Monday, November 17, 2014

Bonfire of the vanities

Alan Maricle posted a response to me at the AHA blog:

1. The fundamental problem with Alan's post is that he recasts the issue in terms of sin and forgiveness, whereas I framed the issue in terms of prudence. Having recast the issue, Alan then imputes his framework to me, as if that was my frame of reference–after which he expresses dismay at the scary image he sees in the mirror. Yet he's objecting to his own projection–like a cat picking a fight with its own reflection. 

What are we to make of this? Does Alan not know the difference between sinful policies and imprudent policies? Is his theological repertoire too cramped to allow for that important distinction? 

Likewise, does he lack the critical detachment to distinguish his own framework from the framework of his opponent? If you can't draw that distinction, you're burning a straw man.

Another problem is turning converts into trophies. Putting them on display. As I said recently, in response to another AHA commenter:

It's a question of prudence.

i) A former sex addict shouldn't be witnessing to streetwalkers or going into strip joints to evangelize the clientele.

A recovering alcoholic shouldn't be a bartender.

A compulsive gambler who got religion shouldn't return to the casino for lunch.

ii) A man with a background in terrorism shouldn't be an agitator. Given his background, that's an enticement. The fact that he gravitated to terrorism in the first place, and is now returning to radical activism, reflects an unhealthy appetite.

He needs to learn how to be an ordinary, garden-variety Christian. Hang out with regular Christians. Not get caught up in a new, edgy cause.

iii) Proving his repentance through ostentatious demonstrations is suspect.

iv) There's lots of Christian work that needs to be done. Neglected work. Thankless work. Boring work.

v) Not only is it bad for the individual, it's bad for the "movement." It's sending a signal to restless malcontents to infiltrate the movement and take it over–or use it to their own ends.

vi) A Christian is both saint and sinner. Indeed, that's a classic Protestant motto.

2. Evidently, Alan's commitment to AHA has become all-defining. Normally, you can fellowship with an ex-con or call him a brother without making him a member of your organization. At least, you can do that unless your organizational identity has become your sole identity. 

But if abolitionists only fellowship with other abolitionists in house-churches by and for abolitionists, then you're either in or out. If your circle of friends is increasingly confined to your "brothers" in the "movement," then friendship and fellowship are limited to members of the club. In-group loyalty and solidarity. In my observation, AHA is becoming very sectarian in that regard. You're either "for us or agin' us." 

Beneath the facade of inclusive rhetoric is a very exclusive condition: Agree with us. Join us. If not, then you're not one of us. You're not our kind of people. Take this statement, which is, by turns, Manichean and Millenarian:

By this time next year there will be hundreds and thousands of people gathering outside abortion mills every day in this country. There will be thousands and thousands of abolitionists taking to the streets and going to the high schools, colleges, and comfortable modern american churches in their cities to expose the evil of abortion and bring it into conflict with the Gospel of Jesus Christ every week. There will be hundreds, if not thousands, of consistently engaged, regularly active, autonomous yet unified, self-directed yet Spirit-led, incredibly powerful Abolitionist Societies spread out across this continent and around the globe. 
The war between opinions and platforms (pro-choice v pro-life) is coming to an end. The war of the future is between those who will act and those who will continue to wait. It is between those who have accepted the ways things are and those who believe in the power of God to do greater things now than He ever has before.

Unfortunately, this borders on religious megalomania. It's like Savonarola or the Zwickau Prophets. Our movement is the turning-point in history. The world was waiting for us. The end is near. Better get on board before the train leaves the station.  

It's frightfully easy to develop this mindset by belonging to a self-validating subculture, where the messenger and the community reinforce each other. That happens in politics and academia as well as religion.   


  1. This is indeed quite disturbing and sad.

  2. This also helps me make better sense of the vigorous arguments that Rho has been developing and deploying around the 'net in response to criticisms that modern-day house churches fall short of being "real churches".

    If AHA activists generally tend to gravitate away from the "comfortable modern American churches" in favor of house churches or similar gatherings, then as a self-appointed spokesman of sorts Rho has skin in that game.

    I hope the interaction will give him pause to reflect instead of causing him to dig his heels in even deeper, though based on the content of the linked article I'm not optimistic.

    1. On his own blog Rhology has posted a two-part defense of Frank Viola's awful book "Pagan Christianity".

  3. It's sort of morbidly fascinating to me that the language I see in AHA's facebook statement is so eerily similar to language used by the emergent church back in its heyday.

  4. //It's frightfully easy to develop this mindset by belonging to a self-validating subculture, where the messenger and the community reinforce each other. That happens in politics and academia as well as religion.//

    Can't that happen in the blogosphere as well?

    1. Yes, you can have a similar dynamic in the blogosphere. There is, though, a difference when you always hang out with the same group of people–where work, church, and home are all variations of the same in-group.

  5. Hmm. I am an abolitionist and what you are representing as the "reality" of why no one should listen to what we have to say is categorically false. My work, church and home are not that way, neither is Alan's and neither are many others. I do not however see it as a bad thing (home based churches or working full time as an abolitionist) if they are being faithful to Scripture and to sharing the Gospel and seeking to keep themselves unstained from the world. I find it really sad thst you do not think that Jesus can radically change a man like Jered. It doesn't really make me feel sad for Jered though. It makes me feel sad for you. I will pray thst God will open your eyes to His power to fully regenerate a man and set him on the straighat and narrow path. Not going to waste a whole lot of more time here as you would likely not spend the time talking to me since I am one of "those people."

    1. i) Like Alan, you substitute a different argument from the one I actually used. Maybe instead of making back-patting statements about your superior spiritual enlightenment, you should consider why you and Alan persistently misrepresent the argument. Has AHA so conditioned you to the point where you can't remove your AHA tinted glasses to even see a different perspective?

      ii) I don't object to house-churches, per se. There is, however, the problem of a groupthink mentality that lacks checks and balances because your social circle consists of like-minded "brothers" in the "movement."

      iii) I've also seen Alan attack seminary education. So this is more than just about where one worships. This becomes the spiritually conceited notion that Scripture was written directly to you and me. As if modern readers don't need to acquire some knowledge of the ancient background to better understand Scripture.

    2. brian wagnon

      "I do not however see it as a bad thing (home based churches or working full time as an abolitionist)"

      When you say some of them are working full-time as abolitionists, does that mean local chapters of AHA put some members on the payroll? If so, the distinction between a movement and an organization breaks down.

      Likewise, how can AHA attack prolife organizations for having salaried staffers if AHA hires some members to work full-time (or even part-time)? The prolife movement has a mix of volunteers and salaried staffers. What's the essential difference between that and AHA?

      If full-time abolitionists aren't paid by AHA, how do they support themselves and their dependents?

    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. When Alan (Rhology) made the comment that only people who urged Ergun Caner to repent have the right to offer condolences for his son's suicide, it became obvious that he (Alan) is not playing with a full deck of cards.