Yesterday’s essay voicing one of my concerns about the teachings and ministry of Joni Eareckson Tada certainly generated lively conversations on both The Outspoken TULIP Facebook page and my personal Facebook page. Several comments supported my efforts to be a faithful Berean. A few challenged me for nit-picking and misunderstanding the purpose of Joni’s ministry. A dear friend, whom I respect immensely, challenged me in ways that caused me to think very seriously about what I’d written, while a reader I’d never heard of angrily scolded me for making judgments about Joni that I have no right to make.
In responding to both ladies, I want to maintain a teachable spirit. As another commenter said, none of us has a complete grasp of truth. Like everyone else on the planet, I have my blind spots and I desperately need faithful friends who will be honest enough to correct me when I’m wrong.
Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge,
but he who hates reproof is stupid. ~~Proverbs 12:1 (ESV)
So I lay awake for a couple hours early this morning, praying and considering the various points that these women made. I also discussed it with John, who has shared most of my discomfort over certain aspects of Joni’s speaking ministry. I decided, at about 3 a.m., to write a clarification of my thoughts, or at least a glimpse into my struggles over how to express my concerns.
I’ve wrestled with a few red flags I’ve noticed in Joni’s speaking ministry for six or seven years, so I didn’t exactly come up with yesterday’s blog post on a whim. I’m deliberately not going to name my other concerns at this time precisely because I don’t know for sure whether or not I’m legitimately discerning problems. Regardless of the comments by the lady on The Outspoken TULIP Facebook page, I honestly have wanted to avoid nit-picking. For that reason, I held myself back, many times, from writing about my concerns.
In writing yesterday’s piece, I do wish I had worked harder at making a distinction between Joni as a person and the problems I see in her ministry. I do not doubt her love for the Lord, nor do I consider her a false teacher. I know she’s suffering terribly, and I applaud her willingness to use her sufferings to minister to other hurting people the way the apostle Paul did in 2 Corinthians 1:3-7. I have every reason to trust that she operates from right motives.
One comment encouraged me to show grace in disagreement. Yes. Joni Eareckson Tada is my sister in Christ, and ministers as she believes God wants her to minister.
The thing is, showing grace doesn’t mean never questioning someone’s teachings and practices. The dear friend who challenged me on Facebook about yesterday’s article showed me grace by voicing her concerns over what I’d written. This friend has loved me enough to call out my behavior numerous times over the past 20 years, and I appreciate her for doing so.
By the same token, admiring Joni Eareckson Tada for her commitment to minister to hurting people doesn’t mean overlooking flaws in her approach. Yet most people I’ve tried to talk to about my concerns display curious reluctance to even consider my perspective. This reluctance scares me.
Yes, it’s right to believe the best of our brothers and sisters in Christ, as I did for decades in relation to Joni. But when we see things that don’t quite line up with Scripture, such as walking hand-in-hand with Jesus in heaven as He tells us how He’s used our afflictions, we should evaluate the Biblical merits of those things. Until recently, teachings of that nature (especially from Joni, who I regarded as a role model) did, in fact, reinforce my narcissistic tendencies. I also envisioned heaven as being about Jesus focusing His attention on me, just as He would on Joni.
The Bible, in contrast, never once mentions anything like that. Therefore, Joni’s teaching should be questioned. And if we can’t question what she teaches, perhaps there’s an even more serious issue.
I don’t believe Joni wants anyone to set her up as a Sacred Cow. But a resistance to any honest examination of her teaching does exactly that. I don’t want to nit-pick her teaching ministry for the sake of tearing her down, but neither do I want to ignore concerns that I believe should be addressed. Joni should be highly esteemed, but she must never be worshiped.