Saturday, February 15, 2014

Sending the Wrong Signals to Our Friends

The central picture and title of the conference
Evangelical scholar Peter Enns in a recent blog post drew attention to this poster put out by the Evangelical Theological Society for an upcoming Northeastern meeting. In his blog, Enns questions whether the poster is becoming of an academic society and whether or not the title and image stir up an atmosphere of fear rather than an atmosphere of discussion. Enns writes:
“Wolf in sheep’s clothing” is a common criticism against those who hold “dangerous” opinions for theological conservatives. But the metaphor is intentionally demonizing. It connotes a clandestine, sinister, and therefore slanderous strategy on the part of those deemed “wolves.”...
“Liberal” is a scare word that does not remotely describe evangelical insiders and others who find it honorable and necessary to criticize the evangelical system. But, apparently, to disagree is to be “liberal”–being labeled a warlock would get you more slack...
“Seepage” is what sewers do...
“The Evangelical Culture”–there’s only one and we’re it.
As a proponent of an incarnational model for the inspiration of the Bible as opposed to using either inerrant (or infalliable) Enns is a frequent object of attack in evangelical circles. He no doubt perceives that his evangelical friends see him as a source of "liberal seepage". Enns is a world-class biblical scholar and an admitted Evangelical Christian who has contributed greatly to dialogue around the nature of the Bible and the Evangelical interpretation of it. Whether or not the poster and title of the conference was purposely aimed at scholars like Enns or not, I think we should take seriously the insider/outside tribalism that is propagated by this kind of sensational posturing and marketing.

This doesn't mean that groups cannot have definitive boundaries, but I do believe it means we (especially as evangelicals) should resist a kind of tribalism that seeks to demonize our perceived enemies. This is especially so when our perceived opponents are professed evangelicals honestly wrestling with the consequences of their scholarship. Those evangelicals on the inside and those on the outside should be going the extra mile to extend professional courtesy and the love of Christ, while still being clear about disagreements.

One of the reasons I find this so shocking is because I know I've casually thrown out the "wolf in sheep's clothing" attack line before. The phrase itself seems to be shorthand for "they say one thing but mean another", when the phrase actually conveys a lot more. I need to be more careful about how I define those with whom I disagree, and not be so cavalier about how I label them. John 13:35 says, "By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." Whether it's in academic societies, a Sunday sermon, a weeknight small group, or a friendly discussion among two Christian friends, we show our love for Christ not just in the defense of truth, but by doing it in love.

What do you think?

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