the new ways or die. Having said that, however, we are constrained to point out where this growth obsession is taking the church. The one thing I am very persuaded about is that Spiritual Myopia is having some very profound adverse affects on the Body of Christ today. We can see this “sea change” documented by George Barna when he discovered that only nine percent of born-again Christians hold a biblical world view.1 Barna was not talking about non-essential teachings either. He was focusing on core doctrines of the Christian faith—such as the Deity and Resurrection of Christ! Using the same criteria for pastors, Barna demonstrated that only 51% of pastors have a biblical world view!2 More recently, Barna, in talking about popular books on the Christian market, comments:           

While there have been theological views expressed in those books, very few popular books have helped people to think clearly and comprehensively about their core theology. Consequently, most born-again Christians hold a confusing and inherently contradictory set of religious beliefs that go unchecked by the leaders and teachers of their faith community.”3

This is scary stuff, friends. Are many evangelicals actually leaving the faith and unaware of that fact? It may be time to perform a bit of LASIK surgery on the churches.

Emergent Church

This new movement’s attraction can probably be summed up in one word: Edification. Those drawn to it are desirous for relationships. They want deep, intimate relationships with one another and with God. Meaningful worship and intimate relational communion with God are of paramount importance. Gathering to share hurts and happiness, sadness and victories within the safety and acceptance of a caring community is their passion. They don’t believe they are finding this emotional satisfaction in the evangelical churches across the spectrum—be they fundamentalist, seeker-sensitive or purpose-driven churches.

From my own perspective, we get the idea of the centrality of relationships – relationships to each other and relationship with the trinity [sic], which is itself, an ex-pression of perfect relationship. Scripturally we see that the people of God get the [sic] identity not as individuals but by a sense of dependence to [sic] God’s otherness, and that God chooses to use us in our collectiveness rather than in our individualness. Both these concepts, in our individualistic and therapeutic world, are distinctly counter cultural today. Further, we are called to follow Christ as the disciples followed Christ – to do worship mission and community through the relational.4

I can understand the attraction of the Emergent Church to people whose church experiences didn’t provide deep, intimate, and safe relationships. My friend and pastor, Ray Kollbocker, and I have talked about this ourselves. Neither one of us grew up in church. We didn’t understand church culture before becoming believers, and our understanding hasn’t seemed to improve over the years. Think about it: The church is the one place where someone has to admit they are a sinner to join. Yet for the rest of one’s life, the congregant must pretend he or she is not one and hide who they are lest someone “find them out” and expose them as a sinner and question their salvation or toss them from the church. As J. Vernon McGee used to say (by my recollection), that if you knew me as I know me, you wouldn’t listen to me; but then, if I knew you like you know you, I wouldn’t preach to you! It seems humorous, but it really is not.

Years ago, I was teaching an adult Sunday school class on the family, and we were talking about teenagers. One woman stood up and with tears talked about how hard her daughter’s teenage years had been and how helpless and alone she felt as a mother during those difficult years. On the other side of the room, another woman stood and said to the first, “I never knew you were going through that. I was going through the same thing. I wish I truly had known.” About that time, we were all nearly drowned in the tears of these two precious women who had gone to church together for nearly 30 years, and in spite of all the times together in church—church picnics, pot lucks, etc., they had no idea what was going on in one another’s life. There was no intimacy

All people long to know and be deeply known. We should not be afraid to open ourselves up to our fellow Christians; but the reality is we are afraid, which has often led to false piety, lack of real intimacy, and loneliness within the one group of people with whom we should be the most comfortable—the ones who could share our load. After all, we are all sinners saved by grace. (And no our children aren’t perfect either.) Sadly, many of us are closer to non-believers whom we feel may not be as quick to reject us for our faults and sins.

Intimacy—that is what is attracting people in droves to the Emergent Church. Edification is certainly a part of a healthy church, BUT I can almost hear the Apostle Paul saying, “If the whole body were a heart, where would the breathing be?”

