Thursday, October 02, 2008

Phillip Jensen Response to Mark Driscoll's Critique

Phillip Jensen, Dean of Sydney (Australia) offers an initial response to Mark Driscoll's talk on 18 “obstacles to effective evangelism” in the Sydney Diocese. (See also this summary.)

Jensen offers three "obvious mistakes" that need to be avoided in responding to such a message and such a messenger: (1) be reactionary and defensive; (2) become a sycophantic follower; (3) do nothing.
Those who are defensive will oppose any change. Those who are sycophantic will wait until Mark returns to tell us what to do. We must avoid both errors. If Mark never returns, it will be a shame and our loss. But that is irrelevant to his message, for his challenge to us was to get moving, take initiative, and not to wait around to be told what to do next.
Read the whole thing; it's a model of how to wisely and graciously respond to a hard critique even when you don't agree with every aspect of it. I especially appreciate this section:
Mark was hard-hitting and critical. He said things that made us feel very uncomfortable, and he said them with force and vigour. He was calling upon us to change our ways. All of this can create defensiveness within us, and it makes us want to argue with him and explain ourselves. There are many ways in which we can defend ourselves: we can find fault with his manner or his choice of words; we can look for holes in his logic, or point out the minor errors of fact—especially about Sydney; we can qualify what he has said—to the point where we have domesticated his main points; or we can complain about what he failed to address (e.g. some found fault in his attack on young men because he did not speak to young women—as if he was supposed to say everything). We could also find fault with his rhetorical use of hyperbole, generalizations, stark contrasts and lack of nuanced discussion. But in all this, he is not dissimilar to Jesus' preaching. He is a man who confronted us with hard questions, and we must be very wary of our own defensiveness.
This reminded me, indirectly, of an excellent section from Roger Nicole's essay on How to Deal with Those Who Differ from Us:

I have noticed that my wife sometimes says things like, "You never empty the wastebasket." Now as a matter of fact, on January 12, 1994, I did empty the wastebasket. Therefore, the word never is inappropriate! This tends to weaken the force of my wife's reproach. Well, I've learned that I don't get anywhere by pressing this point. This kind of response does not provide dividends of joy and peace in my home. I've learned, therefore, to interpret that when my wife says "never" she often means "rarely" or "not as often as should be." When she says "always," she means "frequently" or "more often than should be."

Instead of quibbling as to the words never and always, I would do well to pay attention to what she finds objectionable. And indeed, I should be emptying the wastebasket. Feminist or not feminist, a husband and father should empty the wastebasket; and therefore, if I fail to do this, even only once, there is a good reason to complain. Nothing is gained by quibbling about how often this happens. I ought to recognize this and be more diligent with it rather than to quote the dictionary.

Similarly, in dealing with those who differ, we ought not to split hairs about language just in order to pounce on our opponent because he or she has not used accurate wording. It is more effective to seek to apprehend what is meant and then to relate ourselves to the person's meaning. If we don't do that, of course, there is no encounter because this person speaks at one level and we are taking the language at another level. The two do not meet and the result is bound to be frustrating. If we really want to meet, we might as well try to figure out the meaning rather than to quibble on wording.

And of course, you should read that whole thing too!