Is it worth our time for me to be the advice guy?

by K.W. Leslie, 16 September
Questions? Comments? Email. But remember, my feedback policy means I can post it. Not as a regular advice column; that’s not what I do.

I don’t know how I turned into the advice guy. It just sorta happened. Years ago I was contributing to a couple different websites, and I had my own personal blog, and out of the blue strangers started asking me religion questions. Guess I sounded knowledgeable to them, so they figured they’d test my knowledge.

So what’s the best bible translation? Or what do I know about a particular Christian denomination? Or what have I heard about this or that book?—this or that preacher?—this or that theological idea? Am I Arminian or Calvinist, and why? Pretrib or posttrib, and why?

It’s not a new experience for me. I got questions like this from my students in Sunday school classes or Christian school. Or from newbies in my church who found out I knew stuff, and consider me less intimidating than our pastor. (Intimidating for no reason, I should add; he’s a very friendly guy.) I joke all the time, “I learned all this stuff so you don’t have to. If you’ve got questions, go ahead and pick my brain. That’s why God gave it to me.” So they do.

But writing stuff for the internet means now I also get email and direct messages from friends and strangers, also wanting to pick my brain. I don’t even have to solicit it. It just comes.

Since I’m always coming up with topics for TXAB, I’ll take some of my answers and turn ’em into full-blown articles. Lots of TXAB’s posts are the result of someone asking me, “What do you know about [subject]?” I even used to have a regular question-and-answer feature. (On my personal blog, back when I had one, I called it “Questions and Rants.”)

Only problem with having a Q&A feature: Certain other people take it upon themselves to rebuke my answers and offer their own. They do it in the comments section. Sometimes actually try to get ahold of the person who emailed me the question, and try to respond to them directly. It’s not a matter of people correcting me ’cause they disagree with me. It’s people who object to me offering any answers. They wanna be the advice guys. Not me.

There’s a paranoid belief you’ll frequently find among dark Christians. It’s that if any Christian teaches any error, it‘s intentional, and they’re knowingly working for Satan. That’s what I’m pretty sure I’m dealing with: People who think they’re “liberating” my questioners before they fall under my spell and believe every single thing I teach, and are thus led astray. Even though I regularly make a point of teaching I’m hardly infallible.

So they keep trying to hijack my advice. I used to think this was just a bizarre form of jealousy. I told ’em: Create your own blog, wait for people to come to you, and answer their questions. Since their unsolicited advice is often impatient and jerkish, I can certainly see why nobody goes to them for advice. But their misbehavior quickly became tiresome, so I banned ’em. They adopt new usernames and try again, and I ban ’em again. After I switched to the Disqus comment system, I’ve been blacklisting ’em as soon as they pop up again, and so far so good.

Now it’s fine if you don’t agree with something I write. I can be wrong, y’know. When I am, I honestly do appreciate the constructive criticism. Not so much when the criticism is more hostile than constructive, but still.

I never bothered to create a Q&A feature for TXAB. I usually give the answer and don’t post the question. Some people are really anxious about my posting their questions (and certainly their names) anyway. Fine; I’m not out to embarrass anyone. Well, not out to embarrass most people. Some of you could use a little embarrassment. Namely these wannabe advice guys.

Passing their orthodoxy tests.

I’m aware there are two reasons people ask advice. One is ’cause they have a question and honestly don’t know the answer. The other is confirmation: They have a question, are pretty sure they also have the answer, but they want a second opinion. Usually their questions indicate which way they’re going.

Let’s pick on TV preacher John Hagee a bit. (He can take it.) The question “Hagee’s a heretic, isn’t he?” usually means they’re leaning heavily towards well duh, of course he is, and want me to back ’em up. Whereas “I don’t know much about Hagee; can you tell me if he’s okay or not?” doesn’t just imply, but clearly states, they don’t know much about the guy.

Now, when they ask the question with a little bit of bias behind it, fine. I’m used to it. Happens all the time. I just wish people didn’t assume I’ll automatically take their side. Like with Hagee: I won’t say he’s heretic. Yes he’s wrong about various things; aren’t we all? Yes he’s proven, especially through his “blood moons” teachings, that we shouldn’t trust a thing he teaches about the End Times. But I’m pretty sure he’s not violated the creeds. He still believes in the trinity, in Jesus, in forgiveness and the church and (obviously) kingdom come. So, not a heretic.

Problem is my questioner often wants to think Hagee a heretic, wants Hagee’s faulty End Times teachings to automatically knock him out of God’s kingdom, and wants me to back him up on this. It really irritates him I won’t play along. He’ll even conclude, from this, I’m a heretic for sticking up for Hagee. ’Cause I just flunked his orthodoxy test.

Thankfully this doesn’t happen often. (Well, maybe it does, and they never email me again, so that’s just as good.)

But in my experience, most questioners do want my second opinion so they can take it into consideration. The reason they’re asking is out of humility, not pride. They know I could be wrong, but they could be wrong too, and maybe I know something they don’t. Likewise maybe I’m missing some details. I don’t watch Hagee’s TV show; I’d much rather watch Netflix. So if Hagee’s slipped into heresy recently, I have no idea. I know he’s a big fan of Christians supporting Jews (which stems from one of his iffy End Times beliefs, but hey, whatever helps fight antisemitism). I also know there are people in that camp who claim Jews can be saved apart from Jesus when they still follow the Law. I don’t believe Hagee teaches that too; I sure hope not. Then he would be heretic. But as far as I know, he’s still orthodox.

Yeah, I admit I wanna give Hagee the benefit of the doubt. Other Christians have no intention of being so gracious. Remember what I said about dark Christians: They don’t really believe in grace anyway. For them every question is an orthodoxy test, and if that’s the case, I’m never gonna pass. Oh well.

Unsolicited advice.

The rest of TXAB consists of unsolicited advice. You didn’t ask for it; you might not even agree with it. But here it is. Me telling you, and the rest of the internet, what I believe Jesus teaches, what Christianity consists of, how the scriptures oughta be interpreted, and how we oughta behave.

I’m under no delusions about whether people will accept what I give ’em. Some folks are prepared to hear it, and it’ll do them some good. Others, not so much. They still have growing up to do.

Would’ve done me some good 25 years ago. Not that the 25-years-ago version of me would’ve paid any attention. Past Me was regularly angry and impatient. Present Me is much better. Over the past quarter century I’ve been making an effort to grow the Spirit’s fruit; Past Me didn’t bother ’cause he was more of a Christianist. More of a know-it-all, who figured since I grew up Christian, I knew best. Really unreceptive to advice. Pride’s a difficult starting point when you’ve decided to follow Jesus, but that’s where I was.

Would I have any advice for Past Me? Oh, loads of it. Would Past Me have listened? Nah. See, over the intervening years the Spirit took me in directions I never would’ve predicted. In many ways I’m the total opposite of the 1991 version of me. And those were behaviors and beliefs I used to value. It’s why even if I could hop in a time machine and correct Past Me, he’d never listen to Present Me. He didn’t listen to Christians back then who thought like I think today; he’d be horrified by the 2016 version of me.

Instead, he’d listen—as he did listen—to fellow Christianists who only told him what he wanted to hear. He’d have to learn patience, kindness, and generosity the hard way. As I did.

So yeah, some folks are never gonna bother with TXAB for just those reasons. I’m gonna have to wait 10 years for them to start to come around. Which is fine. Let’s see how long the site keeps on ticking.