Better Than a Beating


After you take the time to read this post today, I’d love to hear your feedback. I ask because I’m starting to think I’m crazy. Seems everywhere I go, I get the same response from people, so perhaps I’m the one who is wrong.

So fire away.

I’ve written a bit lately about the Internet’s ire. Everyone seems angry. Everyone is mad at some heretic, petty or otherwise. Plenty of talk of wolves. Plenty of hand wringing.

In all of this tension, a few positives go lacking. I talked about one, loving one’s foes. This post is about one of the others.

From the Bible:

Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him and explained to him the way of God more accurately. And when he wished to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus.
—Acts 18:24-28

I love that passage. It’s a gentle, godly, pastoral one. I wish it were the model for how we raise up leaders in the Church.

Here’s this Jewish fellow Apollos who is preaching Jesus. He’s a great speaker; people listen to him. He’s got charisma. Knows a few things about Jesus and passes them on fairly well.

Priscilla and Aquila stumble across Apollos and think he’s got potential. He’s mostly there, but he could use some polishing and needs to understand just a few more things more accurately in order to have the Faith down right.

Priscilla and Aquila

Priscilla & Aquila

So rather than correct him in front of everyone, this godly couple takes Apollos aside and better explains the ways of God so as to overcome the young man’s theological deficiencies. They take time to help their charge work out the kinks. They introduce him to the right Church crowd. And Apollos goes on to become such a heavy hitter that the Apostle Paul must later address the tendency of some to say that they are “of Apollos.” (I guess there were fanboys even back then.)

I keep thinking that if this situation existed today, Apollos would be torn to shreds on the Internet or have some book written by a name pastor/teacher denouncing him for those things he said that were not deemed perfect. The court of Christian public opinion would trumpet to the world that Apollos had theological problems here and there. Plus, he knew only John’s baptism at the time. The horror. 😉

Instead, we get Priscilla and Aquila. Thank God for them. Because of them, and because of God’s great mercy, the story went in a far better direction.

Priscilla and Aquila seem like a couple I’d love to hang with. I’m sure they could teach me many things, especially about the grace needed to see raw giftings and know how to refine them with tenderness and love.

Now comes the crazy Dan part.

I’ve questioned in a few forums why it is so easy for Christians with a national pulpit or some name recognition to scold rather than to draw alongside those younger Christians who own a strong voice but who may not have all the particulars down. Actually, scold is too lax a word. Most of the time the better word is brutalize, as that’s the kind of verbal beating meted out.

Priscilla and Aquila seem long forgotten, as if they have nothing to model for older, established, respected pastors/teachers with a national voice—or you and me for that matter. Better that we defend the Faith than actually mold raw people and win them to a better position.

Here’s what really gets me: When I suggest that it would be great if one of these older, established, respected pastor/teachers calls up the “Apollos of the moment” and asks to chat or even sit down over a few meals to work out how things could be done with greater adherence to Scripture and the leading of the Spirit, the mere hint of this kind of pastoral compassion sends people into fits. Such an idea seems like anathema to some, especially the fans of those respected pastor/teachers. They’ve already piled the wood and found a suitable stake.

I’m not stupid enough to believe that all of these almost-but-not-quite-there modern Apolloses are going to wind up corrected and perfect. Yet at the same time, why do I almost never hear of any of these older, established, respected pastor/teachers with a national pulpit reaching out as Priscilla and Aquila did to people they think are slightly off? Instead, out comes the nuclear option, and the public gets to see how much supposed Christians can really hate.

I wonder sometimes if all this constant clashing is only driving the bystanders to cross Christianity off their list of viable sources of truth.

Yes, sometimes we must wipe our feet of the dust of people who will not listen. But at the same time, I see a whole lot of dust-wipers and not a whole lot of Priscillas and Aquilas.

30 thoughts on “Better Than a Beating

    • Good verse, Keith. Thanks!

      Apollos was accurate, but he needed even a bit more accuracy. Maybe he was 85% there. I wonder in how many cases that applies to us today. Probably all.

      Blessings. And thanks for being a longtime reader. I always appreciate your comments.

  1. Seaton

    I don’t think you’re crazy, I think you’re dead on.

    I don’t know the all the reasons for the public scolding, but one, it seems to me, is pretty clear. We have some academics (and more who think they are) with national pulpits, and the public response in writing is an established method of academic critique. On the other hand we seem to have very few pastors with national pulpits.

    The real problem though is the followers of those who are legitimate academics. While the academic review process is understood and useful for the legitimate academic, their followers all assume that’s the way you do pastoral work. The pastoral qualities of coming along side and privately correcting and encouraging are so lost to this crowd that elevates intellectual prowess above all other qualities that they don’t even recognize the lack as anything even relevant to the conversation.

    That’s my 2 cents worth. Just remember it’s worth what you paid for it. 🙂

  2. Christy

    I think you are exactly right. I believe we need less shouting from the stage (whatever platform that may be – pulpit, blog, social media) and more coming along side of people to help them grow in their faith.