As important as Edification is to the Body, the dangers of this type of spiritual myopia quickly become apparent when listening to or reading the material from the Emergent Church leaders (such as Rob Bell, pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, MI), as they blithely disconnect themselves from nearly 2,000 years of Church history:

“This is not just the same old message with new methods,” Rob says. “We’re rediscovering Christianity as an Eastern religion, as a way of life. Legal metaphors for faith don’t deliver a way of life. We grew up in churches where people knew the nine verses why we don’t speak in tongues, but had never experienced the overwhelming presence of God.” 5

Rob is at least being honest that what the Emergent Church offers is not the “same old message with new methods,” but something entirely different. The Bible, in this movement, becomes important not for what it says or demonstrates, but rather how it “relates.” It is less about receiving truth to understand and apply and more about “being.” It is not about understanding what God has said, but rather admitting that we have no idea what God truly says—and being comfortable in that ignorance—as long as we are developing close relationships within a body that “works” toward that end:

“Life in the church had become so small,” Kristen says. “It had worked for me for a long time. Then it stopped working.” The Bells started questioning their assumptions about the Bible itself—“discovering the Bible as a human product,” as Rob puts it, rather than the product of divine fiat. “The Bible is still in the center for us,” Rob says, “but it’s a different kind of center. We want to embrace mystery, rather than conquer it.”

“I grew up thinking that we’ve figured out the Bible,” Kristen says, “that we knew what it means. Now I have no idea what most of it means. And yet I feel like life is big again—like life used to be black and white, and now it’s in color.”6

Andy Crouch, the writer of the Christianity Today article quoted above, observes:

The more I talk with the Bells, the more aware I am that they are telling me a conversion narrative—not a story of salvation in the strict sense, but of having been delivered from a small life into a big life.7

If this sounds warm, fuzzy, and a bit incoherent, that is because it is. The leaders of this movement appear to recognize that in their web sites which are appropriately named with titles like THEOOZE (www.theooze.com). They now talk about The Liquid Church.” It is a place where we can gather in conversation,” light candles, burn incense, and share our personal narratives with one another in affirming, non-judgmental ways. The intense drive to facilitate relationships has directed this movement to embrace Postmodernism—wherein we really cannot know anything for certain. Dr. D.A. Carson attempts to explain the difference between Modernism and Postmodernism:

The majority view, however, is that the fundamental is-sue in the move from modernism to postmodernism is epistemology—i.e., how we know things, or think we know things. Modernism is often pictured as pursuing truth, absolutism, linear thinking, rationalism, certainty, the cerebral as opposed to the affective which, in turn, breeds arrogance, inflexibility, a lust to be right, the de-sire to control. Postmodernism, by contrast, recognizes how much of what we “know” is shaped by the culture in which we live, is controlled by emotions and aesthetics and heritage, and can only be intelligently held as part of a common tradition, without overbearing claims to being true or right. Modernism tries to find unquestioned foundations on which to build the edifice of knowledge and then proceeds with methodological rigor; postmodernism denies that such foundations exist (it is “antifoundational”) and insists that we come to “know” things in many ways, not a few of them lacking in rigor. Modernism is hard-edged and, in the domain of religion, focuses on truth versus error, right belief, confessionalism; postmodernism is gentle and, in the do-main of religion, focuses upon relationships, love, shared tradition, integrity in discussion.8

The sad result of this Spiritual Myopia—the emphasis of Edification over truth—is it must conclude with the view that, as Dr. Carson points out, The old, old story may not be the true, true story.” In commenting on David Bosch’s book Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission, Dr. Carson lays out eight points of what I would suggest is a sort of “doctrinal statement” of the Emergent Church; although I am sure many Emergent leaders would shun such a title, since having a doctrinal statement would smack of actually claiming to know something is true. But here are Carson’s eight points—his foundational “truths,” if you will:

1. Accept co-existence with different faiths gladly, not begrudgingly. It is not their fault if they are alive.

2. Dialogue presupposes commitment to one’s position, so it is surely not a bad thing to listen well. Dialogue should be congruent with confidence in the gospel [sic].

3. We assume that the dialogue takes place in the presence of God, the unseen Presence. In such dialogue we may learn things, as Peter does in Acts 10‑11. Similarly, Jesus learns from his interchange with the Syrophoenician woman.

4. Missional dialogue requires humility and vulnerability. But that should not frighten us, for when we are weak, we are strong. It is surely right, for instance, to acknowledge earlier atrocities committed by Christians, even as we remain careful not to disparage those earlier Christians.

5. Each religion operates in its own world and therefore demands different responses from Christians.

6. Christian witness does not preclude dialogue.

7. The “old, old story” may not be the true, true story, for we continue to grow, and even our discussion and dialogues contribute to such growth. In other words, the questions raised by postmodernism help us to grow.

