My Top 12 Reformedish Posts of 2013

2013It’s been a year and half since I started this blog, but 2013 was my first full calendar year of writing. Because “Top 10” pieces are kind of a staple, and I saw all the other hip bloggers doing it, I figured I’d offer up my own summary post highlighting my biggest 2013 pieces on Reformedish as well as the posts I think did best on other sites. This will give some of you newbies a chance to catch up, and saves me the trouble of having to actually write some new thoughts.

Reformedish Posts – One thing I will note is that these are not necessarily my favorite posts, nor the posts I worked the hardest on. They are, for whatever reason, the ones that got shared, viewed, argued over, and so forth.

  1. 12 Tips on Keeping It Clean In Your Dating Relationship – This one went kinda viral, hitting 63,000. Kinda funny, hopefully helpful tips on keeping the sexy stuff in check.
  2. 7 Tips on How to Meet Reformed Men – Joke blog that’s pretty self-explanatory.
  3. 5 Things My Mom Taught Me About Theology – My mom is probably the biggest non-professional theological influence in my life. Parents, you have a bigger impact than you know.
  4. That Time C.S. Lewis God ‘Total Depravity Wrong’ Like Everybody Else – C.S. Lewis was awesome, but even he, like so many others, misunderstood Reformed doctrine.
  5. Christian Guy, Stop Trying to Date Yourself – Dudes, just…stop.
  6. The Cure that Killed the Patient, (Or, Sorry Zahnd, Marcionism Isn’t a Better Option) – In which I put on my argumentative Reformed hat and ‘dialogue’ with Brian Zahnd on pitting the Old Testament against Jesus.

Other Sites – Here I am kind of guessing. I don’t have the actual numbers, but these seem to have been shared and discussed the most out of the posts that I’ve written for other websites.

  1. ‘Who Are You Sleeping With?’ My Conversation with Timothy Keller (CaPC) This one got me in sooo much trouble. I mean, with topics like sex, doubt, and Tim Keller, it was kind of expected. Still, for giggles go ahead and read all the comments. Things got crazy.
  2. I Am Not Abraham’s Mistake (CaPC and TGC) This was my first big piece. Some reflections on being Arab in the American Evangelical church. Plus some theology.
  3. How Much Theology Should Couples Agree On Before They Get Married? (TGC) Surprisingly important question.
  4. False Freedom and the Slavery of Autonomy (TGC) Here I reflect on the reality that Millenials have trouble making choices, the meaning of freedom, and our need for community.
  5. The Church Failed Millenials, Just Not In the Way You Think It Did (CaPC) The Church failed us, it’s true–it unfortunately never taught us to love the Church.
  6. Faith in Humanity Just Took Another Hit: A Horrifying Holocaust Revelation (CaPC, TGC) A few thoughts on some horrifying bits of Holocaust history, the doctrine of original sin, and the Gospel.

By God’s grace it’s been a fruitful year. I can only pray that my toils in 2014 yield a greater harvest for the Lord’s church.

Soli Deo Gloria

How to Avoid Celebrity Derangement Syndrome: Dealing Fairly with Evans, Driscoll, and Piper (CaPC)

kid yellingBack in G.W. Bush presidency, someone coined the term “BDS” or “Bush Derangement Syndrome”, in order to refer to that unhinged segment of the punditry who couldn’t mention his name without the words “Nazi” or “anti-Christ.” (Now, for Obama it’s ”Muslim/Socialist” and “anti-Christ.”) I’d like to submit three new terms: PDS, RHEDS, and DDS. John Piper, Rachel Held Evans, and Mark Driscoll Derangement Syndrome. Those three number among a set of high-profile names you can attach to any story and immediately pique the interest of the bizarre, tribalistic, and over-active Evangelical segment of the social media universe. They’re also among the select group of people that we’re beginning to lose our ability to speak to, read, or read about, sanely.

Enraged Illiteracy
I’m not talking about the regular, normal, justified criticism any one of these high-profile teachers and authors deserve. But if you pay much attention to evangelical culture, you know what I’m talking about. So and so tweets out a tweet, and it’s extrapolated into an entire political philosophy, or psychology of parenting, or what-have-you. We have heard so much of their teaching (actual or reported), made our judgments, and now we read every sentence waiting to pounce, publicize, and mobilize the troops in shock and outrage.

Click on Christ and Pop Culture to read the rest of the article.

On Making Key Distinctions in Polemics (Or, Richard Dawkins Isn’t the Only Atheist Out There)

Why? Because Tigers, that's why. Also, no good images for 'polemics.'

