Saturday, January 28, 2017

The Blind Spot

What happens when your church is riddled with false teaching and nobody in charge knows it?

If that seems an unlikely scenario, don’t laugh. It can absolutely happen.

It’s next-to-impossible to miss when a speaker goes off the rails doctrinally from the pulpit at 11:30 on a Sunday morning. Whether it’s a pastor, a local Bible teacher or visiting preacher, a public pronouncement that is wildly at odds with a church’s statement of faith will almost always generate serious discussion and immediate blowback. If there’s any question as to what was actually said, your soundman has probably got digital backup or even video. One way or another, error that’s visible and audible to all usually gets addressed.

But modern churches have a huge doctrinal blind spot.

Magnifying the Error

Now of course individually Christians will always be exposed to error. Books. YouTube videos. Other Christians. But false teaching really gets a foothold when it is accepted by an entire bloc within the local church, something that occurs most easily whenever the church is segmented into its constituent demographics.

Subgroups are a big (though not overly biblical) part of church life. Sunday School, Youth Groups, College and Careers and Women’s Ministries create opportunities for the broader dissemination of false teaching — often in the form of a book study or series of videos from a Recognized Evangelical Presence — that may escape the notice of church leadership.

Rarely do small groups benefit from the same quality of oversight that exists when the entire church meets together. And because small group studies are most often carried on in the bowels of church buildings, such gatherings also tend to invest the errors they transmit with the counterfeit sheen of church authority. After all, if it’s going on every week in a seminar room in the church basement, the elders must approve, right?

Of all these subgroups, the one we men would NEVER think of auditing for doctrine is the regular women’s meeting. Heaven forfend!

Unshepherded Ewes

Kate Shellnutt of Christianity Today agrees:
“While most evangelical women know their Tim Kellers from their Rick Warrens, male pastors aren’t expected to parse female teachers.”
Jen Wilkin of The Village Church in Texas says:
“The bookshelves in their offices contain no books by contemporary female authors, and their sermons typically do not reference female voices, other than the usual suspects of Elisabeth Elliot or Corrie ten Boom — both dead, for the record.”
Sounds about right. And yet, as Shellnutt points out, among women the influence of popular female authors and bloggers like Jen Hatmaker considerably exceeds that of well-known male theologians.

Glennon Doyle Melton’s most recent book averages five stars on Amazon and has prompted 1,324 reviews, many positive. Jen Hatmaker’s books are all either 4.5 or 5 stars on Amazon, some with as many as 1,200+ reviews. Rachel Held Evans’ four books average 4.5 stars and 250-700 reviews. Among women, Hatmaker has 1.5x the Facebook likes of John Piper and more than twice as much as any other male theologian.

This despite the fact that almost no men in your church have a clue what any of these ladies actually teach and promote. What might that be? Well, Hatmaker recently endorsed gay marriage. Melton just divorced her husband of 14 years and “found love” with a well-known female soccer player. Evans thrashes evangelicalism with a diligence the social justice crowd must envy.

See the problem? Men, do you know what books the ladies’ groups in your church are reading and studying? I haven’t a clue.

Maybe we should.

The Cowardly Lions

Part of this fog of mostly-deliberate male unknowing, frankly, is stark, forehead-dripping fear — on the part of both husbands and church leadership. As Doug Wilson pointed out in a blog post several weeks ago, to correct a woman publicly today is to risk evisceration:
“Now suppose — just suppose — the presenting problem in three marriages I am trying to help is the problem of lazy and idle housewives. Is there any practical way, without becoming a Pariah for the Ages, to preach on ‘Lazy Housewives’? I could get myself into a fit of the giggles just thinking about it.

Anything said along these lines will be immediately translated into an ‘attack on all women.’ ”
Just so. Proving his own point, Doug was promptly eviscerated in the comment section of the offending post. Who needs that sort of hassle, especially when all too frequently the offended parties live in our own households? A good number of church leaders are happy to stay away from that minefield for the most practical of reasons: peace.

Where the Sheep At?

But whatever the reasons for male reluctance to invade female spaces, elders who take seriously their responsibility to feed the flock must have some kind of handle on what else the sheep entrusted to their care have been consuming lately.

As Jen Wilkin tweeted, “If you had to ask, ‘Who’s Jen Hatmaker?’ it’s time to be more directly invested in the spiritual nurture of half your church.”

This is where godly, discerning older women in each local congregation come in, isn’t it. But that can be a problem too. Kate Shellnutt again:
“Christian women increasingly look to nationally known figures for spiritual formation and inspiration — especially when they don’t see leaders who look like them stepping up in their own churches.”
“Leaders who look like them.” Hmm.

Recovering Our Peripheral Vision

Hannah Anderson thinks the solution to the blind spot is getting local role models in place to compete with the big evangelical Internet voices who insist on hurling themselves from their pedestals and taking a significant percentage of their impressionable readers with them:
“The way forward is for the church to identify and support gifted women, partnering with them via theological training and commissioned ministry positions.”
Meh. Rachel Held Evans has more “theological training” than most evangelicals. Honestly, I don’t think she’s the type of “model for women’s ministry” that the apostle Paul had in mind. See, most godly older women I know look and behave nothing like Evans, Jen Hatmaker or Glennon Doyle Melton. They’re not fashionable or hip. They’re not necessarily witty, tech-savvy or cutting-edge. They don’t write books, make video or tour. They don’t have a brand to promote. They’re just quietly present in our churches and their most obvious feature is their ... how shall I put this? ... reverent behaviour.

Most importantly, they’re not young. They’re not driven by their passions. Their position on significant doctrinal issues doesn’t fluctuate with the latest quirk in their own lifestyle choices. The chances of them walking out on their husbands and children for a lesbian lover are sub-zero, not least because some of them buried their husbands on the mission field (as opposed to leaving the kids with them at home while they scooted off to another conference to flog their latest Christian bestsellers). Rather, they’ve walked with the Lord for years and what may have once been natural, youthful inclinations are well and truly under control.

They’re OLDER. Sigh.

There’s nothing glamorous about them, but they know whereof they speak.

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