8. Live with the paradox: we know no way of salvation apart from Jesus Christ, but we do not prejudge what God may do with others. We must simply live with the tension.9

Point eight is very telling and is strikingly similar to the views of Raimon Panikkar, Professor Emeritus at the University of California Santa Barbara, which D. A. Carson outlines:

Christ, he said, cannot be identified with the historical Jesus; Christ is always more than Jesus, and therefore Christianity has no monopoly on Christ, even if it has a monopoly on Jesus. Since every religion develops some sort of link between the absolute God and human beings, it is appropriate to think of that link as “Christ.” For Christians, doubtless the historical connection is Jesus; for others, Christ will be manifest as someone or something else. Christ is of course the only mediator, but he operates differently in different religions.10

According to Panikkar’s view, we personally may not know of any other way of salvation, but we cannot preclude that another way exists. Jesus is part of our personal narrative, but we cannot really determine if our personal narrative is true in any actual and meaningful way. God may have another way for other people in other faith traditions. As always when dealing with Postmodernists, keep in mind that, although they talk a good game about rejecting absolute truth, they always believe what they are claiming about truth (and everything else) is absolutely true! Since their view supposes that truth does not exist, then their view of truth, which they believe to be true, cannot be true, since truth does not exist, and must, therefore, be false. Confused yet? So are they.

The Emergent Church’s Spiritual Myopia is, by analogy, like putting someone who is so near-sighted they can only see the steering wheel, in the driver’s seat of a tractor trailer full of explosives traveling on a busy expressway. They may successfully get to their destination without mishap, but it isn’t very likely.

The Purpose-Driven Rick Warren

Rick Warren’s book The Purpose Driven Life (published by Zondervan) arguably has made a very big impression on churches, Christians, and even non-Christians. According to Rick Warren on August 11, 2005, 30-million copies have been sold.11 Warren has become a lightning rod for both praise and criticism. It is difficult to be neutral about Rick Warren. He is either the one person who has answered the question of how to “do church” and is, therefore, to be emulated; or, on the other hand, he is to be vilified as the worst blight on the church today. We, however, cannot evaluate Warren on the basis of the division which his emergence has caused. After all, one greater than Rick Warren said, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword (Matthew 10:34). There are times when division is appropriate and even biblical. The Apostle Paul in writing to the young pastor, Timothy, communicated something in his opening lines that would undoubtedly create division:

As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines … (1 Timothy 1:3)

Cult groups have almost no division in the ranks, since all must walk in lockstep with the leadership—or else! So division over Rick Warren should not be the important issue, but his teaching, as Paul points out, is what ought to be examined.

Rick Warren would appear to be truly committed to his “purpose” which currently involves solving the AIDS pandemic, ending world hunger, poverty, and illiteracy. In other words, Empathy with the sufferings of others is his main thrust—giving to others in an effort to raise them out of suffering and need on a global scale. Empathy and good works are certainly admirable things—important parts of the Christian life as well as one of the “4 ‘E’s” of a healthy church. However, the way he communicates his passion gives the impression, at least, that until he came on the scene, churches have not been involved in these issues. It does come across as arrogance, and some pastors may take this as an unwarranted slap in the face. Pastor G. Richard Fisher of Laurelton Park Baptist Church in Brick, New Jersey, a church of 200, recently e-mailed me his response:

Last year, we raised over $100,000 for missions and missionaries, and that goes out to street work in New York, AIDS work in S. Africa, kids camps, Palestinian kids in Nazareth, church planting in Wales, evangelistic outreach to native Americans, and on and on. Multiply that by thousands and thousands of churches, and the impact is staggering. Of course, no one but Warren is doing anything.

I have never attended Saddleback—Warren’s church in CA, nor have I heard any of his teachings from there. A fellow apologist I know and trust informs me that Warren has developed the best adult-education curriculum he has seen in any church including those pastored by Dallas seminary professors. Up to this point, we haven’t been able to procure the material to evaluate it personally. Rather than being all pumped up with himself, Rick Warren seems to be truly mystified at his notoriety—his stardom, if you will—as he now talks with rock star Bono about solving AIDS, and has government leaders and CEOs of large corporations calling and asking to meet with him. I recently had an opportunity to hear him speak; and I thought that if we met over lunch or dinner, I would probably find him to be a really nice guy.

But Warren’s laser-beam focus on Empathy and good works—one important facet of Christian living, unfortunately seems to be coming at the expense of other important areas, such as correct and careful handling of the Word of God. As we pointed out in our MCOI Journal article “The Purpose Driven Claim,”12 we had received a number of calls about Rick Warren, which motivated us to read his book in order to formulate an informed response. After reading it, we came to three conclusions, two of which we commented on in “The Purpose Driven Claim.” I will restate all three here in brief, but I will not treat them in depth.

1.) Rick Warren probably understands exegesis and hermeneutics, but it is not apparent from the book. Even when the points he makes are biblical ones, the passages he uses very often do not support them.

2.) There are some good things in the book. For example, his opening line in chapter 1, “It’s not about you”13 is absolutely right on spot! However, the things that are good are so basic that anyone who has been a Christian for more than six months should already understand them, which leads us to the next point.

3.) The popularity of the book probably says more about the state of the church than it does about how good the book is.

In that article, we demonstrate that, although it may be a fine thing to set aside 40 days to God for a particular reason, the premise of his book, Whenever God wanted to prepare someone for his purposes, he took forty days,14 based upon the examples he gives, is just plain false. It must be admitted that nearly all, if not all, pastors, teachers, and writers on occasion will misuse or misapply a passage of Scripture. But Rick Warren does it so often that it leads one to wonder if he is studying God’s written revelation to man or using a concordance to find proof texts in an attempt to support an idea about which he is passionate. It is very reminiscent of Bill Gothard’s method of Bible teaching. An even more serious problem, it appears to me, is what seems to be Warren’s new theme—his call for a new reformation.” This is something which surfaces in many of his television and radio appearances, written publications, and talks. It was the core of his talk, “The Stewardship of Leadership,” at the Willow Creek Leadership Summit on August 11-13, 2005.

Rick Warren is, indeed, calling for a “new reformation,” however, it is not one of getting back to doctrinal truth, but one of moving that musty old stuff to the back burner in favor of Empathy and good deeds. He communicates that we have had (in centuries past) the reformation of creeds, and what we need now is a reformation of deeds. His claim is that what the church believes was solved 500 years ago (creeds), and we need to focus on alleviating human suffering (deeds). He states unequivocally, We know what we believe.” I don’t know if I can state strongly enough how utterly false this claim is! The near total lack of doctrinal discernment within the church has been demonstrated by George Barna in survey after survey. In fact, what we need now, and desperately, is the exact same thing that was needed during the first century as indicated by the scores of scriptural admonitions to teach sound doctrine and to be diligent in doing so on a regular and ongoing basis (see 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus and other passages). According to Acts 20:27-31, it is the primary job of the pastor and elders to guard the flock. From what? From the savage wolves (false teachers and false world views) that will come in from the outside, as well as from the wolves that will arise among the brethren. Paul states,

“… from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore be on the alert …”

Warren’s passion for Empathy is so great and so Spiritually Myopic that he builds on what he claims is true (Christians know what they believe, and there is no longer a need to address that) and then goes on to misuse Scripture to support the idea that Jesus would have us create alliances with any and everyone who is a person of peace in order to solve the sufferings of humanity on a global basis. The proof text he uses is Luke 10:6. Noting the words If a man of peace is there …” Warren points out that at the time this was spoken, there were no Christians; therefore, like the 70 disciples, we simply need to find the man of peace—even if they are a Muslim—in any and all villages in order to make alliances which will facilitate solving AIDS, poverty, hunger, and illiteracy. What about solving biblical illiteracy—beginning with this passage? As we look at the text in context, we observe several things:

1.) Jesus was Jewish and the prophesied Messiah to the Nation of Israel.

2.) The 70 (v:1) were His Jewish followers.

3.) They were sent “in pairs ahead of Him to every city and place where He Himself was going to come.” These were Jewish villages containing people who already accepted monotheism and the Old Testament as God’s written revelation of Himself to man.

4.) They had been sent out to prepare communities for His coming to proclaim the Gospel. “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few …” (v:2)

5.) When they arrived in a Jewish village, they were to find the monotheistic, Torah-believing Jewish “man of peace.”

6.) If the “man of peace” didn’t receive the disciples and their message, they were to leave and shake the dust off their sandals on the way out as judgment against the village.

Am I saying that addressing hunger, poverty, AIDS, and illiteracy is wrong? Absolutely not! Empathy with the sufferings of others is an important part of the believer’s responsibility. But does this passage demonstrate Warren’s point? Most definitely not! In fact, it would seem to militate against it; for if acceptance of the message (the Gospel) is a qualifier for remaining in the village to minister, then according to this passage, the Muslim would have to receive the Gospel message in order to be a “man of peace.”

