Whenever the appeal is made that men should comport themselves after the examples of such figures as prophets, princes, apostles, reformers, or even the Triune Unity in bodily form, the modern macho men from down at the YMCA all start feeling around for their fainting couches. How could anyone reasonably suggest that such a rabble-rousing crowd should serve as a pattern for acceptable behavior? In light of so many present stars, each of whom is approved by N.I.C.E., why would anyone expect that any of the aforementioned lesser-luminaries could further enlighten the likes of us? We’ve learned the saving graces of safe spaces after all.
Some poor, benighted soul might then attempt to mount an argument. Unfortunately for him, any argument against the established ethic that is large enough to require mounting was outlawed several years ago. “Unsportsmanlike and unfair. Arguments that large run the risk of demolishing our headquarters. Then everything that we have rolled over for would require fighting. Just contemplating such a thing makes me dizzy. I need to lie down; standing up has never been my strong suit.” Or so said the chief of M.I.C.E. (Monitors of Insensitivity in Communicative Exchanges). So he just tosses a pint-sized polemic over the fence hoping that it will land on someone’s head, but not too hard of course. “These people were explicitly said to be examples for us. One of them even had the distinction of being a flawless example.” To which a trio of blind M.I.C.E issue their three-fold rejoinder: “We are not those people,” “These are not those times,” “That is not our culture.” One wonders if such a firm grasp of the obvious has ever been matched in all of human history.
It’s all a very fast game of cups; a big switcharoo, so keep your eyes trained on the marble. It is generally admitted that the Apostle Paul often handled people with imperfect tenderness. He was sometimes sharp, snarky, sarcastic, and dogmatic. Though he said that we should imitate him, that was really pretty foolhardy on his part. We shouldn’t follow his example because he was imperfect; that is, he wasn’t Jesus. Keep your eyes on the cups!
At the same time we are told that we are to imitate the Jesus who loved the rich young ruler but we are not to imitate the Jesus who lampooned the rich old rulers. Why? Because we are not Jesus of course. A reasonable person might ask why we would assume that it is proper to follow one of these options over the other, but we seem to have exceeded our allowance of reasonable people. The conventional wisdom suggests that since we are not Jesus we lack the wisdom to insult properly. Fine. I can grant that. So how is it that we have the necessary wisdom to love properly? Are folks really suggesting that we can’t screw that up too? In point of fact, one of these two responses is quite unnatural to us. By their logic, that should be the one that is in most danger of corruption.
Now let’s watch the cups in slow motion. Considering only these two prominent NT examples, we cannot imitate Paul because he wasn’t Jesus and we can’t emulate Christ precisely because he was. Umm. Ok. Someone has lost their marbles alright.
What should we call such answers as these? Actually, This kind of That-was-then-this-is-nowism already has a proper name—Marcionism. This old foe is thinner than he used to be, and he wears better suits, but he’s still in the same seedy business. And business, as they say, is good.
These days he’s no longer an outsider. He’s the new pope of popular theology. The old Orthodoxy was chased out of town by the Benevolence Brigade waving their pitchforks and shouting, “Death to the intolerant!” His is the new orthodoxy and every cultural orthodoxy hedges itself about with blasphemy laws. An earlier generation may have policed truth; this one polices tone. These dangerous tone-deaf persons are effectively cordoned off from all of those hyper-sensitized folk who seem to hear disagreements in technicolor and afterward go stone-blind from the shock of having been challenged without their permission. These heretics who would rather burn than bend! These uncivilized disturbers of the peace! These insensitive jerks who care not for the feelings of others! These troublers of Israel!
Such is our lot. Providence has placed us here. Wisdom demands that we be faithful heretics, mocking the priests who would julienne their arms in displays of pious devotion if only they weren’t so squeamish.