Discerners of the Discerning: Hypocrisy Cloaked in Piety
Last week Dave Miller, of SBC Voices, published an article entitled Peas in a Pod: The Self-Appointed Prophet/Discernment Enforcer Playbook which attempted to summarize the folly of charismaniacs and discerners in one fell swoop. Sadly, the piece was rife with hypocrisy, mischaracterizations, and broad-brush shaming all in the name of “God’s love”. In fact, I hate to have to write this rejoinder as I’ve grown weary of the inter-Christian tit-for-tat pettiness now running rampant. However, I’ve grown just as weary of brothers in the faith scoffing at even the slightest whiff of biblical discernment.
Before I address the issues, I want to first say that the article wasn’t all bad. Mr. Miller made some cogent points regarding both the extreme charismatic and extreme discernment positions. Further, he is spot on when he writes, “It is utter folly to abandon doctrinal discernment.” It was also refreshing to read, “Please hear me – this is not about every charismatic or every person who attempts to exercise doctrinal discernment.”
Unfortunately, that’s exactly who the audience appeared to be in the remainder of the article. Mr. Miller introduced “discernment enforcers” with this definition, “…discernment ministries that are on PEDs [Performance Enhancing Drugs] that leave them obsessive, arrogant, and often full of rage.” I realize the use of “PED’s” here was for illustrative purposes only (no, I don’t think he’s saying some discernment ministries use illegal drugs), but that definition of his newly coined term is open-ended at best allowing it to serve as a bludgeon against those with whom Mr. Miller disagrees.
Would it not be a safe assumption that you are considered a “discernment enforcer” by Mr. Miller if he has spoken against you publicly and/or “blocked” you on social media? Much to my surprise, I found out today while researching for this article that I am one of those blocked.
Is it safe for me to then assume that I am considered a “discernment enforcer” by Dave Miller? On what does he base this decision considering I’ve never conversed with the man in person or on social media. Surely he did not exercise guilt by association now that I have become a contributor at Pulpit & Pen.
He is absolutely correct in that the extreme positions on both ends of the discernment spectrum are ridiculous. Extreme discerners would do well to temper their use of the word “heretic” while folks like Mr. Miller would do well to not make the assumption that if a person points out a blatantly faulty teaching they consider that person a heretic. There is a tendency in the “watchers of the watchdogs” camp to immediately jump to the conclusion that every single website exercising biblical discernment is heresy hunting. That is simply untrue and a false representation of fellow brothers in Christ. This is the sin of the “discerners of the discerners”.
With those thoughts in mind, let’s take a look at the article itself. He begins by listing what he calls The Self-Appointed Prophet/Discernment Enforcer (SAP/DE) Playbook. Here are its “plays” according to Mr. Miller:
1. Establish yourself or your views as the Voice of God.
Mr. Miller trips exiting the gate when he writes, “Both sides insist on the inherent humility of their view, but too often fail in execution.” He goes on to write, “The discernment enforcer (DE) believes that God HAS spoken and revealed himself through the Bible AS HE UNDERSTANDS IT. Both have a “sure word” – one from his inner voice, one from his peculiar understanding of the Word.“
I’m sorry, did he not discern it to be the case that whom he has labeled as Discernment Enforcers fail in execution of humility? Is Mr. Miller not being a Discernment Enforcer when writing that those whom he has applied that label have a “peculiar understanding of the Word?”
It seems the point is that it’s okay for Dave Miller to discern certain folks to be in error for any number of reasons, even to go so far as to assign an unflattering label to them. He goes on to write, “Humility is sometimes lost in all of this. ‘I am the arbiter and enforcer of truth. Kneel before Zod!‘”
Interestingly, this entire article is declaring himself and those of his ilk as the only arbiters of this non-biblical “truth” they’ve concocted. As Pastor JD Hall has said time and time again, “This line of thinking is illustrative of everything wrong in the SBC and those who hold to this mindset are without question a bigger problem than Russell Moore, Ed Stetzer, and Peter Lumpkins combined.”
2. Paint dissenters in dark and foreboding colors.
This would be hilarious if it weren’t such a blindly hypocritical statement. Isn’t that exactly what Mr. Miller has done in this piece; painted those with whom he disagrees (read: dissenters) in dark and foreboding colors?
“We do it in politics. We don’t just disagree with Democrats – we say that they hate freedom and want to destroy America. Democrats don’t just disagree with Republicans – they paint us as dangerous extremists who seek to hurt the poor and unfortunate. The SAP/DE playbook requires that you paint the opposition in the worst possible light. For both of these sides, cordial disagreement among brethren is not an option. Those who do not assent must be anathematized.“
Did Mr. Miller not read his article? What he has described here is exactly what he did. “In Christ, we ought to be looking for the best in one another, not fault-finding and magnifying those faults.” You mean like writing an article that paints brethren in an unflattering light by assigning a mocking label and deriding them? This isn’t the first time Mr. Miller has engaged in this type of tactic that he is now decrying. More on that later.
