The Rise of the Thin-Skinned Radicals
I was in a conversation the other day with some friends about some of the latest debates in the evangelical church. One of the things that struck us is just how thin-skinned we tend to be when our ideas are challenged. What’s particularly interesting is how intolerant we are of people we think are intolerant. A few examples come to mind:
There’s a rich market of progressive evangelicals who like to skewer the evangelical church. Every day, it seems, a book comes out that essentially makes the case that the church has gotten it all wrong and should should reexamine orthodoxies and beliefs. A good example is Rob Bell’s infamous book, Love Wins and his recent marketing of his latest: What We Talk About When We Talk About God. Many of Rob Bell’s fans (though not, seemingly, Rob himself) seem to wince at every criticism of Bell and label it “mean-spirited” and “ugly.” To be sure, there have been mean-spirited and ugly denunciations. But what’s interesting is that Bell’s fans don’t consider his own rhetoric “mean-spirited” or “ugly.” Consider this statement about evangelicals, “We have supported policies and ways of viewing the world that are actually destructive. And we’ve done it in the name of God and we need to repent.” or “people see Christianity as this endless list of absurdities and inconsistencies” Bell is writing and speaking to be intentionally provocative. He’s essentially making his point by calling out core evangelical convictions. I’m not saying Bell doesn’t have the right to do this–he does. But what I’m saying is that when people push back and explain the views they hold that Bell has called destructive and absurd–this is considered by Bell’s fans to be “ugly.” This charge effectively shuts down any constructive debate.
Lest you think I’m picking on people “outside my tribe”, so to speak, let me raise an example from the opposite side of the ledger. There have been a rash of books out lately calling Christians to radical commitment pushing against the consumerism and spiritual laxity of the American Church. I happen to agree with much of what has been written in books like Radical, and Not a Fan and others. But I find it funny that some proponents of these books get upset at critical analysis, such as the piece in Christianity Today by Matthew Lee Anderson. Again, it’s ironic that some who make a living criticizing other Christians get upset when they themselves are criticized.
I think much of this is due to a lack of maturity on our part. Part of growing in wisdom is the willingness to accept helpful rebuke. It’s the humility to realize that our understanding of God, the world, and the Word is finite. Even at our best, we see, “through a glass darkly.” Our vision is tainted by the Fall.
Immaturity is thinking we are always right all the time. Immaturity is shining a spotlight on the faults of another (whether a movement, an organization, a person) and thinking we are above their flaws. It’s engaging in criticism and being unwilling to be criticized in return.
We seem to be courageous when it comes to “speaking out” against others, but remarkably cowardly when others “speak out” against us. We’re a tribe of thin-skinned radicals.