I have been wondering what all the talk about The Elephant Room is about. I hang out with folks on the net who are wicked smart theologians and apologists. The kind of folks who don't just know the word patristics, like me, but who are intimately familiar with their writings and can quote them as readily as I quote The Princess Bride or Monty Python. Hanging out with these folks doesn't make me smart nor does it mean I am up on all the things I should be. In fact, in writing this I am about to expose just out out of the loop I have been. Oh well. Here I go anyway.
I saw my friend, Lane, post this url on Face Book and was sort of amazed at what I was reading. A Christian being forced to leave a Christian function?What is The Elephant Room? Did I really just read that? Realizing I was completely ignorant about the pachyderm on the premises and not wanting to expose my ignorance, I was tempted to simply read the opinions of my friends on the matter. If I have learned anything from these brainiacs it's to go to the primary source to form your opinions. I am lazy. I could talk myself out of asking my friends questions about Elephants but next I had to resist the urge to see what Phil Johnson, Tom Chantry and others whose blogs I read have said. Instead, I went on a Google mission to find out what in the world was causing such a hubbub among my friends.
I found myself on James McDonald's blog. I am not unfamiliar with his work having done a bible study of his. What I remember about the bible study was that it wasn't completely awful. It wasn't a study from a reformed position but I am rather used to that and thought that there was more value in his work than most others who are not reformed. In other words I don't have a really awful opinion of the man. A few more clicks and I found myself on a site that had several teasers for people to watch. Apparently the DVDs are for sale if you want to listen and watch all that they have. My initial thought after watching the teasers from the Elephant 1 was that I wouldn't pay for the set. I might pay for the opportunity to sit at the table and discuss positions with the men involved but I am not cutting lose with even the $39.95 sale price for the set.
I have a pretty thick skin about most things. I rant and rave in cyber space because it's fun and I can. There is a difference between having a tough skin and having abnormal tissues caused by disease like elephantiasis. Yeah, after reading and listening to the teasers I felt like I needed to be inoculated with some good sound doctrine. I am not wicked smart but I do have some critical thinking skills and a foundation of sound doctrine, thanks be to God and then men and women He's put in my life to teach me.
I am not opposed to the idea behind what McDonald is trying to do here. In fact, I think more of this sort of round table should be done. I am not certain that it needs to be a pay-per-view money maker, but we won't go there for now. I also want to say right up front that I found these men engaging. I would love to hold a dinner party for one or more of them and just sit down and talk. I love a good chin wag with story tellers like me and I could see having some real belly laughs with at least McDonald and Driscoll. That said, I know why my friends are not fans of The Elephant Room because I had problems with some things that were said.
One of the things that bothered me about a video clip of McDonald talking to his guest, I apologize I don't know who he was, he (McDonald) starts on a tangent about blessings and money. He said he was offended by the idea of keeping a pastor poor because it would make him humble. I couldn't agree more. The bible says the ox is not to be muzzled and the laborer is worth his wages. Unfortunately, as he continued, he seemed to be equating monetary rewards and blessings from God. He spoke of giving Mark Driscoll a gift and telling him to tell his children that gift came because of his faithful work for the Lord. He (McDonald) wants children to know that blessings flow to the faithful and there is plenty and abundance -not poverty -when serving God.
Oh my word. Did he really say that? Yeah, he did.
What a terrible idea to plant in a child's mind. If I serve God I will be blessed with money? Really? Great motivation for serving God; what or how much can you get from Him. This is blab it and grab it theology in its first stages. Bless me. Give me. It's all about me. If I am a believer I will not suffer poverty. Absolute nonsense and antithetical to what life as a believer is all about. Heck, even Rick Warren started his purpose driven book with "It's not about you." We don't serve God because He blesses us. We serve God because He is God and we are not. Monetary blessings are not the target we should be aiming for. Granted, I got to listen to just a few seconds of their conversation but McDonald selected that clip and I have to assume he selected it because it represented his position. I am not saying that Christians cannot be blessed monetarily but rather that Christians should never expect or presume that their worship will be paid. If God chooses to bless or withhold blessings, no matter what form the blessings may take, He is still deserving of the same worship. Period. God does not bless all who are His with money and I resent the implication that He does. It has no foundation in Scripture.
In a different clip where the panel is exploring where the lines should be drawn when preaching and referencing culture in sermons, McDonald is playfully teasing Driscoll about using his pulpit to review movies. Driscoll says something that I wish everyone would think about. To summarize his point, all movies, advertising and literature should be thought of as a sermon. They are preaching their world view when they sell you anything or entertain you. Amen to that. This was the valuable part of the discussion. The part I took offense to? The idea that sermons need to be tweaked to mean something or impact the micro culture surrounding the church they are pastoring. What? If that was logical why would the gospel, having come to a culture we here 2000 years later have absolutely nothing in common with culturally, be of any value to us?
Gospel and culture do not have to be melded into some user friendly amalgam of three parts entertainment and one part truth. The true gospel withstands the test of time. It was fashioned in eternity past and saves to the uttermost without being tweaked at all, thank you anyway. People will either understand their need for salvation when confronted with the truth or they will not. Repentance does not come from learning about cultural pitfalls no matter how accurately described the pitfalls may be. The gospel preached without benefit of programs or entertainment is about the sufficiency of Christ's atoning work. God's word does not return void. Why then is it not enough?
Speaking of enough, that's enough from me about Elephants. I could carry on a bit more. I just dipped my toes in the water. Yes I am critical of what I found. It's not all bad but it's not worth any more of my time. You can find some more cogent opinions and reading here, here and here. I figure the positive reviews will be found on the websites hawking the DVDs and such and I have given those to you already.