Well, a very Happy New Year to you all! That’s assuming you’re going by the new-fangled Gregorian calendar, and not celebrating the year’s start on one of the many other equally plausible dates from the (say) Julian, Chinese or Islamic calendars.
1st January is also The Evangelical Liberal’s second birthday, making this blog my longest-kept New Year’s Resolution ever. So now seems a fair moment to reflect on where it’s at, and also to look forward to where it’s going.
How was 2012 for you? What were the issues on your heart and mind? Over the past year I’ve been thinking about hell, salvation, Christendom, Calvinism, fundamentalism, panentheism, blasphemy, biblical sexism, personality and spirituality, mental health and how Rowan Williams is a bit like Gandalf. And I do of course take entire credit for the US election result with my ‘Letter to America’ post, and also for the world not ending on 21 Dec 2012.
Moving rapidly from misplaced self-congratulation to self-flagellation, I feel the need to confess some faults and failings I’ve observed in my blogging…
Fault #1: Verbosity
The Evangelical Liberal now has a total word-count almost certainly in excess of 200,000 (equivalent to a 500-page paperback). The obvious conclusion is that I write far too much. I’m sorry about this. I could try to make a New Year’s Resolution to be more concise, but it would be destined for inevitable and instant failure.
For anyone wondering how I find the time to indulge my chronic verbosity (given that I work full-time and have school-age children), you can blame the bus. I have 8 hours of bus journeys each working week, adding up to 13 days’ worth of solid writing time per year (though I spend several of those sleeping, gazing vacantly out of the window, or trying not to listen to teenagers discussing their sex lives). However, as I could theoretically type 1 million words in the available time, I think I’m actually being quite sparing.
Fault #2: Liberal cynicism
Another failing (which I do hope to work on) is that I’m overly cynical and critical at times, particularly towards conservative evangelicals and their interpretations of the Bible. This blog is broadly meant to be about exploring alternative forms, expressions, interpretations and understandings of Christian faith that are life-bringing rather than life-sapping. Unfortunately, much of the soul-burdening baggage that I’m struggling to extricate myself from comes from the Reformed and Conservative Evangelical branch of Christianity, and so I’m more dismissive of that strand than is probably fair.
From where I am at the moment, emotional wholeness matters to me far more than any amount of ‘right theology’, and I confess that I find it hard to see how it’s possible to be a full, complete and emotionally healthy person within the ultra-reformed tradition. However, that’s certainly not to say that it isn’t possible, nor that my own current priorities are the only ones worth adopting.
Also, in blogging I’m deliberately exploring the more ‘liberal’ end of my thinking. That’s mainly because I’m coming from a more conservative evangelical position and feeling my way out of it, like a moth emerging from a chrysalis – or perhaps like a teenager redefining himself against his parents. I may therefore sometimes overstate the anti-evangelical case, and put forward liberal ideas that I haven’t fully accepted just to see what they feel like.
Interestingly, in my devotions I’m far less liberal. If you saw me leading worship (in itself a very ‘charismatic’ phenomenon), you might wonder if it was really the same person expressing all the doubts and queries in this blog. When I blog, I’m primarily motivated by intellectual queries; when I worship, it’s more from the heart. Ideally, I’d like the two sides to join up a bit more. And I will try to be a little less cynical and evangelical-bashing.
Fault #3: Egocentrism
Let’s face it, blogging can be a fairly egocentric pursuit. Am I doing it for the glory of God or merely for my own self-aggrandizement, as a cheapskate vanity-publishing project? Am I writing altruistically for the benefit of others, or merely for myself? A bit of a mixture, if I’m honest.
By setting up a blog, you’re implying that others should take the time to read and engage with your thoughts and words. Though having said that, a lot of the time I just write for myself because it’s something I’m interested in, and share it in the hope that someone else might be interested too. It’s kind of like thinking in public, unsure of who (if anyone) might be listening.
I want people to read my outpourings of course, but I confess that I rarely repay the compliment by engaging with other people’s blogs. I can only apologise for this and plead lack of time. Which may ring truer if I explain that for all those hours on the bus with my netbook I don’t have an internet connection. I tend not to use the internet at home if I can avoid it, which leaves work time, when I’m (at least supposed to be) working.
You are the cure
Through all these pitfalls, what keeps me on the straight and narrow – and what really makes it all worthwhile – is all of you lovely people who engage and comment. I’ve found there are different kinds of commenters, all of whom (apart from the trolls and spammers) are very welcome.
First there are the regulars and friends, some who I know personally, and some who’ve become ‘blog friends’ though we’ve never met and (in some cases) live in different continents. You come from all different traditions and perspectives (evangelicals, liberals, deists, agnostics) and you force to me think and examine my beliefs, and sometimes to alter them. Without you, I’d just be talking unproductively to myself, and doubtless veering off into all manner of dubious thinking. Thank you very much for bothering to read and engage with my rambling and frequently heretical essays. You genuinely help me far more than I ever help you.
Then there are the occasional one-off encouragers who contact me to say something like ‘I stumbled across your blog and found it really helpful… I thought I was the only one who felt this way’. These are the moments that you live for as a blogger. As I say, most of the time you (=I) write because it’s something you want to express, and vaguely hope others might find it helpful or at least interesting. And, as I say, most of the time it’s you the blogger who ends up getting helped by thoughtful commenters. But just occasionally you find out you’ve helped someone else, and that’s a fantastic feeling.
Finally of course there are the rare trolls and axe-grinders who get in touch just to rant and not to dialogue. I had one just yesterday telling me that ‘homosexuality is wrong…shame on you all who support this sin’. God bless these people for giving me the opportunity to be gracious and forbearing (though I may not take it).
Where to next?
Okay, enough already of the retrospective navel-gazing. Do you have any plans and aspirations for 2013? Any hopes and fears? Do I? I’m not sure. I’m wrestling with myself over whether to seek more readers for this blog by means of more active marketing (a word and concept I’m not at all comfortable with).
In terms of subjects, here are some titles I may well be unleashing on you over the next few months. Let me know if you’re particularly interested in any and I’ll move them up the queue:
- The Bible – inspired, inerrant, infallible?
- Why I stopped trying to save the world
- I don’t know, I’m not sure and I may be wrong
- Why bother – why not give up on faith?
- Embracing the void
- Giving up God for the sake of God
- Spiritual lessons from being a dad
- God and mammon – the minefields of money and marketing
- Does God have a perfect plan for your life?
If none of those appeal, are there any subjects you would like me to address? I’m generally open to suggestions, preferably not involving Manchester United or Morris dancing.
New Year’s Recommendation
Having said that I don’t read other blogs, I’ll confess that I do just very occasionally read a little at work (you know, lunch hours and that). And I feel honour bound to point you in the direction of a blog I’ve stumbled upon whose posts I frequently wish I’d authored. The actual author’s name is Morgan Guyton and his blog is called Mercy not Sacrifice.
This blog has already gone a long way to restoring my faith both in evangelicalism and in American Christianity. Morgan is theologically more conservative than me (which isn’t difficult), but he’s unfailingly gracious, self-aware, compassionate and thoughtful. I find his posts both inspiring and humbling, and when my blog grows up I want it to be like his. His recent post ‘Four cringe-worthy claims of popular penal substitution theology’ may be the best I’ve ever read by an evangelical on the subject. Oh, and he likes Pearl Jam (or used to).
Happy reading and thinking in 2013!
PS and if you have any concerns about the number 13 in the date, you can always check out my old post on superstition.