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A Letter to Reverend Ken Silva

Scott on August 22, 2006 at 10:05 am

Dear Ken/Reverend Ken/Reverend Ken Silva,

WOW! This has been a breath-taking exchange over the last several weeks. I haven’t participated in the lively discussion/debate involving You-John-Amy-Chris-Ryan-Robbo-et al. I’ve had some other stuff going on over the last couple months and have been just keeping up with what was going on with our blog without posting and rarely making comments.

BUT, that being said, your last comments left in connection with John’s post titled “Slice Goes After Rob Bell” kicked me out of my observation mode. I was shocked and yet amused because of the AMAZINGLY wrong view you have of John and what he has been sharing with you (and others) about your teaching, your blog posts, etc.

I was dumbfounded to see that you believe John is an example of why you are so seriously concerned about the lack of critical reasoning skills today. In the years that I’ve known John, I have come to appreciate (and, truth be known, even envy at times) his keen intellect, his powers of observation, and his gifts of discernment and analysis. I may not always agree with him, but to say that he is an example of a lack of critical reasoning is laughable.

I have spent time reading your writings and Ingrid’s writings over at Slice of Laodecia and at Appraising Ministries. I’ll being doing some posts of my own in the near future to discuss my specific observations of your “stuff,” but for now let me say that, as has been said before, you and Ingrid spend a considerable amount of time congratulating yourselves (and each other) on NOT being sell-outs, NOT denying the Lord, NOT compromising your faith, while at the same time issuing condemnations against all those that you believe ARE selling out, denying the Lord, compromising the faith, etc. Specifically, you typically highlight Rob Bell, Rick Warren, etc as examples of such Laodecian behavior.

Your view of Christianity and those involved in the Christian faith is WAY MORE NARROW than I believe the Lord would have ever intended. You spend most of your time measuring orthodoxy, not by the measurements spelled out in scripture, but by using your own opinion and what you “feel” the Spirit is telling you. That is a dangerous path to head down, my friend. I have some friends of mine who are Latter Day Saints (Mormons), and they use that same “sense” of what the Spirit is telling them to justify/verify their beliefs. Look where it gets them!

You may disagree with some (or all) of what someone like Rob Bell says. I’m not completely comfortable with everything he says, either. But you are unable to actually pinpoint specifics related to teachings that he (and/or others) promote that are heretical or even theologically suspect in light of the clear teachings of the Bible. You seem to try and zero in on things that you believe to be “wrong,” but then you can’t follow through and “close the deal” by citing CLEAR Scriptural mandates and teachings, or even other well-respected theologians (modern day or old-school) to support your points. Your arguments have been boiling down to saying what you think scripture says and then declaring that must be how it is and ignoring the fact that it is POSSIBLE to disagree on many aspects of the Christian faith and still be within the bounds of orthodoxy.

You seem to be uncomfortable with ambiguity. You WANT to believe that Scripture is clear about every possible issue and about every aspect of theology. BUT IT ISN’T. It has taken hundreds of years (and thousands of years with some issues) for “the Church” to come to some sort of consensus on matters of Scripture, the Trinity, the Redemption-Justification-Sanctification paradigm, Prayer, Baptism, Prophecy, Eschatology, etc. And even now there are wide disparities between what denominations and entire branches of Christianity hold to be true, relevant, significant, etc. You ignore that the thief on the cross didn’t have the chance to develop a working systematic theology related to all those points. He had a few hours to hang next to Christ and then a few minutes to determine his belief about one thing Jesus’ ability to “save his soul” (for lack of a better euphemism).

You condemn Rick Warren in your most recent comment as being an example of someone who doesn’t give a clear Gospel presentation. Are you making an “All-ness Statement?” Are you saying that Rick Warren never gives a clear Gospel message in his sermons, his books, his interviews, etc? If so, then you must be claiming to have the omniscience of God, because you couldn’t make that statement without being all-knowing. If Rick Warren NEVER gave a clear Gospel message (and by that I am assuming that you mean the message of salvation through the redemptive atoning work of Christ through his perfect life, sacrificial death, and raising from the dead) then how are people coming to Christ through his church? I work with a wonderful woman who has prayed for her husband and adult son for years, both of who have come to Christ over the last year while attending Rick Warren’s church. How did that happen if not because of a “clear Gospel message?”

