December 14, 2017

Another Look: Ballyard Religion

bunch of kids

Note from CM: This was written about a month after Michael Spencer died in 2010. I was coaching my grandson’s T-ball team at the time and remembering Michael’s love for baseball when I wrote it. It touches on a theme that was also a common concern for Michael and me: the dearth of understanding in evangelicalism about spiritual formation and the contemplative life. This has long been one of my major issues with American activist-style religion.

• • •

I had a vision of the evangelical church today. While coaching at my grandson’s Little League game (6-8 year olds), the heavens opened and a lot of things became clear to me, especially:

  • Why it’s so hard to be a Jesus-shaped follower of Christ in America today.
  • Why the evangelical church is not helping in that regard.

I love these kids at the ballyard, and we have all kinds on our team. There’s this tiny kid, Johnny, who just stares at me with a goofy look on his face whenever I try to tell him something. Then he does whatever he wants. We have Big Jimmy, who has grown faster than his peers. He can hit the ball hard, and we have to make sure the younger ones aren’t picking their noses or playing in the dirt when he’s at the plate. Then we have L’il Jeffrey, the small athletic child who is quick as a fox and plays with abandon. Our team has two little girls in the lineup. They are among the younger ones, and they don’t really get this baseball thing yet. Nor do a few of the boys, who dig their spikes around in the dirt, blow bubbles with their gum, and watch what’s happening in the stands as much as what’s on the field.

The majority still can’t catch a fly ball unless it happens to fall directly into the web of their glove. Catchers duck and let the ball go to the backstop rather than making any effort to stop it — if they even see it coming, that is. The concept of a “force out” mostly eludes them. If you ask one of them what he was thinking when he threw the ball to the wrong base, or kept running when the coach told him to stop, he’ll probably shrug his shoulders and say, “I dunno.”

What they do know is that they get to wear a uniform, swing a cool bat, be with a bunch of other kids, and have a snack at the end of the game. They don’t talk much about winning and losing, and when they do, their words don’t reveal much emotion. They’re kids. It’s about having fun. About the only time tears fall is when someone gets embarrassed or is made to feel ashamed for something he’s done or failed to do. Or gets hit by a ball or scared by one.

This is instructional league. Kids are there to learn the basics and have some organized fun. Coaches focus on teaching proper fundamentals. How to hold a bat and swing it. A good batting stance. How to be ready in the field. Throwing at a target instead of just heaving the ball somewhere. Listening to the coach. What to do and where to look when running the bases. We don’t even have “game situations” to worry about at this age. We just play and help kids learn the game. Hit the ball. Throw the ball. Catch the ball. Run. Support your teammates. Be a good sport.

It’s kinda like church, I thought. Just a bunch of kids trying to be like Jesus.

tballAs I stood there in the third bases coaching box, watching one of our young hitters at bat, it suddenly hit me how loud it was. The kids in the field were chanting in chorus, “Hey batter, batter! Hey batter, batter! Hey batter, batter, SWING!” Our team in the dugout raised their own cry, “Here we go, Johnny, here we go (clap, clap)!” Three or four coaches were yelling encouragement and instruction. “Get a rip, Johnny!” “Johnny, back off the plate!” “Get your bat up!” “Watch the ball now!” “Level swing!” Johnny’s parents and other team parents were in on the act too, of course. “C’mon Johnny! Remember how we practiced it! Get your elbow up! Keep your eye on the ball! Let’s go, Johnny! You can do it!” Between pitches, even the coach on the other team, who was standing behind the catcher to help keep the game moving along, would walk up and help our hitter stand himself correctly in the box and hold his bat in proper position.

With each pitch, the cacophony restarted. When Johnny hit the ball, everyone screamed, “Run! Run!” And then a chorus of admonition rose like a wave from the other team’s bench and stands. “Catch the ball, Billy!” “First base, first base!” “Watch the runner going to third!” “Don’t hang on to the ball, throw it!” “Tag him, Mark!”

Mostly, the kids just played while everyone else was yelling for them and at them. It seemed to me that only a small percentage of what was screamed in their direction was heard. They simply tuned it out. Whether the coaches and their parents liked it or not, the players reverted to their own habits and did it their way. A number of them have shown progress by steps over the course of the year, but rarely do you see them alter their stance or do something dramatically different in the midst of a single game.

And suddenly I thought of something else about the contemporary church.

And how we are supposedly trying to help people be like Jesus and follow Jesus.

And it hit me that what we usually do is yell at them and expect them to perform.

This is the evangelical church. It’s ballyard religion.

A new believer comes up to the plate and we yell encouragement and instruction to him.