Why? Because Tigers, that’s why. Also, no good images for ‘polemics.’

I’ve written about intellectual honesty in polemics before over at Mere Orthodoxy where I argued that as Christians we ought to be principled in our engagement with positions with which we disagree:

We should strive to deal honorably, speak honestly, and actively avoid unfair caricatures and cheap shots in our polemical engagements. Whenever arguing against a position we ought to represent our interlocutors accurately, fairly, and charitably. In other words, don’t purposely take the dumbest interpretation of any statement they make and argue against that. That’s just dishonest.

Later, in a post on the issue of self-criticism within the Reformed tradition, I noted the sad fact that sometimes you will find pastors and theologians who actually fit the caricatures that are often criticized. When that happens, the distorted, unfaithful, sub-biblical versions of doctrines and teachings need to be corrected directly and forthrightly:

For instance, not every Calvinistic or Reformed pastor reads Kevin Vanhoozer, or preaches like Tim Keller, or articulates doctrine with the care and sensitivity of a Michael Horton. My own experience of the Reformed world has taken place in the context of a gently conservative Presbyterian church with caring, faithful, and sensitive pastors, but much as I hate to admit it, the reality is that some Reformed bodies are real-life, walking caricatures of the tradition I hold dear. Just as Wesleyan or Baptistic theologies can go off the rails in serious ways, so can churches and theologies with putatively Reformed roots. When that is the only expression of Reformed faith someone encounters, distaste for the whole stream is quite understandable. Sometimes the caricatures have human faces.

That said, I wanted to briefly return to the issue of polemics and caricatures formalize a couple of suggestions on how to criticize in a careful, intellectually-honest fashion. In essences, it’s a matter of establishing what you’re trying to do:

Inherently Bad Doctrines – There will be those instances when you undertake the task of criticizing a doctrine which you find inherently bad and utterly irredeemable in all its forms. In that case, your job is not to simply find the easiest, dumbest version of the doctrine to criticize, but the best, most nuanced, and persuasive version that doctrine that you can. When I read Thomas Weinandy’s defense of impassibility in Does God Suffer? I was impressed by his early chapter laying out the arguments against impassibility. By the end of it, I was wondering how he was going to dig himself out because he’d presented the case of his opponents better than most of them had (he did, though.) In the same way, strive to present the arguments of your opponents in terms they would be prepared to recognize and own, before you proceed to criticize it.

Distorted Versions – In the second case, there will be times when you’re not attempting to take down a doctrine wholesale, but particular versions, possibly popular and prevalent understandings, that you find inadequate. In those cases, as I noted above, add some caveats such as “in some versions”, “in this rendering”, “in it’s popular form”, “while not all proponents would frame it this way”, and then criticize away. If I launch off on “pacifists” in general, or “dispensationalists”, or “atheists”, (not that these are at all in the same category) when in fact it is only some, or the worst forms, that are guilty of whatever mistake I’m talking about, I’ve been deeply uncharitable towards those who are not. In other words, Richard Dawkins is not the only atheist out there. While it’s fine and important to criticize him, especially given the weight so many pop atheist fanboys give him, it’s unfair to all the very thoughtful, intellectually serious ones out there. 

This may all seem a bit nit-picky, but honesty and charity in our criticisms is a practical way we can work towards unity in the body, as well as put into practice Jesus’ commands to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Soli Deo Gloria

“You Didn’t Talk About….” (Or, It’s Just a Blog Post)

Sometimes people want an encyclopedia instead of a post.

Sometimes people want an encyclopedia instead of a post.

Theologians and ethicists will point out that sins can be grouped into a couple of types: sins of commission and sins of omission. In the first, the sin is active–I did something wrong that I shouldn’t have (ie. punched somebody in the face). In the second, I failed to do something that I should have (ie. I failed to speak up on behalf of a slandered friend.) Of course, usually you can frame any action in a passive or active form and mess with the whole idea, but, we’ll leave that to the side for a moment.

Why go into this? Well, because sins of omission are of the most common types that bloggers and online authors are accused of committing:

“You didn’t address…”

“What you left out…”

“Why didn’t you say…?”

“Your problem is that you don’t talk about…”

It’s easy to find these or a half-dozen other variants in the comment section of any semi-controversial or persuasive article; I know I’ve had more than a few along those lines and left some myself. Often-times they’re quite on point. Authors will forget, leave out, ignore, or deny key issues in the discussion, which makes the discussion weaker and skews the whole argument. When it happens it ought to be addressed and dealt with.

