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Snark and Theological Discourse

One  of the great characteristics of the Millennial generation (which is certainly not limited to them) is a kind of deep flowing angst which manifests itself in copious servings of irony, sarcasm, and nearly perpetual satire that becomes central to much of their communication. Being fluent is sarcasm is not a vice, but, for some, perhaps a virtue. It seems that for so many, good feelings and happy-go-lucky sentimentality only perpetuate a false front for reality which is uncovered through, for lack of a better term, snark.

One example of this came out last evening while I ventured through my RSS feeds to find a post over at Near Emmaus written by Kate Hanch titled “The Mark Driscoll Scholarship for Women Pastors: A Good Idea?

Hanch is responding to a Facebook post by Shane Claiborne where talks about a group, Epiphaneia, who have sponsored a conference which hoped to support a charity titled “Mark Driscoll Scholarship Fund for Women in Ministry.” Clearly this is a theological jab directed at promoting an egalitarian position on women in ministry over and against a patriarchal view such at Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church.

What struck me about this is how it has been sort of a fitting capstone to a series of developing conversations between the complementarian and egalitarian views of gender and ministry roles. Having been involved in some of these conversations for awhile, there has been a growing animus between the sides over the past several years that has been increasingly less charitable. For full disclosure, I am a complementarian (which Pastor Driscoll also claims to be) but of a different stripe than some.

What worries me about attempts (by any of the sides…because there aren’t just two) to make a point at the expense of someone else is that you ultimately a) devalue your point and b) undermine your credibility. 

It seems that as we continue these conversations (and particularly on these issues) there is less accommodation for those who might disagree and more of an antagonism between the sides. During my time in having these conversations I’ve been called all kinds of names (misogynist, hater, bigot, etc) by others in opposite camp in the midst of trying to clarify and discuss these issues. Now, granted, the more sane voices in these conversations don’t resort to such measures, but for too many of their followers this is fair game.

This kind of hurtful discourse also occurs in other theological discussions, most obviously between the Reformed and not campus. Why is it that we feel that the use of snark and sarcasm will bolster our points as opposed to not extending an olive branch of humility and contrition?

One truth is that someone might be able to gain a louder voice in these conversations and end up with many followers by using these tactics and tone. However, as we’ve seen so many times in history, this kind of a voice ends up being stuck in its own generation and does not have a lasting use.

So, more directly to this latest issue: why would anyone feel the need to support an organization that openly detracts from the conversation by impugning another believer’s testimony and character?

For all his strengths and weaknesses, one thing we can know about Pastor Driscoll is that he would not support this kind of movement. Those who are mockingly supporting this kind of scholarship are missing an entire group of leaders who do support the training of women in ministry who might be better leveraged to gain both credibility and real support.

Of course, this isn’t the goal of such declarations. Their goal is to jab us in the eye and sock us in the gut to attempt to gain our attention. Well certainly this has worked, but at what cost? This isn’t to say we can’t have a light and fun conversation. We can. Yet examples like these above clearly intend to go over the line of what is appropriate and easy camp out in the area of what is offensive and unnecessary.

I’m reminded of Paul’s words in Ephesians 4:29-32  29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Perhaps too many of us believe that filling our books, articles, papers, and blogposts with snark will make up for a lack of substantive engagement with each other and the real issues. However, I believe it only limits your voice and confines it generationally. The cause of Christ should echo through the generations.

If you disagree with Pastor Driscoll, tell us why is a reasoned and appropriate way. There are aspects of his theology, and specifically here anthropology and ecclesiology, that I disagree with, but also many aspects that I mutually affirm. Perhaps you are a woman who is called into ministry, go! and get trained at a great seminary. Find a church and be ordained to fulfill your calling. There is so much more that we agree on than we disagree, let’s not let these things stand in the way of the Gospel and its proclamation among those who need to hear.

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Snap Judgments: Social Media Challenges

The past several days saw a flare up in the blogosphere over a possible attribution error involving the venerable theologian, N.T. Wright and a book he was purported to have written or at least given a contribution.

This was first posted by Michael Bird who brought up an issue concerning a soon to be released book titled Breaking Beautiful: The Promise of Truth in a Fractured World. Though the item has been pulled from the Amazon.com (thought still up on their UK site) you can go see a page over at Barnes & Noble’s site. According to a loose reconstruction of events, it appears Bird saw this release and contacted Wright who was not familiar with the text. Bird then sent off the later redacted post questioning the reliability of the book in light of his conversation with Wright.

Well, this fired up the social media world and soon we had a number of blogs and twitter discussions going on about this issue. Soon Brian LePort over at Near Emmaus noted the discussion and soon also had its resolution. By the afternoon (US Central Time) Bird had posted a resolution post after Tim Suttle had offered a “confessional” post detailing his side of the situation. Apparently, Suttle had been under contract with a publisher, The House Studio, to provide groups content behind Wright’s videos on the topic.

Soon enough Elizabeth Perry, editor at The House Studio, offered a public statement to Bird’s piece and ChristianityToday’s Liveblog had a chronicle of the situation. It seems the situation arose out of confusing marketing, a quick decision to post a perception of a situation, high level intellectuals were involved, and the pire of fire that is social media was soon ignited. My purpose here is not to assess blame or who is right or wrong. In fact, I think the comments fields of the many posts above will give any reader a better view of this. However, it does serve to remind us of a few lessons:

  • Always proceed with generosity and be willing to fact check before quickly posting. We’ve all seen what happens when news organizations post unfounded stories. Theologians and church leaders have a higher calling and that means we take intentional steps to seek resolution before making assumptions.
  • Publishers are not above reproach and can slide too often towards pushing celebrity over substance in the process. Though I am uncertain if The House Studio did conspire to do anything wrong, they appear to have done the proper thing in removing this initial marketing. We can and should be thankful for their discernment here.
  • We should all be equally vexed and thankful for the power of social media. Though it provides ample opportunities to exacerbating problems, it also can provide quick resolution when cooler heads prevail. This episode, I think we can honestly assess, is a good example of both. Imagine what would have happened 25 or more years ago if this had gone to a major professional journal. It would have taken years to unwind and reputations would have been irreparably sullied. Now, within one day, we have resolution and peace.
  • For my purposes here and elsewhere in my writing, I believe Matthew 18:15-17 mandates that I personally attempt to call, message, or contact a person before I personally question something about their motives and actions. Perception across so great a divide as the internet is dangerous.
  • Along these lines, when it comes to professional discussions I am in agreement with Dr Carson on matters concerning published matter, in personal ministry discussions I am challenged by Scripture to inquire privately first and publish publicly second.

 

We all must share a burden of openness and generosity. When we do not we fail to uphold the character and calling of Christ. This episode is, hopefully, instructive. I am thankful for theological leaders like Michael Bird who have a passion for truth and academic integrity. Without excellent leaders like him our churches would be worse off. I am also thankful for writers and ministry leaders like Tim Suttle who willingly partner with leaders to bring wonderful resources to our churches to help grow our people and who speak publicly about their own questions on publications. I am also thankful for publishers like The House Studio who are willing to seek out leading edge curriculum to help our people grow.

Ultimately, we can all be thankful for the grace and charity that go before us all and help unite us in our own shortcomings while serving the Kingdom of God.

33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you. 34 Therefore don’t worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. Matthew 6:33-34

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May 2013
POSTED BY Garet
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