02 August 2023

“What do you think about 𝘵𝘩𝘪𝘴 guy…?”

Questions? Comments? Email. But remember, my feedback policy means I can post it. Especially if it’s a question others may have.

The question I receive most often—even before I started blogging—is, “What do you think about…?” followed by some Christian book, some Christian movie, some Christian podcast, some preacher, some church. Something which exists in Christendom, and people want an expert opinion on it. Or, y’know, my opinion.

Sometimes it’s because my questioner has heard of it, has looked at it, doesn’t quite know what to think of it, and wants to pick my brain. Which is fine!—it’s here for the picking.

Other times… they do know what they think of it. They love it! Or they think it’s heresy and anyone who does like it is going to hell—and they wanna make sure I’m not going to hell, so this is an orthodoxy test. Or they don’t think it’s heresy, but do think it’s garbage, and just wanna make sure I have good taste. Either way, if I don’t think the same way they do, I’m in trouble.

I don’t always discern people’s motives for asking me questions. Or bother to. Why stress myself out over whether or not people wish me well or ill?—I’ll just answer the question honestly, and let the shrapnel fall where it may. If I don’t pass their orthodoxy test, so be it; if a person reduces the entirety of Christianity down to one single shibboleth, they’re a ridiculous person anyway. (We’re saved by grace, not orthodoxy, remember?)

So if someone decides I’m heretic, and quits reading TXAB because of it: It’s probably for the best. For me, at least: I no longer have to deal with their narrow thinking and bad attitudes. It’s not so good for them, since they still have spiritual growth to do. If they cut off all the voices which challenge or stretch them to overcome their prejudices, love different people from themselves, and think of God’s kingdom as a place where lots of very different people come together in unity, Rv 7.9 their relationship with God is gonna be a struggle—one they might quit. So I hope they never take this route, or snap out of it before they get too far into it.

Okay. Now let’s deal with the people who wanna know what I think about their favorite, or least-favorite, Christian things.

First of all, I’m not omniscient!

Often the first time someone emails me, “Hey, what do you think about this particular prophet?” it’s the first time I’ve ever heard of that particular prophet. I don’t follow prophets. Nothing against them; nothing against those who do follow them. It’s just I don’t.

Same with some book. Especially if it’s Christian fiction; I don’t read a lot of fiction period, so it’s even less likely I’m gonna be up on the latest Christian rip-off of Indiana Jones and the Ark of Noah.

Like you, if I don’t know something, I wind up first checking Siri, Google, or Wikipedia. So… have you checked Siri, Google, and Wikipedia? If not, why not? Yes I’m aware these websites aren’t all-knowing, and don’t know how to apply critical thinking. But if you type a prophet’s name into Google and the first thing that pops up is all the women with whom he’s committed adultery, you don’t need me to help you discern he’s fruitless and you need to stay away.

If you ask me, “What do you think of [FAMOUS TELEVANGELIST]?” and he’s not famous to me—I never watch his show, never read his books, never heard his podcasts, never analyzed his theology with all the paranoia of a cult-watcher—my response is gonna be under-informed. And no, I’m not gonna take a week and investigate him. I’m not gonna download his book and pick it apart. I’m not gonna watch 50 episodes of his TV show and pull a bunch of quotes to prove his theology one way or another. At best I’m gonna look him over superficially and come to a simple conclusion: “He seems okay,” or “I think he’s a nut.” At worst, I’m gonna have no time to do any of this, and just say, “I don’t know him.”

No, I’m not gonna base my opinions on the cult-watchers’ websites. And I don’t recommend you do either. Some of them, like me, are earnestly trying to find out whether someone’s okay or not. Far more of them started their organizations because they’re paranoid: They’ve convinced themselves everything is of the devil, except them and their friends. They don’t know how to critique people properly: They quote them out of context, and attribute evil motives when there’s no evidence of any such thing. They ignore Jesus’s teaching that if it’s not against us, it’s on our side. Mk 9.40 They don’t look for the Spirit’s fruit; they have their own metrics of what’s orthodox and what’s not, and their own lack of grace and forgiveness disqualifies them from making any judgments we should listen to.

Of course, you might get lucky and ask me about a preacher or ministry I know plenty about, or am a fan of, or have personally worked with. But like I said: I’m not omniscient. I don’t know about all of them. I couldn’t possibly.

And bear in mind I have my own prejudices. I’ve had really bad experiences with certain types of Christians. So if these ministries are Fundamentalist, Dispensationalist, cessationist, complementarian, young-earth creationist, or Calvinist, my knee-jerk reaction is to warn you away. Now, I know better than that: Not all the people who embrace these views, are gonna be wrong about everything, or wrong about most things. If Darbyists are running a soup kitchen, their wonky views about the End Times and Jews have nothing to do with feeding the hungry. (Unless of course they’re only feeding Jews!) If an evangelist is Calvinist, yet though she believes God doesn’t want to save everybody, it never stops her from preaching the gospel to everybody, I’ll endorse her.

Christians don’t have to agree about everything when we’re truly following Jesus. In fact, if someone believes the very same things about Jesus as I do, yet never acts on any of those beliefs, I’ll definitely warn you away from ’em. Fruit, not orthodoxy, is always what we must watch out for. God forgives the lack of orthodoxy, but he always judges the lack of obedience.

Like I joke, “I’m not God. I just work for him.” Yeah, you knew that already, but it doesn’t hurt to repeat it. I’m just as biased, and sometimes just as wrong, as anyone.

Don’t only ask me.

Feel free to pick my brain. At the same time, don’t only ask my opinion. Everybody has gaps in our knowledge. Someone will fill in the blanks better than I have.

Fr’instance, say I endorsed Famous TV Preacher—but I was totally unaware of the fact he’s sleeping with his secretaries, or tormenting his children, or otherwise doesn’t practice what he preaches. Happens all the time; wish it didn’t. Well, someone else might know about it, even though I don’t, and warn you away. That’s why we ought to seek lots of advice, Pr 15.22 ideally from people we know really well.

Whereas lots of the folks who email me questions, don’t know me at all. They know me through my Mastodon account, or this blog. For all they know, I could be one of those child-abusing, secretary-harassing hypocrites. (I’m not, but you don’t know that.) So if you’re seeking advice, I should be secondary—the guy you write to after you’ve spoken to the Christians of your church.

And if you don’t go to church, go to church! Connecting with real live Christians is one of the things church is for. Bloggers are no substitute.