Passive Aggression Among Our Sacred Leaders, Or Both Options Stink

The other night on the radio I heard one of those guys who always concludes his nightly segment asking for donations to his ministry, and if you mention the segment when you call in with your credit card number they’ll throw in a cassette tape or booklet as a gift back to you. The man made a very obvious reference to a popular Christian figure, a household name, though he neglected to say who. He merely referred strongly to his distinctive work on rewriting the Bible in modern language, and proceeded to point out all the flaws with that man’s ministry.

Wait – how annoying was that paragraph? How frustrating for you was it that I know exactly who the person was, but I’m leaving it out?

There was no need to shroud in mystery – it was crystal clear who the guy on the radio broadcast was discrediting. It was Eugene Peterson. And the man doing the discrediting? John MacArthur.

I’ve noticed a trend where someone will want to poke holes in another person’s public ministry, but they leave out the name. I recently read a book that did this constantly and I found it quite frustrating, I just wanted him to name the person or movement so I could know specifically what he was denouncing. I lost patience with trying to guess, wondering if I was misunderstanding his point because I guessed incorrectly.

(Since this post is about how we should be more direct and not passive-aggressive, the book was Mere Churchianity by Michael Spencer).

I understand why many chose the route of leaving the “culprit” nameless. It wound sound rude to simply say “and insert name? Here’s a list of all they get wrong!” It could instigate a back and forth of ripping each other apart like a rap battle. However I don’t think the alternative of passive-aggressively referencing them is necessarily a better option. So what should we do?

Maybe this situation can force to ask bigger questions – what good is it to constantly critique fellow brothers and sisters? Most say they would hate for the person they are discrediting to lead followers of Jesus astray, so it justifies their watchdog ministry. Moreso it causes to me question why, if we see issues with someone’s ministry or leadership, don’t we approach them personally by phone, e-mail or otherwise, and why do we instead choose to write from afar, publicly denouncing them?

It seems to me that this inspires a considerable amount of the in-fighting among Christians – even if someone has valid criticisms they are interpreted as attacks when they are given with out a personal touch. This often inspires an attacking response, high horses are mounted and the cycle has begun. What would the conversation constantly swirling around among Christians be like if those with issues carefully approached the “offender,” rather than writing an “open letter?”

What do you think? Which option is the better one – or should we question the whole system?


(note: you could throw it back in my face that I should follow my own advice and write to John MacArthur – though with this post I genuinely want to hear other perspectives before I do something like that)

This entry was posted in Christians Are Redeemed Yet So Very, Very Fallen, Questions I Don't Have Answers To. Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Passive Aggression Among Our Sacred Leaders, Or Both Options Stink

  1. Most people have a hard time saying what they do believe without describing it based on who they believe to be wrong.

    I believe it is right for Christians to believe right doctrine.

    That’s pretty vanilla.

    I find it hard to describe the fact that I don’t agree with John MacArthur about openly criticizing people without openly criticizing John MacArthur.

    Pot calleth kettle black.

    However, he seems to be on a bit of a mission to prove himself right and most others wrong. I’m not convinced that God has appointed him to be the global doctrine / orthopraxy policeman, but he seems to think that is his role.

    Even if his doctrine is right, I’m not sure it’s wise to continually be comparing it to someone elses.

    • you raise a great point – how do you say you disagree without it becoming critical? Somehow it escaped me when I was writing the post that I was coming across as critical of him – which wasn’t my intent; I was simply using him as an example (and it wouldn’t make sense to not name names as that’s the point of the post!). I definitely agree that in today’s world you state your beliefs by listing both what you agree with and what you also disagree with – no wonder we have so much polarization.

  2. There are also legal issues at stake, and while it can be said to be unBiblical for Christians to take other Christians to court, there’s nothing to stop a publishing company from suing all the radio stations that carry Johnny Macs broadcast for broadcasting slanderous content, so I don’t doubt that some stations make John contractually agree to not publish potentially slanderous or libelous content in the shows that they air. Good lawyers make a lot of money by trying to keep their clients out of trouble beforehand, and any sensible institution has lawyers involved. Can Eugene Peterson sue Johnny Mac for defamation of character? Yep, and MacArthur is not a journalist, so some of the inherent rights of “the press” are not going to be assigned to him by the courts.

    So, yeah, there’s a lot of good reason to NOT accuse somebody of being wrong by name.

    • I didn’t even think of this angle – though can someone point out disagreements without it being libel? I’d say it maybe would take more intention, and you couldn’t just sloppily throw someone under the bus – but maybe that’s a good thing. Okay yes – it is a good thing.

  3. David says:

    It’s hard to simply focus on what we want to say. Some times it is easier to say what we mean by describing what we don’t mean.

    There are lots of folks in the Kingdom that I disagree with. John MacArthur is one of my least favorites along with the Hank Hanngraaf “The Bible Answer Man.” Why? Because they flatly deny the gifts of the Holy Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12. They flatly deny that there are New Testament prophets etc. (Eph 4:11) Both are very intellectual, but deny the supernatural power of God. That in my book, is dead religion! If God can’t do a darn thing, then we might as well become atheists – in fact most folks from dead religion often become them.

    I don’t really know what you do with folks like that. They’ll won’t believe it if they see it, and if they see it, they want to blame it on the Devil. With all due respect, I don’t have any use for a teacher like that.

