October 20, 2017

Who? Me? How I Became A Pariah in The Reformed Blogosphere

monkcomp.jpgSeveral weeks ago, the Internet Monk research department received one of those requests that, well…in all honesty, they decided was probably best to just lose somewhere on the desk. Not everything I request from my dedicated researchers is worth their time our your readership, and I appreciate their interest in my well being. This request, however, was important to me, and after allowing time for something to surface in response, I had to make one of those phone calls where I threw a hissy fit, slapped a few employees around, and finally got my way.

Today, the document has appeared, and is now here, to enlighten all of you who have been asking yourself that question that won’t go away: How did you tick them off so bad?

I’m glad you asked. Now, live, direct and without commercial interruption, the IM Research department brings you: Who? Me? How I Became A Pariah In The Reformed Blogosphere (Complete with additional material.)

#1 I wrote “I’m Not Like You.”

It’s right there for all of you to read, and frankly, I still can’t figure out what’s such a big deal about this essay. It was written after some of my stuff on inerrancy (more on that later) and seemed, by some, to be an “attack” on Calvinists. As any average fifth grade reader can see, the essay attacks no one, and simply states….why I am different from other people. It is provocative, to get readers to think, which isn’t a new thing on my site.

It was this essay that James White autopsied at his site, More about that later, as well, but on to #2.

#2 I announced that I treated Roman Catholics as my fellow Christians.

There are a couple of essays involved in this, but the main one was, “The River Is Deep.

I grew up in strongly anti-catholic circles, but I was hardly prepared for what this essay got me from the Truly Reformed (more about them later.) As I’ve been told by many letter writers since, accepting Catholics as Christians is an unpardonable sin in a lot of fundamentalist circles, so this was a biggee.

I know this puts me in the minority, but then my life puts me in the minority, doesn’t it? It’s why I am living mine and you are living yours, and God will judge us both. If I should have treated my Catholic friends as non-Christians, then God will let me know.

#3 I don’t like James White.

Let me be really clear on this one, because it comes up a lot and chances are the mention of his name will get me back on the autopsy table.

I had never read a book by James White or visited his web site for more than a momentary glance when he picked up “I’m not like you” and carved it up like a thin sliced ham in several very long posts over three days in April of this year. The things White wrote about me, my ministry, my school, my church, my personality and my life were so out of the blue that I almost quit blogging on the spot. It was a “drive by experience” like none I’d ever been through. I’ve never read anyone, before or since, who tore another blogger apart line by line with such obvious relish.

What prompted this? Did I do a comic book? Nope. Pope John Paul II died, and Tim Challies posted a comment from White that said people who were talking about the dead pope as a great Christian were wrong, because he wasn’t a Christian. I reposted this, with a comment, pointing out White as a typical reformed teacher who did not believe JPII was a Christian. I said that I thought his assessment was pretty cold on such short notice.

That was it. I assume that was all true, I didn’t call any nasty names or make any degrading comments.

Well, Katie….bar the door.

For the next week, White carved me up like a turkey. White is an excellent writer and a smart guy, and he tore me apart. He denounced me as liberal, postmodern, unfit for ministry, an embarrassment, mentally ill, etc. Did I react to this? Uh….yeah. I did, as best I could. I shut down IM. I said “Ouch” a lot. I whined a bit.

The real problem erupted when fans of White (not White and not at his request) began dominating the BHT comments, leading those comments to be permanently shut down. Later, some of those same fans went to extremes that I will not repeat, but that were scary and harassing. At least one of these people continues to send profane and abusive material to me and others. (I want to be very clear that White had nothing to do with any of those people, as far as I know, though apparently, I am far from the only one to get the same treatment. I don’t think my fans are quite as devoted.)

Do I like James White? No. He likes people who I like, and who like me and know him, but the biggest struggle I have in my life as a Christian right now is what is in my heart towards James White. I deal with it daily and it grieves me. I wish we could sit down and work it out, but I don’t know what I would say and I don’t really want to have to deal with the emotions of the whole episode. I support White in much of what he does, and I know he is a good and decent man. But I’m still reeling.

