Friday, March 24, 2006

This is Getting Obnoxious . . .

I feel like I'm having my 3rd "going out of business" sale this week - but dramatic exits aside, I did want to follow up my exit with a brief explanation. You'll notice that I didn't offer one initially - I should have kn0wn better. My church experiences over the last few years has been a poignant reminder that a vacuum of explanation will always be filled by spurious data - controversy is always more fun than reality.

I'm not throwing in the turban because I'm as sensitive as some might believe me to be - I have ample chest hair, and a stunning capacity for dead-lifting heavy objects. All that to say I would hate for you to imagine me slumped over my keyboard, crying like Gidget on a date gone wrong at my poor reception in the blogosphere. I've been warmly welcomed and respectfully recieved by most.

I would also hate for anyone to imagine that I'm selling the silverware over various rhetorical scuffles on PyroManiacs. I do have to admit, however, that it's not long before my presence in the meta renews old frustrations - but I'm never under the illusion that I'm not asking for it. I know what I'm going to hear before I go over there, and yet I persist, to their puzzlement and sometimes mine. Am I just looking for attention, or do I really think that they'll reverse some of the strongest and dearest convictions they hold in life? Although I can't say that I ever enjoy the often curt, sometimes dissmissive and usually immediate evaluations of my comments (as though they were simply my "answers" waiting to be checked by their "answer key"), my real reasons for showing up aren't spoken often enough - I really do love most of what I read there. I happen to find insatiable delight in the exaltation of God's sovereign majesty. As often as I am frustrated by various disagreements, I am pleasantly surprised by posts which don't fit the caricature of the Reformed Baptist obsession with doctrine for doctrine's sake (such as James' recent post on the Messiah and Justice - actually pretty much everything James says, some of Frank Turk's stuff on missions and Phil's interaction with Michael Spencer in the comments to this post). Some trusted friends have told me to stay away - but I can't. I agree with so much (let God be my judge!) that I long for genuine interaction on the points with which I don't agree. I'm sure that there are a few patrons of the Pyros who would sneer at that, but I've recieved the strangest (and kindest!) emails from those who foolishly fuel the hope of that possibility (which is hindered every bit as much by me as it is Phil Johnson)!

But, that brings me to the real reason for my limey fork-flinging to come to an end - I answered someone who asked if it was the way I was being treated by Phil and Tim Bayly that "broke the camels back" (I feel like throwing in a "as it were" somewhere around here, just for Tim). I answered "yes and no". Hopefully the above can help to fill in the "no" a little. But, now for the "yes": I started blogging because I like to read - not Sweet Valley High, not The Grapes of Wrath, not The Prayer of Jabez, and God help me, not even the better devotional literature - I like to read books which are directly related to the personal discovery of Bible study: books on method - theological, hermeneutical, ethical, historical and grammatical. It's my only real hobby. That's not something to brag about, either - I've heard Solomon's warning (Ec. 12:12) and I believe in its wisdom. I'll not bore anyone trying to convince them that it's my love for the treasure I have in Scripture that fuels my desire in this way; and I'll certainly not waste any time trying not to sound pedantic or self-important (too late). Let's just say that "academic respectability" isn't really something I'm all that worried about in a small church where most of my constituents could care less about "variegated nomism". I'm painfully aware that 1) it's not like I've read bags of academic books 2) that sort of interest is one very small part of the Christian life 3) I've not necessarily understood a single thing I've read - but that's where the blog was supposed to come in. I wanted a forum to log my thoughts and recieve feedback with a view toward processing what happens to strike me in the reading. And all of that, of course, was with a view toward growing in my ability to understand and apply Scripture.

