The Taser's Edge

Being Read by Ed Stetzer (Part I of a Series)

When I first ordered Ed Stetzer’s Planting Missional Churches from Amazon, I knew that I was going to need to work at keeping an open mind.  It’s not that Duke faculty have an anti-evangelical message (and here I am referring to the specifically United States religious and cultural phenomenon of evangelicalism with all the trappings that it connotes, not anything to do with the Gospel), but I think the student atmosphere breeds suspicion of all things evangelical and seemingly evangelical.

Fictitious hall chatter: “Lots of Christians bought that book?  Then you know it must be bad.  A bunch of people go to that church?  You know its pastor must be saying what they want to hear.  A bunch of Christians listen to that music?  Then they must have no taste, or else their theology is underdeveloped.”

(N.B.: I fear that this post makes it seem that I believe all Duke students are hateful, arrogant, and hypocritical.  They certainly aren’t.  They are kind, loving, passionate, talented, smart, and they care about living out Christ’s love in the world.  But sometimes our assumptions and our desires to be accepted, personally and intellectually, trip us up.  At least they trip me up.)

Then there are these facts: (1) I personally chose to distance myself from reading Christian books before I came to seminary because I didn’t like them, and (2) since entering seminary the Christian books which I have read have been in a decidedly academic vein.

I knew that I needed to prepare myself for reading this book, that I needed to cultivate open-mindedness and charity toward this book…and I failed miserably.  The first several chapters are littered (yes, just like trash beside the highway) with stupid, snarky (yes, I hate that word, too, but it’s accurate) comments in the margin.  Oh, Nick!, they say to myself, you’re so clever and you can pinpoint all the wrongs of this book.  Thank you for saving its words.  While you’re at it, would you mind saving the world?

This afternoon I went to Hog Heaven, a local BBQ place–the one on Guess Rd. if you know Durham–with some friends.  Everyone in the group has some connection to Duke–undergrad, Divinity School, a couple Ph.D. candidates in the Religion Department.  And we often seem to talk about evangelical (and here remember my specific definition is still in play) culture.  One of the guys is an American Christianity Ph.D. candidate, so that’s his research interest.  It’s also all of our personal interest from our personal lived experience, past and present.

The quote of the week was something to this effect: “Evangelicalism is defined by its aversion to nuance.”  I think that’s a modified version of somebody else’s quote, but I can’t remember whose.  Pretty dang pretentious out of context, at least.  Or perhaps just damned pretentious, in the original sense of the italicized word.  Not that it was really meant in any harsh way, because most of us around the table would self-identify as evangelicals.  Also, as I pointed out and as they agreed, evangelicalism is a popular movement, and all popular movements (along with everything else in this world including this statement) have an aversion to nuance.

I get caught up in the way things could and should be in the Church and in theology, the way things work so nicely on the page.  And it’s not that easy of a mindset to escape.  But sometimes there’s outside help.  You get smacked in the face by the fact that in Oneness Pentecostal churches (which hold heterodox views of the Trinity), people do have their lives transformed by the love of Jesus Christ.  And you get smacked in the face by the fact that Ed Stetzer, who is Southern Baptist (a denomination in which Duke students only hesitatingly admit their membership, and which Stetzer’s own dustjacket blurb seems purposely to omit) knows what he is talking about when it comes to planting new churches.  What can I say when disciples of Jesus Christ are being formed?  Yes, certainly there is room for critique of methods and of theology, as you will see in the next post.

But if it is in any way Christian critique, then it must be with love and, perhaps even moreso in this particular case, with humility.