Why I clash with the gatekeepers

I often clash with the gatekeepers of Christian orthodoxy. I’m sure that I get under their skin too. To me, they look like the Pharisees Jesus talks about in Matthew 23:13: “Woe to you [who]… shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying.” I wonder what Bible verse they would apply to the caricature of me that they see on their laptop screen. In any case, I thought I would try to express where I’m coming from, to the degree that I’m coming from somewhere and not just being a sinfully impulsive loose cannon. Everything that I’m trying to do (as opposed to the things I do impulsively) is shaped by my understanding of Christian evangelism as Paul lays it out in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23.

Here’s what he says:

Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

That is who I desperately want to be. I ache with the need for people that I love to know and love Jesus. I long for God to give me beautiful things to say about Him that will be a source of healing for people who have been confused and hurt by the church. So when I run into any issue or teaching that discredits Jesus’ name for somebody, my brain kicks into overtime trying to come up with an explanation that can kick away the stumbling block. And it seems like the gatekeepers that I argue with are completely aloof to the stumbling blocks that I confront in my evangelism on a daily basis (it almost seems like they take pleasure in the existence of stumbling blocks).

“Becoming all things to all people” captures the way that evangelism is not simply getting into peoples’ faces and trying to browbeat them into saying a sinner’s prayer and confessing Jesus as their savior. Evangelism means that I take seriously where other people are coming from and respect the truth that they have to share with me rather than reassuring myself with canned explanations for whatever issues they have with Christianity (well, of course people are going to hate Jesus because they love their sin, etc). My hunger for evangelism prods me to attack ferociously anything about Christian doctrine that makes the gospel look ugly. It’s like trying to pluck weeds out of a very densely planted garden; I realize that sometimes I yank out things other than weeds.

Think about what Paul was willing to do to win people. He had strong opinions that he wrote about in his letters, which are the basis for most of the arguments that Christians get into. We don’t really argue about what Jesus said (we just ignore it if we don’t like it, e.g. turning the other cheek, loving your enemy, etc). But my gosh, Christians who are on the hunt for heretics to condemn eat Paul up like candy. And yet here Paul is saying that he’s willing to compromise his ideology for the sake of winning others to the kingdom. We don’t know the details of what he said to the people under the law and the people outside of the law, but it’s clear that he spoke and acted differently to each of them, which would be a big no-no for our gatekeepers today. For Paul, ideological consistency did not trump the goal of winning others for Christ. He was a pragmatist.

How much was he willing to compromise? We know that he had Timothy circumcised in Acts 16:3 because he was sending him to Jewish territory, even though he wrote a scathing letter to the Galatians about how requiring circumcision was a betrayal of his gospel. That seems like a pretty huge apostasy if you’re evaluating it from an ideological gatekeeper perspective. I would imagine that Paul was willing to compromise to the degree that what he was teaching and doing would not prevent someone from being “won” to the gospel. Certainly, there is a point at which translating how we talk about Jesus in order to speak the language of the person we’re talking to crosses over a line so that we’re no longer really talking about Jesus. But I don’t think we should expect for the gospel that we share to be one-size-fits-all; Paul has clearly repudiated that notion here.

In any case, I really think that there is a Kantian tendency among many evangelical Christians to litmus-test the gospel according to its discomfort. If the gospel is too beautiful, the Kantian logic goes, then that means I must be projecting it; if it’s ugly enough, then I can feel secure that my beliefs are not self-accommodating. I’m not ashamed of the fact that the beauty of the gospel matters to me. I am going to lash out against metaphors and illustrations that make God look like a banker bureaucrat or a stereotypically mean middle school gym teacher. If it looks ugly to non-believers, that bothers me; it doesn’t give me the satisfaction of feeling like I must be better than them because I can swallow something that’s bitter.

So that’s where I’m coming from anyway. No, gatekeepers, I’m not trying to weasel my way out of obeying God or trying to fit in with worldly people or any of your other go-to explanations. I just think that a very beautiful King whom I love is being misrepresented and my heart is white hot with wrath that I honestly think is coming from Him. I know that the way I express myself often undermines my purpose. I need to be more patient and charitable. I need to presume better intentions. But this is not just a polite conversation for me. Because there are hearts that need Jesus, and Jesus’ people (including myself) are getting in the way.

11 thoughts on “Why I clash with the gatekeepers

  1. Pingback: Why I clash with the gatekeepers – Morgan Guyton | LoneTomato808's Blog

  2. In any case, I really think that there is a Kantian tendency among many evangelical Christians to need the gospel to be ugly and distasteful in order to reassure themselves that they haven’t invented a gospel that “makes them comfortable and fits their personality.”

