Oh, I get it now! You didn’t mean to offend me. All you were doing was making me an archetype of the evil controlling empire that is western modern Christianity. Gotcha. Thanks for clearing that up. Oh, wait—what?
This is all so funny to me! I’d describe my church and myself as theologically conservative and culturally liberal. I actually started GraceLife because I was weary and concerned about the direction of much of western pop Christianity. And now I’m Matt’s posterboy for the evil empire!!! LOL
I never thought of myself as a Sith Lord, but I’m sure my opponents cherish the idea. What did Obi-Wan say to Anakin? “Only a Sith deals in absolutes.”
Dang. I’m not Pastor Joseph. I’m Darth Joseph!
I’m surprised at how personal Matt is taking this and how personal he’s making this. So are many of his fans: Hey everybody, look! It’s Derek vs. Matt!!!
It’s Matt’s opinion vs. the Bible. At one point in our meeting* eight months ago in Tim Horton’s, he leaned in, furrowed his brow, and said, “Do you think it’s possible that you could be wrong?”
“That’s not really what you’re asking,” I answered him. “Of course I could be wrong, but you’re asking if the apostles could be wrong. And that answer is no.”
Now in his recent blog, he’s asserting that, really, he agrees with me. He agrees with the Bible’s teachings about Jesus. Stop being so mean, Darth Joseph!
C’mon man. That’s absurd.
If we agreed on everything, why would he ask me in my meeting if I could be wrong?
He’s repeatedly admitted that he rejects the writings of the apostles.
He’s reduced his theology to mere opinion and human intuition.
Christians believe in the sovereignty and authority of God, build a sacred fortress around Scripture, and bristle when that is attacked. Matt might not realize it, but by rejecting Scripture, he believes in the sovereignty of self, and builds a fortress around his opinion. He, and those like him, bristle when anyone would dare question the majesty of their awesome, most holy opinion.
Gimme a break. You suck, and so do I. None of us are awesome. Jesus outed us on the cross, exposing that we are all broken and all need help. We come to God by grace alone through Christ alone, a message which demands exclusivity and the awful confession that I’m a fallen sinner bent on dethroning God from birth.
So this dispute is not Matt vs. Darth Joseph. It’s Matt vs. the message of Christianity. Matt is attacking the messenger, a tactic as old as sin. So, except for a few comments throughout this post clarifying some of the details of our private interaction*, I’ll restrain my comments to the message. I’d like you to see that things are not as he says they are. If you don’t like the Bible, you won’t like this post. I’m writing this for the sake of the gospel, and all those who might be influenced by this dialogue. I’m sorry for its length, but I felt that to give this topic a fair treatment, I needed to be thorough.
I think Matt and I agree on the problems in the church. We part ways when we get to the solution. I first met with him four years ago in a diner. I’d read some of his early blogs, and I saw a man disenfranchised with established Christianity and thought I could help. I’d been down that road, and found grace. At the time, I was studying the Emerging Church Movement. After the meeting, I told my wife that Matt didn’t realize it yet, but he was well on his way to becoming Emergent. It was just a matter of time.
Fast forward to my meeting with Matt eight months ago.
I told Matt that he’d fallen in with the Emergents, but he refused that characterization. I explained to him that I wasn’t trying to insult him, but was simply telling him who his friends are. There’s lots of people saying what he’s saying.
Emergents (a dying movement as far as an organized effort goes, by the way) hate absolutes. As a matter of fact, it’s very difficult to try to pin down an Emergent’s heresy, because they don’t want to say something absolute. “Are you saying that all religions are the same and that we don’t need Jesus?” you’d ask an Emergent. “I didn’t say that!” they’d reply. “I’m just starting a conversation.”
But, folks, there’s more than one way to introduce heresy. One is to make an absolute statement (“Jesus was a Klingon!”). Another is to ask a question, just like Satan did in the Garden of Eden—“Did God really say…???” So when a guy like Rob Bell a few years back questions the importance and veracity of the Virgin Birth in his book Velvet Elvis, he retreats when confronted and says, “Hey, I’m just starting a conversation.” He won’t make an absolute statement, but has already made an absolute statement.
“Did God really say…???”
So where did the Emergents come from?
There was a movement that began in the 1990’s, eventually spawning a group of liberals called Emergent Village, where young Christian leaders got together to discuss why there was such an awful problem with 18-35’s leaving the church. They concluded that there were huge issues with the church’s styles and methods. However, eventually some in the group concluded that the problem was the message. Then what began as a conversation about how to reach young people became a conflict about what it means to be a Christian. That group gave some momentum to the Emerging Church Movement, which essentially amounts to anyone re-thinking church, and out of that group, Emergent Village was formed, a group of liberal thinkers on the fringe of Christendom who experimented heavily with theology.
In an article “A Pastoral Perspective on the Emergent Church” published in Christianity Today in 2006, the author broke the movement down into three groups:
“Relevants are theologically conservative evangelicals who are not as interested in reshaping theology as much as updating such things as worship styles, preaching styles, and church leadership structures. Their goal is to be more relevant.”
“Reconstructionists are generally theologically evangelical and dissatisfied with the current forms of church (e.g. seeker, purpose, contemporary).”
“Revisionists are theologically liberal and question key evangelical doctrines, critiquing their appropriateness for the emerging postmodern world.”
The author then goes on, elaborating about the Revisionists: “In some ways it seems that Emerging Christianity is essentially making up its mind again on almost every major doctrinal issue.” The article then lays out many doctrinal touchstones that are being attacked. Here’s a few from the article that are relevant to our dialogue:
“Scripture. This includes the divine inspiration, perfection, and authority of Scripture.
Jesus Christ. This includes his deity and sovereignty over human history as Lord.
Sin. The primary issue here is whether or not human beings are conceived as sinners or are essentially morally neutral and are internally corrupted solely by external forces.
Salvation. The issue is whether Jesus Christ is necessary for salvation and whether or not salvation exists for people in other religions who do not worship Jesus Christ.
The Cross. The issue here is the doctrine of penal substitution and whether or not Jesus died in our place for our sins or if He went to the cross solely as an example for us to follow when we suffer.
Authority. This issue is perhaps the most difficult of all. Much of this conversation is happening online with blogs and chat rooms. However, as the conversation becomes a conflict, the inherent flaw of postmodernism is becoming a practical obstacle to unity because there is no source of authority to determine what constitutes orthodox or heretical doctrine. With the authority of Scripture open for debate and even long-established Church councils open for discussion (e.g. the Council of Carthage that denounced Pelagius as a heretic for denying human sinfulness), the conversation continues while the original purpose of getting on mission may be overlooked because there is little agreement on the message or the mission of the Church.”
Emergents are addicted to mystery. Guessing who God is is way better than knowing who God is. This makes the Bible, full of absolute statements, extremely offensive.
When I met with Matt eight months ago, I wanted to determine whether he was a Relevant, a Reconstructionist, or a Revisionist. At the end of the day, I believe he claims he has the Reconstructionist card, but plays the Revisionist card.
Matt has affirmed, in my private meeting with him and in his recent blog, that he believes what appears to be orthodox Christian truths. But he doesn’t believe the writings of the apostles (that’s most of the New Testament, folks!), he doesn’t believe Jesus meant to be followed, worshiped, and if he’s not a universalist (all religions are the same), he’s associated and partnered himself with an occasionally funny and witty, but mostly nauseating blogger who seems to unashamedly peddle universalism (don’t worry, dude, this’ll get ya some blog hits). My favorites are Shit Outta Luck (sorry) and Do You Believe in Bible? (which demonstrates an astonishing amount of biblical ignorance).
Here’s the point: It doesn’t matter what you affirm. What matters is, how are you defining the terms and what are you not affirming? Taliban Muslims would affirm that Jesus was a prophet, that some of the Bible is a holy book (though errant), that adultery, theft, and blasphemy are sins, that we owe God our worship, etc. Does that make them Christians? Of course not. The things they do not affirm set them well outside of Christendom. Now, and I absolutely mean this, if I’m wrong on Matt, and he really does embrace soul-saving, Christ-exalting, Scripture-affirming gospel doctrine, I’m willing to hear him out and you should be, too.
