Monday, October 21, 2013

Some Pastoral Thoughts on Snarky Evangelical Blogs

Hey, so if I wanted to be funny I'd start this off with some snarky remarks about evangelical subculture, offered in that typical offhanded snarky remark kind of way (oh, wait, that was it wasn't it). But if was going to do that I might be considered a tad hypocritical about what I'm about to say, of course I wouldn't be guilty of violating hypocritical subterfuge, because I can always nuance it away so I feel better about myself (oh, I suppose that would be some more snarkiness wouldn't it, although I am going to be all nuanced, so I guess you can just laugh with me or at me).

Anyways, the main point of this to hopefully give some pastoral critique and response to an ongoing phenomenon found in our common young evangelical subculture. Specifically, I want to address our tendency to use a rather snarky tone when we engage especially with certain topics, more specifically our tendency to use creative subgenres where we talk about something else, when we are really talking about a particular topic. Don't get me wrong I don't dislike creative engagement of important issues. I think it's necessary. But I want us to be aware of what we are doing and think more about it. I don't hate snarkiness in and of itself, I afterall am a member of the same socio-cultural environment with the same proclivities and pre-understandings that deeply appreciates irony more broadly and snarkiness in particular.

By now you probably are wondering what riled me up and what I could possibly see wrong in our beloved cultural badge of snarkiness. Well, truth be told, I'm not really riled up, but I was motivated to contemplate this upon reading two evangelical blog posts, whose main points I agree with, namely today with "Why we should Legalize Murder for Hire" found here and last week with "The Subtle Art of Destroying Humans" found here Upon reading them I had two thoughts: 1) Is a depersonalized blog post the best medium for this kind of dialog, that is a snarky toned engagement of a serious issue? and 2) Who exactly do the authors think they are writing to, that is who is their intended and actual audience?

1) Is a depersonalized blog post the best medium for this snarky engagement? My question here has nothing to do with content. I think the posts are rather insightful and basically right in the main thrust of their proposal. in fact my initial reaction is enjoy their snarkiness and clever way of providing insight into a critical problem, namely that we in America and other places around the world are committing mass genocide against a particular demographic that provides only some members of our larger community with a temporary inconvenience and discomfort, but who also have the potential to enrich the lives of those same members as well as those around them even past the time when the originally impacted member dies. That is, abortion. It is the Holocaust of times. So clearly by that comparison, I don't disagree with the comparison. And in fact I have used similar arguments to those found in both articles when actually discussing the issue with real people. That said, what has been different however in my pastoral responses to the issue of abortion is that those analogies are often given in the tone and context of a caring relationship. My question is aimed at whether a blog post which is clearly public and devoid of personal relationships to people who would have had abortions or are considering abortions or who don't want to judge the two aforementioned categories is really the best way to change those people's view about abortion, or is it possible that the snarky attitude would just be interpreted as callousness and judgmentalness. It is true as the Old Testament prophets show, that a snarky response is sometimes needed, but aren't you glad that every sin, no matter how egregious, is not exposed via some snarky anecdote. It would seem to me that snarkiness is an important tool, but I'm not sure it should be used like a shotgun, but more like a surgical knife. This of course leads me to the second question.

