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StoneBridge vs Christian “Discernment”?

July 29, 2010

There’s an odd phenomenon in Christianity that I’ve been alternately fascinated and discouraged by in recent years, and its particularly prevalent on the web.  Its the emergence of Christian “discernment” websites that for some reason see it as their role to seek out things in churches that they don’t like and attempt to “expose” them to the world – usually in the harshest of terms.*  They particularly enjoy targeting people like Rob Bell, Brian McLaren (or anyone associated with the “emergent church), Rick Warren, Bill Hybels (and, strangely, any church that is part of the Willow Creek Association**), and even people like John Ortberg, Dallas Willard, and Richard Foster (who they accuse of being “new age).   I used to read a couple of these sites regularly – sometimes because I was amused, and sometimes out of sheer, morbid curiosity.  About a year ago I decided that I needed to stop because they just made me mad and discouraged – its a brand of Christianity that I don’t understand, and see as incredibly harmful and divisive.  And I’ve successfully avoided it – for the most part – since that time.

But apparently StoneBridge came to the attention of one of these sites recently – the Crosstalk blog, which is run by a woman named Ingrid Schlueter.  (I’m hesitant to give her any more traffic, but I suppose this post won’t make much sense without a link.)  You may remember the “Adventures of StoneBridge Staff” video I posted a couple weeks ago.  It was a video that our staff created for our annual Volunteer Appreciation night.  We wanted people to laugh, enjoy themselves, and have a good time while we let them know that there is no way we could do what we do without them.  And I think it was a success – people laughed a lot, had a great time, and hopefully went home feeling appreciated and just a little re-energized to continue giving their all to serving the Kingdom of God.

However, Ingrid (and many of her commenters) took exception to our video (which is posted on StoneBridge’s YouTube site).  She went on to refer to our church as a “circus church,” a “clown carnival” that “mocks and blasphemes the true church of Jesus Christ,” and a “goat pen.”  She referred to our pastors as “lightweights” who treat our office as child’s play.  Oh, and “the pastors are in diapers now.”  And some commenters have gone so far as to question whether we are actually Christians at all.

I’m a little torn about my reaction.  I feel a certain bemusement.  Really, based on one silly video someone thinks they can question the faith of a team of pastors who are absolutely dedicated to helping people know and become more like Jesus?  It’s absolutely ludicrous, of course.  On another level, I’m outraged to see myself, my friends, and my church slandered in such a way.  It’s hard not to take it personal, even when you consider the source.

And then I have my amazement that Christianity actually takes this form in some people.  It seems to me that the core of Christianity is love.  God loved us enough to send his son Jesus to lift us out of our sin.  And our goal as Christians is to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matt 22:37-40***).  And when I look at sites like these – and this particular post about StoneBridge is simply one in a long line of similar posts – I just don’t see love in evidence.  There is no love in the statements I quoted above – it actually seems quite hateful.  And I struggle to see how God is remotely pleased by what I read there.  I’ve seen this comment made to such bloggers – inevitably their reply is that it is loving to tell someone the truth.  Setting aside the claim that what is being said is truth (which I would question in most cases), Paul spoke of sharing the truth in love (Eph 4:15), which means the two are not simply synonymous.  And in 1 Corinthians 13, which is certainly one of the most well-known descriptions of biblical love – truth is only one of several characteristics.

But I also don’t see any joy here.  And if I believe what Ingrid says, then Christianity must be a truly joyless, humorless place.  And again, I just don’t see that as what God intended for his followers.  Certainly there is a great urgency to our mission to share the gospel with everyone we can.  But the Bible also speaks of laughter and dancing and joy – the Psalms are filled with these things, and we could give other examples as well.

I considered posting a comment to the blog and trying to explain the purpose of the video.  I thought about telling them to lighten up, and suggesting that maybe one video wasn’t nearly enough for them to make the sweeping judgments about our church and its pastors that are made there.  And I thought of plenty of other less helpful, sarcastic, biting replies as well.  Ultimately I chose not to comment at all.  A few have attempted to offer another side to the discussion, and the replies to them have often been worse than the original post – harsh, judgmental, and lacking in any compassion or desire to see another side of things.  And I knew that any comment from a pastor involved in the videos would simply invite more attack, and that simply wouldn’t help anyone.