  • Read your Bible!
  • Pray every day!
  • Make sure you’re in church each Sunday!
  • Take our discipleship training course!
  • Become a member of the church!
  • Get involved and get busy serving the Lord!
  • Be generous with your money! Give to the church!
  • Discover your spiritual gifts!
  • Have a heart for missions!
  • Take a stand on the important cultural issues of the day!
  • (Pick one:) Husbands, love your wives! Wives, submit to your husbands! Children, obey your parents!
  • Become a member of a small group!
  • Listen to Christian music!
  • Go to this special conference we’re holding!

Every time a believer goes to church, attends a small group or Bible study, turns on Christian media, walks into a Christian bookstore, reads a Christian magazine or goes to an online Christian site, attends a Christian conference or concert, or gets together with evangelical friends at a coffee shop, it seems like the conversation is about what we should be doing, what our church should be doing, what Christians should be doing. What book we should be reading. What seminar we should be attending. What Bible study we should participate in. What concert is coming to town. What friends we should be praying for. What political decision is proof positive that America has finally departed completely from God and is going to hell in a hand basket, and what we should do about it.

The pastor is telling me to keep my eye on the ball. My Bible study leader is challenging me to keep a level swing. Various program leaders in the church are saying, “Run! Run!” Leading evangelical spokespersons are telling me I’m doing it wrong and I need to adjust my stance, get my hands up, and step toward the pitcher when I swing.

Everybody is telling me what to do. At the same time. With urgency.

The ethos of evangelicalism has always been that of activism. We are saved to serve. Growing in Christ happens when we exercise properly. There is no shortage of voices calling out help and encouragement. But it’s often like the ballyard. The voices are white noise. It’s hard to pick out anything that will really help me know Jesus better.

Besides, I already live in a world like that. A noisy world. A world full of opinions blasting out all around me 24/7. Why would I want to go to a church that just does the same thing in religious terms? And why do we do it anyway? Do we Christians think we have to raise our voices and shout to be heard above the crowd?

bade_largeIn my earlier coaching days, I used to join the chorus of voices. I don’t think I was very effective. Now, when I want to tell a player something, I call his name until he looks me directly in the face. I say one thing that I want to get across, in as simple language as I can muster. I ask, “Do you understand?” Then I say, “Go get ‘em!” I try to get a small victory, a miniscule change, a moment of communication.

I’m convinced evangelicalism has a poor understanding of the processes that lead to true spiritual formation in Christ. We don’t need a ballyard full of people yelling out in a cacophonous chorus of encouragement and instruction. We need pastors who visit us and help us know Jesus better. We need friends who let us be ourselves and patiently walk with us in our journeys. We need mentors who will model the way and take us under their wings. We need spiritual directors who will patiently teach us to listen to the quiet voice of the Spirit. We need to learn spiritual practices that will form us and shape us into the image of Jesus.

We need quiet. And slow. And personal. One voice at a time. Face to face. Unhurried conversations. Time. Patience. A willingness to make mistakes, and a willingness to let others do the same. Small victories. Miniscule changes. Moments of reflection.

And it all needs to happen in the context of day to day life, because when it comes to faith, that’s where the game is played.

I love the ballyard, I just don’t want to try to play the game of life with Jesus when everybody’s yelling at me like that.

Comments

  1. I played high school, college, and rookie league baseball. The thing that really drives me crazy is when coaches grab a kid before he goes up to hit and start coaching him on technique. The time for that is in practice. Let the kid play! Some coaches grab the kid in between pitches to give further instruction.

    The law is our coach. Demanding…never satisfied…always pushing.

    Jesus says, ‘get out there, do your best, play the game. And whatever happens, you’ll always be my little all-star.’

    • Your “Jesus says” is still the law. The gospel is, “Jesus already hit a home run for you.”

  2. david brainerd says:

    The thing is that faith alone tends towards a worksist life while “worksism” (as Evangelicals would label it) tends towards rest in Jesus. What I mean is simple:

    Evangelicals say if you teach baptism is essential to salvation, that’s “worksism.” Ok, well the people who teach that get dunked, are secure in the knowledge that they’re saved, and move on to live a good Christian life but without the constant refrain of “better, stronger, faster” that Evangelicalism pushes down your throat. Like someone crossing from Texas to Mexico knows they’ve arrived in Mexico because they crossed the Rio Grande, so they know they’ve passed from death to life because not only did they believe or pray the sinner’s prayer or cross any other imaginary line, but they crossed a definite landmark, a body of water, in baptism.