    That’s what we are trying to do in our small town. We just got beat up by an Apollos. Some people think a little knowledge (especially seminary knowledge) covers a multitude of sins.

  3. I’m a Brit. I’m also an assistant pastor at a church.

    One person who was very good at this was John Stott. For example, when Roy Clements (very well known Baptist pastor and preacher) came out as gay and left his wife and church in the late 90s, Stott took him to one side and chatted to him for a while to try to persuade him otherwise.

    I don’t know how the US is with networks of Christian leaders and stuff. If I wrote a book saying something nutty, I know a few older and fairly well-known Christian leaders who I hope would take me to one side and have a word with me. Maybe that would happen within groups like TGC or the SBC or something there – I don’t know. We’re probably better off for networks because most evangelical churches are either Anglican or FIEC or something.

    • John,

      I think it is a wise thing to step in once. Jesus said that once someone has heard, they are without excuse. Stepping in more requires permission. I remember the Roy Clements debacle. Good for John Stott!

      Here in the States, far too much happens in public. I wish the taking aside would be more prevalent. It removes the dog and pony show aspect of correction. Keeps everyone more humble.

  4. On the other hand, we don’t read about Apollos putting out teasing promotional papyrii for his new codex/scroll hinting that he was going to attack long-held orthodox beliefs to create a controversy and boost sales.

    • Brian,

      Actually, the person you’re referring to is not who I had in mind when I wrote this, though it can be said that his is just another example of what I’m talking about.

  5. Michael K.

    It seems apparent that this is an obvious reference to Rob Bell. Assuming that is the case (I may be wrong about that), it is not a matter of pastors with national pulpits beating up on an inexperienced neophyte. Rob Bell is 40 years old, been senior pastor of Mars Hill for over 10 years, is a seminary graduate and a top selling author. It’s hardly a case of “He just didn’t know any better.” It is a case of pastors with national pulpits publicly correcting the very public statements of another pastor with a national pulpit. I think that perhaps the more relevant passage is Galatians 2:11-14.

    • Peyton

      Michael K,

      As one who doesn’t know Rob Bell from Adam’s tomcat, I still follow Dan’s argument (as perhaps you don’t?), and that is why I avoid most “discussions” here and elsewhere. (Mandatory disclosure: Dan and I attend the same church.) The public catfights, backbiting, and sharpshooting are a scandal! (And remember, Paul rebuked Peter to his face, and not in his blog.


      • Michael K

        I think I followed it perfectly well, and don’t disagree with it at all, in principle. The question is how well it applies to the situation that Dan never explicitly refers to, yet it’s pretty obvious that he is talking about (Rob Bell’s book Love Wins). It is interesting to note the difference in the way that John Piper has handled Rob Bell versus the way he has Mark Driscoll. With Driscoll, he very much came beside him and has tried to be a mentor to him. Not so with Bell.
        As far as confronting “to his face”, that is not necessarily possible in the times that we live in, where word can travel much more widely than people can. I think the more significant aspect of that Galatians 2 was that the confrontation was done “before them” all. That is that Peter’s sin (and the teaching that cam from his example), was public, and that the correction needed to be public as well.

        • Michael,

          Actually, I’m thinking about a couple recent situations where friends have been burned. I’m also referring to patterns of behavior that need to be broken. And while face to face may be hard, Jesus asks hard things of us sometimes. How hard is it to pick up a phone, anyway? That would be a lot better than most of what passes for “rebuke” nowadays.

          The problem of Paul/Peter “before them all” certainly didn’t involve airing that rebuke in public forums easily viewed by the lost. It may have been public before the Church, but not before everyone. Sometimes, even the smartest Christians today show some very poor judgment in their rush to judge others publicly.

      • Peyton,

        The Internet and books provides great anonymity, don’t they? Foes are especially verbal when they don’t have to face each other. Funny how looking someone in the eye tends to change the situation.

    • Michael,

      I’m not talking about Rob Bell. I’m talking about a pattern I’ve seen within the online and publishing arms of Evangelicalism that goes from one dust-up to another, each new threat replacing the old one, which is soon forgotten. I mean, who the heck gets up in arms about what John Shelby Spong says anymore, but you go back a few years and he was that decade’s Rob Bell. We can’t keep on pursuing a path that leads nowhere. And this one of publicly excoriating people with no effort made to restore is only damaging the body of Christ. In fact, I think it is more detrimental to the expansion of the Gospel than the supposed error itself. Lost people see Christians going at it tooth and nail, and they just don’t want to be a part of anything the rest of us Christians have to say. We are learning nothing from out bad press.

