An Open Letter to Andre Resner
By Jess Hall, Jr.
Dear Dr. Resner:
In a February 15, 1993, letter to Dr. Royce Money, president of Abilene Christian University, (a letter which was made public by Dr. Money), you expressed regret for your article, "Christmas at Matthew's House," which appeared in the November 1992 issue of Wineskins. You should be respected for admitting your mistake; your apology should be taken at face value; neither your sincerity nor the purity of your motives in making the apology should be questioned. They are certainly not questioned here. While some, including you, may be critical of questioning your apology at all, your apology raises several questions that need to be answered. Only you can answer them.
In his pamphlet, "On This Rock," Dr. Money states:
Without getting into more details, let me just say that you will be better served to get your information about ACU from ACU and not from some critical brotherhood paper. You will have to make up your mind which one to believe. You cannot believe both. On the other hand, I am grateful to those who take the time to ask. We will be honest with you and will tell you the truth, because we exist to serve the church and you are the church.
Implicit in Dr. Money's statement is a promise both to be responsive and to be clear and forthright. Accordingly, ACU, of which you are a part, has promised answers that are complete, precise, and definite. Taking that promise at face value, I have the following questions (You perhaps think that this is not the appropriate forum for these questions. Others may assert that they should have been asked in a private communication. I kindly suggest, however, that, when you published your article in public and Dr. Money delivered his lecture publicly and later published it for the public in pamphlet form which was widely distributed in the brotherhood, each of you invited public discussion and forfeited the right to insist on private discussion. Neither of you has limited your position to a private opinion.):
First, why do you consider it lamentable that your
fuller length articles on the importance of Biblical lament literature for the church (never) gained such a hearing, (and) that they, as well as other things (you) have written, have not even been factored into the equation of who (you are), what (you) believe, what is important to (you), and how (you) teach.
Assuming that all of your other writings are sound, are you then entitled to deal loosely and irreverently with the doctrine of the virgin birth? Are you then entitled to refer to Mary, the mother of Jesus, as "another sexually questionable woman," after having placed her in the same company as Tamar, who played the prostitute, and Rahab the harlot? Do you contend that you should not be criticized for teaching error because you have taught truth most of the time? Do you give 100's to your students who have answered only 90 percent of the test questions correctly? Are there not basic concepts in your classes that a student must understand correctly to get a passing grade at all?
Second, you state that "the charges that (you) deny the virgin birth of Jesus and do not believe in the inspiration of the Bible grieve (you) deeply." You assert that you do "believe in the divinity of Jesus, the virgin birth, and the inspiration of the Holy Scriptures." Many who have read "Christmas at Matthew's House" can surely be excused for having difficulty in harmonizing that statement with your article. It does not help that you say that you believe in the "divinity" and "deity" interchangeably. Surely a scholar of your stature recognizes the differences between the two and can use them without ambiguity, especially when apologizing for your prior lack of clarity. Is it enough for you to say, "You misunderstood me," when you tell us only to whom you were speaking and why you chose the method used, but you fail to state clearly what you meant to say? "Orthotalksy," as the use of orthodox language in an unbiblical way has come to be called, is an ever-present danger. It is used more and more by those who want to dress their language in wool until the sheep have been lulled to sleep. Surely those who have read "Christmas at Matthew's House" may be excused for making an honest request for a fuller explication of both what you meant by "Christmas at Matthew's House" and what you mean by the "divinity of Jesus, the virgin birth, and the inspiration of Holy Scriptures." If it is your position that no one has a right to question you, even though you have assumed the position of one who teaches the children of the church, just say so. If it is your position that, if questioned, you, as a teacher supported in part by brotherhood gifts, have no obligation to respond, just say so.
Since you recognize that you made a "mistake" in "giving no thought to anyone outside your target group" ("baby-boomers" and "baby-busters"), and since you lament the misunderstanding of this non-target group, isn't it at least appropriate to state clearly your position on these misunderstood matters so that the misunderstanding can be eliminated?
Third, you state that "as a proclaimer of the Word, in both speech and print, (you) attempt to frame (your) words in such a way that the Word of God may gain a hearing." Dr. Resner, what message was "Christmas at Matthew's House" framed to convey? Why was it necessary to use the language chosen to frame that message? Did you want your target audience to hear what you wrote or to read between the lines and hear something different?
Fourth, you describe your target audience as "baby-boomers" and "baby-busters." You add, "I have found this form of writing allows this segment of our culture to receive the message in a way that allows them to engage the Gospel afresh." There is nothing wrong with recognizing your audience and using an approach designed especially for them. In fact, it is the better part of wisdom. However, while the method may be adjusted to the audience, the message may not. Dr. Resner, is the message, the Gospel, changeable depending upon the audience? Is there one power to save for the "boomers" and the "busters" and another for the rest? And please pardon if, in this context, more questions are asked - of what do you believe the gospel consists; what do you believe is necessary for one to become a child of God; is the church of Christ a denomination; and of what or whom does the church of Christ consist? Please forgive such basic questions, but you are teaching our children.
Fifth, you assert that you "take (your) task as minister
of the Word more seriously than (you) take anything else in the
world." You should be commended for this. Since this is
so, should we not expect you to answer these questions and to
speak plainly in doing so? Should you fail to do so, can we believe
your assertion about the seriousness with which you take your
task as a minister of the Word? You may rationalize that these
questions come from a source that you can and should ignore.
No doubt you can. Hopefully you will not conclude that only you
are to be considered as honest and of good motive. Forgive me,
Dr. Resner, for what you may consider to be impertinence. But
please, please, answer the questions for the sake of the children
you teach and their parents who have sincere questions and doubts
about your position!
Messengers must make choices for the ways in which they will package the message in the various contexts in which they find themselves. I now know that the packaging of this word caused unforeseen [sic] and unnecessary grief on the part of many and Unfortunately served to obscure rather than reveal the Word.
Dr. Resner, please listen. Use any color of paper and ribbon you wish. We are long past the stage where we love the paper and the ribbon more than the gift. Just don't alter the content of the package. Would you please explain why your language does not alter both the nature of Jesus and his message? None of us will ultimately answer to any man -- - only to him who doeth all things well. In the meantime, however, we must be ready to give an answer to every man that asketh a reason for the hope that is in us with meekness and fear. Dr. Resner, we are asking. Will you answer?
Seventh, you conclude:
Before God, before you (Dr. Money) and ACU and its Board of Trustees I ask for not only your forgiveness, but yours [sic] and the Board's prayers as I seek to serve God and minister His Word.
Your words are words of regret. While they appear to express distress only over the embarrassment to ACU, that may be only because that is the audience to which you were writing. You should not be criticized for a letter written for a specific purpose and made public by another. You should not be lashed to a whipping post until you scream, "Mea culpa." You should, however, be held accountable for your language. You should address the concerns of the audience that even you admit it was a mistake to ignore. If you truly believe it was a mistake, you will want to rectify it. You are kindly urged to do so.
Last, but not least, Dr. Resner, rest assured that countless prayers have ascended on behalf of you, ACU, and its board, as well as for those who question either the wisdom or soundness of "Christmas at Matthew's House." While you may feel that your questioners have used methods and language with which you do not agree, you, of all people (taking your apology at face value), should be able to understand that words don't always come out right. If "do(ing) anything to hinder the hearing of the Word is (indeed your) greatest fear," as you write in your apology, you will not sit silently. All agree with you that "the Word of God yearns to be heard, and God desires messengers to faithfully deliver it." It is our earnest desire and prayer that we may join with you in that effort.