This Spiritual Myopia has driven Rick Warren to make alliances with and promote, for example, Roman Catholicism, as his Purpose-Driven team trains them to fill up their churches.15 This was surprising to us at first, but it seems in recent years Rick Warren appears to have come to the conclusion that there is very little difference between Roman Catholicism and Evangelicalism:

And, you know, growing up as a Protestant boy, I knew nothing about Catholics, but I started watching ETWN, the Catholic channel, and I said, “Well, I’m not as far apart from these guys as I thought I was, you know?16

Does Warren even realize that the core reason for the Reformation was the irreconcilable difference in the way that Catholics and Reformers viewed the Gospel itself? Brave people bled and died for that great difference. Is Warren completely unaware of Church history on these foundational issues?

Additionally, even though Rick Warren is not a New Ager (due, perhaps, to sloppiness and/or his passion for his own Spiritual Myopia), he has embraced, endorsed, and promoted Mysticism, Contemplative Prayer, and New-Age ideas through his on-line “Pastor’s Toolbox”. Undeniably, Spiritual Myopia can be incredibly dangerous.

The Seeker-Sensitive Bill Hybels

By invitation from a Willow Creek staffer, I attended Willow Creek’s Leadership Summit 2005 on August 11-13 to observe the event. This invitation was extended to me despite the fact that last year in our MCOI Journal article “Stranger Danger,”17 we had criticized their bringing in a Word-Faith and Oneness (non-Trinitarian) teacher—T.D. Jakes. I went with mixed feelings as there are some things at which Willow Creek excels, and which we admire, as well as issues which cause us great concern. For the most part, I was impressed with what they did, and I was reminded of the passion which drives them. In one word, it is Evangelism. It is Bill Hybels’ unrelenting desire for excellence, to “get it right,” and eliminate as many obstacles as possible which might distract “unchurched Harry” from hearing and embracing the gospel. In his excellent book on Willow Creek, G.A. Pritchard points out:

Understood from a biblical and historical point of view, the idea of a seeker service is a modern adaptation of Wesley’s open-air meetings, Paul’s discussion in the Ephesus lecture hall, or Jesus’ hillside parables.18

We dealt with what brought Hybels to this seeker-sensitive model in “Stranger Danger” and won’t repeat it here. However, to understand Willow Creek, we need to understand what Hybels calls his Holy Discontent.” Hybels lives by the admirable maxim that “People matter to God,” and he desires to do everything he can to live and preach that message to all who have ears to hear. His passion is to bring people to God.

This is a noble and very worthwhile cause and clearly is one of the “4 ‘E’s.” But again, we have to deal with Spiritual Myopia—the elevation of one aspect of ministry, no matter how important, over all other facets. Due to the sheer number of people who attend Willow Creek on a regular basis, the church cannot really do Edification well. It is nearly impossible to get 18,000 or so people into close, intimate relationships even in small groups. However, it is fair to say that the leadership of Willow Creek does, at least, understand the importance of Edification and close relationships among the flock, even though they may not be able to pull it off as well as they do other areas. The church does excel at worship and bringing people into the corporate presence of God. Empathy and good works is another area at which Willow Creek excels. They have a strong emphasis on feeding the poor (they keep a food pantry stocked for that purpose), helping those who need cars (a ministry devoted to repairing and/or procuring transportation for single mothers who have need), racial reconciliation is important to them, and they are very involved in trying to address the AIDS pandemic.

However, it is in the important area of Christian Education—doctrinal teaching—where the wheels begin to come off the cart. What happens on Sunday morning is mostly for “unchurched Harry,” and so it is intentionally “light” in order to be more “user friendly.” The mid-week service for believers is somewhat better, but it is still guided by “seeker sensitivity.” Consequently, things like context, hermeneutics, discernment, and so forth generally are not emphasized. They have two of the “4 ‘E’s”—Evangelism and Empathy—down well. Edification is a bit crippled. Education is where the problems begin:

Yet beneath Hybel’s [sic] pragmatic use of academic experts in each of these categories is an underlying ambivalence toward and even disdain for education itself. One staff member described to me how he was converted at Willow Creek and then decided to go to seminary: “I applied to seminary, because I figured that was the route to go … until I realized that ain’t the route to go.” Willow Creek staff discouraged him not to waste his time on seminary.19

The result of this neglect of education is that few staff members have substantial Christian knowledge.20

 Willow Creek does hold strongly that Christianity is true:

Although pragmatically arguing that Christianity is true, Willow Creek has devalued the place of the mind in the Christian life.21