    Meanwhile, Evangelicals who’ve rejected baptism as the point of salvation are never secure in their salvation, never sure they’ve crossed the imaginary (for in their system its imaginary) line between death and life, and so keep having to invite Jesus into their hearts at the altar call OVER and OVER and OVER, and as John Piper would have it, preach the gospel to themselves every day…rebelieve the same gospel of faith alone in faith alone that they believe (or do they) saved them, because they can never be sure they believed it enough, or rather that their belief came from a supernatural source rather than mere free will which wouldn’t count, so they must do it again and again to be sure its perfect belief, because its got to be perfect. And they must make sure to always be more pius, better, stronger, faster, always perfectly devoted, lest they forget to put FULL assurance in Christ’s work alone. They must work hard to make sure they believed PERFECTLY and put FULL assurance in Christ….and good gracious that’s hard works! Harder than keeping the whole Talmud, in fact.

    • david brainerd says:

      However, infant baptism tends to the same result as faith alonism (hence why medieval Catholicism was also ballyard religion) because if you weren’t awake when your crossed the Rio Grande, how do you know whether you’re in Texas or Mexico?

      • david brainerd, you seem to take a sacramental approach to the subject of baptism, but at the same time you’re critical of infant baptism. Most of the time, sacramental baptism and paedobaptism are theologically connected. I believe there may be a few denominations which subscribe to a sacramental view of baptism, wherein water baptism is the occasion of regeneration, but is nonetheless limited to those who are able to make a personal confession beforehand. Is this your perspective? Do you belong to such a church?

        • Asinus Spinas Masticans says:

          Restoration movement?

          • david brainerd says:

            Yep. To Robert F’s question, our view of “regeneration” is absolutely nothing like the dominant (that is, Calvinist) view of “regeneration” so the very use of the word will cause confusion. By regeneration the Calvinist perspective means essentially coming to faith, whereas by regeneration we mean being reborn, i.e. becoming a child of God. John 1:12 he gave the RIGHT to become a child of God to those who believe on his name. Galatians 3:26-27 For you are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus because as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. That is, when we believe we receive the RIGHT to become a child of God and when we are baptized we USE that right and actually become one.

          • And what of sin, or loss of conscious faith. subsequent to believing and being baptized: May one lose one’s status as a child of God due to these? If so, does one need to confess such sin or loss of faith to be restored to that status? Is there a ritual way of addressing this situation, or is it only a matter of the disposition of one’s heart being made right by personal repentance? In other words, is sin subsequent to becoming a child of God handled sacramentally, or pietistically, or how? I assume re-baptism is out of the question.

          • david brainerd says:

            The solution is understood as just repentance and prayer directly to God because you’re still a child of God, just an errant one. Some still say that in addition to this, for a “public” sin which “brought shame and reproach upon the church” (which is never really defined exactly) it must be confessed publicly “before the church,” but normally this public confession is framed as being a request “for the prayers of the church” to strengthen them, and public confession amounts to nothing more than going up front and whispering in the preacher’s ear “I have sinned and need the prayers of the church” without telling him what it was specifically, followed by a public prayer by someone in the congregation that will ask not only specifically for God to strengthen this person but everyone. Its not like an altar call exactly because the person is not questioning their conversion or asking Jesus into their heart again, but simply asking for the church to pray for them kind of along the lines of James 5:16.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > Evangelicals say if you teach baptism is essential to salvation, that’s “worksism”

      Evangelicals feelings against Works is a complete head-stand based on all their non-stop Family Values, Culture War, etc… emphasis. I don’t believe any observer expects consistency on that front.

      > Evangelicals who’ve rejected baptism as the point of salvation are
      > never secure in their salvation,

      This salvation and security-of-salvation is the wrong track entirely. Scripture spends a scandalously small quantity of its text talking about Salvation, and only lobs a few balls into the stands for Security-of-Salvation. Perhaps we should be practicing Schism or pouring the majority of our Gatoraid on an issue that Scripture seems not to emphasize.

      How many Christians, for real, wrestle with the security of their salvation – unless someone tries to make them feel insecure? I am certain some do. But in all my years in the church the number of times that came up in personal conversation…. that would be a zero. It came up a few times in bible studies. The majority of people do not seem that hung up about it – Christ’s message is clear enough on this topic.

      • I can’t count how many times I prayed the sinner’s prayer as a pre-teen and teenage Baptist. There was never any assurance of salvation when you were constantly told that if you hadn’t meant it, it hadn’t counted. Plus, any sins you committed since you last prayed the sinner’s prayer were further evidence that you hadn’t meant it. Probably less morbidly introspective people are fine with this, but it was terrible for me.

        Why would I ever have admitted that I wasn’t really sure that I had meant the sinner’s prayer when I prayed it? All that would have been said was, well let’s pray it again. and again. and again.

        Ironically, having to mean the sinner’s prayer to have it count is far more justification by works (or justification by mental state) than believing that God forgives and gives new life in baptism.

        • Exactly.

