Dr. Steve McSwain over on the Huffington Post Religion Blog asked me to shut up recently. Actually, he wants all of us who preach to shut up: the title of the piece is, “I Wish Christian Preachers Would Just Shut Up.”
To be fair, he says he didn’t mean to be “unkind,” but I’m not sure how asking someone to shut up can ever be done kindly.
Of course, his real beef is not with all preachers, but just those who align themselves with right-leaning politics. Strangely, he does not seem to have any issue with Christians who align with left-leaning causes. So while he calls out Billy Graham & Co. for a pseudo-endorsement of Romney, he does not bother to name that the exact same thing happens in the left-leaning churches with their candidates.
He continues by telling us that none of us read the Scriptures as well as he does:
If Christians were to actually study the Scriptures, which of course most of them do not, and so were to develop their own understanding of the sacred text itself, they would discern between truth and the nonsense that is preached from scores of pulpits in Christian communions across this country. Instead, however, many of them get their beliefs more from the spurious notes of the Scofield Reference Bible, Hal Lindsey’s “Late Great Planet Earth” or the equally spurious B-grade movies they watch as in the “Left Behind” series.
A couple of issues. Being a Christian does not mean developing one’s own understanding of the sacred text. That way is madness. That way does not recognize Divine revelation for the whole of God’s people, but a blank canvas to be interpreted to one’s own tune. As part of John Wesley’s posse, I recognize that Scripture does not stand alone, but rather as the primary source for truth alongside tradition, experience, and reason.
Also, how exactly does one know what is preached in “scores” of churches across the theological spectrum each Sunday? This seems presumptuous. While there is a strong strand of Darbyism/dispensationalism in American Protestantism, it is (despite all the TV exposure) a minority opinion. Roman Catholics, Orthodox christians, and most Mainliners do not subscribe to it. Informed evangelicals do not. I have preached against this kind of eschatology myself, and blogged on it here and here.
I actually think the whole notion of the rapture is just as silly as Dr. McSwain does, so perhaps his “shut up” proviso does not apply to me?
On the whole, this entire screed seems really to be little more than a cheap shot at the Grahams. They have their flaws, Franklin in particular, but there are much more problematic and influential individuals in American Protestantism at present (here’s looking at you, Mark Driscoll and Joel Osteen). On the whole I like Billy, but to each their own.
For now, perhaps we can encourage Dr. McSwain to offer something more constructive to his theological opponents than “shut up.” At the very least, don’t apply your disdain for a few to all of us.
Near the conclusion, he writes:
Maybe it’s just me, but many religious leaders today seem contradictory, confused and, well, just plain wrong about almost everything over which they wail.
True enough, Dr. McSwain. I too loathe much of what is said from certain pulpits. But I’m trying hard to be the solution, and I’m not going to ask your permission to continue doing what God has called me to do.
By the by, that thing you said about being “just plain wrong about almost everything over which they wail”?
It applies to bloggers as well.