  6. Diane R

    I’m not sure what kind of people you are talking about who are being criticized, but for the most part, what I am talking about (see below) aren’t personal attacks (at least they shouldn’t be). They are critiques and information about people in leadership who call themselves Christians and are going waaay down the wrong bunny trail theologically. In doing so, they are changing Christianity into a completely different “religion.” I, for one, am glad these people are telling us about what is happening out there. As a result, I have now studied the emergent movement for 6 years and postmodern philosophy (which is the foundation of that movement) for two years. I even got to teach postmodern philosophy for a couple of weeks to senior adults in a program offered by my local junior college. If I hadn’t read about these things from other bloggers, I wouldn’t have known to even read about these things, much less to study it. I do agree, however, that bloggers and others shouldn’t be snarky or sarcastic. I began to do that on my blog out of frustration and had to really check myself for it. I think that is a real temptation for many of us.

    • Diane,

      You know that my concern here on this blog has always been for the people who think they are doing it right. I’m hoping to talk with solid Christians here who long for better than what we are doing. Even the smart people mess up.

      I hope that we can find a more excellent way to address error in the Church. Some of these famous respected pastors with large followings could pick up a phone and call someone they believe is in error. Yet some will write entire treatises on “heretics” without ever once talking with those same heretics. Stuff gets to them in sound bytes and snippets, and that is simply not the way to deal with correction. I’m sure if that if famous pastor A decided to phone Heretic B, it could be arranged. Why it never seems to be arranged bothers me, and it bothers me even more that most of the time A and B have never met before, even once. The entire exchange is public between utter strangers. What a bizarre world we live in!

  7. connie

    I suspect there IS a lot of quiet mentoring going on out there. But we don’t know about it PRECISELY because it is being done privately.

  8. bob p

    But Apollos was a wise and sincere man capable and willing to learn. In these times once someone has an entrenched position on ANYTHING , no matter how controversial, nothing will change his mind- no matter how good the evidence.

    My position is – forget it or take action if needed. If a man believes the apostle’s creed and that there are dogs on the moon , let him believe it. If a man knows everthing how can he learn anything ?

    (The “take action” refers to Jesus’ saying treat him as though he were a foreigner or a tax collector, after following the prereqisites.)

    • Bob,

      I’m not so sure people are as entrenched as we think they are. The Lord knows that my views have changed considerably over the years, and I’m not some weirdo in that regard.

      I think people DO dig in when assaulted, though. And too often what comes their way is a legitimate assault, usually through a bomb bay filled with judgment. We rarely think that someone’s reluctance is due to our own hamhandedness or judgmentalism. Instead, we think the problem is with them.

      Paul writes that “I will show you a more excellent way.” In my life, the greatest reversals of my thinking have been through presentations of truths I had not considered shown in a more excellent way, not by bombardment by folks attempting to show the rightness of their cause. That makes all the difference in the world, and yet we still don’t get it.

  9. Diane R

    OK, Dan. Now I understand what you are talking about. You are talking about pastors and leaders to other pastors and leaders. Thank you for offering more specifics. Yes, I tend to agree with you on that.

  10. Jeremy


    In such a pluralistic society and Church where everything goes…I wonder if the modern day Apollos’ would receive instruction. It seems more likely that they would branch off and start their own church instead of receiving instruction. I think it worked in Acts’ time because the Church had more of a sense of community. One didn’t just go off and start another church. Your church back then was your community, identity and family. Now it’s a social club in many ways where we just remove our membership and sign up elsewhere.

    Secondly, I agree…where are the Aquilla’s and Priscilla’s. I have witnessed a few occasions where the pastor thought some younger members were doing things wrong. They too had potential. But the pastor had this odd attitude that he wasn’t going chasing after anybody. I find this peculiar because Jesus’ example is always to go after that lost or wandering sheep.


  11. I had 15 minutes of fame back in the 80’s when a well known writer called me a “Psycobabbler” when I write a book on Renewing the Mind that integrated psychology and Bible. I wrote the publisher and protested based on My. 18:15. No response.

    In Luke 9 Jesus took the 12 out on a trial run after giving them authority over demons and to heal. They flunked several tests. Jane’s and Johan wanted to “Call down fire to napalm the Samaritans!” so Jesus corrected them and in Luke 10 sent 70 out as “Lambs among wolves to bless sinners with peace”.

    The only model Jesus taught!

  12. I’m not sure why this rather old thread popped up in my Twitter account, but I love the post! I left traditional church several years ago, and have since wondered, “Where’s the love?” I was thinking of the old Wendy’s commercial with the little old lady wanting to know, “Where’s the beef?” My personal church experiences just make me wonder what people are thinking. Our primary command is to love. Period. And I have seen decades of Christians just biting and devouring one another, while the world watched. Just made me sick. In my opinion, there is never an excuse to be blatantly rude, pushy and nasty with anyone, and certainly no excuse to “lord it over” anyone, I don’t care who. (I HATE that phrase, “MY Bible says…”. I know some arrogant, condescending comment is coming next.)

    To me, churches look like they are all hamburger bun with no beef in there! One comment by one evangelist I have since quit following was worth remembering- the main thing that the church is doing wrong is our dogged determination to correct one another! We are to lift up, not tear down, but churchianity is great at tearing down. After all, who can claim they have perfect doctrine?! No one.

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