Generally, those in the pastorate very much want to interact with people outside their church. We see ourselves not only as helpers but also as those with the ‘treasure in jars of clay.’ We want to help and we have something of value that we want to share. But it gets weird, in some cases.
We got a call from a guy some time ago who initially asked about the church but then had very specific questions. The call was initially fielded by our church secretary who took the name and number of the caller and said she’d gotten rather flustered by him. The questions were getting specific and she did not feel confident to address them.
So I called this guy. It was a very unpleasant conversation with this guy insisting that churches don’t do the things in the Bible. His grammar was poor and his manner both abrasive and confrontational. At one point he said that we should never do things that are not in “the book.” So I asked him about democracy, automobiles, and English – all things that are not in the Bible that he himself participates. Not many people like being drawn into a debate like this. I’m one of those, as well. It went like that for ten minutes.
Finally I asked what church he regularly attends. He said he goes to lots of churches. But I asked; do you attend any one church regularly? No, he replied. I offered, "Then you yourself are not obeying the fellowshipping commanded in the book of Hebrews." (Hebrews 10:25). He was quiet for a second and I followed up with the fact that his whole conversational posture here was argumentative. He denied that – of course – and insisted that he was “just asking questions.” I don’t know about you all, but somebody who tells me they are “just asking questions” is not “just asking questions.” Every lawyer knows that hostile cross-examination is always done “just asking questions.”
He had a theological hot button about being saved. How did it really happen? I quoted the epistle to the Romans – one of the most powerful discussions on our need for salvation in all of scripture. But that wasn’t "good enough" (scripture isn’t “good enough?”); at the same time, he insisted that I find a place in the Bible where people were actually saved because they believed on Jesus and were baptized. I countered, if the Apostle Paul says that’s the way it is, then it is true. The Bible doesn’t have to provide an example – why do you insist on that? Again, a moment of silence.
He sounded like a “discernment” guy and his whole ‘conversation’ was about telling rather than listening. I gently confronted him on his tone, his attitude, and his judgmental posture and suggested that if he wanted to actually engage the truths of scripture then he would need to do more conversing (that is, listening) than broadcasting. That didn’t seem to be likely so I told him that he would not be interested in coming to our church.
I have no doubt that on some discernment website or blog, this nutcase will state that I or my church do not really believe or practice the Bible.
What is really annoying about people like this is their assumption that they know more than they do. Reading the Bible is fairly easy to do for a literate person – fully understanding it takes a lifetime of rigorous, detailed, and humble study. Those who have actually done that report that the Bible is richer, deeper, far more complex and nuanced than they ever imagined when they began. “Great is the mystery of godliness.”
But for people like my caller (and other so-called ‘discernment’ crusaders), the truth is simplistic and must correspond only with what they wish to believe. They can’t imagine that they might be wrong. Humility is not a virtue and certainly not a characteristic they possess. In fact, actual ignorance and lack of education is held up as a strength. These are weird people.
But what is even more worrying is that there are many contemporary ‘Evangelicals’ who can’t tell the difference. I mean, as an example, people who don’t know the difference between a Benny Hinn (heretic) and Charles Stanley (good guy) – they’re both on T.V. It turns out that actual and real discernment among most Christians is not that common. What passes as ‘discernment’ on the internet is a dressed-up version of old-school Neo-Fundamentalism. You know who those are: the people who don’t seem to be for anything but are very much AGAINST nearly everything. I am concerned because there are a lot of shallowly-planted followers of Jesus who actually can’t tell the difference between real discernment and the angry discernment.
So, what can be done? Is it hopeless? Is there any way to beef-up the true discernment of the average American Evangelical? What do you think?