Deaver’s book is a big deal. In fact, it’s so important that I’d imagine very few conservative writers will dare take it on. My prediction, cynical though this may be, is that the progressive blogs and forums will appreciate the book for so thoroughly documenting what the progressives have been saying for so long — but the conservative authors will either ignore it or mischaracterize it. I don’t expect to see a reasoned response.
I hope I’m wrong. I really do. But my experience with popular authors among the conservatives is that they simply will not respond to questions of this nature. I know. I’ve asked, and when I press for them to get beyond truisms and explain the obvious inconsistencies, I find myself ignored.
I’m hopeful, however, that Deaver’s credentials earn him a fuller response than I’ve ever seen. He was trained at the still-conservative Freed Hardeman University. His family have been stalwarts of the conservative movement for many years. So maybe this time will be different.
But you can’t help but notice that is a self-published book. That plainly means that neither the conservative nor the progressive press was willing to publish it. And it’s a very well written book by a very recognizable name, with a forward by Randy Willingham. It deserves to have been professionally published. But since it’s not, it’ll be easy for the conservatives to ignore.
Now, I express my frustration and cynicism for this reason. It’s great if my more progressive readers buy and read a copy. You should. Please do. But it would be even better if we bought a copy and sent it to a conservative thought leader and respectfully and gently asked for a response. Persistently. We should buy copies and send them to every editor or contributor to a conservative periodical — and ask for a published response, either in the periodical or on the internet. Better yet, we should send copies to conservative leaders with whom we have some connection. We need a grassroots campaign to insist on a response.
I’m sure a few honest men will read the book, admit that Deaver is right, and then quietly and secretly admit this. Big deal. For far too long we’ve had preachers and elders and Sunday school teachers who questioned the conservative doctrinal status quo quietly while pretending to agree. Many of us teach and preach and lead with mental reservations, tacitly supporting a system of thought that we know is wrong.
Well, we now have in one place a thoroughly documented, tightly reasoned explanation for why our doubts and suspicions are right. And it’s time to come out of the closet and encourage others to do the same.
And it’s really as simple as this —
* Buy the book (maybe more than one)
* Hand it to your preacher and your elders.
* Ask them whether they agree or disagree. If they disagree, ask them why. If they agree, implore them to say so from the pulpit.
Now, I urgently remind us all (me especially) of the importance of being respectful and patient and gentle.
(2 Tim 2:24-26) And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. 25 Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.
A change in paradigm takes time. Even if you’re persuaded to doubt the conservative position by this book, most men won’t be ready to announce a change of view. After all, Deaver does not offer an alternative position. He only asks that his readers admit that what has been taught is logically incoherent and impossible to actually apply in practice.
I have, of course, offered my own alternative theology for who has fallen away and who should be in fellowship. But, for now, the point to make is that the current theology is indefensible. If your leaders will just admit the need to be open to other interpretations, then there are plenty of people who teach a better theology.
But it has to start with an admission of a need for something better. And Deaver has given us a tool written in the language of the conservative Churches, addressing the issue on their own terms. It’s a great place to start a conversation.