The consequences of the virtual shunning of education in a biblical Christian world view are well demonstrated when Hybels’ desire to facilitate racial reconciliation has led him to create alliances with Word-Faith teacher, Fredrick Price, and Oneness Pentecostal and Word Faith teacher, T.D. Jakes. One such example is their three-day conference in Cincinnati, OH on June 11-13, 2003.22 As mentioned earlier, despite the fact that T.D. Jakes is a false teacher and in spite of the fact that Hybels was made aware of the numerous doctrinal problems with Jakes’ teachings, Hybels elected to bring Jakes in to teach over 40,000 pastors and church leaders in the 2004 Leadership Summit. Four months prior to that conference, we contacted Bill Hybels and the Board of Elders at Willow Creek and brought to their attention what the Bible has to say about false prophets and our Christian responsibility to protect the flock from them (see Matt. 7:15-23, Acts 20:28, 2 Timothy, 1 Tim. 1:3, 4:6-11, et al).

To date, there has been no response to our letter. Again, there are other examples that could be given; but in the majority of cases in our various dealings with small-group leaders and staff at Willow Creek, the lack of basic theological understanding, basic defense of essential doctrines, and discernment is rather glaring. This is not surprising. Followers tend to adopt the attitudes and tendencies of the leaders they follow. If evangelism and social action are the primary focus of the church or its leaders, all who serve tend to get in line with that emphasis and disregard what the leadership regards as unimportant .As effective as the church can be in the spiritual “birthing” of many, it has not been very effective in growing them up to maturity. 

Discernment: The Immune System of the Body           

And those members of the body which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our less presentable members become much more presentable (1 Corinthians 12:23).           

Pastor G. Richard Fisher equates discernment with the immune system of the body. It is a useful analogy. How does the immune system work?

The immune system is a complex network of cells and chemicals. Its mission is to protect us against foreign organisms and substances. The cells in the immune system have the ability to recognize something as either self or invader, and they try to get rid of anything that is invader. Many different kinds of cells, and hundreds of different chemicals, must be coordinated for the immune system to function smoothly.23

This is fairly straight forward and easy to understand. The immune system produces antibodies to fight off invaders which should not be in the body; and when functioning properly, it is vital to protecting the body from sickness and potential death. If the immune system becomes weak or compromised, the health of the body is in jeopardy as in the case of HIV:

The immune system can mount a variety of responses to attack specific invader organisms. One of those responses is coordinated by the T-helper cell (also known as the T4 cell), which acts as a kind of orchestra conductor. The T-helper cell tells other cells what to do when this response is triggered. We are interested in this immune response because it is the one that is most disrupted by HIV infection of the T-cells. As HIV succeeds in destroying more and more of these important cells, the ability to fight off some other infections gradually declines. If the “coordinator” of the process, the T-helper cell, is no longer functioning, other blood cells cannot perform their functions, leaving the body open to attack by opportunistic infections.24

On the other hand, the immune system can become the body’s worst enemy.

Autoimmune Response – Reaction of the body against one or some of its own tissues that are perceived as foreign substances resulting in the production of antibodies against that tissue.25

For reasons the medical professionals haven’t been able to figure out as yet, the immune system can overreact and attack and kill the very cells it is supposed to be protecting. In writing about a woman who has suffered greatly with an immune system that has turned on her, Andrew Pollack states:

The attack was the equivalent of friendly fire. Ms. Perez has lupus and hemolytic anemia. Both are autoimmune diseases, in which the person’s immune system, meant to defend against germs instead directs its fury against the person’s own tissues.26

In the “4 ‘E’s,” Education is the parent of Discernment. Like the immune system, discernment in local churches and para-church discernment ministries focuses on safeguarding, defending, and teaching the essentials of the faith to protect the Body. Without discernment, the Body could develop Spiritual AIDS (Acquired Ignorance of the Doctrines of Scripture) and become vulnerable to any false teacher or heresy that comes along. We believe this is the state of the church today. Apologists and discernment ministries train and equip believers in how to understand the faith, evaluate other faith claims, and evangelize those in false religious movements. They are, in many quarters, seen as “unseemly members;” but like the immune system, they play a vital role in the spiritual health of the Body of Christ. Some believers and churches do see the value of what apologists and those in discernment ministry do, and they look to them to track dangers which creep into the Body. We at MCOI are grateful for the churches, pastors, and individuals who view this ministry not only as a valuable resource and essential part of the body, but also as a mission which they faithfully support with their prayers, time, and finances.

