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Showing posts with label #Mailbox. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #Mailbox. Show all posts

03 January 2019

Feedback, and orthodoxy tests.

When heresy-hunters attack. Or email; it’s not all that dramatic.

Some of you know TXAB has an email link. Whenever I redesign the site, it gets moved around, but it doesn’t feel like placement has anything to do with how much mail I get. Besides, when people don’t know the email address, they tend to stick non-sequitur comments at the bottom of articles, and get ahold of me that way. Hey, whatever works. Just remember I do have a feedback policy around here.

Most of the TXAB emails are theology questions. People wanna know about God, and I’m all for that. People wanna know how God thinks about this or that subject, or what Jesus teaches, or how Christianity tends to lean. I point ’em to the scriptures, offer my studied opinion, and remind ’em I’m not infallible—but Jesus is.

People likewise wanna know about other people. Whether a Christian ministry, or famous preacher, or widespread teaching (or even little-known teaching) is orthodox and biblical, or not. ’Cause either they, or their friends and family, are dabbling in those teachings, and they wanna be sure nobody’s going astray. I don’t blame them. We’re trying to follow Jesus, and while many Christian teachings are useful (or at least harmless), many are self-serving, or can definitely be bent towards evil, and we don’t need any more falsehoods spreading through Christendom, and monkey-wrenching our relationships with God.

And every so often I get a question from someone who’s testing me.

There are a lot of dark Christians who have appointed themselves heresy hunters. Sometimes for understandable reasons: They got caught up in some cult, got out of it, and wanna make sure nobody else gets into it. Or they have an apologetics ministry, and naturally wanna make sure we’re defending orthodox Christianity from people who hold more heretic views. But too many heresy hunters are of the view they’re saved, not by God’s grace, but by believing all the right things—a form of works righteousness I call “faith righteousness.”

If you’re saved by your faith—by what you believe—it means holding false beliefs might get you unsaved. Certainly the devil would be interested in anything that might get Christians unsaved! So faith-righteous folks like to go on the offensive, shake the trees for anyone who might make ’em stumble out of heaven, and go heresy hunting. Yep, that’s why certain Fundamentalists you know are so paranoid and argumentative: They don’t trust God to save them. Only their vigilance.

Naturally they wanna make sure I won’t lead ’em astray. So they pitch me some questions, to which they already know “the right answer,” just to see whether I’ll give them the correct response. And if I don’t, they’ll furiously try to correct me… and if I don’t concede, condemn me as heretic and warn all their friends about me. Or they’ll skip correcting and go straight to condemning; it all depends on how they interpret Jesus’s procedure in Matthew 18—if they consider me a “brother” they’ll bother to correct me, and if they don’t they won’t.

Invariably I'm gonna disappoint these people. Because I might get their first question right, but you know I’m gonna fail one of their future tests.

See, when you’re into faith righteousness, there’s no such thing as an optional Christian belief. Freedom in Christ doesn’t exist. Freedom of conscience is never entrusted to the average Christian, because they’re entirely sure people will compromise righteousness for the sake of convenience. (To be fair, they’re largely not wrong!) They insist there are no shades of gray in Christianity; there’s black and white, right and wrong, godly and satanic, orthodox and heretic.

What about when Paul wrote one Christian can believe one way, another Christian another, and we shouldn’t condemn one another over it? Ro 14 Oh, they skip that part of the bible. Because they don’t trust people to apply that level of commonsense without abusing it, or creating loopholes which means the rules don’t apply to them. The kind of freedom of conscience Paul writes about, makes it impossible for legalistic Christians to condemn one another over every little thing… and they can’t abide that idea. So they find excuses why it doesn’t apply to this situation… or any.

Anyway. If I suspect I’m getting an orthodoxy test, I’ll admit it: I try to fail the first time. Even if my answer is likely the very one they’re looking for, I’ll try to throw in some comment which’ll flunk one of their future questions.

No, not because I’m trying to pick a fight. It’s because I wanna get this charade over with. I’m here to help, not to play “Spot the Heretic.”

13 November 2017

Graceless advice.

That’s what sells. It’s not what I do though.

I don’t really have to remind people that TXAB has an email link. I get questions on a fairly regular basis about all sorts of stuff. Usually asking my opinion about various Christian practices and movements, which I often wind up turning into TXAB articles on the subject.

And sometimes people ask for personal advice, which I’m much less likely to turn into TXAB articles. ’Cause they’re dealing with particular specific things. If I just posted these emails for the whole of the internet to read, it feels like a huge invasion of privacy. Even if I heavily censored them. The rare times I’ve done it, I tend to rewrite them entirely, which is why they kinda sound like me.