          What the “sinner’s prayer” usually shows is a desire not to go hell, rather than a desire to accept Jesus into our hearts (that’s big of us).

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            Evangelicals are not “Saving Souls(TM)”, they’re Selling Fire Insurance (and if you Say the Words NOW, we’ll throw in a FREE Complementary Rapture Boarding Pass — Don’t be Left Behind!!!!!)

          • Exactly.

            And, as an added bonus…you get filled with helium (pride) when you make the right decision.

          • I think hydrogen is better.
            It explains why people explode and end up worse than ever.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            “Stupidity is like hydrogen — it’s the basic building block of the Universe.”
            — Frank Zappa

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          “Are You SURE? Are You CERTAIN You’re Sure? Are You SURE You’re Certain You’re Sure? etc etc etc…”

        • In retrospect, a lot of the sensory overload I remember from being a Baptist kid moves to the background and the Christlike attitudes and behaviors of many in the congregation move to the foreground. Don’t want to be wholly critical but I hope my kids will grow up with an assurance that they are part of God’s covenant people and not left to their own feelings to feel sorry enough for God to forgive them.

        • cermak_rd says:

          Catholics have a term for that form of morbid introspection. It’s called scrupulosity.

          • Headless Unicorn says:

            “Excessive Scrupulosity”, a form of OCD.

          • And if I had heard that when I was a teenager, I might have said, gee, I shouldn’t worry so much. But when you cut yourself off from 2000 years of Christian spiritual experience, you lose a lot of helpful tips and tricks.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            I also remember hearing about Massachusetts Puritan journals of the 17th-18th Centuries being filled with such morbid introspection and internal sin-sniffing to the near-exclusion of everything else. They spent so much time sin-sniffing themselves you wonder how they had the time to hunt witches.

        • Sniff.

          As I’ve hinted before, this has been a big problem for me. Adam, maybe it you don’t see it as much when you start out in Lutheranism and migrate into the more upbeat atmosphere of the megas? (I have not attended a mega for any length of time, so I don’t know how the culture in them differs.) Or maybe people just don’t discuss it. It sounds dangerous to those who have some idea of what you are saying, the kind of thing that requires Concern and Prayer Requests and Fixing and Not Trusting This One Too Much. To those who don’t get it, it just sounds crazy.

          What’s the troubled person going to say?

          I’m afraid all the time I’ll never be good enough?

          I’m supposed to love God, but mostly I’m just afraid of God?

          I believe God loves me, except that I can’t get my mind off the idea that if I’ve gotten something wrong, it’ll turn out that I’m delusional, or that I managed to fall away, and that God will destroy me and everyone I’ve influenced, which will include most of the people I care about?

          I’m worried, and the fact that I’m worried seems like a good reason to be worried even more? After all, if I’m trusting God, this shouldn’t be troubling me.

          It’s just so awkward.

          Perhaps it shouldn’t be so surprising. Christian theology contains some completely terrifying ideas. First off, there’s the concept of Hell. Then there’s all the ways to get there. To answer this conundrum, we have God’s love. But the way things are described most of the time, there are all these caveats to worry over: God only loves the elect, and some of the goats think they sheep. You can fall away. You can commit mortal sins. You can think you have faith, but it might not be saving faith. Pick your poison!

          For most people most of the time, it seems that these fears can be trotted out for a few minutes to create a shake-up. Then you resolve the tension for them, and everyone goes back to being happy.

          But if you are ruthlessly introspective….

          Or people are frequently angling to break down confidence and peace to get you to do things for them . . . .

          Or you are also worrying about something else (sins, persistent doubts, the fact you are still suffering from depression, the fact your experiences don’t match the community’s standards, etc)….

          Or you are a skeptical about the kind of claims on which people hang their assurance….

          …then it’s not too hard for this kind of hand-wringing to bleed over into everything.

          At least, in my case, it seems like these kinds of ideas tend to collide badly with my personality structure. I have to be really careful about falling into certain mental loops and taking my eyes off the cross.

          It does help to have put some institutional distance between myself and the kind of thing Michael Spenser described over here:

          http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/the-devils-sermon

          Being in a sacramental traditional also helps, because it gives me a way to focus on something external to myself. For me, asking too many questions about the real nature of internal mental states is just a black hole. You think you can grab at things, but it’s like water through the fingers.

          • Headless Unicorn says:

            Not hard to bleed over into one-upmanship, being Holier-than-Thou to PROVE I’m REALLY Saved (or Elect, or whatever). Over at Wartburg Watch, this was suggested as a reason so many Hyper-Calvinists are into Perfectly Parsed Theology and Sin-Sniffing — to prove to themselves that they are REALLY Elect.