On the flip side, those in discernment are considered by some to be “high maintenance” or “divisive,” and certainly can be perceived that way because of their concern with truth, proper exegesis, hermeneutics, and application. Apologists generally have little patience for false teachers and false teachings. Many of those who are involved in discernment and apologetics enjoy arguing—will argue at the drop of a hat and, at times, will gladly drop the hat. That can be a good thing, but it can also be detrimental when it goes awry.

In all honesty, there is a dark side to apologetics and apologists that sometimes comes to the fore. At times, with good intentions, they may overreact or overstate the case, thereby causing damage to the body of believers. Even worse, apologists sometimes have been known to twist things or make egregious leaps of logic in order to better “nail” the false teacher or someone whom they perceive to be a false teacher. Recently, for example, I read a book that implied Rick Warren is a New Ager based upon the fact that he uses the word purpose—a word that Lord Maitreya, a New-Age false Christ, uses frequently in his writings. And???? In Scripture, God, Himself, uses the word purpose—is He, then, a New Ager? This type of faulty logic, besides casting unfair aspersions upon Warren, only does damage to the credibility of the apologist, to the extent that any valid points he does make will be lost on the reader. As discussed earlier, there are serious problems with Rick Warren’s teachings, but that does not mean that his reputation should be smeared with untrue allegations.

Apologists even have been known to attack other apologists—“eating their own,” happily destroying (or trying to destroy) other discernment ministries and ministers—in their proud zeal to show themselves as “right” and everyone else as “wrong.” Some people are not satisfied being a tool in God’s service but seemingly long to be the Pope—or a pope, at any rate. Since many of them are gifted debaters, they can be quite destructive at times. We do well to remember that one can win an argument, or shut down (or shout down) their opponent, but still be dead wrong.

As we see it, this type of behavior just shows that apologists are not immune to Spiritual Myopia. We can become so focused on our calling to “root out” false teaching and defend the faith, that we can, perhaps, “justify the means” by “the end” we are seeking to achieve and run over others in the process. And sometimes, we are a bit short on tact, to put it mildly. Christians are to be “speaking the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15), but sometimes, the love part gets lost in the shuffle. We are guilty of it at times ourselves. In the summer of 2003, we did an MCOI Journal article on the book Wild at Heart by John Eldridge. The article was titled “Wildly Unbiblical,” which the book demonstrably is. Near the end of the article, we wrote:

It is rather ironic that John Eldridge’s late, co-author Brent Curtis (The Sacred Romance) fell off a cliff several years ago while mountain climbing. Curtis was being “wild at heart” and left a wife and two boys.27

Within a few days of the release of the Journal, Judson Poling from Willow Creek, someone whom I like and respect, contacted me and one of the issues he brought up was this statement. A few days later, my son, Lee, who is passionate in serving God, brought to my attention that he, likewise, was grieved at this line. We spent a fair amount of time in emotional wrangling, but both my son and Judson were right. The statement I made was not germane to the article. It was just mean. Many people suffer losses in a whole variety of circumstances, and speaking of this tragedy in this flippant way was unnecessarily hurtful and unfair to the family which suffered this great loss. For that, I am sorry and feel the need to state that publicly. The price that is paid as a result of these sorts of overstatements or mean statements is a loss of credibility. Truth is important, but the Apostle Peter framed it well:

… but sanctify Christ as Lord in our hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence;” (1 Peter 3:15). 

Gentleness and reverence … Apologists must say hard things at times, but that can be done as gently as possible—being mindful that there is a real person on the other end of what is being said.

What is the answer?

The answer is fairly easy to understand but, perhaps, difficult to implement. First, fight Spiritual Myopia. Physical nearsightedness cannot be prevented, but it can be corrected with the aid of glasses or surgery. So too, we need to listen to others and be correctable. Second, as the Apostle Paul dealt with the Spiritual Myopia in Corinth, he demonstrated that each of the gifts or callings are necessary to the overall health and functioning of the Body. Third, and perhaps most important, he demonstrates how love behaves in chapter 13. It matters little if we are doing the right things, if we are doing them for the wrong motives with bad attitudes. The purpose of Education and discernment is to protect the Body from false teachers and prepare believers to do the work of ministry and evangelism. It is also core to everything else which we as believers do. What we believe informs how we think, what we give priority to, and what motivates us to live as we should. There is more in Scripture on the topic of doctrinal teaching and guarding the flock from false prophets and false teachers than nearly any other subject. Is that because it is more important than other areas of the Christian life, or is it simply because it is more easily forgotten or disregarded? The purpose of Education in the Church is to train the Body to think biblically. Addressing the AIDS pandemic may be important, but I would suggest the “Spiritual AIDS” pandemic is at least—if not more—important because of the eternal consequences.