But here’s the text I sent to Matt after our Tim Horton’s meeting eight months ago—a text he now calls “OCD” and “weird” and a text that he never answered: “Matt, thanks for meeting today. It would be helpful to have some clarification. After re-reading your original blog, I have a few questions. 1) Do you believe that faith in Christ’s work on the cross is the only way for a lost sinner to be saved? 2) You said today that you believe that Jesus is ‘the son of God.’ Do you believe that in the way that a Christian classically would, that Jesus is God in the flesh? Or do you reject the idea of Jesus being God? I’m not on a witch hunt. I’m trying to interpret what you wrote in your blogs, and harmonize it with what you said today. :)”
I have to mention one thought here. And it’s a point that’s not often made in controversy. It’s the idea of “epistemology.” Epistemology is “the investigation of what distinguishes justified belief from opinion.” It’s not what you know, but how you know it. So often in our society, you’ll see two screaming heads on TV, each insisting on their position, but we have to ask, on what are we basing that opinion? Is there a common or greater standard outside of ourselves that we’re appealing to? There’s nothing more fruitless in our society today than a debate between two people who won’t appeal to their epistemology. It just becomes I-think-you-think-I-feel-you-feel-gobble-dee-gook. As I’ve already pointed out, I’m appealing to Scripture. From where does Matt, and people like him, derive their views? I have to conclude, since he rejects the authority of Scripture, that he’s appealing to his own heart and intellect. Shifting sand right there, I’ll tell ya.
If you haven’t read it yet, I’d encourage you to read Eric Johnson’s original post in response to Matt’s blogs eight months ago. He exposes Matt’s epistemology, or lack thereof.
And as an aside, to anyone who doesn’t believe God can use imperfect man to write perfect Scripture, you simply don’t know the power of God.
So let’s look again at Matt’s gospel in contrast to the biblical gospel.
The biblical gospel may be summarized with two points:
1) Who Jesus is.
2) What Jesus did.
If you want to know whether a teacher or teaching is true or false, we take it through that grid.
Who Jesus Is
Biblical integrity demands that in order to experience true salvation, we must have faith in the biblical Jesus (Matthew 16:13-20)—that he was the God-man, the Son of God, Messiah, Savior, and Lord. Otherwise, he could not be a sinless sacrifice for sin. If he is not God in the flesh, he was a sinful man like us, and he could not die for our sins and we are still in our sins. If He is not who he said he is and who his apostles affirm he is, Jesus is reduced to just being an example, not a Substitute. This kind of false teaching about “who Jesus is” is what Christ’s disciple, John, confronted with false teachers called the Gnostics in the Book of 1st John.
What Jesus Did
Jesus said, “It is finished.” The good news of the gospel teaches that we are made acceptable to God by faith in Jesus’ death on the cross alone. Not our merits. Not our works. Not our stellar resumes. The gospel offers something called righteousness. Now that word might sound crusty and archaic to you, but every person seeks righteousness. In our culture, it basically means “being good.” But in the gospel, it means “being in right relationship” to something—to God, to His Law, to His universe, to yourself. We lost that right relationship to God and his creation as a human race when Adam and Eve committed high treason against God by trying to become God. Since then, the universe has been fractured, and we all know what they know: something is wrong with the world and with us. But God sent a Hero to rescue us—Jesus Christ. He died a sinner’s death so sinners could be accepted by God. Faith in his death alone makes us righteous and makes us acceptable to God the Father. Jesus plus nothing brings us to God. Otherwise, it’s on us. It’s about being good. Jesus’ death was not necessary. We must save ourselves through our awesomeness.
By my estimation (and I’m open to being wrong), Matt’s theology fails on both of these fronts. If I’m understanding what he believes, Jesus was not who the disciples said he was—the God-man, worthy of worship, adoration, devotion, and obedience. He was just a revolutionary. An example. A pointer to God. How can Matt claim that Jesus is the Son of God like he did in his last blog and then stand by statements like these below? (Forgive the volume, but I want to reader to see Matt’s inconsistency and blatant opposition to orthodoxy.)