    I do think if we have a problem with a ministers teaching, we should try to go to them directly; some of the big names are pretty well insulated. Recently, there was a video on YouTube by a supposedly solid Bible teacher. It actually had clips of friends of mine ministering to others. Like liberals trying to sandbag Bush, they focused on one thing, one act that they decided was the Devil. Amazingly, they didn’t show any clips of folks getting healed – nope – that would have destroyed their theory. I may disagree with a teaching, and say why, but this video was accusing people of being of the devil who I am certain have the exact same salvation theology and experience that the folks accusing them did!

    You should do an open letter – I have. However; it is far more important to do what we can to expand the Kingdom. Me, I just keep teaching about the gifts, and encouraging others to use them to love mankind. Being called a heretic by John MacArthur doesn’t really bother me at all.

    • because those celebrity preachers are so well insulated it can feel hopeless to try to contact them, which justifies or gives us license to simply write blogs and articles tearing them apart, which in all honesty, does them no good as they’ll never see it and have the chance to ponder what’s being raised.

      Oh and David I predict your next book will be called Dead Religion, that is if I don’t beat ya to it!

  4. It is funny you should talk about this Charlie. This past Sunday I used a no-name approach to indicate false teaching. I said, for example, the people we bought this building from believe… (we bought it from the Mormons). The JW’s are within .3 of a mile from us. I referenced them by “just down the road.” The other direction is the SDA and around the corner are “Oneness” people. I didn’t need to mention any names for any and probably they only picked up on the first two. I have read books where Johnny Mac has named names and have heard him mention it on CDs that come from his ministry (Rob Bell, John Eldredge, and others). As Bernard has said, it is a fine line, I think, between litigation and telling truth. But I also wonder about his “doctrinal police” stand. I admire his chutzpah but sometimes question his focus. I could say more, especially about one of your other commentors views but will refrain. 🙂 Way to make me think though.

    • yeah I definitely don’t have the solution to this issue as if you name every single thing you’re talking about you’ll come across as bold, arrogant and pig-headed. But like I said, passive aggression isn’t a suitable alternative.

      by the way I totally fell for your joke at first and really thought you held your tongue from picking on a commenter – I got played!

  5. Chris says:

    I am copy/pasting here an excerpt from a more conservative evangelical Christian that was offering a public critique of the Emerging Church in the form of a scholarly paper. The fact that the topic is the EC is basically irrelevant. It could pertain to any two people or parties and pertain to any topic within Christianity. I think this is a fair, even-handed approach to public disagreement. It reads like this:

    To be sure, there are criticisms levied against the ECM and its leaders that are unfair, even vicious. I am just as dismayed by those criticisms which demonstrate careless ignorance or a complete absence of Christian charity. In response, many in the ECM have called for face-to-face meetings, to sit down over a meal, engage in conversation and sort out differences. I have listened and made efforts to do just this. Now, face-to-face meetings are neither necessary nor sufficient conditions a critic must fulfill in order to assess ideas offered publicly. Indeed, I do not believe those within the ECM have required it of themselves in cases where they have offered public critique. However, a face-to-face conversation can be tremendously helpful and so, I have made my best attempts to arrange them whenever possible.
    I have done my best to listen, seek to understand, and to represents ECM views accurately. I submit the following list of qualifications as proof:
    1. Face-to-Face Conversations: I have had face-to-face discussions with a number of leaders within the ECM, including Spencer Burke, Dan Kimball, Tony Jones, Doug Pagitt, Mark Oestriecher, and Brian McLaren. Frankly, I have found them to be warm, engaging, enthusiastic, and excellent conversation partners.
    2. Attendance at the Emergent Convention: In May of 2005, I attended the Emergent Convention in Nashville, Tennessee, for the express purpose of learning about the ECM and having conversations with those within the movement.
    3. Reading of Their Books: I have read their books, many of which can be found in my personal library.
    4. Reading of Their Articles: I have read their articles wherever I can find them, be it online or in print.
    5. Listened to Their Teaching: I have attended their workshops at the Emergent convention. I have listened to seminar audio recordings from Youth Specialties’ National Youth Worker Conventions.
    6. Listened to Their Podcasts: I have downloaded and listened to their podcasts.
    7. Attend an Emerging Church: I attend what many consider to be an Emerging Church: Rock Harbor Church in Costa Mesa, California.
    Here is my point: I have listened to the ECM’s response to criticism and have attempted to be a well-informed, fair, balanced, and humazing voice within the conversation. In turn, I hope my voice is thoughtfully considered and not quickly dismissed. Conversely, I am open to correction. If I have mischaracterized a position or been unfair to a view, I desire the same correction I humbly attempt to offer.


    I think this is about as fair an approach to criticism as one can offer. People should not be too thin-skinned about criticism when they offer ideas publicly, whether in print or online. You get out there in print you have to expect some flack, and I think most authors know this comes with the territory. The critique of ideas is not prosecutable in any way and should be encouraged. It doesn’t even approach slander to call someone a heretic, because that’s just an opinion and you can’t be prosecuted for your opinion.

    • that quote was more along the lines of how debate should go – actively seeking out to make it a conversation and actually approaching it with openness. Thanks for sharing that.

      I do agree that when you share your ideas publicly you automatically open yourself up to “correction” – though I think it should be done in a friendly manner. And I definitely realize that its not feasible to contact everyone you disagree with – but as I’ve said the alternative of slamming them from afar isn’t the proper course of action either.

  6. Larry Hughes says:

    I am speechless. This reminds me of one Automotive TV ad proclaiming their car is better, faster, and more luxurious than their competitor plus you get free lifetime bumper to bumper warranty.
    Basically it is all a shill to get into your wallet before the competitor can get in there at any cost or quality of ethics.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s