I believe that you mentioned that you are ordained in the Southern Baptist Church. Am I remembering that correctly? (If so, as a side note I am curious as to why you use the honorific “Reverend” when in my experience Southern Baptist Churches use the title “Pastor.”) I was a youth pastor in a Southern Baptist Church in Southern California for a few years. One of the pastors that I had the privilege of working under used to say that Southern Baptist Churches (and many churches in other denominations as well) are notorious for expecting a “salvation message” (dare I say a “clear Gospel presentation”) at the end of every sermon. In his opinion and experience, it was their way of feeling like they were doing something for the Kingdom, even if they were a church of 100 where all in attendance were Christian. At least they would be able to say that in their church, the Gospel is preached (even if “the Gospel” the Good News and the news of salvation wasn’t needed at that time, but a message of loving thy neighbor and/or serving the community WAS needed but was NEVER preached).

I’m not saying that is you or your church, Ken, but reading your stuff sure does give that impression at times.

This same pastor challenged me once to explain the “salvation message.” If I do say so myself, I did a pretty great job of hitting the high points of “the Gospel message” sin and the fall of man God’s desire for fellowship with us His promise of redemption and the plan of salvation the prophecies the virgin birth the sinless life the hatred of “the religious system” for Jesus the unfair trial the crucifixion the resurrection. I had it all. This pastor and I then discussed some of the finer points within the general “Gospel message.” I thought I was doing a rather good job in the discussion, holding my own with the pastor.

He then asked me to describe Jesus’ Gospel message. I was slightly confused. I had just done that. But the pastor told me that he wanted me to talk about what Jesus talked about, not how we have crafted “the Gospel message” after looking at in light of the Old Testament, the Gospels, the Epistles, and 2000 years of Church Fathers, commentaries, Creeds, etc. We then went back and read over the Sermon on the Mount, the parables, the Last Supper, the exchange with the thieves at the crucifixion. It became apparent what the point was that the pastor was making the message of salvation wasn’t changed from the first part of our discussion to the second part. The “Gospel message” was still there. But what was also there was the “blessed are” statements. There was nothing about salvation in the Sermon on the Mount. It was all about attitude towards God and other people. What was there was the healings and Jesus’ compassion towards the crowds certainly demonstrations of his powers, but still nothing that taught about salvation. And there was Jesus’ simple statement to the believing thief on the cross next to him “Today you’ll be with me in paradise.” Yes, this was about salvation but the thief didn’t have to answer a line of questions related to the inerrancy of scripture, the orthodoxy of his view of the Trinity, his view of baptism as an evidence of following Christ or a requirement for following Christ, etc. There was no “Reformed Theology Quiz” for that thief. It was a very simple matter between the thief (“Jesus, remember me when you come in to your kingdom”) and Jesus (“Don’t worry ’bout it, ’cause you’ll be with me there”).

You talk about John 6 and how the crowds were large for Jesus and how they “thinned out” as things became a little more difficult/complicated in regards to Jesus’ teachings. You imply that Rick Warren and others have stopped at the “big crowd” stage and haven’t moved beyond (because if they had there wouldn’t be any more “big crowds). Yes, people left Jesus because his teachings were hard and challenged them in their view of life and religion and the role that God should play in their lives. And that happens in every church in every denomination. Sometimes people leave when they become uncomfortable with what is being taught or the level of accountability that is required.

You speak as though nobody is leaving the churches that are Rob Bell-Rick-Warren friendly. You talk as though you know that they are “selling out the Gospel” and that people are flocking to them to have their “felt needs” met and that there is never anything going on (teaching or otherwise) that goes beyond the “felt needs” stage. What about the OTHER POSSIBILITY that people’s felt needs are being met and then they stay around to hear and absorb and hopefully apply the deeper side of faith to their lives (the John 6 model).

In your comment you said it yourself Jesus applied the same methodology that Bell and Warren use. He met the crowds felt/physical needs and later on gave them something deep to chew on. Some of them took what he had to say, ate it and wanted more, and some people choked on what he had to say and left. That is how the Gospel works. Isn’t that paralleled by the Parable of the Sower the seeds (God’s Word/Message/Gospel) took root in some ground and grew well and produced fruit, and in other ground it began to grow and then died, and in still other ground the seeds never took root because the weeds choked off the growth.

In the John 6 example, it says that SOME/MANY PEOPLE left because they found Jesus’ teachings hard. It doesn’t say that ALL left or that MOST left. Jesus drew the people to him, met their needs, began to teach, and many left at that point because they were just there to eat the fish and see the show. You seem to want to make it sound as though there was a crowd of 5,000-10,000 that dwindled down to 50-100 when the teaching got tough. Sorry, but you can’t paint that picture because the Bible doesn’t give you that much paint. You don’t know how many left Jesus at this point, just like you don’t know how many come and then leave a church like Saddleback or Willow Creek. Stick to what you can KNOW and what you can SUPPORT.