So instead I chose to blog about it.  Which at the least satisfies my own (certainly selfish) desire to defend myself.  But I hope it does more than that.  I don’t know who reads this blog.  I suspect its mostly my friends, which may mean I’m just preaching to the choir.  But for anyone who may be tempted towards this incredibly critical, judgmental brand of Christianity, I plead with you to consider whether this is the way God wants you to spend your time.  Who do attacks like this one help?  Having now been on the receiving end, I can tell you it certainly doesn’t communicate any desire to help the one being attacked.  In what way do these attacks show love for God and love for others?  Where are the characteristic “fruits of the Spirit” that Paul speaks of in Galatians 5:22-23?  These are standards that I try to hold up to my life and actions to make sure I’m on the right path – certainly with varying success.

I just don’t think that God wants us to spend our time tearing others down – especially other Christians.  Instead, our time is better served getting out into the world and loving the people God has placed in our path, and showing them by our actions that God loves them too.  The world needs to see much more of that type of Christianity – and much less of the petty judgmentalism that too many already associate with Christians.

UPDATE: We’ve now been added to the so-called “Museum of Idolatry.”  For people who are so appalled by our video, they sure do love to spread it around!

* Discernment is, of course, a biblical ideal.  I simply question whether what we find on these sites is actually discernment, and whether it is done in a manner that is pleasing to God.  But that’s a post for another time.

** For the record, the Willow Creek Association is kind of like the church version of becoming a Barnes & Noble member.  It means you get a discount on the things they sell.  It means nothing else.  Any church can join – although I think there may be a very vague statement of beliefs you might need to give assent to.  It does not, however, mean that you do or don’t agree with any particular thing Willow Creek, or any church in the Association, does or doesn’t do.

*** This passage in particular tells me that love is at the core of Jesus’ teaching.

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From → Faith

5 Comments
  1. Amy permalink

    Wow. That’s all I can say. I read the original post by Ingrid and I felt offended. All I can say, Jake, is you responded very well in this blog post. Thank you for having courage to write this.

  2. Essnyder permalink

    Interesting that the main point was to rip on you all for being in the Willow Creek association (or that was what I gathered). But, we are sure to expect this whenever we try to do God’s work. It’s never those who stay still that get ripped on, it’s always those of us who try to win people over.

  3. Wow! It never ceases to amaze me how much time people must have on their hands. Who has the time to spend searching the Internet for groups of people who have “cheapened” the church and the blood of Jesus with the sole purpose not being an edifying meeting of the minds of the parties involved but instead being a bandstand for pointing out “bad behavior.” Jake, I think you were right not to respond. Many others responded in ways that encouraged creativity, humor, and a little less of a “I know the mind of God” rhetoric. It’s all about what hills you are willing to die on. Me? I think I’ll choose to die on hills like “Jesus was God and Man”, “There is no way to heaven other than a saving relationship with Jesus.” and “We are all sinners.”

  4. Jake Christian permalink

    Thanks for the comments and encouragement everyone! I agree that if you’re trying to reach out to people in new ways, you’ll attract criticism. Although its always a little disappointing when it comes from the people that are supposed to be on your side.

    The funny thing, though, is that this wasn’t even an attempt to reach out. It was only to have some fun with our volunteers and let them know how much we appreciate them. Strange how something so simple and innocuous can cause such controversy.

    And I agree, Kayla – this is the hill you’re going to stand on? Silly videos are blasphemous? Aren’t there more important issues facing the church right now? Of course, I suppose that’s part of their point – that we should have been focusing on those issues instead. As if the fact that we did the video meant that all the other things going on at StoneBridge came to a dead stop.

    The comments have been closed on the original post, which isn’t really surprising since there clearly isn’t a desire for dialogue in the first place. Several people posted great questions and defenses of what we were doing, and all of them were treated quite disrespectfully. So its probably good that the “conversation” on her site is over – I don’t think it had any possibility of being positive or fruitful anyway.

  5. carl sweatman permalink

    I’m not so sure that what they’re doing could rightly be classified as ‘discernment’–let alone Christian discernment. I did find their comment policy rather humorous, even thought it’s more than a bit hypocritical.

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