Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Am I too critical, too negative in tone?

I usually don't like opening myself up like this here at the blog---I used to do this quite frequently, and it never turned out all that constructive, usually---but since an interlocutor of mine just emailed me with this very concern; I thought I would try to get more feedback than just from him.

So, do you think that the tone of my posts, in general, are too critical? As you peruse my more recent line-up of posts, most of them seem to have something to do with critique of what I refer to as classic Calvinism, Dispensationalism, and in one instance, Mormonism. My email friend thinks that the tone of my posts, as of late, have taken a turn toward the negative; but I would submit, that relative to myself a few years ago, my posts nowadays are much more tame, mild, and matter of fact than they used to be.

Now, my friend is an Evangelical academic, and often times what I have found is that my blogging style does not mesh well with the more careful, dispassionate, analytic, academic mode of being. My friend is concerned that I open myself up for caricature in the way that I characterize whatever I happen to be critiquing; again, not being careful and developed enough for the academic pallet. This most recent email from my email friend is not the first time I have been lovingly chastised for my chosen style of blogging; I have many an academic (seriously, not overstating) contact me from time to time with the concern that my blogging style is too aggressive, too provocative, and many other "toos" as well.

Let me state for the record---in case you haven't noticed---I am a passionate guy who really really does not like the spirituality that has been produced by classical theism, in general; and then in classical Calvinism and Arminianism in their varied instantiations. One of my former profs (who is wiser than I) [I'm not referring to Myk for folk trying to read between the lines] has more heart burn related to classical theism than I think I might; indeed, he has been of great influence on me. I am just saying that I see a serious problem with almost all things Classic (like theisms, Calvinisms, Arminianisms, Dispensationationalisms, Fundamentalisms, etc.). In other words, this is not an academic thing for me (just to provide some rationale). There is no doubt that I could be more positive (meaning just talking about the tenets of Evangelical Calvinism), but in a way I don't find this helpful either. The dots need to be connected first, context needs to provided prior to the significance (in some ways) of Evangelical Calvinism being totally appreciated (and I am referring primarily to the laity who have been hood-winked by classical theistic teaching all their lives ... folks who don't even realize that there is an alternative way to think about God that is better suited as Triune).

Anyway, I am somewhat venting (my friend's email could have come at a better time than it did); but I am also reflecting upon 'why' I often write with the kind of edge that I do. I don't really write for the academic (although they are free to read ;-); I write from the perspective that folk don't know that there are alternatives to the kind of usual American pulpit theology that they sit under Sunday in, Sunday out. Could I change my tone? Maybe a bit (I already have, and there are many of you out there, I think, who could attest to this), but I can't ever imagine me writing something about Evangelical Calvinism (by way of providing context for it), without also referencing its cousin, classic Calvinism. 

PS. You think I'm negative, just read some of the Torrance's (not just Thomas, but his brother James), or old school guys in that camp; they write with just as much, if not more edge than I in this regard. This does not necessarily justify my edge, but it suggests to me that I am not the only one who has been excited by the deficits that flow from classical theism and its theology as well as spirituality. Sometimes I wonder why it's more noble to be passive-aggressive than it is to be aggressive (at least that's how I often read it in American Evangelical circles, by way of approach and posture)?


  1. Dude its not your tone, people are tripping and coming at you because you are laying bare the foundations of their idols and that causes people to get nasty. I remember when I was in the classic Calvinist camp I though you where a prideful deconstructor of my held belief, but once I stopped and listened to your arguments I found it pretty uplifting and I was less interested in attacking you. Take heart a little pride is not a bad thing especially when you think you're right, the trick is not healthy pride but knowing when to be humble. Ideas are fine and arguing them is fun but ministry and pastoring is about building up humans and if people have a problem with you I think it is because they are mistaking you and this blog for a pastoral blog rather than a historical/theological blog. It's their problem for confusing the genre, not yours.

    1. Kenny,

      Thanks for the feedback. I do know that my friend who emailed me is prone to dispensationalism, and also more of a fan of classical theism than I am (of course). But he also seems to appreciate some of TF Torrance.

      Blogging is a weird venue, most of the time, anyway; but it is what it is, and I do, usually, just try to enjoy myself when I'm doing it. I even try to pick fights sometimes, although I haven't really been doing that so much as of late. Thanks, Kenny!

  2. Yes, there is an "edge" to your comments. Whether that is a positive or a negative is subjective. I value your perspective, even when it has that edge.