Not that this stops the various advice ladies from doing this on a daily or weekly basis. But then again, the people who send them questions know precisely what they’re getting into. If you send “Dear Abby” a letter, it’s gonna get published. So, best you hide certain details, because you don’t want the neighbors to deduce who you are, or who your spouse is. Sometimes people hide too many details for fear of getting outed, which means “Abby” can’t give an accurate diagnosis, which is why professional therapists aren’t always happy with the advice ladies.

Whereas the people who send me stuff obviously don’t expect me to blab this stuff all over the internet. ’Cause they do share confidences, hoping I’ll keep them. Which I will, with some caveats.

But there are limits to my expertise. I get a lot of questions about depression. Not because I suffer from it myself, but because a lot of people just plain do suffer from it. And when they go to their fellow Christians, they’re often given the lousy advice to try and pray it away. I regularly remind these people they need to see a doctor. Depression is a legitimate medical condition, and I’m not a psychiatrist. (My graduate psych classes dealt with education, not mental illness.) Go talk with a doctor and get a proper diagnosis. Don’t just send an email to some blogger: Go get actual help.

And if you read the advice ladies, they’ll often advise the very same thing. There’s still a lot of stigma in our culture against seeing a psychiatrist. Too many people think a mental disorder isn’t an illness, but a moral failure, caused by sin, exacerbated by devils. Exactly like the people of Jesus’s day thought of physical disorders:

John 9.1-2 KWL
1 Passing by, Jesus saw a person who was blind since birth.
2 Questioning him, Jesus’s students said, “Rabbi, who sinned? He or his parents?”
because he was blind since birth.

Jesus had to state, “Neither,” then cure the guy. But to this day people still act as if a birth defect is an “act of God,” and still act as if depression is because of some unconfessed sin or something. We’re so quick to judge, and slow to help.

Judging—which we Christians are allowed to do with one another, 1Co 5.12 provided we don’t use double standards—is a fairly simple process when we have an easy-to-understand scripture. If you’re asking me about bible, most of the time the scriptures are cut-and-dried, and I can easily tell you about ’em. I can give as quick a decision as any small-claims court show, like Judge Judy, who wraps up those cases really fast when the law is clear. I’ll just quote the appropriate proof text, bang the gavel (metaphorically; I don’t actually own one, and I’m not using my hammer on my wooden desk), and we’re done.

But most of the questions I get aren’t black and white. If they were, most people woulda figured ’em out themselves. They’re about debatable interpretations of the bible, and people figure they need an expert to help ’em navigate, figure I sound like I know what I’m talking about, so they come to me. But unlike a know-it-all apologist or “bible answer man,” I’m slow to judge. I’ll tell you what I think it looks like. I’m not gonna condemn you if you honestly come to another conclusion. You gotta stay true to your conscience, Ro 14.1-4 as do I. I’ve no business declaring you wrong; what do I know?

So I’d likely make a really unentertaining advice lady. What people want are snap decisions, and I don’t always have one of those.

16 September 2016

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

Maybe. Maybe not.

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.

01 December 2015

How feedback works around here.

This’d be Christ Almighty’s letters and comments policy.

As you might’ve noticed, I have an email link on TXAB, and each article has a comments section. So if you wanna send me a note, ask a question, or comment on a post, feel free.

However.

If you’ve ever bothered to read the comments on YouTube videos—and I really don’t recommend it—you’ll notice a lot of them are stupid and awful. Because people are awful, as you already knew. Let ’em post whatever they want, with no moderation, with no accountability, and you’ll get the very worst of humanity.

Even among Christians. Christianity Today finally got rid of their comments section last year because the commenters were consistently acting far, far less than Christian.

My previous blogs didn’t always allow me to moderate comments—nor moderate them easily. TXAB uses Disqus, so now I can easily moderate ’em, and do. When anyone comments in any way I consider less than Christian, I’ll edit or remove the comment. Do it twice and I’ll block the commenter.

You can repent and appeal, and I might relent. It’s happened in the past. Wish it happened in every case. But it doesn’t.

You can defend yourself by appealing to freedom of expression, which I of course believe in. Thing is, my deleting or blocking your expression doesn’t stop you from expressing yourself. You’re entirely free to do so. Just not here. TXAB is my blog about following Christ Jesus, and as such it’s gonna reflect my view—or Christ’s view, as best as I can figure him out. If I don’t feel your view contributes to that, I’m gonna tweak it or remove it.