I was sitting in my back yard the other night, just after having mowed it, and watching the cat to make sure it didn’t try to climb the fence and jump into the neighbor’s yard. I had forgotten to grab a book to read, but didn’t feel like going back inside to get one, lest the cat take that as a window of opportunity. So, I decided that I would sit there and meditate on Scripture instead (fancy that, a Christian meditating on Scripture). And what better passage of Scripture to meditate on than a passage that says that one ought to meditate on Scripture. So I recited Psalm 1 to myself and began to meditate on it.
1 Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers.
2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.
3 He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.
4 Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away.
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
6 For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.
Immediately, one phrase in particular caught my meditative attention: “or sit in the seat of mockers.”
Probably the reason why it caught my attention was the recent controversy involving Rachel Held Evans and Owen Strachan. It seems that in one of Evans’s articles she referred to God with the feminine pronoun, “Herself.” Strachan, who is the President of the complementarian organization, The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, upon discovering this article of Evans, sent out a tweet which read, “Let’s stop pretending like all’s okay. Rachel Held Evans called God a she: ‘God Herself.’ This is heresy, straight up.”
For a number of biblical, theological, and even just practical reasons, I believe Evans was wrong to use a feminine pronoun for God. And in the articles which Evans and Strachan have written subsequent to this initial incident, I believe Strachan comes out way ahead as far as good, sound, biblical, hermeneutical, and logical argumentation is concerned. I’ll be posting an article on this later. But I also believe that Strachan over presses his charge by referring to this as “heresy, straight up.” What Evans did certainly has its shock value; it was ill-advised and it was unbiblical; but I believe it falls quite a bit short of being heretical
What has surprised me, however, in the ensuing discussion in the blogosphere, is how Strachan has been vilified in the comments made about him. Here’s a smattering of descriptions of Strachan:
a little bully
a smarmy sexist jerk
a bona fide self-promoter
a sanctimonious sexist
anxious to build his fledgling career
a pompous ass
a shameless self-appointed heresy hunter
a sexist clown
Here’s the problem, as I see it, with making comments like these. I have never met Mr. Strachan. I do not know what his motives were for calling Evans’s use of a feminine pronoun for God heretical. Perhaps the persons who used the phrases listed above have more insight into these things than I do. But it seems to me that passages like 1 Corinthians 13 (especially verses 5 and 7) and Philippians 2:1-11 (especially verse 3) compel us, as much as is reasonably plausible, to put a charitable construal on other people’s motives, especially those who are our brothers and sisters in Christ. I think Strachan was wrong to call Evans’s use of the feminine pronoun for God heretical. But I am not convinced he did so from self-promoting motives, that he was trying to make a name for himself, that he is sanctimonious, sexist, smarmy, a clown, or a jerk. Perhaps his motive was to uphold God’s honor, to do the right thing, to follow the way of the Lord. Perhaps he was attempting to be the blessed, righteous man described in Psalm 1. Perhaps he came to his conclusions as a result of meditating on the law of the Lord. And if that is the case, then that would mean that the ones who make fun of him, who ridicule him, and who insult him—they are the ones described in Psalm 1:1 as those who “sit in the seat of the mockers.” And this is a very dangerous seat in which to sit.
It is a dangerous seat because:
(1) Those who sit in this seat will soon be like the “chaff that the wind blows away.” They will, ultimately, be of no consequence.
(2) The seat in which they sit is not recognized by God. They will not be able to rise from those seats to stand in the assembly of the righteous. Those seats will soon perish.
(3) Those who mock the righteous person will be mocked by God. Psalms scholars have long noticed the many parallels that exist between the first two psalms, parallels which can be either linguistic or conceptual or both. One of the conceptual parallels is that of mocking. Psalm 1:1 refers to those who mock the righteous. Psalm 2:4, however, tells us that the Lord laughs at his enemies from his “seat” in heaven, that he scoffs at them. In other words, the Lord, too, “sits in the seat of the mocker.” But there is a difference—the Lord “mocks the mocker.”
(4) Our Lord was mocked during his life. He was called a drunkard, a glutton, and demon-possessed. And one of the horrible things which happened to our Lord during his arrest, trial, and crucifixion was the mocking and ridicule which he endured:
“I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting.” (Isaiah 50:6)
“Prophesy to us, Christ. Who hit you?” (Matthew 26:68)
“Hail, king of the Jews.” (Matthew 27:29)
“You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:40)
“He saved others, but he can’t save himself! He’s the King of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.'” (Matthew 27:42-43)
“Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.” (Matthew 27:49)
It is important to note that those who mocked that day thought they were in a position to mock. They felt that they were superior to the one they were mocking. Indeed, mocking always implies that the mocker is superior to the one being mocked. And we are all tempted to engage in it. But this temptation is fraught with danger. There is this haunting verse in Stuart Townend’s song, “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us,” which goes like this:
Behold the man upon a cross,
My sin upon His shoulders;
Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice
Call out among the scoffers.
And, so, my fourth point is that we must be very careful when making fun of and mocking professed Christians, who, whether rightly or wrongly, think they are doing that which is right and honorable. It may be the case that when we engage in such mockery, we will suddenly find ourselves transported to the scene of the crucifixion, where we, surprised and ashamed, will hear our mocking voice call out among the scoffers.