That said, it bears considering, especially in online forums, that there are structural limitations to the format. Unless your name is Alastair Roberts and you write posts that ought to constitute chapters in very large reference books, a blog post, with a word limit and a limited of scope and focus, simply can’t address every issue that may be tangentially connected to it. Nor should it have to.

For instance, a buddy of mine wrote a post the other day criticizing a very popular line of thought in Evangelical dating wisdom about what constitutes male ‘intentionality.’ He wrote it to specifically address one article on the subject and provide a corrective. Now while a great deal of healthy discussion ensued, a number of people proceeded to criticize him for failing to address a whole host of points connected to the issue. One even said it was a failure because he didn’t first articulate a comprehensive theology of dating from which to address the point.

Really? Really? So your complaint is that this was a post instead of a book? Cool.

And this is where I get to the point of this mini-rant on blogging hermeneutics: you can’t say everything in every post all the time. It’s simply impossible.  When you’re reading stuff online, don’t assume that just because an author doesn’t mention a point, they don’t believe it.

So, in the interest of better, future blog I’d like to quixotically suggest a few questions that readers can ask themselves as they read and comment:

  • “What is the author’s argument? What are they trying to accomplish?” In this way, when you see that someone is dealing with an issue related to the cross, it’s not necessarily the case that they’re ignoring the resurrection–it’s simply that this isn’t the point of the discussion.
  • “Does the neglect of this topic, or verse, or fact, necessarily mean the person doesn’t believe it?” Again, maybe they just didn’t have time to address it given their stated purpose and word-limit.
  • “Is this really a bad article, or did I just want a different one altogether?” Consider whether your problem is that the author left something out, or whether you just thought they should have written a different article. Often-times the article is fine for what it’s trying to do, but you really think an entirely different article should have been written. If so, it’s fine to say that.

We could probably think of other questions and angles on the issue, but these are probably a good start.

Soli Deo Gloria

Two Reformedish Writers to Keep An Eye On

Like most other bloggers, I read some bloggers on a regular basis, and, of course, being Reformedish, have a predilection for reading other Reformedish bloggers. Many of them are the well-known guys like Kevin DeYoung or Justin Taylor at The Gospel Coalition, or Matthew Lee Anderson and the crew at Mere Orthodoxy. Their names are familiar and merits well-attested. I wanted to take a moment to point out a couple of other writers that, while they’re better known than I am (for good reason), you may not have heard of: Andrew Wilson and Alastair Roberts.

I ran across their work both in the last couple of months and they’ve quickly become must-read writers for me. I’ll be straight to the point and say I think they should be for you as well.

andrew wilsonAndrew Wilson: Wilson is a preacher, author, and Ph.D. student out in the UK. He’s written a fabulous little apologetic book entitled “If God, Then What?” that someone has described as Tim Keller content with Donald Miller style. I’d happily hand this out to any of my skeptical or questioning friends and students. While I’d love for you to go pick up the book, you can read his stuff for free over at thinktheology.co.uk. It’s a writing collective with other, very good, authors, but I make sure to read his posts every time they come up. Wilson’s got a marvelous way of making very complicated issues seem quite simple, all the while engaging in very difficult discussions. Coming from a ‘Reformedish’ perspective, he’s comfortable discussing biblical studies, theology, or cultural observation.  He’s also got a knack for irenic polemics, winsomely engaging those whom he criticizes with integrity and grace. I’d encourage you to check out these sample pieces:

Why I Don’t Hate the Word ‘Inerrancy

‘Hunger Games and Dystopia

Also, bonus treat, you can watch Andrew Wilson disussing the issue of homosexuality with Rob Bell HERE.

robertsAlastair Roberts: Also out of the UK, Roberts is a Ph.D. student at Durham and is easily one of the most prolific writers I know of. In fact, prolific isn’t quite the word for him. It’s too short. In any case, Roberts is absolutely brilliant. He writes some of the most complete and penetrating pieces of cultural and theological analysis on the web today. While his posts can be quite lengthy, you also know they’ll be exhaustive, considering issues from every angle, asking questions that often go over-looked, and getting to the theological heart of the issue. Like Wilson, he’s comfortable with biblical studies, theology, and cultural criticism. Again, whenever he posts, I make it a point of setting aside time to work through his arguments. While you might find his work at The Calvinist International and elsewhere, you can find him at his own site Alastair’s Adversaria.

I’d encourage you to check out these sample posts:

Rob Bell and Don Draper

Online Discourse, Leadership, Progressive Evangelicalism, and the Value of Critics

Questions and Answers on Homosexuality

Well, that’s about it.

