top of page

A lot of supposed theological debates are the accountants vs. the poets.

I once had an argument with what’s known as a discernment ministry, a decade or so ago.


Well, that’s a lie. It wasn’t just once.


I saved screenshots and have downloads, which is a good thing since most of those websites no longer exist. Which is also a good thing, and since I have a bad memory, I can’t exactly tell you the details of all the fighting and since God has gently told me not to dig up those screenshots archived on various hard drives, I have few details for you.


Name-calling was involved at some point. I got the nickname of the “prairie princess” by some of the Reformed fellows. I tried to make light of it, but it was not intended kindly. That much I know.



Recent, delicate forays onto Facebook again have come with rules: no comments or engagement. Just read the post and move on. So far, it’s a great exercise in self-control. But I recognize the strong whispers (and outright screaming) of the theological fights still happening, the same fights I recall from twenty years ago.


I have mixed feelings about discernment ministries. While I appreciate some of the information and warning about certain sneaky things working their way into the church, I’m also wary of the trajectory such an organization must necessarily travel.


Is discernment an actual ministry or an individual’s responsibility? Is organized discernment doomed to narrow into something ungodly and wrong-spirited by the nature of what happens when humans organize something (see also: the second law of thermodynamics)? Won’t the act of having a purpose to exist solely based on finding things that are wrong force an organization to only look for things that are wrong (i.e. we find what we are looking for)?


All I have for you is admitting mixed feelings, and trying to cautiously live in the tension.


Which is what a lot of well-meaning Christians do, I think. Yet it still leads to arguing about stuff because we confuse what’s Biblical, what’s cultural, and what’s personal conviction. And we throw lots of passion in there.


Some folks do the best they can to clarify tough questions in a right spirit that’s humble. And even if I don’t agree with their conclusions all the time, I’m open to listening to them on other things because of that humility.


Take, for example, Cory Asbury’s song “Reckless Love.”


Several years ago, the hot debate was on the theological soundness of that song in no small part because it came out of Bethel Music and there are some valid concerns there.


I read and listened to both sides, with each camp pleading for people to hear them as an authority on the matter. My conclusion?


It was a pointless debate because the accountants were debating the poets.


I lean toward the poet. This is not to say it’s all about feelings, necessarily, but understanding the richness in words and word pictures, and how meaning is woven into words by implication and proximity.


When I hear Asbury’s song and listen to the lyrics, I can appreciate the theological concerns raised.1 But mostly I appreciate the song.


It’s a beautiful piece of music, the right mix of minor chords, soaring vocals, and repetitive percussive hits on the piano.


To the poet, the song assumes we all understand that as human beings, we have limits on energy and emotions. We are tight-fisted with who and how we hand out love, making it conditional most of the time. We have a breaking point and are unwilling to pour out love (or at the very least, the best of ourselves which includes mercy and grace) on someone we deem unworthy, someone who used their last chance, someone who rejects us. Our love is finite.

In that light, God’s love seems incredibly reckless.


If you have limited quantities, a being that has endless quantities and seems to willingly keep sending out love, grace, and mercy to the unworthy is reckless beyond comprehension. Who would squander such a precious thing like that?


The poet understands that’s exactly the point. God isn’t squandering. It’s precisely our inability to grasp the vast amount of mercy and love that makes us need a God who does such a thing.

To the accountant, though, there are words to parse and match up with correct theology. And there is a place for that…sometimes. Discernment, and knowing what God is saying to each of us as far as what He wants us to listen to or not, is the deciding factor. The Holy Spirit knows us best, and for the things that don’t go against what God has said in his Word, he knows what will build us up or be a stumbling block; it’s not the same as the guy next to you necessarily.


If you have a problem with the idea of God pursuing anyone as Asbury describes, it’s worth understanding that the idea has been around a long time (some might argue in the Bible), including Francis Thompson’s 1890 poem “The Hound of Heaven.”


I love solid intellectual Bible teaching and deep dives into theology. But I also love poetry and art and metaphor and the power it carries. I love thinking and head knowledge, but I grew up Pentecostal and haven’t abandoned it at all, and there are moments when I appreciate purely relying on the power of God and operating in faith, not intellectual knowledge. I love me some Spurgeon and I privately pray in tongues. It is a divided existence where I often see both sides’ vantage points and understand both arguments and wonder if many of the fights couldn’t be set aside to focus on the actual heretical anti-Gospel anti-Jesus stuff out there.

As I’ve said recently in a Bible study I’m in, people are toggle switches for the most part. It’s either on or off, black or white, yes or no, one or the other.


“God gives us free will, and also chooses and has foreknowledge,” I said. “It’s both, not one or the other. That doesn’t compute in how we exist, in our four dimensions. We have a lot of difficulty wrapping our head around that so we argue for either one or the other.”


In other words, God’s love is not reckless in so much as he is working out his will precisely and doesn’t act with sloppy fervor. But it is reckless from our limited vantage point and takes our breath away so we write poems and songs because we cannot comprehend such a being and have no other way to even attempt to express our response.


Certainly, a song like this could be used by the enemy to waylay someone into pure emotional responses. But I’ve seen many a strict Reformed head-smart person being waylaid differently, marching in head knowledge and able to rattle off all the good theology in a fine clip towards hell. We must love God with our whole being, including our head, heart (spirit), and body.


I want to see what the fruit of someone’s life is. Words are cheap, and while actions reveal they can be controlled for a delayed effect. Actual outcomes over time (fruit) are beyond manipulative control.


When I was the “prairie princess” and received all kinds of insults and derogatory suggestions about my intelligence and value in the body of Christ, the fruit from all of those smart men and their head-bobbling wives was not impressive. It was rotten and full of cruelty.



Most Christian leaders are not people we’re around in daily life and we can’t always see the fruit as well as we would with our closest friends and family. We’re at the mercy of what we see on the surface from a distance.


So I guess I’d ask what is the fruit of the followers? What is the fruit that comes from the thing? Arguments and podcasts and pride in torching what may be other believers (because yes, years ago, infamous Team Pyro unloaded on me)? Or the actual fruit of the Spirit, which are kind of uncomfortable because they seem at odds with contending for the truth in the way we Americans envision it?



Regardless, consider next time if the argument is really an argument or if it’s just accountants vs. poets.


Either way, walk away.


 

1 Mostly, I just appreciate Mike Winger because he has a humble and generous spirit, carefully handles the Word of God, and even when I don’t agree with him, I am willing to consider his words. His is a YouTube channel I listen to regularly. And yes, he covered this song.

Comments


Commenting has been turned off.
bottom of page