            And as Entropy sets in, it turns into Counting Coup —
            “ME SHEEP! YOU GOAT! HAW! HAW! HAW!”

          • Dana Ames says:

            Hoh boy, is this familiar. It underlies the shape of my journey just as Ch. Mike has written about in “So-Called Evangelical Life.”

            I’m a recovering perfectionist, and most of your examples, Danielle, applied to me in spades. I only wanted to do what God wanted me to do, and worship him in the way that would be pleasing to him. In my college years and beyond, this led me along the spectrum of non-sacramental Christian groups, from the reasonably healthy to the fringes of little-o orthodoxy and potential for spiritual abuse, and back again; I bounced around for +30 years after leaving RC.

            I found a lot of peace in paradox. One of the reasons I was so drawn to EO is that in this aspect of things, I can rest. The only person I need to tend to spiritually is myself, and yet God doesn’t want me to get all tied up in knots of introspection; it’s okay to not know “how I’m doing spiritually.” The path is not easy, but it’s not complicated, either, and it’s not driven by any wretched urgency.

            I have heard Fr Tom Hopko say more than once that his mother had a very simple phrase she told him often: Love God. Go to church. Say your prayers. I think there is much wisdom in that; anything we really need to “do” will be evident within that focus.

            Dana

          • Christiane says:

            is good to think about HOW we go about ‘pointing to Christ’

            is it ‘pointing to Christ’ when we set ourselves up to judge the others as sinners or are we pointing to OURSELVES as sent forth to condemn them? Is THAT the ‘mission’ of Christians in the world?

            I think a person going forth into the world to proclaim Christ cannot say often enough this ancient prayer:
            “Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.”

            That about gets us where we need to be in our relationship to Christ, and before others. And it points TO CHRIST as the One we all need. No hypocrisy there. Just hope and faith, and trust.

            Where did ‘conservative’ fundamentalist-evangelicalism go so wrong with its pointing of the finger? That they ‘mean well’ is lost to me when I saw their devotion to a political agenda in 2012 that would have hurt the poor among us most. (and yes, Ryan is supposed to be Catholic, but thank God the US bishops refused to bless his ‘plan’ because of its potentially harmful impact on the least of ours)

            I don’t get it.
            All those Scriptures that call for walking in humility before the Lord . . . all those Scriptures that warn of the sin of pride . . . the beauty of parable of the Pharisee and the Publican in the temple . . . is all of this lost on the judgmental and the arrogant? What went so wrong?

          • david brainerd says:

            If you study modern Judaism, or the Mishnah and Talmud, you’ll find that the legalism of Judaism in the sense of Orthodox Judaism (obviously not Reform) consists moreso in the notion of Kavanah (concentration, mental states, perfection and selflessness of motive, doing every action with perfect piety and sincerity) than in the list of to-dos itself. They also afflict themselves with the notion that nothing they do is good enough unless done with PERFECT motives, just like the Calvinists (Oh, excuse me, I meant to use the accepted word “Evangelicals” but seriously, we all know its only a cipher for Calvinists, don’t we?).

          • Dana, you wrote, “I have heard Fr Tom Hopko say more than once that his mother had a very simple phrase she told him often: Love God. Go to church. Say your prayers.”

            This makes me smile, because I can think of how much this wouldn’t have resonated when I was younger, but how much it does now. (Or is beginning to.) To someone who is frantic to answer a question (or else!) or make other people answer questions, such a plain formula will sound like a non-answer. But now, I think there’s a lot of wisdom in it. It forces one to refocus on what is essential…and what actually is helpful.

            It’s really easy for someone who thinks of Christianity as a body of doctrines to perseverate on what they think (this is the intellectual prowess of Calvinism in evangelicalism’s DNA talking); it’s really easy for anyone caught up in a movement where insider/outsider status and identity are important to focus on purity and tests (as happened with fundamentalism, and in culture war politics); likewise, it’s really easy for pietistic impulses in Christianity to place a huge burden on experience and what it “really means.” The brilliance of the “simple” formula is that it shifts the focus from trying to extract meaning from the contents of the mind to actual acts that express in very concrete form what one is after. How do I know if I trust God? Well, I could examine my feelings of trust to see if they are pure and genuine; that coming up short, I can start trying to drum up the correct feelings. Or, I could actually pray, which is an act in which I trust God. Now I’m actually doing something, which is reassuring in itself. And I mean the doing of it: not whether I feel the way I am supposed to feel while doing it. That’s a bonus, it’s not the point. And it’s possible, just possible, that doing a thing contributes to actually becoming the sort of person who does a thing, whereas thinking about thinking a lot perhaps does not. And in any case, to some degree it puts the whole thing back in God’s hands, and forces me to pry my little white knuckles off of the matter.

