Tuesday, December 23, 2014

I Don't Read Tim Bayly Much

Tim Bayly 

and the 
Problem of Overstatement

I don't read the Bayly Blog much, but when I do I should drink Dos Equis which would be better for both my blood pressure and my sanctification. Recently I came across two Blogs which needed to be chased with the Don Equis. 

I agreed heartily with main point of "The Death of Evangelical Missions". Tim Bayly argued that much of what passes for
evangelical missions today is neither evangelical nor missions. Evangelicals satisfy themselves, if they are missionaries or supporters of missionaries, that doing good things is missions:
Their lives are given to anthropology, linguistics, literacy, wells and water, refugee camps, education, leadership training; to everything but preaching the Gospel as the Apostle Paul preached it in Athens, Corinth, and Ephesus.

Point well taken. What missions is, what the Gospel is, what Christ has called the church to do, what the Great Commission entails, and what we ought to support with money are things which should concern all denominations, church leaders, and ordinary members.

But arguing his case, Tim wrote:
Evangelicals give money to missionaries today for much the same reason Roman Catholics give money to their religious orders and the Vatican: it's the vicarious participation in special works of godliness through which we gain favor with God and bragging rights among other Christians. "Our church gives fifty percent of its budget to foreign missions," we say, but nevermind what those missionaries actually do out there on the missions field. Foreign is sacrificial, missions is godly, and that's the end of it. Foreign missions are the Evangelical's works of supererogation allowing your church and mine to receive assurance of our salvation. Evangelical missions are our treasury of merit.
My question is which evangelicals view missions as "vicarious participation in special works of godliness through which we gain favor with God and bragging rights among other Christians?" Which evangelicals look at missionary service and support as "works of supererogation allowing your church and mine to receive assurance of our salvation"? Who believes that "Evangelical missions are our treasury of merit"? 

It's true that, because salvation by works is the default setting of every heart, a tendency not eradicated by faith in Christ, we easily can slip into a performance mentality that leads to our thinking of works as the way we gain favor with God, make up for our sins, and gain assurance of our salvation. If this is the point he is making, he could have stated it more clearly, and he would have done well to have pointed out that this tendency is not peculiar to serving as or supporting missionaries. It is equally a tendency for example among those who preach and practice patriarchy and fertility. 

But Tim does not seem to be making a point about the Christian's tendency to fall back on seeking merit by doing good works.

My upbringing was in a conservative evangelical church that placed great emphasis on missions. There was an annual missions conference, young people were strongly urged to consider missions as a life's calling ("invitations" were given to walk the aisle to express one's commitment to missionary service), and sacrificial giving, including "faith- promise," was practiced. But I never have experienced anyone looking upon going and giving as works of supererogation, or as contributing to a treasury of merit, or as a way to gain assurance.

I had the temerity to ask if citations might be provided to point to evangelicals who had such a view of missions. Whoever was delegated to answer me soon lost patience with my density:
Pastor Bayly was not being literal when he was referring to evangelical missions as a form of treasury of merit. You don't need to be a scholar to see that many view missions as something above what it actually is.
I'm not going to waste any more time arguing over whether the part you quoted was intended a metaphor or not. If you can't see what's painfully clear before your eyes, I don't think I'll be able to help you. Some authority figure should have done a better job teaching you those things sometime around the time when you were in the fourth grade.
I understand the use of the literary devices of metaphor, hyperbole, irony, and sarcasm,  all of which are used in Scripture. But in the context of this Bayly Blog there are no markers to indicate these particular words are different from the earnest literalness of of the rest. This is a case of overstatement - saying more than is the case, or, in other words, a mistake. Overstatements undermine reasonable arguments.

Second over this past Saturday Tim became exercised about a Wall Street Journal profile of Tim Keller and wrote "The PCA's Great Champion".

Tim has a problem with the other Tim's message:
‘Cheer up, you’re worse than you think,” Rev. Timothy Keller says with a smile. He’s explaining that humans are more weak, more fallen, more warped than they “ever dare admit or even believe.” Then comes the good news: At the same time people are “more loved in Christ and more accepted than they could ever imagine or hope.”

I am unsure what is objectionable
about that part of Tim Keller's message. He's speaking to Christian believers, many of whom live in the shadows of guilt, self-recrimination, hiding from themselves and others, and fear of being found out. There is liberation is being able to say about and to oneself and, if necessary, to others: "It's true;I am worse than anyone knows." Then it's gospel to hear that in Christ you are more loved than you know and greatly encouraging when you believe it.

Tim Bayly, beginning with a remembrance of his father's days in New York and the popularity of Norman Vincent Peale, finds fault with the lack of impact that Tim Keller and Redeemer Church have had on the city that never sleeps where there are eight million stories:
The big preacher in New York City in his day was Norman Vincent Peale. Dad lamented the hold Peale had over his parents—particularly, I think, his mother. Back then, Margaret Sanger called abortion "murder" and her precursor to Planned Parenthood was trying to repeal laws against contraception. Now, Planned Parenthood specializes in the slaughter of African American babies; it's made itself rich off that slaughter; that slaughter has been going on so long across America that Christians are blasé about it; Times Square is filled with Sodomites; and Reformed Christians pat themselves on the back that 5,000 young single bankers, lawyers, actors, artists, and journalists show up Sundays at a church preached by a pastor who can't always avoid the intersection of religion and politics. Honestly, although some readers will be shocked and embittered by my saying it, I'd prefer the inanities of Norman Vincent Peale to this summary of the preaching of Pastor Tim Keller...
Tim Bayly really would prefer Norman Vincent Peale's message of positive thinking about yourself and God as your helper to Tim Keller's message of the depth of your sin and the greatness of God's love and grace in Christ? 

Tim Bayly goes on to make this remarkable statement about Tim Keller's message:    
This has always been the perfect summary of every sermon in the Presbyterian Church in America. It's why the preaching of Redeemer and her clones has had no spiritual impact on New York culture and the preaching of Covenant Theological Seminary grads has had no spiritual impact on the culture of these United States of America—even down in the south in cities where PCA churches have achieved something approximating hegemony such as "the Help's" Jackson, Mississippi.
"This has always been the 
perfect  summary of every 
sermon in the Presbyterian Church in America"? (Emphasis added.) I preached and heard a whole lot of sermons during my years in the PCA, and, though I might wish that were a point made more often in sermons preached and heard, I can testify that this is another grand overstatement of what is not the case.

Of this I am completely confident beyond any shadow of doubt: Nothing could be more clear, nothing more important, nothing more vital for you or anyone else to know than that always in every case without exception Tim Bayly engages in exaggerated overstatement when he argues (loosely speaking).

No comments: