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Topic: “We Can Work It Out”

What responsibilities do we have to local pastors who exist outside our theological boundaries, but within the body of Christ? How do you confront a brother in error while showing fidelity to truth, and to the truth about biblical relationship? Given the freedom to preach your conscience, is there anywhere you wouldn’t preach? Does a pastor’s association really communicate endorsement, or is that just a carryover from fundamentalism? How can pastors practically encourage/challenge those who are different than they are? How do the benefits of broader community weigh against the dangers of confusing people about your own convictions?

Speakers: James MacDonald and Steven Furtick, moderated by Mark Driscoll

Disclaimer: This is merely a summary of my notes, taken down live during the event. They may not be word-for-word and will need to be seen on video in order for their context to be fully understood. I will be updating this post every few minutes as the session goes on.

Driscoll: This is a summary of your motivation and heart for this event, James. We’re talking about Christian associations and conversations. Think in terms of national and state borders. We’re talking about how big your world is. Pentecostal, Baptist, Reformed. Is that your state or is that your nation? If it’s your nation, you may declare war on those within the family of evangelicalism but not part of the nation you call home. If it’s your state, then within those states you see people who do love Jesus but have differentiation on secondary issues, then that will allow you to love our state, but see it as a home and not a prison. The question is – How big is your world? Is your state your nation, and you won’t work beyond that? The next question is, Where do you draw those lines? Thirdly, what relationship should you have with people beyond those borders? Is a friendship a tacit approval of disagreements? It’s the fundamentalist issue of association. It’s what Jesus got criticized for. He can’t have those friends!

MacDonald: Your description of national and state borders is very helpful. The problem comes when we say, “My state is Texas. It’s the biggest.” When you’re so proud of your state you doubt if anyone else is American, that is problematic. I was that guy. I went to a fundamental Bible college. It took me 25 years out of 30 years of ministry to see the trappings of negativity of fundamentalism. I could’ve lost it faster but I am fired up about the doctrine. I am a doctrine guy, but I’m not angry about it.

Driscoll: You’re like a pinata at Cinco de Mayo lately. You’ve taken a beating lately.

MacDonald: It all started with Bill Hybels. He was down the street from me. I see ministry very differently from him, to this day. But a guy in Chicago rallied together a bunch of us pastors. That’s how I met Reverend Meeks. Bill called me and said, “Pick me up.” We got stuck in a snowstorm to get across Chicago back to our houses. I love Bill Hybels. Don’t ever get up in my face and criticize his integrity or his commitment to the gospel. We have very different methodologies, but he is sincere and has left no scandal in the gospel. I could not negate him as a person, even if I emphasize things. His friendship changed – not my convictions, not my methodologies, but my tone. Round 2. I was in California and I played golf with a well-known pastor. (He’s not a fan of you, Mark.) Not one hole, but two, three, five, eight holes, he couldn’t stop talking about everything bad Driscoll does. I was so upset about that. I got off the course and I called Jack Graham, who has everyone’s cell phone number. I said, “Jack, get me Driscoll’s number.” It took him five minutes. Mark picked up, and I said “hello.” I knew he had one of my books on his website so he knew who I was. We talked. He came to Chicago and we went to a Cubs game. Then I called him and said, “We’re going to Haiti.”

Driscoll: Most people were trying to get out of Haiti. You said, “Get to Chicago, and I’ll find a way to get you to Haiti and I’ll get you your shots.”

MacDonald: We didn’t know what we were getting into. Two big experiences with someone I saw and doubted (or was told to doubt), and in both instances, my convictions didn’t change, but my tone changed. Those two experiences led to others. Maybe I could do this more. I saw Furtick in Outreach magazine and I thought, Who is that?

Driscoll: Why? He seems likeable. He looks Hispanic.

MacDonald: I think my disposition was to doubt. I’m not proud of that. I’m ashamed of that. So much of fundamentalism is rooted in fear. You’re going to hurt me, disappoint me. You’re going to go off course. We’re waiting. It’s going to come out. I had to shake that disposition off. I did like him. So I tweeted something to Steven, and he tweeted right back. He wasn’t put off by it. He gave a gracious response. He came up to Chicago and spent a whole day driving around with me, seeing the campuses. Such humility. I thought to myself, It happened again. Bill Hybels. Mark Driscoll. Steven Furtick. That led to the Elephant Room. I am going to get people in a room together. We’re not afraid to talk about anything. We don’t hide the truth. We’re going to talk. We’re going to spend eternity together. Why not start now? I feel called of the Lord to model that experience that I had. Both of you have enriched my life. I’m blessed by our friendship.

