29 January 2012

Elephant Room 2: The Emergence of Pachydermism

The following was written by Daniel Neades of Better Than Sacrifice and is published here with permission:

ELEPHANT ROOM 2: THE EMERGENCE OF PACHYDERMISM

In a piece entitled, ‘Reformed Crowd Asked to Repent for Attacking TD Jakes’, the Christian Post reports that Elephant Room participant, Bryan Crawford Loritts, is ‘asking the Reformed community to “repent” of their harsh criticism and one-sided attacks on Bishop T.D. Jakes in regards to his beliefs about the Godhead’.
The Post reports:
To the adjunct professor at Crichton College, those “gospel centered” people elevated love for doctrine over love for people. His words for them were this: “Your conduct is out of step with the gospel,” referring to Apostle Paul’s words to Peter in Galatians 2 when he avoided the Gentiles only when he was around the Jews.
Loritts has apparently failed to understand that it is because we love people – including T.D. Jakes himself – that we want to be sure that they are neither inadvertently trusting in a non-Trinitarian god of their own imagination, nor being deceived by a false prosperity gospel, such as the one Jakes preaches. Loritts uncharitably judges the inward thoughts and intents of his opponents.
Revealingly, in his application of Galatians 2, Loritts has cast himself as the Apostle Paul. Some might think that his seeming lack of concern for the integrity of the Gospel better suits him to the role of Peter.
Loritts also advised the “middle aged white Reformed guys” to be extremely careful of the messages they sent, both implicit and explicit.
The age and skin colour of those questioning Jakes’ beliefs and teaching is irrelevant. In fact, those men and women expressing concern represent a broad spectrum of the Church, including Baptists and Confessional Lutherans, as well as the Reformed. Loritts here is merely engaging in an ad hominem attack, mischaracterizing the Elephant Room’s many opponents as originating from a narrow clique. He also sows the utterly unfounded idea that latent racism may be motivating those with whom he disagrees. This disgraceful tactic merely highlights the intellectual and doctrinal poverty of his own diaphanous arguments.
The Post continues:
Though he was not accusing anyone of racism, he found that the “Reformed crowd’s” actions (refusing to come to the Elephant Room event or having an honest dialogue) sent an implicit message to the public – “theological bigotry.”
If Loritts is not accusing anyone of racism, why does he even mention it? Again, he is transparently engaged in the desperate antics of those feeling the quicksand of their own position rapidly dissolve beneath their own feet.
Loritts also seems to have conveniently forgotten that independent apologists endeavoured to attend the Elephant Room but, despite having reserved tickets in advance, were refused entry and, in one case, even threatened with arrest. It is the organizers of the Elephant Room who have proven themselves unwilling to engage in honest dialogue. And, by his baseless personal attacks, Loritts himself demonstrates the very fault that he ascribes to those with whom he disagrees.
Loritts is apparently unmoved by the informed and reasoned assessment of scholars such as Dr. James White, who declared on Twitter:
McDonald [sic], Driscoll, etc., showed such disrespect to the Trinity and Church History that they did not even ask the most basic questions.
White later devoted an hour of his popular Dividing Line webcast to scrutinizing Jakes’ statements at the Elephant Room.
Dr. Carl Trueman, Departmental Chair of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, likewise gave his assessment of what White called the ‘MacDonald/Driscoll disaster’:
This request that we ask hard questions in the right venue, and consider the ER to have signally failed in this regard, will no doubt evince cries of ‘Hey, hater!’ from some quarters. That is apparently the standard reaction now when anyone questions the actions of a successful pastor of a large church. If, however, we take true doctrine seriously, then surely we will see false teaching for what it is: soul destroying. Reflect on a parallel situation for a moment: let us say that, week after week, I see a congregant’s wife with a black eye and an arm covered in cuts and bruises; eventually I ask her husband, ‘Did you do that?’ to which he says ‘No, I abhor violence and despise the sort of people who beat their wives’; in such circumstances, is it unloving, Pharisaical or hateful of me to press the question a little further? I think not. Indeed, failure so to do would be moral delinquency of the highest order. To press the matter is actually responsible pastoring. The same thing applies with those whose public teaching seems to be deviant. It is not hateful to press the hard questions, and to do so with appropriate competence and in a suitable context; rather, it is right and necessary.
