Note: (word usage): "The Cross" in the title is a play on words that is sufficiently subtle that I thought I had best explain it. It is used in this sense: The good, the bad, and the angry (or 'cross').
I am drawn to people who love the Lord - I say that openly. I am not overly impressed by intellectual posturing, and good speech - at least not nearly as much as I am impressed by a heart that truly loves our Lord and especially when the person who houses such a heart is likewise Christ-like in their character.
While I have never met Phil Johnson, in the course of my Christian walk I have read many of his articles, and even listened to some of his online sermons. I am familiar with his theology, and I get the impression that he is a man who truly loves the Lord in a way that is both appropriate and uncompromising. In short, though I have never met the fellow I am certain that I would like him if I did.
Now one of the things I especially admire about Phil is his ability to see through all the fluff and his gumption to strike at the heart of a matter. Strike I say - not as one of those self-styled polemicists who combs the world seeking out (in order to condemn) those who do not perfectly reflect his own every theological nuance. Rather, he seems quite proficient in answering (in clear language) those who are overly novel or cavalier in their handling of doctrine or theology. This particular character trait has earned him, it seems, some fanfare and some criticism - depending on whether one agrees with his points or not. Certainly his public conduct - at least anything I am aware of - has been irreproachable. Indeed - I have found him to be level headed, even handed and unreservedly charitable in all his public conversation.
That is not praise - but rather it is my personal appraisal based what I have seen, heard, and read of and by the man. I could safely and soberly - in good conscience - give this testimony. But I have not mentioned Phil's wry sense of humor! I confess, it compliments my own tastes - witty, even sarcastic - funny because it doesn't take anything too seriously.
To be sure, the fallout from one of Phil's satirical posts that inspired me this morning. The 'post' in question wasn't a thesis or an article that offended - but rather a doctored comic book cover that Phil modified to satire another blog on the internet.
In Phil's own words:
What's annoying to me about the Tavern is the attitude frequently conveyed by most of the regulars there—who have frequently seemed to argue that you should be able to mock whatever you want to mock, question any doctrine you want to question, challenge any convention you want to challenge, or use practically any language you want to use, because, after all, "it's a tavern," not a pulpit.
The comic Phil chose to doctor featured some bully/thug slapping a woman across the face - the epitome of excessive force. The captions and headings were all doctored to support/reflect this obvious breach of civility. The woman who was being struck was apparently abused because she had inquired about some orthodox opinion. The aggressor in the comic - in keeping with the satirical take on the "tavern" theme, and excessive force - calls her a "wench" as he swats her and justifies himself in doing so by saying he can to say or do whatever he wants - an opinion that is backed up by a third party in the scene who further chastises the abused woman's inquiry implying that because this is a tavern and not a seminary one is free to voice any opinion unchallenged.
The whole thing ends up being a wonderfully accurate depiction of how post modernism philosophy has insinuated itself in the church - we are better Christians if we tolerate error and compromise in the church -- since tolerance is the greatest virtue. The only thing that is intolerable (implied by the excessive response to legitimate inquiry) is to suggest that truth is objective. The suggestion is that in the tavern it is perfectly alright to be intolerant as long as that intolerance is aimed at orthodoxy.
Now that being said - the point of hyperbole is to draw attention to some detail by exaggerating it. Phil has used this comic cover to draw attention to those who feel that they are justified in all sorts of mockery. I don't Phil's parody was mean spirited - though it is obvious from the response it has hit a nerve.
I myself commented on his post - remarking how I thought the issue ostensibly was selling for 10 cents - yet I found the humor in it "priceless." My opinion had nothing to do with the Boar's Head Tavern (the internet site upon which the parody centers) or any of the regulars who post there - but rather I found it priceless because it depicted the typical response you find in certain 'Christian' circles. I am referring to those sorts who defend the theological flavor of the month by condemning anyone who disagrees with it. This sort of mentality is portrayed in the doctored comic - and I found it pretty funny.
In the comments section for Phil's post however some people were failing to see the humor. I suspect that is because it is politically preferrable to seem offended by any portrayal of violence no matter the context of that violence. There is violence in the bible, but being exposed to it hasn't made me a worse person - but I digress. These same who are offended have no choice in the matter - it is required that they be offended - because failure to do so would flag them as mavericks - unfit for the herd mentality. No one wants to be put out of the synagogue after all.
Not that I advocate abuse - but rather that I am personally not offended by satire that depicts abuse. When I read that God told Saul to slaughter all the men, women, children, and animals in a particular Canaanite town - I don't fill up with rage because that sort of thing would be frowned upon in these 'times of enlightenment' - rather I fill up with praise - hallowed by Thy name my wonderful God who on earth is wise as You? I wouldn't want to see it happen with my own eyes (violence makes me queazy), but seeing a hand drawn rendering depicting it wouldn't make the world a worse place in my opinion - nor would it make the artist a bad person, or someone who condones violence. To draw those sorts of conclusions one must project a lot of motive that ins't actually there - and this is what seems to have happened in Phil's case. He posted something that made fun of people who take themselves and their own opinions way too seriously - and some were up in arms because the drawing depicted violence.