Furtick: The sad thing is… it’s rare for people to show their affection for each other in our line of work. How bizarre, when we are pastors and shepherds. Somehow we have been forced into this conversation about borders quickly. A lot of people may be called to draw borders and boundaries, but the calling on my life is to affirm the center. I don’t mean that no one needs to draw boundaries, but it’s a crazy thing – some of the language that we used. “The Reformed community is not a big fan of you, Steven.” Bishop Jakes said, “What does that statement even mean?” We must sound pretty silly to God, but especially to the world that we are called to reach. The whole idea of drawing boundaries from the beginning does not appeal to me a whole lot.

Driscoll: I’m talking inter-faith. We can’t worship with Hindus and Muslims, etc.

Furtick: When you called me, James, and Jack Graham got you my cell phone number… I thought, It’s really cool you would take the time to talk to me. I remember thinking about how nice you were on the phone. By listening to your radio broadcast, I thought, What a strong Bible teacher! But he sounds so dogmatic I probably wouldn’t like him too much. But someone at dinner once said that if you want to have a fun time, James MacDonald is one of the most fun.

Driscoll: Putting the fun back in fundamentalism. James MacDonald!

Furtick: I had constructs in my mind about what you would be like. I remember getting dressed to come see you, and I didn’t want to look a certain way. I didn’t want you to think I was “one of those guys.” I was operating out of a negative framework. I was insincere. When you hugged me, you picked me up off the ground!

Driscoll: That sounds romantic, bro. That’s a national border, you know.

Furtick: We could stand to build one another up in love more. We could give honor more freely. I don’t think we’re in danger of giving too much encouragement, love and honor. So, I think that I have my own hypocrisy in this area. We always think people are judgmental against us, but the judgment goes both ways. People didn’t want me to come to the first Elephant Room because of their perception of you as a dogmatic, hate-filled preacher. They associated you with people and friendships that are not even recent. I’ve seen real boldness today that made me want to be bolder. The people championed as bold are those who write books to their own tribe and throw the red meat to their own people. “Boy that’s bold! You really told them.” But the people you were telling off weren’t even listening. I am strengthened by you affirming people without an asterisk by it. For you to stand with me, it has been endearing. A lot of fatherless generation pastors appreciate you putting your arm around me and taking shots for it. How do we get this charitable spirit? Assuming the best about people? So that we don’t have to get to know everyone before we assume they are okay?

Driscoll: Friend, until proven foe.

MacDonald: Can I speak to that?

Driscoll: No. Wait, it’s your event. Go ahead!

MacDonald: If I hadn’t known Bill Hybels, I wouldn’t have had Wayne come. And Wayne has been a friend. I preached for Craig Groeschel, and he means a lot to me. Balanced. Biblical. My point is that if you call the pastor down the street and you start realizing there are people who love the same gospel and love the same book and follow the same Savior, you can explore these relationships. I was raised in a church in which anyone outside of our particular kind of Baptist church wasn’t saved. There are two priorities that have to stand: the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.

Furtick: I had a guy come up to me, a friend who knows me well. He said, “If you ever started preaching false doctrine, I would have to disassociate with you.” I said, “Did I preach something?” He said, “No. I just know your associations.” I said, “If you sleep with my wife, I will cut your head off.” In other words, Why are we having this conversation? We are friends. We wouldn’t do this. Some people think they are defending the gospel, but they are really just crappy friends.

Cordeiro: Love thinks the best. We’ve got the tendency to want to identify with one tribe so that we’re under a different flagpole. We try to side with one another to make ourselves seem bigger than we are. We’ve got to get back to the center. The closer we get to the cross, the closer we are to each other too. Maybe we are drifting from Calvary.

Loritts: 1 Corinthians 13. The legacy of the fundamentalist controversy has tainted all of evangelicalism. It hit the fan in the 20s and 30s. What was core to biblical Christianity? Unfortunately, it’s a legacy of fighting. Defining yourself by who you are against. Rather than assuming and sending people through pre-qualifying questionnaire, I need to lead with love, with my eyes wide open, and get to know people’s hearts and minds before I get to conclusions about people. I come from a strong, truth-speaking background. The downside of that is that it is the whole truth of the Word of God. Ephesians 4 is in the Word of God too. I’ve got to be kind, loving, seeking unity. So I say to my brothers who lead with truth, please lead with all the truth of the Word – both vertically and relationally.

