Optional page text here. The Beast's Lair: The Knee-Jerk Effect

Friday, December 28, 2007

The Knee-Jerk Effect

Southern Baptists are guilty of the knee-jerk effect. I single out Southern Baptists only because I am one, but the same is also true for many of our conservative friends sitting in churches of other denominations. I use the phrase "knee-jerk effect" to mean the overexaggerated and often harmful response of conservative evangelical Christians to biblical issues and interpretations to which they disagree. The concern of the knee-jerk effect is that we become so determined to not hold to a particular interpretation or be associated with a specific group who does that we alienate ourselves from the possibility of understanding solid truth which could be extracted from the issue or interpretation in question. The easiest way to define is to cite examples.

One of the most classic examples of the knee-jerk effect is the varied interpretations of Matthew 16:18. The text reads, "And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it." This text is, of course, crucial to the Roman Catholic Church. Primarily on the basis of this verse and historic tradition concerning the life and death of Peter, the Roman Catholic Church understands Peter to be the first bishop of Rome and thereby lays the foundation for the papacy and the Catholic understanding of apostolic succession. The knee-jerk effect comes into play when conservative protestant Christians ignore all potential interpretations of this verse because of a innate fear of seeming to be "too Catholic." Because of this fear, most Southern Baptists sitting in the pews of our good churches would argue that when Christ says that the church will be built on this "rock," the "rock" he refers to is the confession that Peter had just made concerning Jesus being the Christ. I am not suggesting that such an interpretation is wrong. But surely a more natural reading is that Jesus is, in fact, referring to Peter, one that is confirmed by the rest of Scripture. This is the knee-jerk effect in full form. It is possible to hold to this interpretation (as I do) without necessarily holding that this reflects the foundation of the papacy or apostolic succession as the Catholic Church holds. But we are reticent to do so.

Staying with the Catholic Church for a moment, the person Mary also lies in the realm of the knee-jerk effect. Bring up Mary in a SBC Sunday School class and count the seconds until we hear how she has been misinterpreted all these years and is not what the Catholic Church has made her out to be. Fair enough if one holds that view. But goodness, we don't talk enough about Mary. The one who is "highly favored" among women, the one who God, over the course of time and space, specifically choose to carry His Son. The only person who was there at the beginning and end of Jesus' life. The knee-jerk effect is so concerned about the veneration of Mary from other places that we tend to forget her altogether. It should not be. Mary is unquestionably one of the great heroes of the bible, and yet her name never shows up on the list.

What about the Holy Spirit and importance of Pentecost? It would be such a great topic to fully explore and engage, but unfortunately our pentecostal and charismatic friends have elicited from most of us the knee-jerk effect. To speak of Pentecost, the most important event in the NT save for the resurrection of Christ, is treading on dangerous ground because the discussion of tongues, baptism in the HS, faith healing, and all the other gifts of the HS are close by, and we don't want to be associated with those things. So, it is best left "unsolved" for now. (I just quoted a movie there and maybe 2 people will get it). We really should be thankful for the pentecostal movement for bringing the HS back to a prominent role in our thinking. Where the pentecostal and charismatic movements have failed in focusing mostly on the gifts, the "functional" aspects of the HS, other evangelical Christians have failed even greater in that we don't fully consider any aspect of the Spirit because of the knee-jerk effect. What about the empowerment for witness, for service, for salvation, and for holiness? Wow.

Finally, let me conclude by saying that experiencing the knee-jerk effect is not a complete loss. It means that we have deep rooted convictions about some things. The call for us as conservative Christians is to remain solid on our understanding of Scripture without turning a blind eye to important issues only because of historic interpretations or a fear of being identified with other groups who hold even more varied positions. In your own life, become aware of which issues prompt the knee-jerk effect. We all have them. Some are more legitimate than others. All should be examined.


Blogger Pastor Scott Stiegemeyer said...

My dear Baptist friend,
This is an EXCELLENT post! As a Lutheran pastor in the conservative branch of world Lutheranism (Missouri Synod), I resonate to your arguments 100%.

In our circles, your first two examples describe us perfectly as well. The example of Pentecost is a bit different for us because we follow a traditional liturgical calendar so we are "forced" to talk about the Holy Spirit at the very least on the high festival of Pentecost.

But about Peter the Rock and Mary, this could have been written by a Lutheran without any change. We have some very similar approaches - which delights me very much.

I, tongue-in-cheek, like to say that we Lutherans suffer from Romophobia.

December 28, 2007 2:54 PM  
Blogger The Beast said...

Pastor Scott,

Many thanks for your comment. This post was important to me and I was hopeful it would be met by some who connected with its message. It is good to hear from you and I hope you had a blessed Christmas!

December 28, 2007 3:01 PM  
Blogger Tom Wilkinson said...

Ineed this is an excellent post, as have been your last three. Have a happy new year!

December 29, 2007 8:20 PM  
Blogger Doorman-Priest said...

Thank you for this post: I found it most helpful and it is very appropriate for me in my setting with my inward-looking little congregation.

January 01, 2008 1:45 PM  

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