    I'm reminded of Paul when addressing those who wished to impose circumcision on the church in Galatia that they would simply go on castrate themselves (Galatians 5:12). Paul, however, did not engage in personal attack, naming individuals. He stuck to the issue. In other instances, Paul mentions those who had caused him harm (Alexander, mentioned in 2 Timothy 4:14) yet his emphasis was on uplifting, correct doctrine rather than a full expose' on false doctrine. For example, Paul could have written at length on Gnosticism which was negatively impacting the church. While pointing our error, his aim was to build up rather than tear down.

    1. Robert,

      Thank you! My ultimate goal is to build up, or be edifying. Usually that can't happen w/o speaking the truth (from my perspective, of course). I think Paul did write at some depth against an incipient Gnosticism, at least in Colossians. But, yes, my aim is also to build up, ultimately, rather than tear down. But deconstruction often comes first (or ground clearing) prior to new construction.

  3. Hi Bobby! I've resisted commenting for the past week. Sometimes your comment replies seem more quixotic to me than the posts.
    What is interesting is that at one point in the past 23 hours (I can't recall exactly when, or what prompted it) I reminisced at what might have brought me here in the 1st place. I started at Antonio's "free grace" thang, and discovered Rose's blog and Michelle's and Jimbo and KC. I was wondering. I think it was "just" the Spirit led me to listen to more of what you had to say. You may have portrayed a more winsome persona as a non-hostile guest at each of those blogs, vis a vis at pyros. Also those other bloggers seemed to take sabbaticals from theology. It may be that you seemed different then, or maybe I'm just masochistic. Or maybe I like a challenge and so listened. I'm thicker skinned I think than a lot of people (on most topics ;O)
    I would not have commented at all except those thoughts came up as I said in the past 24 hours. I can't imagine I was any help.

    1. Duane,

      Interesting. What do you mean about my replies seeming more 'quixotic'? Do you think my thinking is idealistic and impractical?

      Well that makes me feel better, when you say "or maybe I'm just masochistic." Hilarious, sorry don't mean to laugh, but that is funny, Duane :-).

  4. I think anyone who thinks your blog is too critical doesn't really know you. I think perhaps they are mistaking a critical tone for passion. I live with you and I know that you are very passionate but also very sensitive to the Holy Spirit. When I am going through hard times you are the only person who can point me to Christ. Also, the medium of blogging poses a challenge since the reader cannot "hear" the tone of what is being said and can easily misinterpret the intent. Not to say that you aren't sometimes edgy or negative. But, from someone who knows you very are not a negative person per se. I think you give most people too much slack sometimes! :-)

    Your wife.

  5. I don't have a problem with your tone. Passionate, yes, but not critical or derogatory.

    Yet, as I've complained multiple times with you, I think you draw hard lines where there is actually a lot more blur. As a result, there is a certain amount of demonizing of the opposition, which anyone in an academic setting would be alert toward. More importantly, anyone coming from the side of the opposition will invariably be turned off.

    For example, if they don't find that their experience of 5-point Calvinism is too scholastic and depersonalized, then your arguments will be dismissed as tendentious. As I've said multiple times, your characterization of Reformed orthodoxy is overstated, even where I agree with you. Consequently, I cannot see anyone being convinced by your many (many!) posts on Calvinism if they had not already had misgivings, upon other grounds, for questioning classical Calvinism. The simple fact is that the whole swaths of young people flocking to Piper and Sproul and Mohler have discovered their Calvinism to be warm, personable, winsome, engaging, and comforting. Thus, posing an "evangelical Calvinism" as the truly personal and relational alternative makes no sense.

    1. Kevin,

      Thanks for the feedback on my tone.

      Yes, you have asserted multiple times, Kevin, that I overstate; what you haven't taken the time to do is demonstrate how I've overstated.

      And you're right, it is a simple fact that the experience of the Young and Reformed flocking to Piper, Sproul, Mohler et al might have this experience you note; but that's, of course, not what I'm after. Many folk have experiences that don't correlate to the belief system that they project their experience onto. But I am trying to be more critical than that. You aren't giving an substantive argument or even suggestion in contrast to what Evangelical Calvinism offers relative to a doctrine of God.

      Are you asserting that I have mischaracterized the Federal Covenantal view of God as being shaped by Law, metaphysically? And if so how? And if the Federal/Cov. God is indeed shaped by Law and a substance metaphysic, then how is it that this God indeed is personal, and loving by definition (categorically)? Please explain to me how I have missed something here, Kevin. Your assertions to the contrary don't help, at all! This has nothing to do, at base, with experience (although I am not discounting people's experiences, per se). This has to do with material and formal concerns relative to the grammar used to articulate a doctrine of God (and all the subsequent related doctrines that flow naturally from this fountainhead).

  6. If ever I successfully argue my point to my wife I know I must still apologize, because as she puts it; “It's not so much what you said as how you said it!”. I'm still trying to learn how to talk to her. ;-)


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.