Graham: I love to connect people to each other. To me, one of the joys of my life is to be connected and to leverage those friendships we have with one another to encourage each other. Everyone needs encouragers and mentors, and connectors too. For the sake of the gospel and unity in the bond of peace.

Jakes: I come from a world with different problems than these. I come from worlds where fellowship is taken for granted and unity is commonplace. The things you do easily, we struggle to do. The things you struggle to do, we do easily.

Driscoll: Why is that?

Jakes: Minorities don’t have the luxury of bickering about everything. We wouldn’t survive if we didn’t work together. Pre-trib, post-trib, etc. It’s not that we don’t have an opinion or can’t muster the intellect to have the debate, it’s that our survival instincts lead to brotherly kindness. We had no choice.  Loving as Jesus loved. He died for the people. If we lift the laws higher than the people, we don’t reflect the heart of God. Breaking a pathology that produces the false ideology that strength is taking a stand for what you’re against rather than what you’re for will change the atmosphere of all you influence. Let us not confuse anointing and substitute it with anger. Sometimes in the absence of the pursuit of God’s presence, the only power we can exhibit before our people is anger. Go back to our knees and ask God for the refreshing of the Holy Spirit to persuade men, rather than use the force of our anger and tenacity to replace the presence of God.

Question: Is there a Christian you wouldn’t invite to the Elephant Room?

MacDonald: No.

Furtick: That’s the absurdity. This is not a platform that endorses, but a platform for issues to be discussed. We’ve perverted boldness into arrogance.

Driscoll: If someone is accused of something, and they are willing to sit down and answer questions about it, then let’s ask the question.

MacDonald: Our anger doesn’t just show up in our preaching. By the way, authority – thus says the Lord – is not anger. Society rejects authority and can’t always interpret the fact that God doesn’t give “suggestions.” I’ve worked hard at bringing down any sense of anger, without losing authority. Having said that, though, we don’t just struggle with wrong attitudes toward Christians like us. We don’t just struggle with anger toward Christians in different races doing different ministries. We struggle with anger toward non-Christians, Republicans, Democrats. It’s everywhere. If we do another Elephant Room, and our elders decide we do another one, I defend the right to bring in a Muslim, or another religion. I just think – the subject of civility and the ability to talk to people very different – is important. We need to work on that.

Driscoll: I was talking to Andy Stanley, who said, “As a leader, you’ve got to ask – do I want to make a point? Or do I want to make a difference?” In the age of technology, that is instant, constant and permanent, “make a point, make a point, make a point…” You can garner a tribe of critics even if you’re not fruitful or faithful, just because others are fearful. You don’t have meet anyone to make a point, listen to what they’ve said, read what they’ve written. To make a difference, you’ve got to get to know someone. Build a relationship. Learn where they come from. Some people have already traveled miles down the road of grace. Sometimes the point we make is privately, because we love each other. So when we disagree, it’s the wounds of a friend to be trusted much.

Furtick: Your love paved the way to say anything you want to say to me. Publicly we launch grenades, and privately we don’t. It should be the opposite.

Driscoll: What has this even cost you? And what has it taught you?

MacDonald: It has cost me some relationships. I thought I knew what the Lord wanted me to do, and I had good counsel. Craig Groeschel has a lot of wisdom, and he said to me, “Just because someone doesn’t want you in their circle anymore doesn’t mean they can’t be in yours.” I’m going to be pursuing relationships. I’m praying for the ability to show grace. Nobody’s the center. The Word of God and the gospel is the center, but I don’t presume I’m standing in the center of the center. I don’t want to treat poorly those who are on either side. When we’re mistreated, we can say, “Now is my opportunity! I can be kind.”

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4 thoughts on “Elephant Room 2: Live-Blog Session 7”

  1. louise phillips says:

    Great concept. Do they apply it to other “unknown” pastors in their neighborhood or just other high profile guys? In my town, local evangelical pastors associate only when necessary and on outreach projects…whats the take away for the average minster?

  2. What an interesting comment by Jakes on the survival instincts of minorities. Do you think this helps or hinders doctrinal credibility and/or orthodoxy?

  3. Christiane says:

    “So much of fundamentalism is rooted in fear.”

    As a Catholic observer, this was apparent to me in many, many ways. Which is a shame . . . as it seems to work against, not with, so many of the gifts of the Spirit.

  4. Truth Unites... and Divides says:

    An interesting session! Thanks for blogging this!

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Trevin Wax

​Trevin Wax is Bible and Reference Publisher at LifeWay Christian Resources and managing editor of The Gospel Project. You can follow him on Twitter or receive blog posts via email. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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