The New Christians


Here’s the continuation of my response to your blog post and my petition asking Adam to consider withdrawing from the ordination process in the PC(USA).

5) You write,

What historians know but Tony doesn’t seem to understand is that he is following precisely the path of the American Fundamentalists of the 1900s. In their zeal to create a purer, more faithful church, they ended up attacking fellow believers and crippling what should have been a golden age of spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ. I am calling on Tony and others to stop this destructive behavior now, before it’s too late.

Your statement here is particularly untrue. First of all, I don’t know that everyone would concur with your verdict that the Christian fundamentalism crippled the spreading of the gospel. Instead, A) I think many would say that mainline Protestantism’s embrace of historical critical methods in the late 19th century left biblical literalists with little choice but to propose an alternative. B) There’s little evidence that liberals would have ever developed much interest in “spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ.” C) The chasm between liberalism and fundamentalism gave rise to the mid-20th century evangelicalism of which our alma mater, Fuller Seminary, is a product.

But second, and more importantly, there is a great difference between what I am doing and what the fundamentalists of the 1890s were doing. They were, as you say, zealous for a purer, more faithful church — a zeal driven by theology.  My dispute with denominationalists is surely not theological. No, my quest is more like that of Calvin, Luther, Zwingli, Simons, Wesley, and Wimber. I see a system that has outgrown its usefulness, and I am calling those who run that system to reform it, radically and immediately.

What is most strange to me in your response is the line, “Leave the ‘fixing’ of the denominations to those of us who care about them.” I imagine that the Catholic bishop in Geneva might have said that very thing to John Calvin as Calvin railed against the abuses of the papacy and the magisterium. Your desire to silence a provocative and dissenting voice from outside your system is on par with the Diet of Worms considering Luther’s writings to be destructive to what they’d built. Similarly, the Anglicans had no patience for Wesley, riding around on the frontier and ordaining whomever he considered called to preach and teach the gospel.

Don’t you see that you and your fellow denominationalists are on the opposite side of this argument than the progenitors of your movements? To me, the voices who say, “Shut up and leave us alone to reform our system from within,” sounds a lot like the voices who have stood against reformist movements in the past. You think my vituperations hinder my ability to be heard by others. I’d say the same of Calvin. You think I should be more genteel. You might have said the same of Calvin.

6) At one point in your post, you get quite personal. So let me respond. On global standards, my family of origin is, indeed, “very wealthy.” So is yours.

My parents paid for my college education, for which I will be forever grateful. For seminary, they gave me no money. I received a total of $6000 from my home church, with whose Deacon Board I was “in care;” I received an academic scholarship from Fuller during my second and third years there which, to the best of my recollection, was a couple thousand dollars. Otherwise, I put myself through seminary debt-free, working two to three jobs at a time — youth pastor, high school/college baseball umpire, campus tour guide, and anything else I could find to make a few bucks. While at Princeton, I received the standard fellowship of $12,000 per year for four years, money that came from Princeton’s $750 million endowment, not from the PC(USA). Needless to say, a family of five cannot live on that, and I took on significant debt to pursue that degree.

We are, indeed, friends, But you have absolutely no idea about my financial situation at the present moment. I consider it a deep breach of our friendship for you to write, presumptuously and publicly, that “your financial security has never been a hindrance or worry to you.” Let me unequivocally state that that is untrue. Honestly, I am shocked that you would write such a thing. [UPDATE: John has posted an apology.]

7) Finally, John, you write, “you should be proposing new agendas (as you do) and helping the rest of us reform existing structures from within.” That’s exactly what I’m trying to do. An online petition is, of course, a gimmick. My point, as I wrote yesterday, is to expose the ridiculousness of the systems by which people use denominations to exert their power over other people — like Adam. I’m calling all of us as Protestants to embrace the creed, “the priesthood of all believers.” I’m saying that there’s no ontological difference between “clergy” and “laity” that enables the former to perform sacerdotal functions, and prohibits the latter from said functions.

I’m saying that your systems have become overgrown and abusive. Reform them, or you will lose a generation of leaders.

Loyalty is not inherently bad, John. But it can be blinding.

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