“Christianity focuses on the person of Jesus, which I don’t believe he ever intended, and on the Bible, which I don’t believe he’d appreciate, and on the organized church, which I think would royally piss him off. But Jesus never built a wall or wrote a creed or demanded that people call upon his name for the remission of sin. He simply came to change the rules. He was trying to make God accessible to all, and he pointed to God and God alone. He never pointed to himself. (Christian doctrine would lead you to believe just the opposite.) But his followers pointed to Jesus.” (Why I Am Not a Christian)
“But people tend to think that God is hard to find. That you have to share their political views in order to find God. It’s a common misconception that has arisen because of widespread faith in The Great White Douche Bag. But the real God just sort of IS. And the real God is more accessible than people realize. You don’t have to behave a certain way to find God. You don’t have to go to church. You can find God if you’re a drunk, if you’re sleeping around, if you’re high on drugs. That’s the thing about God.” (Finding God)
“Now we both felt this stinging isolation because neither of us believed like we used to believe. We had no brotherhood of faith…And both of us had come to discover that we couldn’t digest the doctrines of our childhoods.” (Wannabe Believers)
“[Jesus’ message] was a simple message and a simple metaphor which he told us in stories and by his death: that God is real, that God loves people, and that God will do just about anything to connect with them. Christianity is different than that. It says: 1. believing in Jesus is the only way to know God. 2. the organized Christian church is the true expression of God in the world. 3. the Bible is a document from God, unmarred my the humanity of man…To be fair, I think Christianity means well. I think it knows half the secret. (That God loves man.) But I believe it became fully corrupt the minute it was formally organized.” (Why I Am Not a Christian)
“Christianity was born and it hasn’t died yet. But although it tries to focus on Jesus’ actual message, it undermines it at the outset because it’s caught up in being right about Jesus when Jesus was caught up in directing the attention away from himself and up to God. And who knows, Christianity might be right about Jesus. He might have been God incarnate. But he sure didn’t say so.” (Why I Am Not a Christian)
“Christianity tricks people into thinking they know God when they don’t.” (Why I Am Not a Christian)
“I wish to stand in the center of the mystery and I will die before I give in to the lie that God can be either boxed or dismissed. I will seek till my dying day, and I’ll be damned if I don’t find him in the trees and in the clouds and in the cathedrals still.” (Why I Am Not a Christian)
“The truth is, I’m trying to follow Jesus. I decided to follow him a long time ago and I believe he’s leading me far, far away from Christianity.” (I Have Decided to Follow Jesus)
Matt said in his last post, “What concerns me is that Derek could sit across from me, could look me in the eyes, could listen to me confess that I believe that Jesus died and rose again and has paid for the remission of my sins, and could respond by telling me that I’m actually following a different Jesus…”
With what he says and writes all the time, am I really being so unreasonable? He’s trying to play both sides of the fence here, folks. Orthodoxy and liberalism. He’s confused at best, and deceptive at worst. He can’t mean what I mean when I say “Son of God.” What is he not telling us when he makes what appears to be an orthodox Christian confession but then says things so blatantly unbiblical? He must mean something else. A son of God? An expression of God? A sign to God? A moral hero? He can’t mean the One all creation worships in Revelation 7. It’s a different Jesus, folks.
As far as what Jesus did, by seeming to suggest that other religions and lifestyles, even if directly contrary to the Scriptures, are acceptable paths to God, he eliminates the beauty, power, and necessity of the cross and reduces salvation to human works righteousness. Just follow any path, be good, and you’re in. The cross is not important or special, and it’s definitely not necessary.
This is frightening and tragic. And it leaves bad guys like me out.
Paul the Apostle (whose writings Matt has rejected in public and private) confronted false teachers in Galatia. They were adding the Old Testament ceremonial law of circumcision to belief in Jesus as a requirement to be saved and accepted by God. Paul wrote the following:
“6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.” Galatians 1:6-8
The word “trouble” in verse 7 means “to utterly destroy” and the word “distort” in verse 7 literally means “to reverse.” In other words, to add circumcision to faith in Christ as a requirement for God’s acceptance or something religiously valuable is to utterly destroy the good news of the gospel and completely reverse the whole thing! It shifts the work and the glory from Jesus back to man. Paul is basically saying that though there’s many things in Scripture we can disagree on by degree—spiritual gifts, baptism, end-time theology, etc.—we cannot disagree on the gospel by degree. To move away from it an inch is to move light years away and send it in reverse. Paul says that if an angel (or Matt Drake or Darth Joseph) come preaching this falsehood, grab him by the wings and chuck him out of the church!
Here’s why I mention this.
