Did you listen? Did you hear the conversation between the two "liberal," "left wing," goatee wearing, tattoo sporting, beer drinking, emerging, pomo, Christian artists who are trying to lead our little ones astray (Sorry. I cribbed that from Russ Moore's blog)? These labels are slapped on Derek Webb and Don Miller by a few critics and I have found such descriptions to be generally unfair, or inconsequential. *For Clarity* While I am not on the same page with these two brothers on everything (who am I on the same page with on every issue?), I tire of the superficial criticisms leveled against them. I think they have a lot to say that we should listen to. Don and Derek answered questions in a moderated web-chat last night. It starts slow, they talk over each other a bit, and the moderator seems busy microwaving a plate of spaghetti or something, but it is worth a listen for those who have been following the dialogue about these popular artists. It's an hour long, you can't download it, there aren't tracks. So, for those who don't have the time, here are some highlights that are relevant to all the drama.
They admit our faith can be broken up into "systematic theology" but it is essentially more relational than that.
They distinguish themselves from the "social Gospel" movement by holding to orthodoxy and evangelical theology. In fact they continually return to the doctrines of substitution and imputation. These doctrines inform their worldview and motivate them to pursue righteousness.
The doctrine of unchanging love of God for his people is touched on.
When theodicy is raised they appeal to a good and sovereign God in whom we alone find ultimate satisfaction.
When asked "What must I do to be saved?" Neither seem to want to give a pat answer. Obviously one must "believe," but they don't like formulas. Don talked about everyone having a "mysterious relational encounter with Jesus" that varies from person to person. Like many things Don says, you can interpret him charitably in light of everything else he has affirmed (hell, the exclusivity of salvation in Jesus Christ, etc.), or you can nit pick his answer. I would have answered it differently, but they make some good points about putting the full doctrinal cart before the horse of conversion (my words).
They believe we should work to see others converted by putting Christ in front of them. This is done by sharing Scripture, personal testimony and working to demonstrate the Kingdom has come.
When war/pacifism comes up Webb is quick to make a distinction between an ethic of non-violence and doing nothing. We must be active, "willing to fight," he says, but violence is not one of the resources for the citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. He admits this is complicated, that the answers are not easy. The guys don't pretend to have it all worked out. They go so far as to say that a country, our country, may have to go to war to protect the innocent.
Don's concern is that the issue of war is so lopsided in America, that to come at it from a different perspective is perceived as unpatriotic.
Webb points out that when discussing non-violence he is often asked, "What if someone has a gun to your wife's head?!" He admits this is a hard/extreme situation, but asks, since when do we allow situations to dictate our ethics? We should let Scripture alone command us. Here is where Don admits to being weary of being perceived as a liberal when he believes he is looking at Scripture more like a fundamentalist than those against him.
They went on to say that we sometimes have to choose faithfulness over success. To suffer and die may look like failure to the world, but it may prove us faithful to Christ.
Their real point seems to be peace making. They want to talk about peace, how to make it, promote it, teach it. They take the beatitude seriously, "blessed are the peacemakers," and believe the church should be doing more. They want to see our Christian universities offering "peace studies" and programs. They dream of a day when the world can do no better than to come to the church when wanting to know, "How can we find peace?" They believe the church should be experts at this. This was similar to Richard Baxter's appeal, that if the world needed fit leadership they could do no better than appeal to the leders of the church.
They like the idea of pre-emptive peace.
The argue that political involvement is good. We should vote, call our Congressmen, etc., but more can be done by getting our hands dirty. By doing the work ourselves. They encouraged people to check out and start organizations like BloodWater.Org.
In the end the moderator asked a dumb question. "When you stand before God, and he says 'Well done good and faithful servant,' what would you like to hear him say to you next?" I thought that was a lame, selfish, me-centered kinda thing to think about, and Don's initial answer points this out. He says he'd use Will Ferrell's answer to the same basic question when asked by James Lipton on The Actor's Studio.
When Ferrell was asked what he would like to hear God say to him in the end he replied, "You're number one!"
Funny, and shows the folly of it all.
The men did not come off as whiny liberals who are only trying to fight against authority. They came off as men who are trying to think their way through Scripture as they follow Jesus into the world. Their basic theology is evangelical with some Reformed hat-tipping. Even if you disagree with them, they just aren't what they are painted to be by some of the critics.