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Post-T4G 2012 3: Band of Elephants

In my first Post-T4G post, I made reference to my disappointment in the Band of Bloggers pre-conference event, and said I’d have more on that later. It’s later.

imageMy disappointment—nay, disgust—with this year’s Band of Bloggers is due to one thing: the discussion of James MacDonald’s Elephant Room II and the reactions thereto, in which it became immediately evident that the latter was more to be regretted than the former. Sure, a brief statement was made to reassure us that “we believe the Trinity is important,” but that statement followed a lengthy session of finger-wagging at bloggers who objected to a modalist heretic being embraced as orthodox.

For the sake of readers who don’t know what I’m talking about, let’s take a moment to recap the Elephant Room/T. D. Jakes mess.

James MacDonald invited modalist and prosperity gospel preacher T. D. Jakes to his Elephant Room conference, the purpose of which was to bring brothers of differing views together. After objections were made to embracing heretics like Jakes as genuine brothers in Christ, MacDonald broadened the purpose statement to accommodate all comers. So far, so good; one could still optimistically hope that the right questions might be asked, the issues might be discussed honestly, and Jakes’ answers scrutinized and analyzed biblically. That was not to be. Instead, James MacDonald and Mark Driscoll lobbed a few softballs, Jakes responded with predictable nebulosity, MacDonald and Driscoll shouted “Glory!” and ended it all with a group hug (transcript here*).

That, you might think, was “the debacle of the Elephant Room.” You would be wrong. The debacle of the Elephant Room, according to the representatives of The Gospel Coalition on the Band of Bloggers panel, was the objections of numerous bloggers, and the criticism of The Gospel Coalition, of which MacDonald was a founding member, for its silence on the matter. We were scolded for expressing opinions without being privy to the inside discussions of The Gospel Coalition, as if that was at all necessary, as if T. D. Jakes was an unknown quantity instead of a public figure whose heresy is well known through multiple publications. Bottom line: if you’re not on the inside, you’re not qualified to speak.

The arrogance is astounding. But arrogance isn’t the only offense. Equally shameful is the attempt to silence critics with faux moral superiority and sweep the whole matter under the rug. First, we were told that insiders only were the legitimate observers and commenters on the affair. Then we heard from Collin Hansen, formerly of Christianity Today, now of The Gospel Coalition, that, just as everyone at CT knew Billy Graham and family were off-limits, no one at The Gospel Coalition was ever going to publicly criticize co-founder James MacDonald. So outsiders were not allowed to speak, and insiders were unwilling to speak. (I reserve high praise for Thabiti Anyabwile for breaking omerta.)

Following the Elephant Room fiasco, The Gospel Coalition has a long way to go to restore its integrity in my eyes. And the Band of Bloggers will have to show itself to be more than a mouthpiece for elites to regain my interest.

Addendum: My criticism does not extend to those outside TGC who chose not to comment on the Elephant Room. Everyone does not need to comment on everything, especially if what they would say has already been said. I do agree that enough was said. However, less could have been enough, and more would not have been too much. There is no objective measure of too little/too much, and anyone who claims to possess that measure and attempts to enforce it on others has a dangerously bloated ego. The sad fact is that those who should have spoken remained silent.
Update 1: I’ve received a lot of support for my comments here, but I think my favorite is the following, which I’ll call “praise by faint damning.”


Now, having posted that, I want to say that I have no great beef with Timmy Brister. In general, I like what he does. He was not named in this post as an active participant in the Elephant Room foolishness, and I don’t remember him saying anything specific in that regard. But, in light of the tweet above, I’d be interested in knowing just how he differs from me on this.

Update 2: You should read this: Herding the Elephants by Mike Riccardi, a roundup of good commentary on the Elephant Room 2.

Update 3: If only one of the Band of Bloggers panelists had spoken like the distinguished gentlemen in this video, I might not have written this post.

No Co Ever: Episode 1 from No Compromise Radio.