            If one makes the mistake of viewing all repetition and “doing” as “dead,” as evangelicalism has tended to do (particularly the way I interpreted evangelical faith, in my earlier post-conversion years), then you remove value from simple things and the comfort they offer. I have a suspicion that the introspective perfectionists among us (me, alas) feel the effects of that in particularly unpleasant ways.

      • david brainerd says:

        “How many Christians, for real, wrestle with the security of their salvation – unless someone tries to make them feel insecure?”

        That’s true. But if you’re ever around a Calvinist, then they do everything in their power to make you feel insecure. And how can you not be around a Calvinist in the Evangelical world?

    • I am part of one of those groups that teaches baptism as essential, and it is still possible to hear publicly in my fellowship that we constantly have to be “more pious, run faster, jump farther…” etc. I think the “peace that passes all understanding” is always going to come down to my confidence that God’s saved me through his grace and that my life is lived to honor him, however I can find to do that.

      • david brainerd says:

        I agree David, that we do still hear this stuff. But in my estimation, this is largely because we live in an Evangelicalized/Calvinized world. Our preachers are reading these guys’ books and commentaries and imbibing some of their nonsense. Its unavoidable. But its not as bad as it would be in Evangelicalism proper. Its like being in the kitchen standing in the doorway versus being in the oven itself.

  3. I guess the thing about baseball is we invented it. Our children wouldn’t play it if we didn’t teach them how. I wonder how many would just have fun running around. I have to laugh at the early ones who could care less about winning and losing it does my soul well. Faith has to work to even be faith. Faith that doesn’t work is dead something I have been reflecting upon and will be for as long as it takes. Constantly through the day as I interchange the word with trust as I think of scripture using it. Grace, this wonderful grace that first brought me to the field in which to play. Mostly the gentle voice that would tell me a thousand times over in encouraging me to go on and be better, sometimes fast and sometimes slow, but constant in the love. These little things that are giant in my life in the way I change my stance and the way I approach the plate and the resting confidence that I am not alone in a world always yelling at me. Then too I can smile back as I know they too are at the same plate with me. Yes, the look me in the eye communicating one thing that becomes monumental in my life and preparing me for the next. What incredible freedom we experience in the love that would do this for us. I tend to run a little faster unencumbered by those things that would have dragged me down. Good piece.(peace) I think we have the best coach ever.

    • Richard Hershberger says:

      I apologize in advance for the pedantry that is to follow:

      If by “we” you mean adults, then no, we did not invent baseball. Baseball was a kids’ game long before it was standardized and its rules codified by adults. (If you are thinking “What about Abner Doubleday?” or “What about Alexander Cartwright?” then you have been fed fairy stories. The earliest references to baseball is from 1744: long before either of those gentlemen was born.)

      • Interesting bit of info there, Richard! So an analogy would be if suddenly kick-ball were to elevated to a professional level. (And I guess there now dodgeball leagues, right?)

        • Richard Hershberger says:

          Another example is football. This was a traditional medieval village game, not entirely distinguishable from a mass insurrection. It mostly died out in the 17th century, in part due to Puritan disapproval of such vaguely paganish things. It survived in the boarding schools, which at that time were run not entirely unlike Somalia is run today, where football served admirably as a vehicle for the older boys to terrorize the younger ones. In around the early Victorian era the adults made a concerted effort to retake control of the schools. Part of this was taking control of football, reducing the level of mayhem slightly, and using the game to burn of all that adolescent energy, making the boys more controllable. In the 1860s and 70s clubs of “old boys” formed to keep playing the game of their youths. Each school had different rules, which required considerable negotiation. Eventually these were standardized into two codes: Association football (a/k/a soccer) and Rugby football (which later split into two versions).

          A similar process took place in America, but the boarding school culture never had the hold here that it did in England. Rather, the process took place in the colleges. In the 1870s the students started playing against other schools, so negotiations were required. Most schools favored a soccer-style kicking game. The one holdout for a Rugby-style game was Harvard. Ordinarily we would expect the majority to win out, but even then Harvard was Harvard and was very much aware of its Harvardness, and it out-elited everyone else. Now you know why we don’t play soccer in America. Seriously. We also don’t play Rugby, but was not for lack of trying. They couldn’t figure the rules out (which, in fairness, is not is ridiculous as it might seem: they were quite impenetrable) and around 1880 they made a series of rules changes to make the game as they understood it playable. Thus was American football born.

      • By we I meant humans and judging from the pedantry it fits rather well with the above comments as we have a tendency to do just that with everything.

  4. Asinus Spinas Masticans says:

    Good analogy.

    You can’t learn baseball from a book. Not even from a Book.
    You gotta get in there and play.

    • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says:

      The absolute biggest, most abject, and glaring problem that I witnessed in years of seminary.

      • Seminary–or even just the armchair–is great. You get to listen to yourself talk, and you don’t yet have to act on it!

    • Asinus Spinas Masticans says:

      Prior to the Schism, the principal instrument of Christian epistemology was the monastery.

      The University emerged almost immediately afterwards:

      University of Bologna (1088),
      University of Paris (teach. 1090, recogn. 1150)
      University of Oxford (teach. 1096, recogn. 1167)
      University of Modena (teach. 1103, recogn. 1175)
      University of Palencia (recogn. 1208)
      University of Cambridge (recogn. 1209)
      and etc, etc.

      It may be just more West-bashing on my part, but that doesn’t appear coincidental to me.

      • Prior to the Great Schism, monasteries were practically the only institutions in Western Europe during the first half of the Middle Ages where literacy could be found, or learned. They had a monopoly on literacy, education, and whatever artifacts and documents of the ancient pagan world that had survived the general destruction and decline of the after the fall of Rome to the invaders. Of course they were the principal instruments of Christian epistemology: no other teams existed to show up for the game. That is, until more of the Classical world was recovered, and the universities were founded.

        • Asinus Spinas Masticans says:

          Then I wonder why Byzantium, which never lost what the West lost, never developed universities or Scholasticism. The contrasting figures of St. Thomas Aquinus and St. Gregory Palamas highlight the divergence.

          The Byzantines had higher learning, of course, but it was provided by a network of private tutors controlled by the Imperial household and the Church.

          • Could it be that Byzantium never developed universities or Scholasticism because it never lost what the West lost?

            Also, was not Byzantium friendlier to the existence of Classical influences and culture than the West, where universities were significantly connected with a recovery of a humanism that was partly at odds with Rome’s anthropology? Wasn’t the Renaissance viewed with some suspicion by the Western Church, and didn’t it form a reaction against Western Medievalism, where in the East Christianity the values of Classical culture were more integrated from the beginning? For instance, in the acceptance of neo-Platonism as an integral thread of Christian theology?

            In the West, monasteries not only served as repositories for ancient documents and culture, but as filters preventing some ancient cultural influences from getting through; in this way, they were somewhat reactionary.

    • OldProphet says:

      You are totally correct! In many churches, they do not let you play, hence the everlasting gap between the clergy and the laity. But, of course, most believers only want to sit in the stands and watch and cheer for guys like Mark Driscoll. By, the way, what scripture says that a man must graduate from a seminary to pastor a church?

      • The Scripture of Hard Knocks. If a man doesn’t have some education, recognized by someone other than this own immediate pastor/group, it will lead to nothing but trouble. I have no respect for anti-intellectual men and women like Smith Wigglesworth who proudly boasted of being functionally illiterate of all but the Bible, and it surprises me anyone would listen to such fools.

        • OldProphet says:

          “the scripture of hard knocks”. That is a fabulous phrase. I’ve been in ministry for over 30 years and I have met few pastors with a good balance of real life experience, humility, intellectual knowledge, and are “strong in the scriptures”.Worst of all, I really see this being the norm rather than the exception. I don’ know the real whys of this but I do know that a lot of Christians are so struggling on their lives and their relationship to their Heavenly Father and can’t find hope and help in their church or from their pastors A lot of people I know are leaving the church and looking for something else because of their pain, discourgement, and feelings of isolation

          • Headless Unicorn says:

            I wonder if some of this is “self-medication”, where a guy becomes a pastor in an attempt to PROVE to himself that he REALLY is Saved. And becomes even more a Bible Studier and Teacher and/or Preacher to the exclusion of all else — “If I preach 24/7, I MUST be Saved!”

            And there is a long-standing anti-intellectualism in Fundagelicalism, where actual education and training are the Dead Works of Men instead of the Moving of the Spirit. JMJ/Christian Monist has related the trope of always drafting someone for a task who knows absolutely NOTHING about what they have to do so he HAS to operate in The Spirit instead of The Flesh, and the original IMonk said that in his part of Appalachia, the highest complement you could give to a preacher was “He has NO book-larnin’ and He Is LOUD!”

        • david brainerd says:

          How is a cushy academic seminary full of nothing but inhuman and inhumane THEORY “hard knocks”? Seems to me some education by being around REAL people and not just academic robots might be a better education than all the scholastic Calvinism any seminary can heap up and shove into your brain.

          • I graduated from a “hard knocks” seminary. Good scholarship, but we also had to work through our junk (spiritual formation, soul care, exploring our dark side, wounds, addictions, abuse, etc.).

            Our professors (top notch scholars themselves) had a name for the theoretical intellectual types: “brain on a stick.”

            Nobody wanted to get that label.

