The dangers of assumptions and labeling in Christiandom
I’ve been stewing about something for a while now and hope I can articulate my thoughts clearly. Today, I found an example that might give a window into what my brain has been stewing about.
Is Thabiti Anyabwile really promoting Rachel Held Evans . . . . or not?
Take a look at this tweet sent out by Pastor Thabiti Anyabwile in which he links to an article by Rachel Held Evans. Are you surprised that he linked to Rachel Held Evans? I was. My first thought was: cool! I think it’s great that he could look beyond their doctrinal differences and connect with Rachel on something in her words that rings true for him. But my second thought was: “Uh-oh, what will his Gospel Coalition (TGC) friends think of this?” Rachel Held Evans is not highly respected in TGC camp and I know that even linking to her blog in a positive way will likely send a message of “endorsement” to some people.
Sure enough, those comments came in:
Is Julie Anne is in Peter Lumpkins’ camp . . . . or not?
The above tweet is from J.D. Hall. He tweeted this after I tweeted something about Peter Lumpkins. (My Twitter handle is @DefendtheSheep.) I don’t know much about Peter Lumpkins and his doctrinal background. I do know that he wrote an important document, a sex abuse resolution to submit to the Southern Baptist Convention. I would applaud that effort whether Lumpkins was Arminian, Calvinist, New Calvinist, or even a Muslim. Yes, even a Muslim, because I care about protecting children from sex abuse. You’ll notice that JD Hall (Pulpit and Pen) assumed that Lumpkins and I are on the same “side.” This is not the only tweet in which Hall has assumed we are good buddies.
Is Julie Anne an egalitarian . . . . or not?
A while back, I saw an article in which a Twitter follower of mine wrote an article based on one of my articles. He gave background info on me indicating I was an egalitarian. He also had me labeled in other ways which left me scratching my head, “say what?” How could he come to those doctrinal conclusions about me when I hadn’t even come to those conclusions myself? After our discussion, he scrubbed the article.
Is Julie Anne’s friend, Michelle, a Calvinist . . . . .or not?
Earlier, I made a comment referring to my friend, Michelle. Michelle and her family were part of the church (BGBC and Pastor Chuck O’Neal) we came from. I mentioned that Michelle considered herself to be a Calvinist. She happened to read that comment and sent me a text saying that she didn’t consider herself to be Calvinist/Reformed, that she hadn’t read much of Calvin. Thankfully, she wasn’t offended by my comment, but I felt bad and confused. I texted her back and then called her on the phone. What had I misunderstood?
You see, a couple of years ago when their family visited our family, Michelle and I went for a walk and we had a conversation about Calvinism and TULIP, and I jokingly told her that I thought TULIP was ridiculous (I’m blunt like that). I told her that someone put together TULIP and right now it is the go-to “flower” for Calvinism and maybe next year it will be DAFFODIL as someone conjures up some other sort of system with the letters of D-A-F-F-O-D-I-L. Of course I was being facetious. I was correct in that Michelle had once identified herself as Calvinist, but now she’s not comfortable with that label. Boy, do I ever get that.
Michelle and I have gone back and forth on certain doctrinal issues,we sometimes differ in our interpretation of scripture, but we always come back to the fact that we both are in strong agreement on primary doctrinal issues. We love each other as sisters in Christ, we respect each other, and because of that, we can overlook secondary doctrinal differences. She probably won’t convince me to sway to her beliefs and I probably won’t convince her to sway to mine. Sometimes it’s fun to debate and challenge each other, but in the end, we encourage each other towards Christ. Man, it’s great to have a friend like that.
Did David Robertson “cancel the Reformation” when he “sided” with Catholics?
My former pastor gets caught up in this black/white, all-or-nothing thinking, too. You have to meet certain criteria for him to even associate with you. In this tweet, he calls out Scottish pastor David Robertson for aligning with Catholics based on a couple of short sentences taken out of context. This is a hot topic for O’Neal. If you like anyone who has any ministry work with Catholics, you are guilty of being in the wrong camp. O’Neal says in the tweet to listen to the 4-5 minute mark. I’d encourage you to continue listening past the 5-minute mark where Robertson explains his stance further.
Is SSB promoting errant doctrines?
Sometimes people attempt to make things very rigid and black and white. Some of us even, including me, after having left an abusive black/white church situation can easily get caught into this trap. It’s happened here on the blog and I want to put this on the table for discussion.
