When Mars Hill Grandville pastor Rob Bell wrote Love Wins, John Piper sent out the now infamous “Farewell” tweet.
Farewell Rob Bell. http://dsr.gd/fZqmd8
— John Piper (@JohnPiper) February 26, 2011
On Sunday, Mars Hill Seattle pastor Mark Driscoll announced he would be taking a six-week leave of absence as the elder while the leaders of the church conduct an investigation into the accusations against him. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention to the controversies surrounding Driscoll over the last couple of months. I can only imagine what this has been like for those who attend Mars Hill, Driscoll’s family, and Mark himself. I know others will disagree, but we should pray for Mark, his family, and the church. If we confess to believe in grace, then we should pray that grace abounds and that God’s kindness leads to repentance. While I would say it differently, I agree with the sentiment behind John Piper’s tweet to Mark:
That said, putting these two tweets next to each other reveals, what seems to be, the continued impact of Enlightenment emphasis on right thinking over right living. It seems one can think the right things and yet act wrongly (Driscoll) and receive grace. But if one acts rightly and yet thinks the wrong things (Bell) you get farewelled from the Christian community.
But doesn’t grace cover our thoughts as well?
There has always been a tension in the Christian faith between orthodoxy (right thinking) and orthopraxy (right living). We are saved by faith, not by works, so that no one may boast. Our right living does not save us, rather it is a faith in Jesus Christ. Understanding and accepting the atoning work of Jesus on the cross is what saves us and restores us to right standing with God. And yet, if we believe the right things about God and and our relationship to him, then we will act rightly in the world. Orthodoxy and orthopraxy go hand and hand.
Looking at those two tweets next to each others, I can’t help but wonder, are we as a church in danger of conflating right thinking with salvation, thus making it a work by which we are saved?
Are actions more forgivable when a person’s theology is right?
The church has always struggled with the book of James and his emphasis on right living. I wonder how much more we would have to wrestle with it if we took some translational liberties. “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if a person has all the right theology but has no deeds?…Show me your right theology without deeds, and I will show you my theology by what I do.”
Or look at Matthew 25 where Jesus separates the sheep from the goats. Go read it and notice the criteria by which they are divided. “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” No where does it say the sheep will be identified by having the right theology.
Don’t get me wrong. I believe right thinking matters. As a pastor, I take the idea of false teachers and false teaching very seriously. I believe that it is worthy of discipline by the church just as much as any other sin. We must watch out for false teachers, correct them, and protect the body of Christ from them. What I don’t understand is why we wouldn’t work to restore them like we would anyone else. Why does Rob Bell and his questionable teaching get farewelled and Driscoll and his documented abuse get grace?
I get that false teaching can lead people astray, away from the truth about Christ and the gospel. But I also understand that when one lives in such a way that the truth they preach is discredited by their sinful actions it can lead people astray, away from the truth about Christ and the gospel. Right living isn’t better than right thinking, nor is right thinking better than right living. Both matter. Emphasizing right thinking as more important than right living can result in the brushing off of, and quick forgiveness of, so many despicable acts. The attitude is, “Hurry up and get them back in the pulpit so we can get some good teaching,” all the while neglecting that it isn’t just what they say from the pulpit that teaches.
Heresy are beliefs that are contrary to historical Christian orthodoxy. Beliefs that deny the Trinity, the divinity of Christ, and the resurrection are heretical ideas because they contradict what Christians have thought throughout the centuries. But what about our actions? Should our actions be labeled as heretical? Can they be? If I act in a way that is contrary to historical Christian orthodoxy, does that mean I am heretical? If I live contrary to the fruits of the Spirit, fail to live at peace with everyone as much as it depends on me, and am easily provoked to unrighteous anger am I in danger of living as a heretic?
And if our actions can be heretical, then we all need to admit we heretics in need of grace.