* May, 2018: Yes, I’m aware of the scandal surrounding the transcriber. Believe me, I do not take that lightly. If I had another source, I’d use it. Still, a transcript is a just transcript. Read it, or don’t.

Posted 2012·04·18 by David Kjos
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#1 || 12·04·18··14:31 || Staci Eastin

Band of Bloggers...Chick-fil-A, books, and chatting with Kim Shay.

There was a panel?

#2 || 12·04·18··14:55 || Justin Taylor

Yikes. I hope no one thinks this is a fair summary of what was said at the panel! It's certainly a bad distortion of what I said.

Justin Taylor

#3 || 12·04·18··15:25 || David Kjos

To be fair, I'm depending on memory at this point. If the audio is made available, and contradicts what I've said here, I'll gladly retract. But I've heard from others who were there who got the same impression I did, particularly concerning Hansen's statement.

#4 || 12·04·23··23:28 || Chris Poe

Having listened to the audio, I think this post is indeed a fair summary of what was said at the panel.

David, one thing you forgot to mention was the reference to the New York Times. One would hope that there would be a different standard at TGC than the elitism, politics, etc that characterizes the New York Times (and CT, as was admitted) with regard to broaching little or no public criticism of the actions of those in their own camp, however objectionable they may be. (Actually, I think you might get more of that at the NYT, at least on the editorial page.) Once the conversation turned to ER2, the elitism and arrogance was palpable. Additionally, if it matters, the statement about the Trinity being important was made after the comments in question, not before.

No doubt, it would have been better if a lot of posts about ER2 were cast into the flames unsent, virtually speaking. But I heard no meaningful distinction made between the bomb-throwers of the worst type and responsible bloggers, including one of their own, who dared question the actions of a couple of members of the TGC council.

#5 || 12·04·24··06:35 || Staci Eastin

I'll admit, I didn't leave the panel feeling quite the same way you did, but I couldn't point to any statement to justify my impressions. Now that I've listened to the audio I still can't.

One thing that I don't think came through well in the audio: the SGM and ER discussion overlapped a lot. Some of the panelists were speaking more to the SGM/wikileaks issue, and some were speaking more to the problems with ER2. I still think most of the scolding from the panel was directed toward people who are dive-bombing blog comments with links to SGM documents (which even I have had to deal with on my blog).

#6 || 12·04·24··07:00 || Michael R. Jones

Excellent work on this post.

Justin Taylor may not have said what he meant but I think you accurately portray what he said.

The difference between TER2 and the SGM was that SGM was at least an intra-ministry/local church phenomenon and I can understand that they wouldn't want to air their dirty laundry. TER2, however, was out in the open and therefore should have been handled with more openness.

What was termed the "call for immediacy" was a smokescreen. Jakes' presence at TER2 was announced in the fall of 2011 (Sept, Oct?) which gave them plenty of time to address it internally before the lid came off. It appears, at least to an outside observer, that nothing really happened until just before and just after the event itself.

Chris Poe is correct in pointing out that they made no distinction between the angry screeds published and the thoughtful posts and comments. During the midst of the controversy, any dissenting voice, however thoughtful and respectful, was treated as a "bomb-thrower" by many of TGC blogs.

I will admit, however, that the situation was such that nothing they did would have pleased everyone, hopefully we will all learn from that.

#7 || 12·04·25··08:01 || Jules

The ego and elitism and finger-wagging has become par for the course in the celebrity-driven Christian blogosphere.

#8 || 12·04·25··09:03 || Danny

I listened to the audio yesterday. And just like The Atlantic's review of Blue Like Jazz the movie. It tried to say so much it said nothing at all. A sort of passive aggressive rebuke and apology for your hobby.

#9 || 12·04·26··15:11 || Dan McGhee

David, thank you for speaking directly to this issue.

Comments on this post are closed. If you have a question or comment concerning this post, feel free to email me.