Last week, I posted a very short video by N.T. Wright. I don’t know all of the doctrinal background of Wright. I posted it because many of us who were spiritually abused have gotten bogged down by errant doctrines, by man-made rules, or legalism. What I’ve heard expressed by SSB readers is a desire to go back to the foundation: a relationship with Jesus. That’s where I’m at, too. That’s what the video expressed to me. It brought me back to the importance of the gospels and of my relationship with Jesus, away from all of the spiritual clutter and confusion around me.
Some people did not like the video because they have put N.T. Wright’s teachings into a category of errant doctrine and so no matter what he says, it cannot be correct. Evidently I created quite a doctrinal ruckus causing some e-mails to be sent to others regarding my lack of judgment. Perhaps the e-mails said something like this: “Hey, did you see what JA just posted? I think she’s off her doctrinal rocker.”
I’m not quite sure how someone can decide that I’m off my doctrinal rocker as I haven’t really disclosed a lot about my doctrinal beliefs. I have a few “absolutely nots” – ie, Patriarchy, but overall, as I have been recovering from my spiritually abusive church and residual mess, I have decided to put secondary doctrinal issues temporarily on the shelf. To me, it’s more important to save what is important and essential: my relationship with Christ.
We are all unique individuals on a spiritual journey. For most of us, our spiritual journey has evolved or refined and sometimes we do not fit in nicely wrapped and labeled boxes.
Now – let me go a little further and relate it to SSB and the commenting here. I’ve been getting some feedback (both private a-mail and in blog comments) about how SSB is hostile towards Calvinists and there’s been criticism on how I moderate comments. There is concern that I let certain people who are labeled by some to have errant beliefs have more of a platform. The concern is that people might be influenced into wrong doctrinal beliefs. On the other side, there are those who say I let the anti-Calvinists give too much push back against Calvinists/Reformed and they dominate the blog creating a hostile environment for anyone who comes here wearing the label “Reformed or Calvinist.” There could be some truth to both of those conclusions and I’m sure that I do miss things in moderating.
That said, the primary goal of this blog is to be a refuge and encouragement for those who have suffered spiritual abuse. Now, I know there are some that will say, “but wait – – it is the Calvinist doctrine which is the heart of the abuse.” I get why some would say that. I certainly have seen abuse in Calvinist churches. But instead of dealing with the big picture, I think it’s important to get to know people right where they are without the labels. And in order for us to do that, it’s important to make sure we know where the other person is coming from before diving in.
JA identified as Catholic, but was a Christian?
Can you stand just one more example? Part of my childhood, I was raised Catholic. When I was in high school (a Catholic high school), I rededicated my life to Christ and devoured scripture. But I also considered myself Catholic. But wait -you might ask – how can that be? Well, I practiced my faith as closely to the Bible as I could, even while leading a “praise and worship team” at my Catholic church. If there was something within the Catholic tradition that did not line up with scripture, I didn’t hold to it. For example, when I went up for communion at my Catholic church, I did not believe in Catholic transubstantiation. I took the wafer as a Protestant would take communion. The wafer did not represent the literal body and blood of Christ to me. When people around me said, “holy Mary, mother of God,” I didn’t recite that part. I rejected it.
You see, I was living in a home with Catholic parents. I felt it was my responsibility to honor my parents as best as I could while under the roof. I prayed about it and this is what I felt God telling me was acceptable for me. I formally left the Catholic church on the day I got married and left my parents’ home. My point is that I labeled myself as a Catholic. If you were to assume I was a Catholic in the true sense of the word based on my label, there would have been misunderstanding. (A side note, not one of my immediate family is Catholic any more – they go to protestant churches.)
I think there are people who because they go to a Reformed church, label themselves as Calvinists, but may not be too clear on what that means. They may be following along because that’s where their husband brought them. It’s important that we dig deeper before assuming.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that labels do not adequately tell the whole picture, and sometimes they portray the wrong picture. Because I post a video about NT Wright, doesn’t mean that I hold to Wright’s doctrine. When I retweet someone’s tweet, it might be just because I am in agreement with only the message on their tweet. Because I work out with a Pilates DVD does not mean I endorse Yoga’s spiritual philosophies. We need to be very careful about judging others based on specific connections or language used.
But let me make this perfectly clear. If John Piper or C.J. Mahaney or even Mark Driscoll were to tweet something like:
“Cilantro should never be part of a cuisine, it should be identified as chief among weeds,” I will be the first person to stand behind that tweet and retweet it – maybe even a few times, and y’all are just going to have to deal with that. 🙂