Yet, after about a year on the blogosphere I've discovered something (partially through PyroManiacs, but elsewhere as well): being in process is something you're not really allowed to do in public when it comes to theology - at least not in the theo-blogging community. My church family allows me the room to grow in my leadership skills, my preaching, my marriage, my parenting and any number of sanctification issues. Growth in these areas take both time and experience. You can't simulate it by repeating someone else's preaching style, mimicking someone else's relationships, carbon-copying someone else's parenting techniques, etc. But when it comes to theological stimulation on the internet, it seems as though the growth is expected to take place all at once. Very few bloggers allow people to "work through" theological convictions without enormous suspicion. When you are handed a particular set of convictions and told that it is the truth, you may, if you're lucky, be told how such a person arrived at it. But once you attempt to get there yourself, by the power of your own conviction (asking questions and challenging what sounds funny) it's assumed that you are aiding (if not identifying yourself with) the enemies of the truth. It's as though someone were snapping their fingers saying, "Have a perfect marriage - NOW!!!" and then accusing you of rebellion for not complying immediately.

Please hear me right there - I'm not talking about trying to re-invent the foundational truths expressed in the earliest creeds and consensus, or the plainest saving truths about the Gospel - but in trying to evaluate the theological proposals of other Christians according to Scripture, and in trying to reexamine my own theology according to the Scriptures, I'm realizing that what people want to see isn't that you're INTERESTED in the answer, or that you're wrestling with Scripture in COMING to the answer, it's that you HAVE IT ALREADY. The general lack of willingness to let you get there, or patiently walk with you in the process makes this whole exercise seem like more of a loss than a win for me, and it felt like time to cut my losses.

The fear of relativism (which may in fact be one of the most deplorable evils of our time) seems to result in impatient frustration with Christians who question them about their interpretations or theological convictions. More than that, the moment a person stops to ask (in faith!) "have I missed something that the Scriptures teach about justification or the Gospel?" its bemoaned that the postmodernists have won. The question itself is viewed as a fickle willingness to forsake the Gospel instead of a faithful desire to hear God and not ourselves in Scripture. And that strikes at the core of what it means for me to believe in the Bible's authority - namely that in my study it always maintains the right to say I'm wrong.

The fact is that I know what I believe - but I want the Scriptures to have the authority to scrutinize my beliefs in practice, not just in theory (as do many of those with whom I disagree). Sadly, I genuinely don't know how to demonstrate that on the blogosphere without alienating those whose theology happens to be the most like mine. It just seems like more grief than it's worth. Anyway, hopefully that helps to explain the departure. Thanks again for your well-wishing.


It wasn't very well thought out, it certainly wasn't carefully edited - but it's REALLY the last one.


Really.

21 comments:

Kurt N. said...

Dude, when your 'resignation letter' is this profound, how can you think of quitting?

Those thoughts about being "in process" are golden.

Garrett said...

Keep pressing through. Answers are coming.

From a fellow traveler over in the high sacraments lane.

Michael Spencer said...

We need you. Don't quit. You are allowed to be in process. We are all in process. The denial that we are in process is boneheaded.

Blog on.

Jason said...

For what it's worth, please don't stop. Some of the blogosphere may dislike the process and expect answers, but I'm sure there are others who enjoy it. Perhaps those who enjoy the process of theological discovery tend to lurk more than interact.

If you are certain about leaving it behind, know that you will be missed.

God's peace to you always, brother.

The Hungarian Luddite said...

Brother,

You need to keep writing. Let them say what they will, call you "sensitive" or attempt to deconstruct everything you write.......keep writing.

The Protestant, Reformed Popes of our day have it all figured out........or at least they write as if they do. Fortunately, I have had enough private chats with such folks to learn that they are not really as cocksure as their writing may betray.

I remember standing on a Washington, DC street corner years ago with a Preacher who said (as we were talking about the security of the believer) "God couldn't send me to hell even if he wanted to!" I wanted to move a little just in case there was a lightening strike. This man had "done" all the right things, prayed the "right" prayer and I am certain believed all the right propositions. He was sssaaavvveeeddd and even God couldn't take it away! Of course, this same guy told me that I shouldn't waste my time witnessing to blacks because they didn't have a soul! Such is the arrogance of the thinking that "I am right, everyone else is wrong because I am right!"

I like reading the writing of people of are on a journey and who are willing to share their life with me. I see in such writing, grace. God's grace. That is why I like reading your blog.