Soli Deo Gloria

My Blog Is Holier Than I Am

arrivalI don’t think I’m an intensely autobiographical writer on this blog. I write with a personal element, of course, but I don’t engage in a lot of existential, self-reflection on here, where I arrive at some personal insight leading to enlightenment that I can share with others. I’ve realized that because of this, I might come off in digital print as a better person than I actually am.

I started thinking about this because I’ve been listening to Paul David Tripp’s book Dangerous Calling, on pastoral ministry, lately and it’s been good. Well, more like “hurts so good” kind of good. At one point, Tripp goes into the problem of pastors feeling like they’ve spiritually-arrived because of various factors like theological knowledge, ministry experience, technical efficiency, or the praise of others. It’s very easy for a pastor who is experiencing some ministry success or getting the praise and thanks of parishioners who only see their public ministry persona, to start believing their own press. People don’t always see the petty thoughts, the fires of pride just stoked by their well-meaning comments (which you shouldn’t necessarily stop, because plenty of pastors do need it), the dozens of shady words uttered away from hearing ears. In any case, it’s pretty easy for a pastor to be blind to their spiritual condition.

Of course, when I started to think about it, this easily applies to bloggers too. It takes little effort to convince yourself that because you can write well, communicate gospel truths effectively, and happen to have gotten a few breaks as a writer, that you’ve arrived. As the positive comments, shares, or tweets start up, you can quickly start thinking “Yeah, that really was a good post. Man, I really did help people. I do deserve this attention. How nice is it that people are noticing the great work I’m doing?” You might not even think this consciously, but that sense of pride and accomplishment creeps in and starts to rob your sense of gratitude toward the God of grace who called you and gave you whatever gifts and accomplishments you have.

I know that I’ve had to catch myself recently in this. I’ve caught a couple of breaks here and there (big for me, but still, it’s not like I’m a big deal), little bits of God’s grace towards me, and it’s amazing how quickly that can start turning into the sense of having arrived. Write a few posts paraphrasing Calvin and other smart people, get some nice feedback, and you start to feel like you earned it–like those insights are signs of deep wisdom and spiritual maturity. I can fool myself into thinking that because I know what to say about growing in sanctification, or engaging graceful polemics, I’m actually good at those things.

The funny thing is that this kind of pride is so wily, it can even apply to those bloggers who make a regular habit of ‘vulnerability’ and honesty about their weaknesses and foibles. Kinda reminds my of this mewithoutyou song, “WOLF AM I! (AND SHADOW)” where Aaron Weiss sings:

Oh, there I go showing off again.
Self-impressed by how well I can put myself down…
and there I go again, to the next further removed
level of that same exact feigned humility, and this
for me goes on and on to the point of nausea.

Even ‘humble’ self-confession can become a substitute for actual brokenness and repentance over sin.  Being ‘confessional’ in a setting like this can easily become an opportunity of self-aggrandizement and a way of reinforcing your false sense of spiritual maturity. I won’t even try to say that there isn’t a level at which that’s at work in this post itself. I wouldn’t put that past me.

That said, I figured it was worth the risk of sharing this little reflection in digital-print as a caution to a few people:

  1. Readers – If you’ve got particular writers you look up to for their spiritual depth, insight, and knowledge, don’t forget they’re just as sinful and in need of grace as anybody else. Even if they’re particularly gifted in talking about holiness and grace.
  2. Other Bloggers – Don’t be suckered into believing your own press. You might have tons of great readers, have writing successes, gotten pretty good at your craft, and actually are blessing people through your work. Don’t for a minute forget that you’re only used because God is gracious, not because you are entitled to it, or have somehow ‘nailed’ it. Constantly bring your work before Jesus and ask him to keep you honest and humble, even in the face of your writing successes.
  3. Me – I mean, I’m the one writing this, but it’s just too easy and too important to forget. As spiritual as my blog might read at times, it’s probably holier than I am.

Well, that’s it for now.

Soli Deo Gloria

One Year of Writing: A Few Reflections

yearAbout a year ago, I returned home from summer retreat with my students to find out that my wife had started a blog. “Hmm” thought I. Coming after a few months of mulling over whether to start one myself, I took it as the sign I was looking for. And so my little Reformedish blog started. Roughly 220 posts later, I’ve realized I don’t quite think I knew what I was getting myself into. I could not have predicted the joy, the stress, surprises, and blessings that have come with setting my hand back to the plough. When my little WordPress anniversary notification popped up, I figured it’s as good a time as any to review and reflect on some things I’m grateful for and lessons I’ve begun to learn through the writing experience.