    If you are going to quote me, at least get the quote right. And I’m neither a Kantian nor trying to reassure myself about the ugliness of the gospel. Nor do I consider myself a gatekeeper.

    Is casting aspersions on the motivations of other people a stumbling block?

    • Nobody who’s a Kantian self-identifies as a Kantian. That’s the point. A Kantian is someone who disavows having a personal investment because they believe in “objectivity” which is demonstrated through their acceptance of an ideology that no one can accuse of being self-serving (which is why it needs to be “tough” or self-sacrificial). I shouldn’t have used your words or at least not put quotation marks around them. That was wrong for me to do. They obviously weren’t a quote but they captured the line of thought that I’ve heard from so many of my evangelical friends so perfectly. I do think based on what you’ve written that you believe like many Christians in the world that I grew up in that a basic litmus test of the true gospel is that it needs to be uncomfortable enough. That’s why I think you have trouble with a writer like Henri Nouwen. I happen to think that I’ve become more capable of facing my sin and receiving the Spirit’s sanctification because of the image of God I’ve received from Nouwen. It’s very hard for me to hear Nouwen constantly under attack when he was the first thing I encountered in Methodism long before I ever read anything by Wesley after 25 years of the misanthropic God I grew up with.

  3. “I would rather be a gatekeeper in the house of my God than live the good life in the homes of the wicked.” Psalms 84

    The “gatekeepers” do more than keep things out.
    They let things in.

    “The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep recognize his voice and come to him. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 After he has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them, and they follow him because they know his voice.“John 10

    There was a lot more to Paul than you write of.
    Of all of the apostles, it would Paul who would explain in details the “laws of God”, acceptable Christian living and practice in and outside the church. It was Paul who excommunicated a man for sexual immorality.

    I wonder how Paul would be classified today if Paul was with us?
    A gatekeeper?

    • The circumcision party were the gatekeepers. Paul wasn’t a gatekeeper. He was a maverick who ended up winning the argument because the Holy Spirit made it happen. His sole basis of authority was the conviction that God had put into his heart. Whatever else is true, he cared about helping people see the beauty of the gospel. He wasn’t like so many evangelicals today who think that if the gospel isn’t ugly, it must be the product of “compromise” with the world.

      • I will strongly disagree here.
        Paul :
        “My brothers, I am a Pharisee, descended from Pharisees. I stand on trial because of the hope of the resurrection of the dead.”

        Maybe you clash with gatekeepers because you fail to tell the whole story.

        • Really? You think that’s a proof-text? Paul is being strategic, just like when he appeals to Caesar. How in the world do you square that with everything else he says about the law and faith? It seems like you just want to validate being a Pharisee yourself. Read Matthew 23.

  4. As an evangelical Christian, my heart is where your heart is, Morgan. I have no need for the gospel to be ugly or offensive. On the other hand, we do not have a complete gospel if we ignore the parts that are uncomfortable for us. For me, the question is where is the entry point for the gospel for each person? Each person will have a different part or angle of the gospel that they can relate to initially. Finding that connecting point is what enables communication and response, allowing them to enter into the lifelong journey of faith. So Paul made tactical compromises to further the strategic goal of evangelism. But in his tactics, he did not compromise his overall theology. (For example, even though he had Timothy circumcised, he did not look upon circumcision as necessary for salvation. He did it to remove a stumbling block.)
    But we can’t stay in the realm of the comfortable. Once we enter the life of faith (through the most comfortable door), we need to keep growing and looking at other facets of our faith and God’s revelation. Some of those may be uncomfortable or even offensive to me. (Peter was offended that Jesus was going willingly to the cross.) This is a lifetime project. We are alternately challenged and comforted by the gospel. That is why Paul held himself accountable to proclaim “the whole will of God.” (Acts 20:27)
    The problem is that some of what is included in “the whole will of God” is not congenial to enable people to understand and respond to God’s loving offer of salvation through Jesus Christ. So tactically, we do not lead with that in our evangelistic efforts. However, we cannot ignore it, either. It is a challenge to find the right way to approach these issues in a way that is both winsome and has integrity to the whole gospel.

    • I agree that we have to wrestle with what’s there. I also think there is such a thing as reveling in the distasteful and over accentuating it as a means of self-justification (eg some of the depictions of penal substitution that have no problem speculating far beyond what is given to us in the Bible).

  5. They appointed themselves gatekeepers I think. I know there are people in my church who disapprove of “the company I keep” – I have more friends who are either agnostic or from other faiths than I have who are Christian. Deep discussion with those friends deepens my faith, quite apart from telling them about the gospel message.

  6. I have to wonder, who appointed them gatekeepers in the first place?

    I always enjoy reading your posts. Thank you.

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