Whenever we insult someone, mock someone, make fun of someone, ridicule someone, it is, as I said, an activity fraught with danger. The seat of the mocker is a dangerous place in which to sit. There is such a thing as holy mocking—the Lord himself, as we saw earlier, employs it in Psalm 2. There is an appropriate mocking of those who are wicked. Did Owen Strachan call Evans’s words heretical from impure, wicked motives? Perhaps. But, again, 1 Corinthians 13 and Philippians 2 would seem to require at least an attempt to construe his motives as being in line with a desire to uphold righteousness. Additionally, if he is, indeed, a brother in Christ, then attempts to correct him, whether in private or in public, should be done gently (Galatians 6:1).
The mocker is always a person who thinks he is a clever person. I know this for a fact. After all, I’ve done it enough times. And the mocker is always a person who wants other people to recognize his cleverness. I know this for a fact. That’s why I have engaged in mockery in the past. Yet, I find myself condemned in the words of the great theologian, James Denney:
You cannot, at the same time, give the impression that you are clever, and that Christ is mighty to save.
I have sat in the seat of the mocker way too often. I think I will try to change seats.
May 28, 2014
As always, much to ponder in your post! It seems to me that, as egregious as the comments against Strachan are, his too hastily laid charge of heretic has him sitting in nearly the same seat. Heretic is a label that seems to be in frequent use in the evangelical blogosphere; is it any less hate-filled, knee-jerk, mocking, or self-righteous than, say, “pompous ass” or “smarmy sexist jerk?”
I’d argue that it is even more so, for heretic implies perilous theologoical error, whereas “smarmy sexist jerk” is simply a character flaw. The quick and easy use of heretic serves only to polarize, end discussion, and villainize those with whom we disagree, much like all of the other insults listed. But “heretic” is also, if not primarily, intended to call into question the authenticity or validity of the other’s faith; and that’s just not “fighting fair!” I believe both Strachan and his detractors would do well to read your second last paragraph, and perhaps spend some time meditating on the associated scripture passages.
Hi Eric. Thanks for your comments, and I appreciate your point and argumentation. I did say in the article that there is the possibility that what Strachan did was from impure motives. But part of my point was that these motives were not demonstrated. With the charge of heresy, there is at least the possibility of looking at what was said and measuring it against some authoritative bookmark, such as a statement of faith, a creed, a confession, etc. It at least has the potential of being decided evaluated objectively. But this is not the case when someone’s argument is that the one making the heresy charge is doing so from motives that are impure. This seems to require that the one making the accusation has some insight into the heart and mind of the one they are accusing of having these impure motives. While “heretic” implies “perilous theological error,” it does not necessarily imply “malicious” theological error. The charge of heresy, serious is at it might be, is not necessarily one that is insulting. At the same time, I do agree that Strachan over-reached, was probably trigger-happy, and if he did think that Evans was spouting heresy, would have done much better to argue that case in a reasoned article, rather than in a tweet.
Well-stated Jerry. Both of us were trained well at Westminster to develop and defend sound doctrine, and both of us are constitutionally wired to do that. That said, I have two comments:
(1) I agree that Strachan’s loose employment of the label “heresy” is less than helpful. (a) I think it waters down the term “heresy,” and (b) it’s not a useful way of conducting a theological argument unless we really need to identify it as heretical.
(2) Your non-flame-on tone is a refreshing change from the over-heated rhetoric; you avoid needlessly heated rhetoric and yet chide the “mocker.”
Thank you very much, Dale.
Think the best of people that we can. There seems to be little value in looking for enemies, less in making them, but opportunities abound to do both. Since assuming the role of missionary pastor here in Middle Lake the challenge to speak well of people has been a challenge I have tried to rise to. The more negative labels I assign, the more negative comments I make about people, the fewer the opportunities I will have to win others for Christ. As I told my Sunday School class two weeks ago. You shouldn’t always tell the truth because the truth doesn’t always need to be told. The Christian life should be far more about winning hearts, than winning arguments. Heresy and false doctrine is troubling, but I have developed a strong distaste for heresy hunters.
Some good insights, Ryan; especially helpful to see how this applies in your context.
After Hank Hannegraff’s conversion to the Eastern Orthodox Church, Owen Strachan did a scathing review on his podcast how theosis is heretical and unscriptural. Ironically, I am a 60 year-old man who is just wrapping up a class at MIdwest Baptist Theological Seminary in the evening, the very seminary where Dr. Strachan teaches. Ironically too, I am Eastern Orthodox and serve at altar in Minor Orders as an Acolyte currently. I’ve become friendly with some of my classmates and some of the faculty at MBTS. It’s a great school, be it evangelical Protestant. I’ve been able to respectfully interject some Eastern Orthodox views in class, and I’ve had classmates ask me about patristics, Divine Liturgy, the Great Schism, etc. I have seen a real interest in patristics among classmates who realize that the early church did not mysteriously disappear after the deaths of the apostles, but then resurfaced in Northern Europe in the sixteenth century. I know little of Owen Strachan, but I naturally disagree with him and his views on my beloved ancient and unchanging faith and church of Peter and Paul.