In pointing this out, I posted the following:
Hyperbole: "extravagant exaggeration"
The impishly doctored cover of "Crime Does not Pay" (Issue N0. 58 - see the undoctored cover here) is no doubt poking fun of the way some people defend their theological positions. I can only assume the humor rises from the accuracy with which the parallel is drawn.
Correct me if I am wrong Phil.
To which Michael Spencer replied:
Daniel: Why don't you write me and explain to me how the cover art of striking a
woman explains how I defend my theological positions?
He supplied an email address and he and I engaged in some 'emailing' back and forth, the highlights of which are below:
Grace and peace!
> "Why don't you write me and explain to me how the cover art of striking a woman
> explains how I defend my theological positions?"
You will note that "Tavern monkeys" and "tavernistas" are both plural. It follows therefore that Phil is not poking fun at an individual here, but rather at a group or a practice. The hyperbole in this case likely reflects a characteristically negative response to legitimate theological or doctrinal inquiries or statements made at said 'tavern.' The humor therefore would come in proportion to the accuracy of the parallel that Phil is drawing. If the group is over bearing and utterly negative - the parody
fits - if the group is not, the parody falls apart.
Because the pronouns used to delineate the targets of this parody are all plural - I cannot see this as being directed at you personally, and therefore I cannot explain how the cover art of striking a woman would explain how you personally defend your theological positions. If however you were to ask how the cover art of striking a woman portrays how some who cannot answer on theological terms resort to bullying -- that I can help you with. But I am sure you have seen that sort of thing already and need no one to instruct you on what it looks like.
If my comment on Phil's blog gave you the impression that I felt -you- personally were being a bully or that Phil's parody was in some way an attack on your character - then brother even though I
have no idea who you are, where you come from, or why you imagine I would think such a thing, never the less - I apologize and assure you it never came into my mind nor could it have because until I read your comment I didn't know you even existed.
I can only presume that you are a gentleman, and that you were offended not only by Phil's jest, but by my comment. Rest assured in the knowledge that I found the parody humorous in the general sense - having no knowledge of the particulars. If the offense I seem to have caused you can be repaired, do not hesitate to reply instructing me how in how I may remain
your humble servant,
> If however you were to ask how the cover art of striking a woman portrays how some who cannot > answer on theological terms resort to bullying -- that I can help you with.
I'm wide open for business. Let's be specific. And I'll be looking for the following:
1) That you understand what the BHT is.
2) That you could give me some idea of the theological diversity, since getting "answers" to "theological" questions is a bit influenced by the diversity of the group.
3) Some awareness of the actual- not apocryphal- history of my meager controversies with
4) Some idea of how many BHTers- within 5- has ever mentioned anything about PJ other than, "Let's ignore that guy, please."
In Michael's defence, he was likely involved at that moment in answering a barrage of emails - and I expect that as he glanced over mine quickly he was anticipating something a confrontational tone on my part - and I am sure this has much to do with the flavour of our correspondance up to this point. My reply to him was:
Michael's final reply was pleasant and graceful though - I would post it here, but I have taxed this issue sufficiently with my email already. it is enough to say that Michael's response was both civil and kind. He came to understand that it would be impossible for me to be a hatemongering, BHT bashing, lunatic unless I was actually familiar with BHT.
I believe you have mistakenly assigned to me an adversarial character - when I said "some who cannot answer on theological terms" I was in no way referring to you or any of the people in your world. I was speaking in the broadest of senses more about people I knew and situations I have seen than anything in your own life and experience. My presumption of course is that we are both entirely familiar with what this sort of thing looks like. I was not implying by that that it existed in your own back yard as it were - just that you were familiar with the sort of thing I was talking about.
To be sure, I expect you're answering many emails from a variety of people - and in doing so you may have confused me with someone who is antagonistic or towards or jaded against BHT - dear sir, nothing could be farther from reality. I have no idea what the situation was that brought about the parody - and so I cannot hope to answer all your questions because they have nothing whatsoever to do with anything I have ever said or commented on. Truly, I am less than nothing in this scenario, how then can I respond?
I appreciate your eagerness to "do business with me" on this matter, but I assure you I have no currency for this kind of transaction. :-) My comments have been and continue to be restricted to the general sense. I can see the humor in Phil's parody - not because it has anything to do with you or your website - but because what is being parodied happens all the time everywhere by people who haven't got a clue that they are doing it. Once again then sir I am sorry that I cannot discuss the matter as it pertains to you and your specifics and if I have wasted your time in this matter I further apologize for that. If in the future I can be of further assistance do not hesitate to reply to
your servant in Christ,
I really feel for him though - not that Phil -has- abused him (since I do not believe Phil has) - but rather that he is victimizing himself because his zeal for his own website has made him hyper-sensitive -- not merely sensitive to criticism but to satirie as well. It must take a lot to drive a man to require perfect strangers to explain why they are laughing at it something that has nothing to do with him personally - really, that can't be healthy!
That being said, no one likes to be laughed at, even if he only thinks people are laughing at him. My heart certainly goes out to Mr. Spencer - he seems like a nice guy who is zealous for his web site, but a little quick in being offended.