The purpose of Edification in the church is to develop close relationships with other believers and God in a community of believers where we can “know and be known.” All of this prepares us to Evangelize those outside who need to hear the Gospel because we love them, weep over them and desire to see them redeemed. To quote Pastor Bill Hybels’ theme statement, People matter to God.” They also should matter to us.

We practice Empathy by feeding the poor, binding up the wounded, and caring for the sick and imprisoned out of a grateful heart, because we have been given so much. Pastors and church leaders, allow those in your charge to fan the flames of what God has called them to do. God may actually lead the church in a direction different than the one you had planned, but the trip is worth it. This includes everyone—men, women, married, single, college students, teenagers, and even children. Educate them, equip them, protect them, and watch them take ownership as they carry out their God-given passion in the areas of Education, Edification, Evangelism, and Empathy. As everyone becomes so busy trying to serve others, the opportunity to argue over who is more important will vanish.

Don and Joy Signature 2

© 2018, Midwest Christian Outreach, Inc. All rights reserved. Excerpts and links may be used if full and clear credit is given with specific direction to the original content.

  1. Church Doesn’t Think Like Jesus,” WorldNetDaily, December 3, 2003
  2. Only Half of Protestant Pastors Have a Biblical Worldview,” January 12, 2004
  3. Most Adults Feel Accepted by God, But Lack a Biblical Worldview,” The Barna Group, August 9, 2005
  4. Emerging Church for an Emerging Culture,” Ian Mobsby, accessed 1/1/2018
  5. The Emergent Mystique,” Andy Crouch, Christianity Today, posted 10/22/2004
  6. The Emergent Mystique,” Andy Crouch, Christianity Today, posted 10/22/2004
  7. The Emergent Mystique,” Andy Crouch, Christianity Today, posted 10/22/2004
  8. “The Emerging Church,” D. A. Carson, Modern Reformation Magazine, “Faith A La Carte?” (July/August 2005 Issue, Vol. 14.4)
  9. “The Emerging Church,” D. A. Carson, Modern Reformation Magazine, “Faith A La Carte?” (July/August 2005 Issue, Vol. 14.4)
  10. D.A. Carson, The Gagging of God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism, (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI; 1996) 328
  11. Rick Warren in his talk, “The Stewardship of Leadership,” at the WCA Leadership Summit 2005, August 11
  12. The Purpose Driven Claim,” L.L. Don) Veinot & Pastor Mike Mahurin, Midwest Christian Outreach, Inc Journal, Vol. 10 No. 3, Summer 2004
  13. Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth am I Here For? (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI; 2002) 17
  14. Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth am I Here For? (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI; 2002) 9
  15. See “Still- expanding ‘Purpose’: Evangelical Christians have hailed the ‘Purpose Driven’ philosophy: now a local Catholic church will host a conference espousing it; Sean D. Hamill, Chicago Tribune Online Edition, Religion (copy on file)
  16. Rick Warren from the transcript of “The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life,” Myths of the Modern Mega Church, Monday, May 23, 2005, Pier House Resort, Key West, Florida
  17. L.L. (Don) & Joy A. Veinot, “Stranger Danger,” Midwest Christian Outreach, Inc. Journal, Vol. 10 No. 3, Summer 2004
  18. G.A. Pritchard, Willow Creek Seeker Services: Evaluating a New Way of Doing Church, (Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI; 1996), 189
  19. G.A. Pritchard, Willow Creek Seeker Services: Evaluating a New Way of Doing Church, (Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI; 1996), 279
  20. G.A. Pritchard, Willow Creek Seeker Services: Evaluating a New Way of Doing Church, (Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI; 1996), 279
  21. G.A. Pritchard, Willow Creek Seeker Services: Evaluating a New Way of Doing Church, (Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI; 1996), 280
  22. Church Explores Racism: Goal is to Promote Unity,” Kevin Aldridge, The Cincinnati Enquirer, June 10, 2003
  23. How the Immune System Fights Disease
  24. How the Immune System Fights Disease
  25. Mayo Clinic Family Health Book, (Morrow Publishing; N.Y.,N.Y.; 1990) 1315
  26. Trying to Shut Off the Body’s Friendly Fire,” Andrew Pollack; The New York Times, June 5, 2005
  27. Wildly Unbiblical,” Don Veinot and Ron Henzel, Midwest Christian Outreach, Inc. Journal; Vol. 9 No 2, Summer 2003; 15

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