Dear Dr. McDowell,
The occasion for this letter is my attendance at your recent talk at a pastors’ luncheon at a local Christian school in my area. As I begin my letter I want to say how grateful I am for the energetic ministry in the service of the Lord Jesus you have maintained for so many years. The Spirit has made your efforts consequential in many lives, bringing many to faith and buttressing the faith of many others. I want to personally thank you for your book More Than a Carpenter as it was an effective apologetic foothold for me during a time in my life where my faith was under attack.
However, in service to the church and the schools where you have spoken and will speak in the future, I want to interact critically with some of your methods. It is my hope that you are open to criticisms from fellow believers since your ministry seeks to engage people on an intellectual level. Yet from the outset it is good for me to say that my main task is not to dispute the data and statistics per se. Rather what follows will be a critical interaction with your methods/tactics and some seeming inconsistencies between the data you presented and one of the main points of your talk.
First of all, you spent a good deal of time sharing statistics and data gathered from the social sciences . This was done to prove a few points:
- the internet has “leveled the playing field” between access to believing and unbelieving scholarship and given birth to a pervasive skepticism
- the brains of anyone under 40, but especially teenagers, imbibe a glut of information daily so that we are constantly on overload
I’m willing to grant both of these points, but do you understand how your own conclusions undercut the force of your own arguments? For instance, if our brains are on overload because of so much info, why did you present so much info to prove your point? If the internet is the great leveler of all philosophies and worldviews, then why should the men who attended that meeting place any higher value on what you had to say as compared to … this blog post? Can you understand why I was sitting there with a great deal of cognitive dissonance between my ears? I felt like you were telling me, on the one hand, that this information was of life-and-death importance, but, on the other hand, that the information I was receiving wasn’t worth much more than the effort it takes to point and click.
And related to this cognitive dissonance is the fact that you gave us nothing to penetrate the pervasive skepticism proliferated by the advent of the internet. As one who has an appreciation for apologetics (truth be told, I have a deep appreciation for the presuppositional flavor), I wanted you to help all of us there know how to turn the culture’s skepticism back on itself. You gave a brief hint of how this is being done when talking about your son’s efforts with his logic students in CA, but you didn’t give us any examples of how to “Answer the fool according to his folly lest he be wise in his own eyes (Proverbs 26.5)”. How about giving us a few apologetic questions to puncture the unbeliever’s skepticism like, “What is your basis for truth?” Or “On what grounds do you judge anything to be good or bad?” Or “If I were to punch you in the nose, what system of right and wrong allows you to get angry or to feel the sting of injustice?” Questions like these force the skeptic to think about and try to verbalize what their foundations are, which, in turn, reveals to them (potentially) just how shifty and weak their epistemological foundations are.
Secondly, and the part that I have struggled with the most is the overall tenor and the rhetorical tactics of your talk. Ultimately, there is nothing wrong with a little plain-speak, especially among men called to the ministry. None of us have time to pussyfoot around the very serious issues we live with. We need to be able to talk to the families and their teenagers in our churches about such uncomfortable subjects as pornography, masturbation, and oral sex. But I believe you camped out on these subjects for so long that you crossed the line from being exhortative (good) to being exploitative (bad). I say ‘exploitative’ because the volume of time spent on the sexual escapades of the American teenager through the bawdy stories you related seemed to be designed to shock the audience and exploit our morbid, sinful curiosity to keep us listening. We don’t want to whitewash the horror of teenage sex-capades, but we also don’t want to focus on it so much that our sinful natures are stirred up either.
Combine this over-abundance of sexual description with your scare tactics, and I think you violated the motive of love. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love (1 John 4.18).” Where was your injunction for all the pastors there to trust in the power of the risen Christ working through the power of the Spirit to change lives? We received plenty of reasons to fear the power of the internet but almost no reasons to trust in the power of the truth spoken in love. Dr. McDowell, I felt as if you were trying to scare us into doing something, which, in my opinion, is a form of manipulation. If “perfect love casts out fear”, then point us to Christ who IS perfect love and to the reality that He lives in us and through us. Certainly, encourage us to change and to communicate to our times and culture, but point us to the realities of Word and Spirit. Argue from the greater to the lesser, namely that if the Word and Spirit are powerful enough to create all things in six days and to hold all things together, then they are powerful enough to overcome a pastor’s “irrelevance” and penetrate the licentious heart of the American teenager.
Lastly, and this is something that I learned from a wiser man than I, don’t be the hero of all the stories you tell. Tell people of where your struggles are, where you have failed, and how the LORD has taught you through it all. Glory in the LORD’s victory through your weakness not in your Mt. Carmel prophetic high-points. Most likely, none of the men in that room will ever be as accomplished as you, so when you set yourself up (implicitly) as the standard, men like me can walk away discouraged.
It is my hope that my critical remarks do not communicate any disrespect toward you but rather a critical interaction with your public comments at the pastors’ luncheon on 4-4-2014. May the Lord be glorified in your words and mine; may His Kingdom advance; and may His Church be purified and made beautiful for that great Day when He will come again.
Associate Pastor, Meadowview PCA