Follow Up on the Religion vs. Jesus Controversy

There has been a good bit of controversy on the internet over the last week regarding Christian personalities, books, or videos. It seems that the things that are most popular are the things that are being most scrutinized. Take for an example the YouTube video Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus or two weeks ago the Driscoll’s book Real Marriage. Both the video and the book were trending topics and wildly popular points of discussion.

The internet has the unique ability to give any individual a voice and there were a lot of people who used that ability to propel the video and book to a most viewed and top seller status. Not everyone who referenced the video or book were positive, but none the less, at the end of the week Real Marriage was a New York Times Bestseller and the Religion vs. Jesus video was among the most viewed videos of the week. 

After reading three different critiques of the Religion vs. Jesus video on Friday afternoon my heart started to churn. I was disappointed that Christian’s would use their “internet voice” to poke at the flaws in the video rather than rejoicing in the fact that it was delivering a clear gospel message into countries like China, Pakistan, and Mongolia. On Friday night I tweeted “does the guy get any credit (mercy) for preaching a clear gospel message to 8 million people in two and a half days?” 

I didn’t necessarily disagree with the content of the critiques, but I found them tasteless and almost opportunistic. My gut sense was “Come on guys, is that really what you want to use your blog for? …To poke at the imperfections of a brothers video?” And to Jefferson Bethke’s defense, his video was only parroting what a lot of evangelical pastor’s have said from the pulpit.

I mused on it all of Saturday. I watched it further unfold as Kevin DeYoung wrote a follow up post after Bethke and he corresponded by email. It seemed like there was some harmony that was found through Bethke’s humility. But the overall idea of critiquing the video left me questioning when it was appropriate to critique and when it was not. Are we bringing the strong opinions of Simon Cowell into Christianity? Are we contending for the faith or merely being contentious? There seems to be a broader issue at hand. 

By Saturday evening I was studying contending and contention throughout the scriptures. And I was asking myself “What are the rules of engagement?” When and how should critiques be shared? From simple book reviews to a polemic for the faith, what should guide our “internet voice”?

Here are some of my initial thoughts.  

Evaluating: Sin vs. Christian Liberty

Right off the bat there is a clear distinction that has to be made. Is the object under consideration in violation of scriptural truth? Is it sinful, false, and disobedient to the revealed will of God? Or is it based in the realm of Christian liberty, lawful, and subject to Holy Spirit guided conviction? These are the two camps; scripturally illegal versus lawful through Christ’s death on the cross. 

Scripturally illegal issues would be the promotion of sinful acts like murder, adultery, pride, lying, and disrespect towards parents. It would also include propagating teachings that are contrary to God’s word. Denying the deity of Christ or rejecting the bodily resurrection of Jesus would be illegal positions that deserve a critique. This is what Jude spoke of in verse three when he exhorted the saints “to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints”. 

The other option is that the object under consideration is lawful or permissible. This means that there is no scriptural injunction that forbids the idea, institution, practice or belief. In Paul’s day this camp included ideas about marriage, salaries for pastors, food offered to idols, and the celebration of holidays. (1 Cor. 9, Col. 2:16-23) In our day and age these “matters of conscience” would include positions on tattoos, alcohol, clothing, debt, homeschooling, diet, and entertainment.

So there is an evaluation that takes place. We ask ourselves, is this book, video, sermon (you fill in the blank) scripturally illegal? Or is it permissible and in the realm of “conscience”? This is the most important decision in the entire critiquing process. It sets the tone of the entire critique. 

Responding after Evaluating

Let’s say for example, that the object under consideration is scripturally illegal. From what I understand from Jude 3, we ought to energetically oppose it… contend against it. We have a model of this in Galatians 2 when Paul confronts Peter for attempting to place the gentiles under a law that he himself was not keeping. Many of Paul’s letters were polemics against false teaching. He did not hesitate to use strong language and make his opinion known. 

But even in this, there needs to be discernment. Take for example Apollos being corrected by Aquila and Priscilla in Acts 18:26. Rather than publicly rebuke him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. We don’t know how far off Apollos was, but he needed some correction. And it appears that the correction happened privately. A very interesting modern day example of this would be the back and forth that took place over Mark Driscoll’s teaching on the Song of Solomon. Here is a good summary of the infraction and correction. It would appear that John Piper handled the matter privately and was successful versus John MacArthur handling it publicly and losing Driscoll and the audience.   

And then there are those things that are permissible. Every week we encounter these “matters of conscience” on our social networks. A person may share their conviction on debt, or diet, birth control or bathing suits. Unless we can identify a clear scriptural line that the person has crossed, we are evaluating their exercise of Christian liberty. We are watching them be free in Christ! 

Now, we are free to evaluate their stance or conviction. We are free to agree or disagree as we evaluate it by the power of the Holy Spirit. We are even free to voice a contrary opinion. But it is at that point—the point of sharing our view—where it is very important that we are not pulling others under our personal conviction. If we do this we birth a new form of legalism as we place people under our man made laws.  

Another Example

Let’s say a person exercises their Christian liberty and writes a book about health food. As they write, they have a set of principles that they need to follow. As they share their views they need to be careful not to flaunt their liberty and not to condemn those who disagree. And as we evaluate that person’s book we need to consider whether God would have us apply those same convictions to our lives. Does the Holy Spirit bear witness to those things in my own conscience? 

For the sake of the example, let’s say that the author does their job and communicates their convictions without flaunting their liberty and without condemning those who don’t share their views. That does not necessarily mean that the book is benign.  It can still be used inappropriately by someone else to flaunt or condemn. It can still have a negative impact. And thus, there may be a warranted critique. 

Should I Say Something? 

So what should guide my critique? What if I don’t find the health food book corresponding with the work God is doing in my conscience? Should I share my perspective? And if so, what is an appropriate way to share? Here are a few questions that I can ask as I consider responding: 

  • Are the people who I influence (Facebook friends, twitter followers, church members) considering the book? 
  • Do I have clear examples of people being influenced negatively by the book? 
  • Are people asking me to share my opinion? 
  • Is this an area where I’m gifted or knowledgable? 
  • Will my opinion compliment the work God is doing in peoples lives through the book? 
  • Has someone already adequately voiced my opinion and made that opinion readily accessible?
  • What would be the consequences of being silent?

How Do I Say It? 

All right… We have reviewed those questions, prayed about it, checked our hearts and decide it is appropriate to write a public critique. What should we keep in mind as we write? 

  • Affirm the heart and gospel found in the book. 
  • Affirm the author as a fellow Christian (if they claim Christ)
  • Affirm the reality that Christian liberty means that what is right for one person may not be right for another. 
  • Outline the different perspective that you hold.
  • Encourage people towards prayer, Bible study and personal responsibility before the Lord in regards to the subject. 
  • And call your audience to rejoice in the liberty that Christ has given to us. 

Our goal is to promote the personal work of Jesus Christ in individual’s lives. We are not attempting to win people to our view or get the attaboy pat on the back. There can be a subtle self-interest to get as many Facebook “likes” as possible. And that is not the goal. We want people following Jesus and liking him.