I suspect I can understand "why" you want to leave off writing. I do hope that in time you will be refreshed and renewed and will continue to write again. We need such voices in blogosphere.

Yours for the journey
Bruce Gerencser

Brad said...

It's a shame to see the school yard bullies shout down a good man. It's a shame to see them get their way. That's exactly what they want after all; they demand agreement, or silence.

Whatever you decide about staying, know that watching you struggle with your "process" has been a God-send for me. I am going through somewhat similar processes, and it's encouraging to see someone else, who's obviously part of the Kingdom, humbly struggle with, search for, and find the truth.

I've been a (very silent) lurker on Pyro, Soylent and iMonk for a long time. This is roughly my third comment in a year or so.

Sled Dog said...

Blue,

If nothing else, you've been a colorful part of the blogosphere. I've always appreciated your positive attitude. Yeah, half the words you use require me to pull out my dictionary. And, yes, I sometimes watched you engage Phil, and found myself thinking, "Noooooo, Raja...don't write that!" You remind me of one of my dearest friends in ministry. His exuberance takes him to wonderful places and sometimes gets him in trouble.

As I read your final (really) post, I related to much of what you wrote. I know exactly where you're coming from. My theological groundings are quite conservative and orthodox, but as I've spent time poking around the internet, I've been amazed at how, for some reason, I not fully in the club. I dare to interact with the Imonk. I believe that a man's practice of the truth is just as important in his proclamation of the truth.

I was blown away once, while bringing up a truly legitimate point, when the response was that if I had been at the Council of Nicea I would have sided with Arianism. Well, what can you say
to that!

I tend to think that my 15 years in youth ministry has given me a bit more patience for the process. I'm not so fearful of those who are working through the issues. My job was to proclaim the Gospel and teach the Scriptures. I'm the sower. God's the Harvester.

Steve Sensenig said...

Man, I hear you! I, too, am fond of asking questions, and it's not something at all related to postmodernism. I just have this quirky idea from somewhere that all of us should be searching the Scriptures for ourselves, and becoming more and more sure of what we believe because we see it in the Word, not because it's the "party line".

I've actually ended up changing some long-held convictions (nothing really super-major. An example would be eschatology) because I dared to ask questions of the text, and not just take what someone else said about it.

I have read your comments with interest on both Pyro sites, and I hate to see you go. Please reconsider. You are definitely not alone in this journey!!

steve :)

bobby grow said...

Sharad, come back! I understand the never ending battle--but obviously, reflected by this comment thread, there are a few of us who enjoy thinking more critically and engagingly. It's a lonley road--but necessary for the larger body of Christ.

cdwitmer said...

Good decision! If I had half as much sense as you, I would stop reading blogs. Seeing as your wife loves you more than she loves me, I suspect (having a wife who loves me more than she loves you) that any time you would have spent blogging will be more profitably invested in smooching with your better half. Why think about theology, why talk about theology, when you can can DO it?

HZ said...

I think you made an excellent point that we tend to be impatient with the constant refining of our understanding of truth, as if it were a symptom of postmodernism. I think this is one of the hardest points of Christian practice: not to go too far in a reaction against error, into an opposing error. It seems like we are always having to check the pendulum activity.

Thanks for the final post: I respect the people at PYRO as well, and it's good to hear your thoughts on that.

Some of the things you have said will stick with me as some of the most excellent expressions of ideas I have come to love. Thank you.

BugBlaster said...

Raja, I've never commented here, but have read you periodically and been edified.

If you ever return I'll read you again.

Ariel Gazelle said...

Good ! Blog's can be an excellent way to lose focus on God, life, and many other things... and dont forget the amount of energy put into it, that only gets paid back in more frustration. I've drastically cut down on blog-writing and especially blog-reading.

One suggestion - keep a secret blog, where you are the only participant. You will find that you still can work through your thoughts and reach new depths of understanding.

In Christ,
Raj

Ben Myers said...

"... being in process is something you're not really allowed to do in public when it comes to theology -- at least not in the theo-blogging community."

This hasn't been my experience at all -- maybe you just got caught up in a dark corner of the theological blogosphere...?