Do I believe that all “big ministries” are wonderful organizations where the work of God is accomplished in positive/meaningful ways? Absolutely not. If you search our blog, you’ll see that I have plenty of problems with the big ministries of guys like Benny Hinn, TBN, Robert Schuler, etc. But in my criticism of these guys/organizations, I’ve never thought to presume to question their salvation, or to claim that they are tools of Satan (which, I believe, would amount to questioning their salvation). You HAVE done as much related to Rob Bell, Rick Warren, Brian McLaren, etc. But in doing so you are ignoring the Gospel paradigm and imposing your own preferences/fears/presumptions on them.

You say, “By and large those who have big ministries/followings have them because they tell people what they want to hear and are but meeting their felt needs.” Isn’t it possible that they ARE meeting their felt needs (which are VERY REAL and VERY IMPORTANT) and are also gaining access to bring them deeper into the full knowledge of the Gospel of Christ and richness that is available through a life in Him? Isn’t it possible that, yes, there are those who are just hanging around for the “felt needs” part and never go deeper, but that there are others who take the “felt needs” as a first step towards a deeper and more significant knowledge of God and His Son Jesus Christ?

And what about other “big ministries” of people like Billy Graham, Louis Palau, Chuck Swindoll, R.C. Sproul, J. Vernon McGee (he’s dead, but his ministry lives on), etc? These people have books published, radio ministries, speaking tours, huge churches, and have hundreds of thousands of “followers” (for lack of a better word). They don’t seem to be having their theology or methodologies questioned, and yet their impact/influence is at least as large or larger than Rob Bell, Rick Warren, or Brian McLaren. Are they doing something else “wrong” that is less obvious and/or more insidious than the obvious Emergent Church/Seeker Sensitive guys or is it possible that part of your methods of evaluation are flawed?

You say, “…telling the truth will cost something because by and large people will only go where they can have their ears tickled.” I have to say, Ken, that your skill/ability to illuminate scripture is becoming more and more suspect. In context, the passage in II Timothy 4:2-4 says:

Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.

You seem to think this indicates that the vast majority of people, both in and out of the Church of Christ, will gather to “have their ears tickled.” That is stretching things quite a bit. This passage is a charge to those WITHIN THE CHURCH to be strong and diligent and prepared at all times because there will be times when some people will want to reject doctrine that is difficult and will want to go where it seems easier and less demanding. They will reject the Truth and will head towards the Lie that is easier and seems to be more pleasant and closer to what they WANT to believe.

The passage doesn’t say anything about it being wrong to meet people’s felt needs in order to feed them the truth of the Gospel and the Truth of Christ. If it condemned that kind of behavior, then it would be condemning Christ’s behavior in feeding and healing the crowds.

The passage DOES indicate that we should be strong and diligent. A different passage says that we should “test all things.” We are to question anything to get to the truth of it. We are to call out those teachers/leaders who are leading people towards the Lie and away from the Truth. Your problem is that you assume/believe that YOU are the final arbiter of Truth and the discerner of Lies. You take this passage and take it to mean that anything that you question MUST BE a case of unsound doctrine and “people wanting to have their ears itched.” You ignore the basic principles as illustrated in the Gospel, and throughout church history in favor of your own sense of what you think the Spirit is telling you.

You aren’t just TESTING the Emergent Church and the Seeker Sensitive Movement and those who lead those philosophies. Testing is GOOD. Questioning is GOOD. You go beyond testing and questioning. You are attempting to establish yourself as the man in the watchtower, looking down and condemning any that you see that aren’t conforming to what you think and believe. You seem to see yourself as a modern day prophet, as a modern voice “crying in the wilderness” of the concrete jungle. You say as much at least once in nearly every one of the posts that I have read written by you.

I must agree with John (and others). You exhibit signs of the Pharisee’s legalism. I wouldn’t presume to call you a hypocrite. You are obviously sincere in your beliefs and at least one of your supporters has left comments indicating that you are a man of strong conviction who lives his beliefs and faith. But based on the preponderance of the evidence found in your comments on this blog and in the material that you write for Appraising and Slice, you have a severe case of near-fatal legalism. It isn’t fatal, but it sure will give you some problems if it isn’t treated.

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