Fisking: a point-by-point criticism that highlights perceived errors, or disputes the analysis in a statement, article, or essay.
Two days ago, the Christian Today website published an opinion piece from its reporter, Mark Woods, who, the day before, had published a news story to its website about the Ten Commandments sermon and the SC Baptist Convention’s response to the controversy. [The first version of this story incorrectly identified the publication as Christianity Today, which is not affiliated with the site.]
I’m with Perry Noble.
Did he realize this before or after he wrote the apparently objective article about the controversy? As a matter of journalistic ethics, why does Christian Today have its reporters contributing such one-sided opinions while still covering a live and controversial story?
Perry Noble has drawn criticism for his sermon on the 10 Commandments.
There, I’ve said it. Conservative critics have been lining up to put the boot into the South Carolina megachurch pastor after a Christmas Eve sermon in which he appeared to re-interpret the 10 Commandments out of existence, even going so far as to say that they weren’t actually commandments anyway.
Now, I have no dog in this fight. I’m not an apologist for Perry Noble or his ministry,
Yes, he is. This is a defense of, an apology for, Perry Noble. This type of article is exactly what apologists do.
and I have no particular beef with conservative Christians who’ve criticised him.
Yes, he does, and he especially lines up to put the boot into Noble’s critics at the conclusion of his piece.
But what bothers me about the condemnation he’s faced is this: the assumption that biblical truth looks like one thing and one thing only, and the sense of betrayal evidenced when someone breaks from the party line.
Noble’s observation that the 10 Commandments weren’t actually labelled as such is warped into Noble saying that you don’t have to keep them: it’s OK to lie, steal and commit adultery. Is that what he believes? No, though you’d never think it judging by the outbreak of moral panic.
It’s not a warp. Noble actually said that you don’t have to keep them, and it’s documented here, though that may explain why Woods didn’t link to this blog.
Could that observation lead someone to lie, steal or commit adultery when they wouldn’t have done so previously? The chances are vanishingly small, wouldn’t you think?
If Woods lived in Anderson, or in any South Carolina city with a NewSpring campus, he might be surprised at how easy it would be for him to find a NewSpringer who is comfortable living in some form of sinful lifestyle. Noble’s “meh” attitude towards sexual sin almost certainly does lead to much more sin than if he emphasized the law and sanctification. Noble’s constant criticism of other churches as legalistic is based on his accusation that they do not tolerate sexual sins the same why that NewSpring does. (To be clear, I’m not saying this tolerance for sin is manifested in all or even most NewSpringers, just enough that it’s noticed by many South Carolinians with NewSpring friends.)
– and anyway, I thought we didn’t do the right thing just because we’re told to, but because we love God.
The Commandments apply to everybody, even if they hate God. We obey because we love the lawgiver who told us to do so.
Then look at what he’s actually said. “You shall have no other gods before me” becomes “You do not have to live in constant disappointment any more.” That’s frankly a bit of an exegetical stretch, but you can see where he’s going.
It’s exegetical vandalism, not just stretching.
We don’t need to see where Noble is going, because he told us before he started: Nonbelievers do not need to obey the commandments. That’s his launching point and his destination.
“You shall not make a graven image” becomes “You can be free from rituals and religion and trust in a relationship.” A bit more defensible, that one. “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” becomes “You can rest.” That one is entirely reasonable.
And so on. The point is that all of these commandments invite questions and require interpretation in the light of today. If they don’t get that, they become dead letters.
Nobody on our side of the debate thinks they are dead letters at all. Only someone who thinks they’re dead assumes for himself the privilege of updating them.
Frankly, I cannot remember the last time I was tempted to bow down before a graven image and I don’t even know anyone with an ox I could covet.
Frankly, Woods doesn’t understand the Ten Commandments and their role in Scripture. The Commandments function as a form of constitutional law, the unchangeable legal fundamentals upon which every other law is built.
Let’s say that we wanted to have Woods’ article censored. He would appeal to the First Amendment to protect his right to publish, and he’d be right. But I could counter that the First Amendment only grants freedom of the “press,” and because this is on the Internet it doesn’t use the press so it’s not protected. He’d argue that the right of a free press is a fundamental constitutional right that protects all journalistic expression regardless of the method of production, which is correct. The same principle applies to the timeless Commandments.
Another criticism Noble has faced is his use of “coarse and profane language” – possibly referring to an evident use of the n-word in his Christmas eve sermon, though he has form in this respect. Well: I am not relaxed about that. The word offends me, and I think if he did use it (there’s some doubt) he shouldn’t have.