In any case, you've offered a welcome caution to the rest of us to stay away from this dark corner, and to keep speaking to those who know themselves to be "in process" and in a genuine conversation (not a monologue). This is the only path for authentic theology -- after all, the triune God is himself an eternal conversation!

Tim Adeney said...

I hope you find a way where you can still write for others.

Thanks

Tim

PS There doesn't seem to be a link to your church site from your blog anymore.

PSS I'm sure you have already checked out Ben's "Faith & Theology" blog, where amongst the many qaulities the site has is the tone of discussion, even (or should I say especially) when people are disagreeing with each other, and the posts are shorter too!! (long posts seem like a quick way to encourage flippant responses, you just can't read and interact with everything people say properly)

TheBlueRaja said...

Ben,

As I've said, I've been warmly recieved by most, and you're of course right about how this kind of thing is limited to a certain portion of the blogosphere - it just sort of happens to be the case within those churchly theo-blogs within my own theological tradition. I probably should have made it more clear that nothing I've said really applies to any of the blogs on my blogroll.

I've enjoyed Faith and Theology and I'm sure I'll continue to drop in from time to time!

slaveofone said...

Hang up the forks and someone might get hurt!

ScottyB said...

(sorry for the long post but I wanted to encourage you that you are hearing from the Lord)

Bro I have listened to you preach(chkd out a sermon or two at NB). I've read your high school blog and how you are 'putting the cookies down on the bottom shelf so the kids can get them'--so to speak. I can see your love for your church, your family(you look like you have such a cool little fam), and your brothers in Christ on the blogosphere(thanks for being a humble bro and admitted when you were wrong).

You added a much needed voice.

However, the bottom line is often theological pugilism is a often a waste of time and often carnal.

We can dash off a great post or a comment that is theologically precise, correct, and convincing and still be in the flesh and dishonor our Lord with our motivations.

There are people in ID who need your time and attention more than the well meaning Orthodoxy Police.

I hope that all would examine themselves as a result of your decision--
Are we neglecting our next door neighbor? the homeless person on the street? or the youth in our church who needs a mentor? or our own wife or unsaved mother? even the possibility of taking the gospel where it has never gone before?-- to argue with people who generally are not open to the possiblity that you might have something of value to say that complements their perspective.

"Whoever ignores instruction despises himself,
but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence." Prov 15:32

Let us all strive to not only be bloggers of the Word but doers.(has anyone listened to Mockingbird by Derek Webb -he played at The Master's College recently-I dont agree with every word of his songs but I agree with his point-- believing the right gospel should impact our neighbor-this is where our Reformed Baptist circles needs to grow)
http://www.derekwebb.net/multimedia/bootlegs/

Robert Duncan said...

Hi,
Pity ur dropping out, but u can always drop back in too. I dont know who u are, but I lived in Nampa, Idaho for many years attending NNU before moving to Spain. Anway, you are welcome to join in talks at the forum at Spero News, I don´t think anybody is really kicked out there, unless the on purpose drive people bonkers. And if you want to write thots, without running a blog, u can send them to us and we´ll post them for u at Spero News http://www.speronews.com where Bene Diction and lots of others also write.

Hang in there.

Robert Duncan

nelmezzo said...

Don't do it. (Don't quit).

So turn off comments on your blog and stop commenting on other blogs. This stays away from controversy and those who like a static "all the answers are already in" posture.

Then you can devote your blog to thinking out loud and the process of "getting there". I for one would be happy to read what you have to say.

This way of doing things works extremely well for Peter Leithart.

Ted Gossard said...

Checking you out again. Too bad. Your voice was a good one in a difficult field.

And I know you had a good readership. I sometimes think postings are too long. But when I hang in there with a few, I'm often rewarded.

I'm much more relaxed on my simple blog. As I realize I'm in process. And for cryin' out loud, I don't have to "perfectly" edit it, or say it, "just the right way" everytime, or anytime, for that matter.

I'm sure many will be happy when you (may, and I say surely will) return.

Blessings.