Why we become deaf to the warning cries


Whenever a controversy erupts, you’ll always find a group of people who, when everyone else finally realizes there was a problem, are saying, “We’ve been saying it for years!”

And it’s true. They have been saying it for years. There’s no question about it. There have been many—many—people who were warning about Mark Driscoll, for example. Notably among them were John MacArthur and many of his followers such as the Team Pyro folks.

So why didn’t we listen?

I wonder if the reason is two-fold:

The first reason is many of us choose to not hear. Honestly, when a church leader appears to be being used by God in a pretty powerful way, it’s tempting to just shut down any negative criticism with a slightly patronizing, “But look how God is using him”. Which is completely stupid, of course, but it’s true. Many folks did this with Mark Driscoll (something I admitted to). Many did it with Rob Bell, too. Many still do it with Steven Furtick, and Perry Noble, and Joel Osteen, and TD Jakes, and…

We need to not just look to (dubious) fruit as a reason to excuse  un- or anti-Christian conduct, character or creeds. When there are warning signs, we need to pay attention and we need to take them seriously.

The second is that many of those voices raising alarm only raise alarm. I remember attending an event in 2011 during which the alarm was raised a great deal over the seep of paganism into the church. During the final Q&A session of the event, one of the attendees said something to the effect of, “We’ve heard a lot about the dark, and this has been a real wake-up call… but what about the light?”

The truth is, we need both light and heat[1. With apologies to John Piper.]. The alarm needs to be raised over false teaching, abuses of power and actions and attitudes that bring reproach to the name of Christ—we need to offer reproof in those instances.

But we are also called to encourage, to build up and edify the body of Christ. There needs to be a balance, of the sort you see in the letters to the seven churches in Revelation. There, when addressing each church, Jesus offers specific commendation to five of the seven churches (Sardis and Laodicea being the two exceptions), before offering any rebuke. Jesus shone light on their sin, but also on their good works. If all we say is a constant stream of warning, we risk becoming clanging symbols that deafen those we wish to persuade.

Posted by Aaron Armstrong

Aaron is the author of several books for adults and children, as well as multiple documentaries and Bible studies. His latest book, I'm a Christian—Now What?: A Guide to Your New Life with Christ is available now.

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2 Replies to “Why we become deaf to the warning cries”

  1. Whilst I agree with your overall points, I think that you missed a major point, at least in my assessment of the Driscoll situation – we ignore cries of alarm when they centre themselves around theological disagreements rather than around issues of character and behaviour.

    There were a number of issues with Driscoll’s leadership, I agree. But his theology was primarily orthodox, unlike, say, Rob Bell or T D Jakes. But (and I may be looked through tinted glasses here) most of the critique of Driscoll from people like MacArthur and Team Pyro focused on the points of theology that they disagreed on. I’m sure that they mentioned some of the other things, but the overriding presentation was of an attack on his charismatic leanings.

    Now – maybe I’m being overly defensive here. I’m openly charismatic and reformed, and share much of my theology with Driscoll. Maybe I was too much of a Driscoll fan to listen properly. But I have a suspicion that the voices of those like MacArthur actually hindered the alarm by focusing on the wrong issue.

  2. Good word.

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