2) Who do we think we are talking to when we engage a topic with the kinds of creative methods that lean into snarkiness as found in the two blog posts from the two elite Reformed evangelical organizations, Gospel Coalition and Desiring God (don't get me wrong they are two of my favorite ministries and I have had classes with D.A.Carson, in which I found him to be a wise and likable person with a good sense of humor even)? Well, I think that we would like to think that we are engaging with the public about an important issue that needs the Church's prophetic voice. And to be sure some non-believer somewhere will probably at some point read that article. But let's be honest here, my fellow young evangelicals, when was the last time your non-Christian friend or co-worker ever said to you, "So I was reading John Piper's blog the other day..." or even "So I found this weird Christiany site, called the Gospel Army Coalition or something like that..." ...[insert crickets here]... Yeah, me to. So, then, since we are clearly not usually talking mainly to unbelievers who are we talking to? Well, it would seem, we are probably talking to mainly believers (just like while I hope someone who doesn't know Jesus reads my blog at some point and understands the Gospel and is brought into part of God's family or even reads some posts and understands Christians a bit better or finds some post to readjust some of his/her thinking on some matter, I don't think that many will when compared to how many of my beloved brothers and sisters in Christ will read my blog). So, if we are talking to believers, that is fine. We do need creatively packaged insights into the abomination that is abortion and other important issues. The church does need reminding on what we believe and why. But my question comes because sometimes I think that we think we are preaching to the public when really we are only preaching to the choir. The choir needs a good sermon too, but we should at least know who we are preaching to. Sometimes, I feel like we evangelicals read some snarky post about some issue and sit back in our chairs with a smug grin, patting ourselves on the back for how cleverly we are commenting on some important and sometimes even on some unimportant issue. We cheerfully console ourselves for how cleverly relevant we're being on some topic, how prophetically we are speaking to our culture. But of course, the problem is, we're not do that at all. We're preaching to ourselves. We may think we are congratulating ourselves on a done well done of contextualized communication to the larger public, but really we've failed that aim, although we have achieved another. We've have indeed effective contextualized, but the problem is that we haven't really contextualized well to the larger culture, but to our narrow evangelical culture. We cheer basically for how well we've told ourselves what we already believe. I'm not saying that no new perspectives or insights were not communicated through the articles, but if our intention was really to interact with the larger culture in a prophetic way through these kinds of articles, I think we've largely failed. But perhaps Christians will be edified through the articles, and perhaps I'm wrong and they were mostly written to believers without any considerations of reaching out to the larger culture, and I hope so. Sometimes, and trust me as an avid debater I have probably been guilty of this more than most, but sometimes perhaps our intentions or our effects are not quite so charitable, perhaps what these post are is more about telling ourselves how smart we are and how dumb our adversaries are. And make no mistake, I do think Christianity has the intellectual highground, but there is a big difference between recognizing that God has graciously given us a coherent system of understanding and seeing the truth in the world, and effectively writing odes of praise to our own intellectual or moral superiority. While in some sense that charge can always be levied against someone claiming to have a message from God as we do in fact have, I mention it here just as heart-check for all of us as we write and speak and think about the goings on in the world.

However, I make these above comments mainly because I don't want us to fail to actually engage the world on the important issues. I want us young evangelicals to get beyond our narrowly constrained subculture and actually reach the world with the Gospel and to prophetically and creatively bring God's message to bear on their lives as well as our own. I want us to use our snarky commentaries in the wisest ways. I am sure there will be good times to be snarky with unbelievers, but my guess is that most of them will either come in the context of personal relationships and still be delivered with compassion (and often blogs neuter any compassion that snark may have otherwise contained). Moreover, I'm wanting us to realize that often our snark may contain an underlying arrogance that we need to repudiate. There are times to be snarky towards fellow Christians and even at times towards non-Christians, but we should both check our heart when it's filled with snark and be careful that our snark is actually valuable. I still want to see us get really creative in how we discuss and engage with issues among ourselves and with unbelievers. I just want us to be wise in our creativity (if you could create a supervirus that could kill the world, should you?). I'm not upset by pushing boundaries (especially given my cultural location among us snarky young evangelicals), but I am against not truly and compassionately and personally engaging with important issues in our culture. Long post short, I hope that we can both use snark wisely, and think about who we are really reaching so that we can reach both non-believers and the church with the prophetic message the Holy Spirit mediates to us through His Word in Jesus Name for the Glory of God our Father.

Oh, and if somehow, you are someone that doesn't trust in Jesus Christ alone for eternal life with Jesus, thanks for putting up with us Christians. I know, we're stupid and petty and often hypocritical. I know we sound arrogant, and that's because we often are. I really am sorry about that. I hope after reading this you know that it is really because of how much I love you as well as how much I love Jesus that this blog post exists. I want us Christians to be as loving and as understanding as possible as we talk with you and hear your story and understand where you are really coming from. Forgive us if our snarkiness has offended you, but I do ask that you look past that and see the message beyond the snark and beyond our failures, ultimately that Jesus is God and you will face Him as His friend or His foe, and that at least as it concerns abortion, that a human life really is on the line, and Christians love people, and that is why we hate abortion so much, and that is also why we tell you about Jesus, because it is another case where a life is on the line. And just like our stomach turns at the thought of one more person killed without mercy in the womb, our hearts break at the thought of one person not knowing Jesus for really, and one day facing Him, not as Savior, but as Judge. I know that sounds harsh and narrow-minded, and it probably doesn't make much sense to someone on the outside of our community, but I want you to know that you have a friend in me if you want a safe place to vent those concerns or confusions and if you really want to understand what we understand. I hope you'll forgive any failure in this imperfect person in an imperfect short message in an imperfect impersonal medium to communicate the love and concern I have for you, and reach out to me via comment or email if you want to either know more about Jesus, Christians, or even if you want to just have a friend who cares regardless of whether you convert or not. I love you (in a non-creepy way). Ok, that probably sounds creepy anyways, sorry, "I have genuine positive emotion and concern for you." Sorry that sounds cold, but I think you know what I mean. I'm praying for you.

With Deep Love in Christ,
Pastor Anthony

No comments:

Post a Comment