When Matt suggests in his blog “A Heretic’s Communion” that he “became open to the idea that God might exist beyond all boxes,” he is suggesting, as he’s done in other blogs and conversations, that God might exist outside of the gospel of the apostles. In his last post, he said, “This problem is not a personal problem between me and Derek. It’s a fundamental problem that is ingrained in Evangelical Christianity. It’s a way of thinking. It says: ‘If you disagree with how I interpret the Bible then you do not know the True God.’ As an evangelical pastor Derek stands before people every week teaching them how to find God. It’s troublesome to me that he and his fellows hold the gates so narrow.”
First of all, Jesus Himself said the gate is narrow (Matthew 7:13—oops, how’d that get in my Bible?). I didn’t write the Bible. Truth doesn’t begin with me. I don’t even have to like it for it to be true. Truth is absolute, objective, exclusive, and occasionally impolite.
Second of all, to believe otherwise destroys and reverses the gospel. The liberal message is, “If you believe in Jesus, that’s great. Just don’t say there aren’t other ways to God.” Huh? That changes everything! That destroys the whole gospel! It throws it into reverse and puts human goodness back in the center, not Christ. It breaks my heart! Oh so sad! In one of the many emails I received after my first post, a broken-hearted young woman said of Matt’s writings, “I was offended that he would use the incredible power of the written word to continually put down the very thing that gives me hope to wake up every morning.”
As I said in that first post, the tragedy of what Matt and his amen corner seem to believe is that it reduces everything to just being good. It distorts the gospel, eliminates the necessity of Jesus, and is light years away from the truth. Matt’s view says, it really doesn’t matter what religion you choose, as long as you’re good. It says, “I’m kind of into Jesus in a non-traditional kind of way, but other people find God through other ways, like smoking joints and believing in ‘an intangible, impersonal force in the universe.’”
Matt poses himself as the revolutionary who’s breaking from the status quo, when actually he’s playing right into it. There are millions and millions who believe like Matt does. It’s really about just being good, no matter what your religion. This is not spirituality. This is not good news. This is not the gospel. This is human nature. It’s how we’re fundamentally wired.
What would a million martyrs say to Matt, not the least of which is Christ’s apostles? They gave their lives because they believed in something. They were convinced that Jesus was the only hope for mankind. They were stoned, sawn in two, crucified, beheaded, starved, tormented, thrown to the beasts, burned alive, shot, gassed, hunted and hated—all because they believed the gospel of the apostles. Matt’s theology says, meh.
I love Matt. Always will. If he wants to reject orthodox Christianity, that’s fine. Just don’t pretend to be one of us, claim to represent us, or throw stones at us. We’re happy with our faith. We’re brokenhearted and sorry that you’re not.
Matt, I’m sorry I didn’t hug you that day at Tim Horton’s. I didn’t want to be fake. I was frustrated with you. You were being inconsistent. Was I upset? Yup. And I don’t apologize for that. God’s greatest saints (of whom I am not one) got angry at false gospels. Jesus did, Paul did, John did, Luther did, Whitefield & Wesley did. I believed then, and believe now, that you’re hurting and misleading people. In spite of being upset, I was pretty polite with you and think your narrative is pretty exaggerated. But, after all, I’m a Sith Lord. I’m Darth Joseph, so maybe there’s only one way for you to view me. Which would make you a Sith Lord, because that’s an absolute, too. Oh dang.
I’m sure lots of folks want to know if I accept his apology for his attacks on my character, my mental health, and my family in his first blog. I’d accept an apology in a moment if I thought I saw one, but I haven’t really seen an apology. On one hand, he says I’m sorry, but before he finishes his breath, he’s loading his bow again. Comments to others about me in FB conversation threads along with private emails he’s publicly offered to send to individuals with apparently dirty details confirm that he’s not sorry at all. That said, I don’t need an apology to forgive him. And I do forgive him. He doesn’t know what he’s doing. I think he’s a broken and confused guy that needs a whipping boy for this game he’s playing. I’m the lucky winner, and that’s ok. I don’t regret meeting with him the few times I have. I’d do it again. I was trying to help. Still am. And I’m glad to have had the opportunity to explain the gospel in these responses. When this is all over, maybe he and I will grab a coffee together.
*It makes me very uncomfortable to share the details of private interactions which were intended to reach out to a brother and make a private appeal. But because he’s made such an issue of the details of that meeting we had, I’ve offered some clarification regarding our personal interactions in the hope it might be helpful.