3. Require and enforce conformity.
“The DE [Discernment Enforcer] has no doubts on his interpretation and those who disagree must be called to repent, put under discipline, anathematized, ‘called out,’ excommunicated and shunned. Unity is a work of the Spirit produced in those who have experienced the common work of Christ’s grace. It is not a work of humanly-enforced conformity.“
To be fair, Mr. Miller’s ambiguity in this point in regards to what “disagree” encompasses naturally begets I give him the benefit of the doubt. Therefore, I’ll refrain from pointing out the obvious difference between disagreement regarding biblical truth and tertiary matters and not accuse him of blatantly broad-brushing anyone who dares to stand up for what the text plainly says.
4. Only fellowship within your circle.
“Stay within your small circle of friends. Never venture outside your comfort zone to fellowship with those who have different views, different experiences, different opinions.”
And he’s determined this to be the case with those in your Discernment Enforcers group how exactly? This is quite an assumptive accusation. What happened to his commentary in point #3 about looking for the best in brethren?
“This is actually a problem not limited to those on the extremes. Dr. Hendricks told us in seminary that if we only read books written by those whose positions we share, we will simply be reinforcing our prejudices and never challenging our thinking. That is way too common!”
I could not agree more. Remind me again how he knows this to not be the case for those targeted by his article?
5. Use ridicule and derogation as a tool of God.
“The other side is the enemy. They must be squashed. In addition to caricaturing their views, it is good to hold them up to ridicule and to use social media to belittle them. Rather than engaging in serious discussions, it is better to talk about that person scorn, derision and mockery in your social media circles.“
You mean like this?…
— Or maybe this? —
Is this not the very definition of ridicule and social media belittling?
Mr. Miller then goes on to list the “plays” in his suggested New Playbook. He writes, “But I think there is a new playbook we need to learn from that is superior to the one that many have used.” What makes it superior? Because he said so? Why is Mr. Miller’s “playbook” the correct playbook? He must have forgotten his points #1 and #3 in his original article. I’m certain he would claim he’s not forcing this “playbook” on anyone but claiming it superior naturally condemns anything else.
Here are his new “plays”:
1. Love is ALWAYS part of God’s playbook.
“Speak the truth in love. Follow 1 Corinthians 13. Do everything for the edification of the Body of Christ.“
You mean like this?…
— Or this? —
Remind me again how any of this aligns with God’s love?
2. Practice Doctrinal Prioritization (ie. Triage).
“All doctrine is important, but it is not all equally important. Calling someone a heretic or anathematizing them should only be done as a last resort. We ought to seek unity around the gospel as best we can and divide only when necessary.“
I agree completely. However, that does not mean we shouldn’t still point out the false teachings.
3. Broaden your circle of fellowship.
This statement in and of itself can be okay but it can also be the root of unbiblical ecumenism. It’s one thing to worship with fellow believers, but it’s another thing entirely to be unequally yoked with someone preaching and peddling a false gospel like this and this Southern Baptist leader. Both men that Mr. Miller has defended vehemently.
4. Remember Paul’s Clear Word.
Mr. Miller concludes by writing, “This is essentially point 1 all over again, but it is where I want to stop. No matter how many hits we get, how famous we are, what anyone says or thinks about us, if we do not operate from a heart of love, we are nothing, do accomplish nothing and we gain nothing.“
I could not agree more, but why the presupposition that discernment sites are only looking for hits, fame, and accolades? There likely are a few out there for that sole purpose. However, the same could be said about SBC Voices and their penchant for snuggling up to and defending SBC leaders in all they do.
In regards to being loving, one need look no further than the social media posts above to plainly see Mr. Miller has exhibited behavior that is anything but loving to his discerning brethren. Further, is it loving to publicly call his discerning brethren “social media terrorists“? That diatribe, interestingly, came a bit more than a year after Mr. Miller condemning any and all public addressing of those in doctrinal error here and here.
His final line reads, “That’s what God says.” According to his interpretation, of course. Surely Mr. Miller is not violating the very first “play” he outlined in the SAP/DE playbook and establishing his “view as the voice of God.”
After all the virtual ink spilled by Mr. Miller regarding not sowing seeds of discord and treating one another like brothers, this most recent article does nothing of the sort. If he wants to critique those of whose discernment methods he disagrees, go for it, but he should at least be honest and admit that is what he is doing. Otherwise it appears as though his disdain for discerners comes only because their sites are often, and rightfully so, aimed at the SBC intelligentsia that he so admires and struggles to defend.
Feigning piety while participating in the very behavior he publicly condemns in his brethren is hypocritical, deceptive, unhelpful, and is the exact opposite of the divine love he espouses. I love Mr. Miller as a brother, I feel like he works hard to proclaim Christ and he loves the SBC. However, backhanded critiques like the one I’ve addressed do the very thing he so detests; publicly squabble with brothers without having ever reached out to them privately.
Guys like this try, every chance they get, to paint anyone exercising an ounce of discernment they disagree with as divisive, sowing seeds of discord, and “loving the fight.” I agree with Art Azurdia, we should not fight simply because we love to fight. However, just because we may disagree with you on something is not automatically indicative of “loving the fight”. It means we disagree on a topic we feel is of importance.
He was spot on about one thing, “If we do not operate from a heart of love, we are nothing, do accomplish nothing and we gain nothing.”
I pray Mr. Miller takes his own words to heart and puts them into action.
[Contributed by Landon Chapman]