Woods needs to tell us whether he actually thinks Noble used the word, especially because the next part of the argument is defending Noble’s intemperate language use. If he didn’t say it, move on; the issue is dead. If he did, how would he defend it?
However, I am completely relaxed about language which is not of the drawing-room standard if a) It’s genuinely part of the pastor’s personality and is the kind of language the congregation is comfortable with (I do not move in such circles myself);
So the pastor’s personality has free reign to foul up the proclamation of God’s word? Preachers have a sacred duty to proclaim God’s word as if they were delivering it from God’s very mouth, and, to the best that they’re able, they really ought to make their personality as small and muted as possible when they’re preaching.
or, b) It’s making a serious point. For instance, at a Christian convention the evangelist and social activist Tony Campolo once said: “First while you were sleeping last night, 30,000 kids died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition. Second, most of you don’t give a sh*t. What’s worse is that you’re more upset with the fact that I said sh*t than the fact that 30,000 kids died last night.” Result.
If you can’t make a serious point without cussing, you shouldn’t be in the business of making serious points.
(The other reason I’m relaxed about it is because I’ve read Church history. How would Noble’s delicate critics fare if they were had to listen to Martin Luther, for instance, who famously described the Pope as “a turd squeezed from the Devil’s arse”?)
Delicate? We haven’t made a big deal of the n-word incident, treating it as a secondary issue compared to the Commandments teaching, though I’m not sure if Woods thinks we should have just ignored his use of the n-word?
Wood’s famous Luther quote has escaped the attention of Google, which finds it only in Woods’ article. (Woods may have created his imagined quote based on a quote attributed to Luther where he himself is the turd.) Nevertheless, if you’re going to appeal to Luther for language, why not also for arguing doctrine? The quote Woods thought he found was of Luther criticizing a church leader for his fundamental flaws in proclaiming law and grace. Can’t we critics appeal to the oft-critical Luther as a model, too?
These criticisms worry me, not because I think they’ll damage Noble – who doesn’t seem to let them bother him – but because of the mindset that might lie behind them. That mindset puts the adherence to a theological purity and doctrinal correctness defined by a particular sub-tribe of evangelical Protestants before anything else.
It isn’t a sub-tribe, it’s all of Christianity, and the perpetual force of the Ten Commandments unites all three major tribes (Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox). Noble would have us believe that this is a complicated debate, but it has never been. See this post for an example of how uniform Christian teaching has been on the Commandments.
But here’s the thing: that’s not what I want from a sermon. I want someone with flair and imagination, someone who’ll take risks and go off-piste.
Off-piste means to ski off the marked ski trails. A pathway to quick disaster, in other words.
I want someone who’ll speak without notes and enter into an emotional and dramatic relationship with the congregation. I don’t mind if they aren’t “right” about something.
Fortunately, Woods isn’t the standard. The Bible is the standard, and, as the Bereans demonstrated, right preaching can be carefully evaluated and proved to be right or wrong. Those of us in these parts of the interweb call it discernment.
I have a Bible, I can read it myself.
Did he read Paul’s admonitions to Timothy about being a careful and disciplined preacher? Did he read the warnings about preachers who would twist Scripture to create emotional dramatic relationships with listeners with itching ears?
Because I don’t believe that preaching and Bible teaching are the same thing. If Perry Noble wrote a set of study notes saying that his version of the commandments was better than the Bible one, I’d worry. If he says in a sermon, “This is what ‘You shall not steal’ means today, and it’s not what you £**@?* thought,” I’m fine with that – because there’s a preacher who’s not parroting something from a book or retailing second-hand ideas, but telling me what he thinks.
He should be concerned that Noble gets it right in both contexts, but if he’s going to get one wrong, it should be the one that’s written, where a reader has a chance to objectively analyze and think about what has been written. An audience in a live speech or sermon cannot as intently evaluate a message as a reader can. This entire debate proves the point. Thousands of NewSpringers heard Noble’s sermon and didn’t think much, if anything, wrong with it. When Rosebrough and I started putting it in a printed form a week later, people immediately saw the problem.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones famously described preaching as “logic on fire”. Ideally there’d be both: but if I have to choose, give me the fire and I’ll supply the logic for myself.
A fire with logic is a furnace. Without logic, it’s is a wild fire.
What are Noble’s critics so afraid of? That someone, one Sunday, might actually say something new or interesting?
Preachers who preach new truth disqualify themselves. Their primary job is to teach old truth faithfully because that truth is always interesting and always lively.
And if so, what does that say about them?
That we love and defend old lively truth.