I learned a good lesson yesterday.
I have only recently been introduced to the work and ministry of Mark Driscoll. At first I was merely troubled, but then found myself increasingly alarmed to the point of anger and disdain. I found his theology to be ugly, distracting, destructive, disreputable. I wanted to write against him, warn others about him, kick him out of town.
And I was so happy, so relieved, so bristlingly celebratory when I found this critique of Driscoll. I was standing up and cheering, rooting for a theological clothesline of Driscoll. I thought: This is exactly what needed to be said. I was so happy so many people had already seen the post. Driscoll got his due!
So I'm taking a break from homework yesterday and pull up Richard Beck's blog, and what do you know? Another post on Mark Driscoll! I am locked and loaded, ready to go -- ready for some erudite psychological gun-slinging.
Things are going well at first. A YouTube clip edited to make fun of Driscoll. Good so far.
And then Beck does the unexpected: he defends him. Instead of putting up his fists, he actually listens to Driscoll. And all of that psychological knowledge is applied, not to disproving and making a fool out of Driscoll, but to affirming some of the facets of his ministry. Beck raises the genuine question of gender identity in churches, how education marks a kind of cultural fault line for many men, how Driscoll is in his own way addressing a largely unacknowledged and overlooked problem in most churches across America. By the end he does raise questions about gender, power, and misogyny, but in such a way that opens the conversation rather than closes it.
That, to be sure, was not what I was expecting. Neither was it what I was hoping for.
What it is, though, is a lesson in virtue. Polemic is natural to the Christian gospel, and we cannot get away from it, nor should we want to. In my mind, however, before reading Beck's post, the standard for "right polemic" was just that: Is it right? Now, though, I have a new test: Is it virtuous? That is, how I engage a person, idea, event, group, or work ought to be judged by, infused with, and subsumed under the fruit of the Holy Spirit -- not how "right" I am. We can always be right in the wrong way. We can never be virtuous in the wrong way.
Because to be virtuous is to be humble, and to be humble means to listen. If I listen to Mark Driscoll -- as it stands now, through the ears of Richard Beck -- I will hear things I do not like. But I will also recognize many of my friends: fellow men who want to follow Jesus, love their families, serve God, and change the world. If I disagree on theological matters, I may express those disagreements only in the context of our brotherhood in Christ, and on no other grounds whatsoever.
So: thank you to Richard Beck, and thank you to Mark Driscoll. You have put a small end to a great flourishing of self-righteousness. I never would have guessed I would learn humility from the blogosphere, but then, that is just the kind of surprise I should expect from a God who humbles himself in the stranger.