By Jonathan David Faulkner
Some of my favorite conversations of late have been as I have talked to people about the five years of my life. God’s leading out of the pain of the spiritual and emotional abuse I suffered at the hands of a pastor and the subsequent healing and growing disillusionment with the Christianity I had always grown up with and been told to accept. I get a lot of great responses when I tell people I was pastoring a Baptist Church steeped in that kind of Midwestern Fundamentalism (my first Sunday there they were signing a petition to make the sale of alcohol illegal on Sundays), while I was on my way out of and growing increasingly uncomfortable with that particular brand of Christianity.
“Didn’t that make it hard on you” some people will ask “I mean, your values didn’t line up!”
That’s true, and if I had told them my views on Baptism (reformed in every way) I would have not been considered for the position or removed after my six month grace period (they never asked and I reached most of those decisions as I poured over Baptist Polity in preparation for Ordination). But it was hard, I had left that ideological framework, some of them still swore by it.
Now I’m out of those groups all together, I do not even live in the Midwest anymore. I now live in the least churched region in the country. Just like in New York City it is very unpopular to be a Christian in the Boston area where Church attendance is well below 10% (currently 3%) of the population. Where you cannot get away with the ideologies and practice a lot of Christians still practice in the Midwest and deep South. Where Fundamentalism is always bad regardless of the leader or their degree of fundamentalism (this is only the North Shore and Boston areas, an hour north of us in New Hampshire things are bit different).
I say that to point out that if I was not already questioning those leaders that were held up to me as great champions of the faith in 21st century American Christendom before I left, I definitely am now. Piper, Dobson, Grudem, I read books by all of them during my youth and undergrad. I even have Grudem’s “Bible Doctrine” on my book shelf here at the Seminary (It was in a box with Burkoff’s Dogmatics).
That is not to say that you can throw them out all-together, Piper especially can be solid on certain topics (i.e. Essential Doctrines) and like I said, I own Grudem’s “Bible Doctrine” and a few books by Dobson. But any teacher, unless it is Jesus himself, should be approached with a degree of skepticism, they must be questioned, their views must be scrutinized and held up to the Gospel. They cannot be held as infallible because they have x amount of years of experience studying scripture. It cannot be like the Ohio Pastor who scolded me for disagreeing with John MacArthur on an exegetical point during a trip home. “He’s been studying Theology longer than you’ve been alive, how dare you question him.”
That would be like you just taking everything I see verbatim because I have a degree in Christian Education, a Pastor and working on my Masters of Divinity. You should not just take something I say verbatim and not check it. I am human, I make mistakes, I want to be checked and double checked and then approached if there is an error in what I am saying. It makes me a better leader, a better pastor and it helps me know if I have wronged someone.
Any leader worth his salt should have this attitude, (I see this in Piper), it means they are humble, teachable and open to criticism. If they demonstrate the opposite behavior, such as we have documented with Joshua Feuerstien this past year. Refusing to hear criticism or be taught or corrected then they are probably not someone you want leading you.
Now, let me be clear, I think Piper is a good leader, the fruit of his ministry is good, for the issues I have with him I believe he has done a better job than most steering us through the murky waters of the times we live in. It’s when followers of these men come against you for even questioning them one an insignificant point. Which is okay to do, so long as you agree on Essential Doctrines you should be able to debate and engage in recourse on issues that are matters of persuasion or opinion, that is okay and beneficial. If you cannot question someone you may want to re-evaluate their position in your life.
I know, I know, sometimes it is nice when others have done the work for you. Intellectual work is hard work. You often feel worn out by the end of the day. Which is a nice kind of worn out, but still feels like being worn out. But we cannot just accept everything someone says because we think it is God’s truth. Sometimes it is nowhere near such a thing and is actually Heretical. We have to pay attention, scripture even tells us we should judge other believers and question the teachings of others in passages like 1 Cor. 2 and Jesus words in the four Gospels.
We have to question and if the teaching is found, after research, to be in line with Scripture and Orthodoxy then we can leave it alone. If it is an issue of Hermeneutics, softly say your piece and let the Holy Spirit do the rest. Do not make a huge deal about it. If you do find a teaching to be Heretical then stop listening to that teacher. If you are in a position to confront them then do it, but if not, just leave that persons teaching behind.
Let’s all debate sensibly, keeping unity foremost in our minds. Question everyone, evaluate every teaching and judge every work of men claiming Christ by the standard set forth for us in scripture.
Jonathan David Faulkner is a student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry