Rethinking Evangelicalism’s Tropes #2: Fixing the Other Guy


Sometimes it seems like we Evangelicals aren’t happy with anyone. Our perceived human foes are always in need of a good fixing by us, especially by our standard means of yelling at them, wrangling politicians to our side in opposition to them, manipulating media against them, and stewing about them to anyone who will listen. While the track record of positive results employing that process is somewhat abysmal, yet we press on.

In our favor, it’s hard not to think that the wheels are coming off the world. Really, a quick glance around seems to confirm as much.

I’ve written a lot of words to Christians in America over the years. I’m really no one, though. And I mean that. There’s no expectation that anyone will listen or change. Most days are shouting into the wind—like everyone else. I know that. Everyone’s got an opinion, and in America, everyone needs to express it.

But it still bothers me that with people in the American Church pointing fingers at this heretic and that sinner, we tend to forget the Golden Rule of  “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” or as Jesus Himself phrased it:

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”
—Matthew 7:12

I can’t help but think that applying that one simple rule would change everything. And that one simple rule can be applied to EVERY aspect of life.

Such truth asks that we consider the other guy, that we think of him as ourself. Where we give ourselves grace, we should offer him the same grace in the same situations. And where we would want to be gently and lovingly corrected, we would offer the same to him.

But too often we excuse our sins and live to punish the other guy for his—even when his sin is the same as ours.

I’m increasingly peeved at the hubris that most of us operate under. Nor do I understand how it is that we’re always seeking to fix the other guy when we won’t fix ourselves first. We Evangelicals are constantly in a huff about the condition of the other guy’s eye speck and not so concerned about our own log.

The answer, of course, is a simple one. Jesus notes it in the Gospel of John:

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.” Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who had been reclining at table close to him and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!”
—John 21:15-22

Here, Jesus is trying to restore Peter after Peter’s betrayal. But what very human trait does Peter exhibit? He points to John and says (and I’m paraphrasing here), “Yeah, I hear what you’re trying to say about me, but what about this other guy?”

If that doesn’t sum up Evangelicalism 2011, I don’t know what does. We seem perpetually worried about “the other guy” even as the Lord is trying to restore us to our proper position. (I find it telling that John notes this in the context of his own question about those who would betray Jesus, almost as if Peter were trying to get back at John for bringing up the issue and John includes this passage—and its answer—as a deflection back to Peter.)

Jesus’ response is so fitting, it almost makes me weep:

“…what is that to you? You follow me!”

Heaven knows that I am a messed up person. Every day I have to remind myself that the only way the Lord is going to work through me is if I’m right with Him. And that’s going to take an enormous amount of work on His part. My part is to be willing and open to receive His fixes. Yet if I’m perpetually trying to hear about someone else’s fixes and trying to fix that other person my way, I’ll neither hear nor receive my fixes.

And if I’m not prepped the way I should be to minister, then I’m wasting my time and the Lord’s.

Evangelicals, please, please, please hear this. If we don’t get our own house right, judgment will fall on it. It’s time to stop worrying about the other guy’s problems first and start asking the Lord to fix our own. We’ve become like Peter, attempting to deflect responsibility, even as the Lord is telling us what we need to be doing and to stop worrying so much about the other guy.

Every day, I hope to live not only by the Golden Rule but also by personalizing the words of Jesus: “…what is that to you, Dan? You follow me!”

What words will you live by?

20 thoughts on “Rethinking Evangelicalism’s Tropes #2: Fixing the Other Guy

  1. I guess I am a little confused. Are you saying that if someone else is a heretic, we should not address this, but just worry about our own house? I think that there is plenty of Scriptural backing to show that we should confront someone if their teaching is false. (And some would do a much better service to follow such advice, rather than to attempt to correct via social media.)

    Peter’s question regarding John had nothing to do with doctrine, but rather, how would he be treated. Peter was told the kind of death he would face, and he wanted to know if John would face a similar fate. Jesus basically says, “What is that to you?”

    I totally agree that our house needs to be right, but when others are teaching doctrines that are false, isn’t addressing those issues a part of our responsibility?

    • Spherical,

      When we have purged ourselves of all of our own personal heresies, then I believe we will be fully equipped to out the heresies of others, and we will be fully blessed by doing so.

      When we have been drawn up to the third heaven, shared prophetic words given to us by the Holy Spirit, and have healed the sick by the laying on of our hands, then we are ably demonstrating the faithfulness of God in our own lives and the signs that we are ably equipped workmen approved to out heresies in others because we have both recognized and outed them all in our own lives.

      If that is not the case, though, then perhaps the heresy hunting should be left to others who pass those tests until such time that we can pass them ourselves.

      • Paul Walton

        Proverbs 15:31
        “Whoever heeds life-giving correction will be at home among the wise.”
        If we go to another brother in love, to show them what God’s word clearly teaches, we may very well keep them from eternal death.

        Jesus said that the gate to salvation is narrow, strive to enter, many will seek to enter, but will not be able to.

        I would submit the most unloving thing we could do is to let someone’s lack of understanding of the truth of God’s word be left uncorrected, and to let them die without truly knowing Christ.

        • Paul,

          No doubt that correction is a good thing. However, most of the heretic hunting that goes on exists at the national level, where personal interaction is nil. Each of our churches is filled with enough error and ignorance to keep a heretic hunter busy for the rest of his life. Sadly, that almost never results in anything, as hunting heresy on that level has no spotlight, with the heretic hunter working in obscurity.

          Lastly, the older I get, the less I believe that our perceptions are what save us, yet that is the assumption of most heretic hunters. Viewing salvation simply as a function of thought is very Western, as most Christians in the East see it as being much more than that.

  2. Here’s a thought:

    For all those people who love to hunt heretics, why focus on heretics in someone else’s church and not your own? If you out the heretics in your own church, at least you have the ability to rehabilitate them. Or is that asking for too much work?

  3. Jennifer Smith

    Dan, At the risk of beating a dead horse, I just want to bring this up one last time. What if you are wrong about the Emergent Church just being a reform movement that is providing somewhat bad answers to good questions. What if it is, in fact, a major part of a growing end-time apostasy that is leading to a false global religion? (I know you don’t believe this but bear with me here…) If that was really true, then would your focus at Cerulean Sanctum change? Would you change your perspective on your responsibility to the church in this hour? I’m curious if you would continue to level the same sharp criticism at “heresy hunters” if you thought this was the true situation.

    • Jennifer,

      There has always been a growing end times apostasy. Jesus said that it is next to impossible for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. We Americans represent the top 5 percent of the richest people in the world. Pretty much our entire nation is apostate by that standard. The Enemy just distracts us from that apostasy by getting us preoccupied with a bunch of minor heretics. Makes us look silly in the eyes of the lost, too, only further discrediting our message.

      You’ve got the underground Chinese Church praying that persecution would come to America so a real church would come out of the ashes of the rich, suburban, uber-educated one we have now.

      Every generation has thought it was the terminal one. Every generation has its clan of heretics that it went after, even as hunters and their hunted died and a new generation replaced them. The emerging church will fade. It already has lost power and is waning.

      No, my focus here would not change. There will be wars and rumors of wars, heretics will come and go, but loving God and loving one’s neighbor (and one’s enemy) will never go out of style. Perfect love casts out all fear, and since most watchblogs only seek to instill fear that the heretics are taking over, are they really doing anyone any good?

      You should read what I wrote about this a while back: Who Watches the Watchers?

  4. As I read Galatians, Paul is dealing with a heresy, lifing according to the law. As I read Corinthians, Paul is dealing with a heresy, extending grace to a man who is obviously abusing that God’s grace. I could go on. So if someone denies the virgin birth, Christ’s deity, etc., we should just look the other way because our own theology might not be perfect? What about Scriptures that tell us to watch our doctine closely? IMHO, if you love God you love truth, and if you love truth, you would want to deal with lies. I think that this applies first and foremost to ourselves, but it does apply to the other guy as well.

    1 Peter 5:8 Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.

    2 Cor 11:13-15 For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.

    • Spherical,

      It seems to me that the Web is filled with an almost limitless number of heresy hunters who are perpetually worried about “the next big threat.” This is not to say that no threats exist. However, if one spends all one’s time building a fortress to keep out the baddies, one must take care that those inside the fortress don’t starve to death for being walled in. C.S. Lewis said, “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.” The same applies to outing heretics.

      If I were to use the tactics and standards of most Internet watchbloggers, I could capably charge every last one of them with consorting with heretics and tainting even their own ministries. It ends up being a zero sum game that everyone loses.

      For instance, it is no taxing chore to take out the entirety of the Reformed wing of the watchblogger camp and the entirety of the Reformed arm of the Church through Rick Warren alone. Steve Camp, John Piper, and Michael Horton have all said positive things about watchblogger whipping boy Warren, having shared the stage with him, and having been a part of conventions with him. Through Camp, Piper, and Horton, guilt by association can be extended to Team Pyro, John MacArthur, Mark Driscoll, Tim Keller, and the other top Reformed names. Soon everyone is a heretic.

      Is that what we really want? Does any good come from that? How is anyone blessed by that kind of thing?

      There is a sober way to apply discernment when it comes to dropping names. I would contend that doing it through the Internet is one of the poorest means possible. I would also contend that the very biblical mandates for confronting people in error are rarely applied. Almost no face-to-face confrontations exist, though people often yell at each other via the Internet.

      If we’re going to bring Paul into this, then by all means lets bring in the charismatic gift of the discerning of Spirits and Paul’s experiences regularly hearing the spoken voice of God and seeing into spiritual dimensions. I trust that Paul uses those gifts and experiences the proper way, especially when it comes to this issue. I do not have the same trust of most of the people who take up watchblogging. There is more to godly dealings with other people, especially those claimed to be heretics, than just being able to look up the right Scripture verses. If any watchblogger wants to claim equality with Paul and can prove it, then maybe he has the right to say, “I wish they’d go emasculate themselves!” Otherwise, perhaps we should show a bit more care just how easily we pronounce sentence on perceived heretics.

    • Hans

      There is way to deal with heresy around us , and it starts prayer ,more prayer, and even more prayer and when you find your love and compassion for said ‘heresyee’ growing stronger than the offense then ask the Holy Spirit to pray through you regarding same said Heresyee and after all that then act only as the Father shows or tells you

      In other words …Bless them

      This works!!! I know…..

  5. Jennifer Smith

    Dan, I think we can agree that while it may be true that every generation has thought it is the terminal one, it doesn’t mean that there won’t ever be a generation that really is the final one. I did read the post you recommended and understand your dismay at watchbloggers behaving badly, but wouldn’t you agree that there would be a need for an increased level of warning if we were in that last generation? (Especially with a deception that could almost deceive the elect, as Jesus said.) If a one-world government, world leader, and accompanying religion actually started to materialize in our generation, wouldn’t you spend more time warning fellow believers who you see buying into the Anti-Christ’s deception? In that scenario, a righteous indignation against those false leaders would be justified, surely?

    • Jennifer,

      Our current generation is being swept along by a sense of righteous indignation about EVERYTHING. Honestly, I think Christians who fall into that rut are actually MORE likely to be deceived than less. It always starts off simple too. We get concerned about this, then that, then this and that…and the next thing you know, every leaders who crops up in the Middle East is the next candidate for the antichrist. The next election is the one that decides the very future of America. The next change in morality becomes the one that will doom America and the world. Christians start running around like Chicken Littles pointing fingers at all these bogeymen, and the next thing you know, in the very name of supposedly preserving the Gospel and the Faith, the whole point of the Gospel and the Faith gets lost. The person most on his guard becomes the person who was first to get swept away.

      Deception happens when Christians forget the core of what we Christians are to be about.

      The crazy thing is that people who don’t know Jesus understand this better than those who do.

      Love God. Love people. Be there for people in need. Tell them about Jesus. Disciple them to maturity. Leave all the End Times scenarios to the Lord. Whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. Whether America stays free or descends into a socialistic gulag does not matter. The Church does best in those countries that aren’t always pro-Christian anyway. We’re more concerned with preserving a 1950s American idealism than we are seeing the Church of Jesus Christ moving forward, no matter what kind of nation this becomes. But we are citizens of a better Kingdom, and this world is not our home.

      If we ever believe this, then maybe great things will happen.

  6. Jennifer Smith

    Dan, I see your point about people who lose the heart of the Gospel in the midst of their general indignation over everything. (Although most Christians I know aren’t running around like Chicken Littles with fingers pointing and getting all worked up–quite the opposite, in fact.) However, I believe we need to look to Scripture first to determine what our attitude should be concerning end times. When the disciples asked Jesus what would be the sign of his coming and the end of the age, he warned them first, “See that no one leads you astray.” That assumes there is a definite possibility of his followers being led astray in end times and also indicates the Lord’s priorities in considering it important enough to emphasize. He also told them to take a lesson from the fig tree and look for these signs to know that his coming will be near. True, we aren’t supposed to know the day or hour but why is Matthew 24, the book of Revelation, and many other prophetic passages even included in the Bible if we aren’t supposed to bother our pretty little heads with any thinking about end-time scenarios? It sounds like you’re dangerously close to throwing out the baby with the bathwater because of your frustration with certain Christians. Saying that whether we live or die we are the Lord’s sounds like you’re assuming that there isn’t anything to worry about as far as deception. Looking at Scripture, it seems like the Lord and his apostles have far more concern about it than you do.

    • Jennifer,

      Our differences here are not on the issues of wisdom, preparedness, heeding warnings, or the worth of understanding that false teachers will come and that the last days will be difficult. On that we agree.

      Where we disagree is on degrees of response. This is a far more important issue to you than it is to me. I think we are forgetting far more important issues, but you disagree. I think I am avoiding falling into a “Chicken Little” mentality, but you see that as “throwing out the baby with the bathwater.” We will have to agree to disagree agreeably.

      I used to be very into End Times prophecy, but not as much anymore. I felt it went from being a healthy concern to an obsession. I have seen where those obsessions go, and the result is that Christians end up looking silly. I don’t ever want to be in a position of making the Lord and His Church look silly because I have become a Chicken Little.

      You don’t believe that most Christians have become Chicken Little. I do. We’ll have to disagree there. The Church as a whole in the United States is VASTLY more interested in other people’s error than it is in correcting it’s own. It trumpets the errors of others and ignores its own. We need to be sober about all error, ESPECIALLY our own, and we have got to stop lying to ourselves about our own deficiencies. If my house is on fire, it makes no sense for me to be worrying about the kid playing with matches in the house next door! When I do, I only look silly. Worse, I forget that judgment begins in the house of God.

      I have found that most heretic hunters only care about being right; they don’t care about the people they are correcting. I believe the Bible states that is an error. I have found that most heretic hunters have never prayed for the heretics they out. I have found that most heretic hunters have never confronted the people they out face-to-face (or at least over the phone). I have found that most heretic hunters take a certain glee in their heretic hunting. I have found that most heretic hunters operate out of fear and not love, plus they pass the fear onto the people who follow them. These are errors on their parts. They are violating the Scriptures. They themselves are in error. Perhaps they too have become heretics.

      So forgive me if I don’t want to step into that morass. I’m far more concerned with those areas of the practice of the faith that I believe are being neglected. I’m more concerned with what I am neglecting rather than what the heretics are neglecting. I am more concerned with error in my own church than error in someone else’s. It’s an amazing thing that God can fix me, and if he fixes me, I can help fix my church. But most of us never get there because we’re too worried about what is happening in the church across the street from us.

      I really don’t have anything further to say on this. I’m sorry that you feel that I do not take heretic hunting as seriously as you do. While I am unshaken in my belief that proper doctrine is essential, I do not believe that the Christian life distills down to rules and rules alone. If I let doctrine stand between me and loving another person that Christ asked me to love, then I have to lead with love. For instance, I can attend the christening of a friend’s child even if I believe in believer baptism. (Or I can make a huff about it to my friend and lose him as a friend and burn any bridge that might serve as a means for me to have a discussion about this in the future that might change his mind to embrace my position.) The amazing thing about that is it makes me better understand doctrine when I put love first. And maybe if we had done that all along, then perhaps we’d have more unity in the Faith and less schism and anger.

  7. h.m.

    It was the dire world problems that finally made me realize that there is no man’s fixing us. Sounds elementary, but I really saw it. And when I saw that I started to see following Jesus was what mattered most. And it also showed me that I can’t fix anyone either-I have experienced a painful set of circumstances that God used to show this to me. The good thing that has come of this is freedom, and I saw that the fixing others came from a root of shame. This is freedom, indeed!

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