“I don’t blog and I don’t read blogs.” A friend of mine retorted a couple of years ago. It was a badge of superiority he wore. He still believed only those who wrote their thoughts in public were either narcissistic or hidden away in their parents basement donned in their pajamas with nothing better to do. As if being on television is not a bit narcissistic.
Three years ago that was the sentiment by leadership in our denomination. Now many “Tweet” as though there is no tomorrow and offer their thoughts on websites, or personal blogs. I guess they decided it was true, “If you can’t beat them, you might as well join them.”
We who process some of our thoughts in writing, when we do not have the occasion verbally, often wonder to ourselves if this is just a personal exercise. And, maybe it is. Often we wonder if we should shut things down. Turn the computer off. Even worse, “Is anyone reading?” we wonder in desperation.
Recently I picked up James K.A. Smith’s, The Devil Reads Derrida. In my own denomination the title would provoke a, “Why on earth would you read something like that?” Anathemas have been pronounced on anything postmodern and anything “emerging.” We somehow believe the genealogy of our own beliefs derived from some pristine place. No external influences here. Nope, we just read the Bible. Listen to the Spirit. Those who taught us presented truth from Scripture without so much as a hint of cultural embeddedness. No, the cultural “South” did not leave any imprint on our hermeneutics. Much less certain reigning philosophies from the West.
When I read the following quote I could not help but think of the countless times IÂ longed to have a conversation partner who would talk about something other than Maxwell’s greatest hits. Who would not point me to someone’s sermon series. Who would not wax eloquent on their latest programmatic coup. Who preferred not to take the word of someone else who read but worked to apprehend the issues personally.Â Smith writes,
“In particular I have been deeply disturbed by a serious vacuum of thoughtful reflection in evangelicalism, and even the constituency of my own denomination.” James K.A. Smith, “The Church, Christian Scholars, and Little Miss Sunshine,” in The Devil Reads Derrida, p.xii.
Smith argues in his “Introduction” for diaconal scholarship in service to the Church. In a guild (philosophy) where the term “popularizer” is the death knell, he urges scholars to break out of their elitist confines. He goes on to suggest his peers should be prepared to learn from others outside their guild,
Even if I think they’ve bought into all sorts of questionable assumptions and causes; even if I think they’ve ben so co-opted by cynical political machines; even though I might think they’ve assimilated the worst sorts of cultural prejudices; even if I think God wants to invite them to “higher” cultural passions – there is a sense in which I think they’re trying to make their way in the world the best they can. And if they’ve bought the paradigms sold to them by voices on Christian radio that I think are problematic, then the burden is on me to show them otherwise. My responsibility is not to condescendingly look down upon them from my cushy ivory tower, but to take time to get out of the tower and speak to them, and, please note, learn from them. Christian scholars would do well to be slow to speak and quick to listen. (p.xvi)
Smith’s challenge has implications for pastors/ministers. More in Pastoral Writing as “Public” – Part 2.
4 comments on “Pastoral Writing as “Public” – Part 1”
Todd, I confess to feeling a little conflicted about what you’ve written here. On the one hand I think it is important and even necessary to have more voices who do what Smith argues for – well-thought voices who can speak to everyman and in particular every evangelical churchman. On the other hand I lament the fact that the overwhelming bias in our own Southern Baptist churches, where we have historically had a shortage of deep thinkers, is to dispense with deep thinking altogether as something irrelevant and a waste of time. But the end result has been a denomination full of shallow Christians, by and large. “Just preach Jesus” and “your sermons sound too much like theology lessons” are criticisms that I’m not personally unfamiliar with. But “just preaching Jesus” and theologically shallow sermons have produced a generation of people who know more about church from what some pastor somewhere in the past did than from what the Scriptures have to say and who think the ultimate spiritual authority is their own personal preference.
I have read your comment a couple of times. Generally we read each others’ minds since, after all, we are the “wonder twins.” If by conflict you mean the need to be good thinkers about life and faith and the opposing expectation that most today would not want to join you in thinking that far when considering the implications of the way of God in Jesus then we share the conflict.
One of the other things at work here is the stinging criticism Smith offers those in his own guild who he believes should do philosophy in service to the Church – diaconal. I will take this essay in the direction of the pastor. In an upcoming part of the series I hope to point out what is meant by public and, tipping my hand here, demonstrate one reason we do not write “public” works. And, in some way miss the prophetic nature of communication. And that is not prophetic in the Tim LaHaye sense.
Let me clarify that I don’t think “just preaching Jesus” is a bad thing. I simply think there are a lot of people who don’t understand what it means to “just preach Jesus.” They’ve reduced it to the lowest common denominator and aren’t much interested in considering the real depths of what it means to preach Jesus.
I once heard someone say when we employ the word “just” truncates our expectation. Evangelical prayers went through, and still we hear from time to time, a period of God “just” in our prayers. Further, since no one really agrees on what the “just” contains – even in the recent emphasis on “gospel-centered” – communication is all the more precarious. If our lives were just more simple, we could preach a much simpler message. But, alas ours are not nor are those we share life and faith with day in day out.