A Public Apology

Written by Mark Van Steenwyk : January 24, 2007

I confess; I’ve been cynical about the Baptist General Conference and evangelicals in general. In many ways, I’ve been guilty of writing them off as folks who “don’t get it.” I am sorry for my bad attitude.

I’m making my apology public on this blog, because I’ve sometimes used this blog to rip on and write off evangelicals. And by writing such folks off, I’ve failed to love my brothers and sisters. Sure, I’m different from most evangelical leaders and Missio Dei is unlike most evangelical churches. Sure, we don’t measure up to conventional ways of reckoning success, and as a result have been ignored and/or rejected by various people. And it is indeed true that I have serious issues with the church that are worth being voiced.

But it gives me no right to be unloving, belittling, or to write entire groups of people off.

I met with some established Baptist suburban church pastors last week to share the “missio Dei” story (because they wanted to have some recent BGC church planters come and share). I came into the meeting with a superior attitude in my heart, and assumed that they wouldn’t get what we’re doing. I was also a bit afraid, because I thought that it was a real possibility that I would get some negative responses to our story.

I shared our story without any polish or false glorification. I wanted to drop any pretense and let the story speak for itself. At the end these pastors (some that I’ve known for a while) were genuinely touched. Their genuine warmth, care, and affirmation was surprising. I never considered that these men–these successful suburban evangelical pastors–would affirm and embrace a subversive, neo-monastic, anabaptist, “progressive,” urban leader like me. I actually had to fight back tears at one point.

Still, in the back of my mind, I was skeptical…I thought maybe they were being polite. Well, a friend of mine visited one of these churches with his girlfriend on Sunday. The pastor mentioned meeting me and used Missio Dei as a living example of the book of Acts.

This entire situation showed me that I need to love my brothers and sisters in the evangelical church and seek their best instead of using them as a foil. Instead of being proud, I need to encourage. Instead of judging, I need to love.

Does this mean that my blog will be less challenging in the future? No way. But I will sincerely avoid making snarky comments about my fellow Christians (of any stripe).

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15 Responses to “A Public Apology”

  1. dlw on January 24th, 2007 10:23 am

    Sounds like you’re becoming more of a Pietist…


  2. markvans on January 24th, 2007 10:45 am

    In a way, I’m becoming less of one…because my first Christian experiences were steeped in pietism and/or charismatic Christianity.

  3. Anna on January 24th, 2007 10:45 am

    You attract more flies with honey than with vinegar, thats for sure. Then lovingly convert the flies to sheep.

    Just keep doing and talking the good news!


  4. dlw on January 24th, 2007 11:08 am

    That’s neo-pietism. Read my paper on Swedish Baptist Pietism!


  5. markvans on January 24th, 2007 12:04 pm

    I did! (sorta…at least I read THROUGH it)

    In what way would you say that I’m becoming more pietistic?

  6. dlw on January 24th, 2007 12:39 pm

    Somewhat less hewed to your tradition, careful to match words of criticism with words of praise and a sense of faith-connection that goes beyond our specific hills…

    Showing love in dealing with (all sorts of) controversies is a critical virtue for Pietists. I think Pietism also takes for granted that we’ll work from a tradition and with a denomination, while still seeking to foster dialogue with others from other traditions and denomination and point out the limitations to theological polemics.


  7. markvans on January 24th, 2007 12:50 pm

    I can see that…however, one could argue that being “careful to match words of criticism with words of praise and a sense of faith-connection that goes beyond our specific hills” is also a part of the anabaptist tradition. A good example of this particular tradition at work is the Bridgefolk. I’m hoping to do some light correspondence work for Bridgefolk in the future.

  8. dlw on January 24th, 2007 2:30 pm

    It may be. When you are out of all positions of political influence, it’s not like you have much option… I think it is fair to say that the Pietists learned from the Anabaptists, more so with Count Zinzendorf and the Moravians, but a lot of the Pietist-led innovations in education were learned from Comenius.

    One diff I think would be that the early Pietist were separate from the free church heritage, meaning they didn’t believe ecclesiology shd be founded strictly on the Bible, and therein more adaptable and perhaps diplomatic in making reforms to existing patterns. We see Philip Speners “Pious Desires”, not commandments.

  9. markvans on January 24th, 2007 2:57 pm

    Makes sense. Pietism was certainly, as I understand it, more ecumenical in spirit than Anabaptism (though not always by the choosing of the Anabaptists).

  10. dlw on January 24th, 2007 4:46 pm

    I think the Anabaptists were quite scarred by the extent of the persecution they underwent from Reformed, Lutherans and Catholics, which followed in part from their attempts to live out the free-church heritage more consistently than those of the reformed church.

    The Pietists also were persecuted/ridiculed, but found ways they could bring about revival from within the system. In the case of the Brandenburg-Prussian Pietists, they helped to keep the peace between the reformed Hohenzollern leaders and the lutheran nobility. In the case of the Swedish Baptists, they were helped by missions funds from American Baptists and at the vanguard of the Swedish Unionist movement initially.

    Both positions eschewed dualism to work out in their contexts church-state relations that enabled the spread of the gospel to go forward.


  11. graham on January 24th, 2007 5:08 pm

    Pietism was certainly, as I understand it, more ecumenical in spirit than Anabaptism

    What opportunity did the anabaptists have to be ecumenical?

  12. markvans on January 24th, 2007 5:21 pm

    They didn’t. They were basically kept from the table…and often still are in some ways.

    I can’t help but feel that most reconciliation work between Anabaptists and other Christians has been along the lines of: we’re sorry we killed you all, but if you hadn’t been so stubborn, we would have left you alone.

    Anabaptists are certainly resistant to “compromise”, but at the same time we are non-coercive with our ideals. Nevertheless, that unwillingness to compromise on certain beliefs threatens folks.

  13. dlw on January 24th, 2007 5:25 pm

    the bottom line is “does being willing to die on this hill help to advance the Kingship of God or not?”…


  14. markvans on January 24th, 2007 5:27 pm

    That all depends upon how one defines “kingship of God.”

  15. dlw on January 24th, 2007 8:27 pm

    I don’t think we can “define” the “kingship of God”(see my integrating motif), but I do believe we can recognize its advancement and discern whether our praxis is “right” based on it.

    From a Pietist viewpoint, we would see that the Anabaptists were right about Zwingli’s reformed community not living up to its free-church heritage ideals. But we would believe that those ideals were not, per se, “right” in the first place and that the attempts by Anabaptists to live by them may have done more harm than good. The Bible shd inspire us to reform our institutions and traditions, but it does not determine once and for all what they shd be. We have the issue of parachurch organizations and how they shd ideally be set up so as to serve local churches and how the existing ones shd be reformed to be more like the ideals….

    To put it somewhat differently, from a consequentialist/missiological standpoint, the right praxis on these matters are historical and contextual, not definitively set out for us for once and for all, and so we must continue to fallibly deliberate on Scriptures and our own and others praxis as we choose how then shall we live…


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