Godly manipulation is getting things done in the Christian community by following the standards explicitly given in Scripture to do so. A leader leads. He does not intimidate, threaten, ridicule, insult, or engage in any of these tactics to advance the cause of Christianity and improve the spiritual condition of the community.
Jim Jones and every cultists that comes down the pike employs the same type of strategy. They elevate themselves. They have an inflated sense of their own importance. Their ego is so large that you could use it to cross the Grand Canyon. They are not open for true dialogue even though in our culture, many of them claim that they are. That is just another manipulative tool that rings quite hollow when someone wants to test it. Just ask Rob Bell.
The problem is that religious manipulation is not limited to men with high profiles like Noble, Furtick and Bell. I was once part of a church that decided they wanted to engage in a building project. Well, I should say the pastor decided he wanted to expand the ministry. The very first thing leadership decided to do was use Israel in the wilderness as a lesson plan to help people get the right perspective. This was lost on me at first. Then I heard the very first lesson about the “grumbling” Israelites and I realized that the fine art of manipulation was at work. Anyone who dared question the necessity of the building program was a “grumbling” and “complaining” Israelite. This tactic had one purpose: to shut down any potential opposing views to the building campaign. While I acknowledge there are negative people who seem to have a negative disposition about everything, this is not the way you handle these kinds of situations and it isn’t the way you lead. Pastors often view people with opposing views as problems rather than as God-fearing, sincere, intelligent people that have legitimate questions and differing perspectives.
In the context of the challenges and responses to Pilate by the chief priests and the crowd, Mark 15 presents two challenges to Jesus. The first comes from Pilate when he asks Jesus if he is king of the Jews. Jesus' response "You say so" (15:2) may seem clever or appropriate to the modern reader, but in the terms of Mediterranean challenge-response system, this response does not establish or maintain Jesus' honor in the eyes of Pilate. The same is true of his silence in response to the accusations of the chief priests and the people. This silence leaves Pilate in wonderment. Although the nature of Pilate's wonder is not clear, it is certain that neither Jesus' words nor his silence was "honorable." At the end of the interaction, Pilate initiates actions that reveal the extent to which, within this cultural system, Jesus has been dishonored: crucifixion is among the most dishonorable deaths imaginable. The second challenge to Jesus' honor comes while he hangs on the cross, as people who pass by, chief priests and scribes, issue the mocking challenge that he should come down from the cross (15:30, 32). Again, Jesus is silent in the face of these remarks, a silence which itself communicates how deeply dishonored he is within the Mediterranean system. The failure to respond to such a challenge dishonors him. For the reader who accepts the narrational perspective that Jesus is the Messiah, the challenges are of course ironic. The irony is that, while Jesus is thoroughly dishonored within the challenge-response paradigm of Mediterranean culture, his silent acceptance of his humiliating death demonstrates his obedience to the will of God. For the narrator and the reader who accepts the narrational point of view, the very silence that apparently dishonors Jesus is the source of his greatest honor.
To get to the point, this internet apologist actually engages in the art of insult rhetoric and he uses Social Science Criticism as a means to justify his behavior. He contends that it is perfectly acceptable to call one’s opponents all sorts of names. He calls people stupid, idiots, and morons. I saw in one place where he used the term “Jerry’s kids” in a very disconcerting pejorative sense with a person who was a non-Christian. You don’t have to wonder how that person felt about Christians after receiving that insult. If you are wondering how else this man gets around those who objective to this type of behavior, it is very simple: he argues that all those passages about being kind and respectful and gentle and not using unwholesome words don’t apply to debates. This isn’t just public debates. It also applies to emails. I sent this man a personal email letting him know how I felt about his methods. He responded with stinging insults and then threatened to hi-jack my name on the internet so that anyone searching for me would be directed to a page he would set up first. I also requested that he no use the content of the private email in his forum. He rudely, and forthrightly proceeded to ignore my wishes. I saw someone do this to D.A. Carson once. You don’t have to be a scholar to figure out that such behavior is entirely incongruent with the Christian worldview regardless of how sophisticated one can make an argument appear. There is another interesting question that came to mind as I wrote this blog. It regards the collectivist/individualist cultures in the world and where Christianity flourishes as opposed to where it does not. I think another good question would concern religious freedom and other freedoms in those societies. After all, collectivist cultures tend to communistic in economic philosophy. The better questions concern the philosophical underpinnings of cultures if it is our intention to praise one cultural practice over another and ask if Jesus adopted it hook-line and sinker and therefore, so should we.
To be clear, I am not actually accusing Perry Noble and Steve Furtick of intentional manipulation. What I am pointing out is that the tactics they employ are manipulative in nature. I do not know what goes on in the hearts of these men. Manipulation goes to motives of the heart. An act may fall into the category of being manipulative in nature even though that was not the intent. Nevertheless, the tactics employed by both of these men are not in keeping with the spirit of accountability and open dialogue within their immediate Christian community, not to mention the broader Christian community as a whole. Both of these men should be confronted with the fact that their tactics give the stark appearance of manipulation with the purpose of intimidating those with whom they disagree.
Finally, I am in no way detracting from the important work that goes into Social Science or Social Rhetorical criticism. The grammatico-historical hermeneutic would include such work. There is a remarkable difference between recognizing how a cultural practice may be useful in interpreting the authors of Scripture, and leaping from that to actually positing that we adopt it in our own culture. Understanding challenge/riposte is helpful in the interpretive process. However, we must avoid the temptation to take it too far. Perhaps one reason for cultural change is due to the impact Christianity had on that particular culture. Christianity does not blindly endorse cultural practices, and neither did its founder, our Lord Jesus Christ. Did Christ engage in challenge/riposte? It would seem that He did. Did he have the same heart motivations for doing so as his ungodly sinful enemies? What do you think?