4. I criticized Phil Johnson. Twice. At least.

Phil Johnson is an elder at Grace Community Church and John Macarthur’s right hand man at Grace To You, arguably the classiest radio ministry in the world. He’s a fine teacher and preacher, a webmaster for the Hall of Fame, a creative, humorous blogger, a fellow who shoots straight in a personal correspondence, and a guy who I posted critical posts about. Twice.

While I have my issues with Macarthur’s unique brand of Reformed Baptist New Puritan Dispensationalism, I’ve got shelves of his tapes and I’ve told him that I owe him a lot for helping me keep my head on straight after seminary. I also know that the Grace Community Church/Master’s Seminary Community has a reputation for “bulldogish” fighting in any theological matter.

The BHT is a theological bar, and we critique and comment on lots of various theological banter. We will post and comment on dozens of books, sermons and blog posts every day. That’s our fun. It isn’t a solo blog. We all don’t agree, and we like to see where a discussion goes. We don’t talk about our gardens much. We talk a lot of seminary coffee shop stuff. So one day, I posted concerning Phil’s chapter in Fool’s Gold critiquing N.T. Wright. I thought Phil was doing something that I had critiqued a lot on the BHT, i.e. analyzing Wright via one book and several passages, rather than reading the main Wright corpus. I defended Wright and had nothing good to say about Phil’s critique. (This was not the first or the last time I made similar posts in regard to Wright.)

Phil took offense and wrote me a letter, listing what he’d read. I still disagreed with his critique, but it was straight forward, we parted amiably and I apologized for misrepresenting his research.

Later, not having gotten enough the first time around, I also posted fairly sarcastically on the matter of academic credentials. I’ve walked this plank before, so I know how people feel. Phil didn’t like that, and I understand completely.

From there, it’s just been one repeated playground fight after another. The BHT prods at Phil irregularly, and Phil has used me and the BHT as fodder at his blog as often as possible. Usually, he is citing something said at the BHT, and he has posted positive posts about some things I’ve written. More typical, however, is today’s post which features 1) humor that is over my head, dealing with abused kids every day, as I do and 2) two outright falsehoods: No one at the BHT threw a fit about Johnson’s previous post; no one at the BHT questioned God’s sovereign control of the weather. Of course, if I say anything about not liking this game, I’ve proved every point…so shhhhhhhh.

The tragedy here is that I know, from personal correspondence, that Phil and I would and could get along. But, instead, our relationship deteriorates daily, and at this point, is a spiritual challenge to me on almost the same level as White. I should want to see these men and pray with them, and that I can’t sincerely want that is a tragedy. I say, with shame, that these men who ought to be my brothers are people that, today, I don’t believe I could converse with.

5. I frequently use the name “Truly Reformed” for a particular kind of Calvinist.

I didn’t invent that term, but I get some mileage out of it, I’ll admit. Who are the “TRs?”

They are Calvinists who believe they have the ownership papers on the Reformation, even though they don’t agree on the confessions, baptism, the regulative principle, the designated hitter, etc.

They ride the Reformed range as sheriffs on the rest of the Reformed community, especially on the blogosphere.

They regularly announce what Reformed people must believe about non-essentials (usually by making the matter an essential.)

They go well beyond the language of the confessions into their own interpretations.

The Baptists among them think the Covenant theology types are bad Calvinists. (No….that’s not a joke.)

A lot of them are mean. They may be a lot of good things, too, but they are mean and they tell you they came to fight and win. Some of them- not all- have no problem going to really extreme lengths to verbally punish those who aren’t “reformed” as they see it.

Thanks to them, I now no longer call myself a Calvinist of any kind. It really seems to annoy some of the Truly Reformed that I am a Christian at all, but I can’t help that. Predestination and all. Complain to God.