Writing Can Be Addictive – Early on I had difficulty thinking of things to write. I would sit, ponder, mull over the various ideas I’d had bouncing around in my head during all of the silent years leading up to the blog, but it was still a struggle to crank out a post. Over time, though, the more I wrote, the more I realized I wanted to write about everything. Nowadays I find myself writing maybe a third of the ideas that come into my head, or commenting on a fraction of the passages I find worth interacting with. I’ll tell myself I’ll take it easy one week, only to find myself writing a couple of extra surprise articles I didn’t think I had in me. I don’t know that this is always a positive thing, but still, it’s something I’m learning.

Editors Are Great –  One of the great blessings of the last year has been coming on staff over at Christ and Pop Culture. They introduced me to the world of writing with an editor. A good editor will save you from yourself at your worst moments as a writer and encourage your best. I’ve been sharpened by their input, corrections, and averted a couple of train-wrecks. Actually, it’s not just editors, but a writing community in general helps if you can get it. That’s one of the reasons I’ve loved writing with the crew over at CaPC–it’s really a collaborative effort. Also, the two or three guest pieces I’ve had over at Mere Orthodoxy have been some of the most helpful I’ve had as a writer. Matthew Lee Anderson is a brutal, savage man who will rip apart your work in the best way possible.

Projects Are Good – I started my Calvin Comments project a couple of months ago and it’s been a beneficial discipline for me. Setting a long-term writing project helps you develop your attention-span as a writer, strengthening your ability to focus in a a subject or thinker in order to penetrate deeper than the easy, initial observations.

Popularity Is Unpredictable – There are occasionally times when I’ve had a sense that a piece would do well and I’ve been right. For the most part, I’ve been totally surprised by the reactions/non-reactions I’ve seen to various pieces. The ones I work hardest on, love dearest, and pour the most of myself into, might get a yawn, while the quickie-post is my biggest day of the week. Go figure.

Write Clearly and Expect to Be Misread – I’ve had a few experiences online that have taught me you need to write clearly on the internet. You should write clearly in general, but people’s reading habits online can be kind of sloppy. We skim, read bold sections, italics, and the title and cobble together a general idea of the argument. Because of that, it’s best to set out your arguments, if you’re making an argument, as cleanly and unmistakably as possible. You also should expect some people to still not understand what you’re saying. It’s just a thing. I’m realizing that if you can’t take that, you’ll never survive.

This Too Shall Pass – In a few days, everything will be forgotten. This applies both to the praise and the controversy. By the grace of God, I’ve had a few pieces do surprisingly well. That’s cool for a day or two. Don’t get too elated, though. It’ll be forgotten quickly, as the internet rolls on. On the other hand, I’ve managed to get plunged into a couple of full-blown, this-is-a-real-thing, interwebs brouhahas. These were fairly unpleasant. One in particular landed me at the center of some uncomfortable attention, misunderstandings, and a whole lot of stress. But, as I found out, this too passed and was forgotten in short order. It’s very important to mind every word you write, for you will give an account one day to the Lord, but still, if you don’t make it a habit of being dip, it’ll be okay. Hopefully.

Idolatry Is Still Stupid – Getting your sense of identity and self from writing is, like every other form of idolatry, very stupid. It’s also very easy to fall into. Time and time again I’ve had to remind myself that good page-views or bad page-views do not determine my worth or standing as a child of God. If I live for the affirmation of good comments and shares, it inevitably won’t be enough, or the negative criticisms I receive will be devastating. No, before I’m a writer, I must reckon myself a child of God. Any other approach is spiritual folly.

God is Unpredictably Kind (Again) – I’ve always known God is unreasonably kind, but in the last year, he has surprised me with a number blessings I don’t deserve through the writing process. In the last few months he gave me the opportunity to: go to a couple of conferences I never would have gone to; meet some very kind people I never would have met otherwise; have the privilege of writing for websites I never would have imagined ever being noticed by; and rediscover a passion I’d let lie dormant for a number of years. I don’t know what the next year of writing holds, but I am so grateful for the year he’s given me so far. Here’s hoping the next one’s just as fun.

Finally, not that I’ve accomplished some big thing, but to all those who’ve played a part in this, whether reading, praying, commenting, or just generally supporting me: Thank you. For what it’s worth, It’s been big for me, so thanks for being a part of it.

Of course, as always, any and all glory ultimately is God’s alone.

Soli Deo Gloria