In a pithy blog post, Tom Chantry, pastor of Christ Reformed Baptist Church, and Elephant Room attendee, gave his assessment of Jakes’ performance:
Jakes masterfully deconstructs the entire practice of theology. Don’t be fooled by the panel members who insist that he affirmed the Trinity. What he did was say, “I’m Trinitarian so long as I am free to express it in Sabelian terms.” He repeatedly insisted that Oneness folks and Trinitarian folks are all saying the same thing. He dismissed the question as secondary – not worth division among the people of Christ, among whom he clearly counts the Oneness churches. Once he has deconstructed the very idea of systematic theology, he can affirm anything. So yes, he answered “absolutely” or “yeș” to each and every one of Driscoll’s questions, but what does that mean? Not much.
The Elephant Room débutantes’ ball has seen the public emergence ofpachydermism, the belief that clearly defined and defended sound doctrine is harmful to Christian unity. This lethal disease contrasts sharply with the Biblical doctrine that true unity of faith arises from a shared understanding of the objective truth taught by Scripture (cf. Ephesians 4).
In fact, there have been very few, if any, attacks upon T.D. Jakes himself – I am aware of none. Rather, it is his belief and teaching that have been subject to intense scrutiny. Pachydermism is regrettably characterized by its inability to distinguish between improper attacks upon a person, and the legitimate comparison with Scripture of what a person believes, teaches and confesses.
In a Facebook discussion of the Christian Post article, Pastor Gervase Charmley, minister at Bethel Evangelical Free Church, Stoke on Trent, UK, and perhaps best known for his ‘good sermons’ featured on the Fighting for the Faith Internet radio programme, gave this assessment:
I would say “Woe unto them who say ‘peace, peace’ where there is no peace.” Because that’s what MacDonald and co. are doing, saying that there is peace where there isn’t any.
Yes, the criticism of Jakes has been substantive and doctrinal, not ad hominem. What has been criticised is what the chap has said and not said, not the colour of his shirt, or even the style of his preaching. It is disgraceful to characterise it as personal attack, though not in the least surprising.
One of the effects of Postmodernism is the loss of the ability to actually engage in meaningful conversation; by saying that all positions are equally true we are left with only one avenue of criticism – the personal attack. And that is where you are left by the compromise of the Elephant Room. You can only accuse of ad hominem, while usingad hominem yourself (the implied accusation of racism, for example).
If anyone asked me what I believe about the Trinity, I would be able to point to multiple sermons addressing the question, and historic credal statements that express my beliefs. When someone can’t, we have a problem. No one in public ministry should leave any doubts about their views on the Trinity. Who God is happens to be extremely important.
Loritts’ call for repentance amounts to asking Reformed, Lutheran, Baptist, Confessional Anglicans, and other Christians, to repent for caring about the doctrine of the Trinity and for objecting to Jakes’ false prosperity gospel. Loritts is asking sincere Christians to repent for loving sufficiently so as to be willing to speak the truth, even when it is unwelcome and contrary to the prevailing spirit of the age.
The critics of the Elephant Room have presented substantive, carefully argued and Biblical critiques of what occurred, rooted in the creeds and confessions of the historic orthodox Christian Faith. The defenders of Elephant Room, like Loritts, are able to respond with nothing other than tawdry personal attacks and unfounded slurs and insinuations. It is Loritts who should repent of his reprehensible accusations, and he who, along with James MacDonald and Mark Driscoll, ought to repent for participating in the Great Doctrinal Downgrade of which pachydermism is the herald.
May the Lord open their eyes and grant them repentance and the forgiveness of sins in His Son, who died that even these sins might be forgiven. May He grant us all the grace to speak the truth in love to one another, that we may ‘grow up in all things into Him who is the head – Christ – from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.’ (Eph. 4:15–16)
Readers may also be interested in my earlier coverage of T.D. Jakes and The Elephant Room 2:

POSTSCRIPT

The term pachydermism was inspired by the title of my friend Erin Benziger’s post,This ‘n’ That – Pachyderm Edition.

UPDATE

The Christian Post article was apparently based upon this blog post by Loritts.
View the original post with comments section here.