6. I don’t use the term inerrancy.

In several essays, I’ve explained why I don’t use a word no reformed confession requires me to use. You can read about it in the IM archives, in essays like this one.

I’m a Bible believer of the highest order, but I’m not a literalist on this modernistic view of scripture. Sorry.

7. Some of the Truly Reformed think I’m postmodern.

I have no idea what postmodern means. I’ve written a little bit of my confusion on IM, and you can read it for yourself. If I am, then fine. What does THAT mean? And what’s my alternative? Modernism?

8. I’ve taken the side of the NPP, N.T. Wright, Brian Mclaren and the “Emerging Church” in some discussions.

These are all a bit different, but I toss them out together because the common point was that I generally side with a broad theological discussion. I have my limits, but none of these folks get past them. I consider them all good Christians, and I support their contribution to the conversation. (Emerging word.)

Defending either Wright or Mclaren for any reason sets off bells and whistles all over the place these days, and I can’t resist the fireworks. I don’t agree with Mclaren about much of anything, but this idea that he’s some kind of devil is silly.

9. I wrote an essay that praised- and modestly criticized- John Piper.

I finally had to take it down, as the Truly Reformed were getting bizarrely up in arms over my mild suggestions that Piper might feed some kinds of fanaticism with his intense, unique kind of Calvinism. I love Piper and no one has done me more good. But it’s all or nothing in the Reformed Blogosphere.

10. I support Public Schools….and Christian schools….and homeschools.

Supporting public schools is…ahem…not a popular position with many evangelicals. Enough said. You can explore that at IM, too.

Comments

  1. Michael,

    Being a neophyte to the Blog world I have to say, “what gives”? If ‘reformers’ are going to get upset with your comments on being pro-catholic, tolerant of B. McLaren etc, what do they say in regards to Benny Hinn and Mr. P. Robertson. I enjoy much of what you post though I think you are rather soft on Mr. Piper. The book that he wrote with many others on gender was a bit bizarre.

    May I suggest that some of your critics may want to read the Wittenburg Door. Good medicine for their soul.

    Keep on nailing.

    Cheers,

    Quentin

  2. Michael,

    As an alumni of The MasterÂ’s Seminary, I wanted to let you know that I appreciate your candor and charity in your above comments. IÂ’ll be checking back with you regularly. Regards.

  3. Wow. There’s a joke that goes, Q: How can you tell an orthodox Catholic firing squad? A: They’re standing in a circle.

    Peering over the fence, it looks like much of the same over on y’all’s side. Michael, speaking as one who has taken direct hits to the heart from “friendly fire” both IRL and on the net, you have my sympathies and prayers.

  4. Hey, Monk.

    Reading this, I could only quote Jesus:

    “If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou Me.”

    I think that everyone who’s criticizing you forgot who their leader is. I read you on a somewhat regular basis, and I don’t always agree with everything you say, but if I don’t, I can always leave and come back later. The statement on antithesis was a GodSpot moment. But then again, Jesus said we’d be hated by the world, so you must be doing something right. 😉 I leave it to Him to tell you what, exactly.

    You keep on nailing those thoughts to the door. If people come to the door, they do so at their own risk.

  5. Ditto to all the postive comments posted here!

    I dunno i-monk…maybe you need to pull a
    Dr. Gene Scott on them 🙂

    http://www.wittenburgdoor.com/godstuff/genescott.html

    now to all of you who love the i-monk
    “get on the telephone” haha

    God Bless

  6. Playground fight is right. The comic books are full of it.

  7. Stephen Tilson says:

    You should take up New Covenant theology, iMonk. Then you could retain the doctrines of sovereign grace, focus on Jesus as the fulfillment of the everything, and be called an antinomian by people who can’t see how Jesus’s commandments are in line with the decalogue.

  8. “And what’s my alternative? Modernism?”

    Pre-modernism.

    BTW, do the “Truly Reformed” believe in SIX points of Calvinism?

  9. What’s the sixth point? (And you’ll have to ask them.)