  5. I was never sure of my salvation, never admitted that to anyone really, but I was tormented by this for years. I was baptized as an infant by Rev. Heisenberg in St.Paul’s Lutheran Church, thanks to my 2 Lutheran aunts. I am glad of that but don’t ascribe the same importance to that event as do many others on this list. I wish I did. My Christian life consisted of going “to the altar” when we sinned. As someone mentioned, “sin management”, Grace was not emphasized that much. After a long time this assurance thing has faded. I know in my mind that how I feel really is based on my psychological makeup.

    • Part 2 of that Baptism (your Baptism) was teaching you what it means. Preaching to you what it means. “Faith comes by hearing”.

      Like so many Lutherans then, and now…they just fell down on the job…if they ever knew the job.

  6. Good thinking, Steve. Actually I was an active Lutheran for years after I got married, children baptized, catechism, SS super., Bible classes. My husband was devout Lutheran, that’s why I left my Presby. Church when we were married. But I still didn’t have any security. Being raised a fundamentalist church (Mrthodist Holiness) was almost impossible to get away from. I think there are a lot of people like me; they just endure and don’t want to tell the pastor, group leader, whatever. How they feel.

  7. I saw the lead picture and thought “look at those cute little kids looking so earnest while falling all over themselves chasing the ball!”

    Then I realized it’s actually a picture of this year’s Chicago Cubs.

  8. I think part of the reason why we have the “ballyard religion” comes from our Confession tradition. Out of this tradition came figures like George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards in the First Awakening. From them, we inherited the trait of Activism, as Christian historian David Bebbington reminds us in The Dominance of Evangelicalism. And, from this trait of activism came figures like William Wilberforce and D. L. Moody. So, a lot of good came out of this tradition. But the statement that Evangelicalism has a poor understanding of spiritual formation is appreciated, at least that’s how it has come to in many cases. Like a CM’s previous essay has stated, one of the good that comes out of the collapse of evangelicalism is that we begin to notice “something is wrong”. And I think that is why there is an uncoordinated group project across the nation to rediscover/redefine the Christian gospel. And I think that is why there is a rekindled interest in Spiritual Formation. I do believe that evangelicalism has come to some kind of an end (of a stage or of the movement) of its momentum. If it is to continue, it must search for a new identity. Either way, our God is in the making of this process to guide His church.

  9. Since I met Jesus almost thirty years ago, I have noticed something strange about the evangelical offer of a personal relationship with Jesus. As soon as the offer is accepted it is taken away. The promised personal relationship becomes more like a Stepford wife, cookie cutter relationship with people forced into a mold with the same books, same Bible translation, same popular preachers and teachers, same politics and family values. If someone breaks from the mold, his or her salvation is questioned and he or she is consigned to outer darkness. So, in the evangelical world, it appears there is really nothing personal about ones faith. The evangelical church could be sued for false advertizing. With all the expressions of the faith over the last 2,000 years it amazes me that the ultimate expression has erupted in the 21st century in the materialistic, commercialized, celebrity centered North American evangelical church. Lord have mercy.

    • Substitute religion for personal relationship, because there’s nothing “personal” about it.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Reminds me of the Christianese putdown “You have a (sneer) Religion (end sneer) while *I* have a RELATIONSHIP!!!!!”

        And a problem with a Gospel of Personal Salvation and ONLY Personal Salvation is others than yourself become meaningless. It’s just ME and JEESUS and nobody else. NOBODY.

        Let Entropy set in, and your “relationship” gets pulled in the direction of Solipsism and Selfishness, where only YOU (and your Relationship(TM)) are of any importance. Objectivism’s Utter Selfishness with a Christian coat of paint — hmmmm, wonder if that’s how Ayn Rand became the latest Fourth Person of the Trinity and Atlas Shrugged the latest 67th book of the Bible among Culture War types?

      • david brainerd says:

        Thing is personal relationships are a dime a dozen nowadays. How long do they last? A week most of the time, maybe less, then they’re off to the next boyfriend or girlfriend. Making the Christian life a “personal relationship” is about the same as replacing all the hymnals with nothing but “Jesus is my girlfriend songs.” If Jesus is your girlfriend, then you’ll dump him in a week when you have your first argument. That’s pretty weak and sissy theology.

        • david brainerd says:

          …or when a savior in a shorter shirt comes along, Krishna maybe? James talks about “pure and undefiled religion” so anyone who poopoos on the word religion has a problem on their hands.

  10. “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness…. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualitiesf are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 2 Peter 1:3,5-8

    Thanks, Coach.

  11. Chaplain Mike!
    None of us seemed to have picked up on the gist of you article, the part that was the best! We got carried away with angels and heads of pins…

    We need pastors who visit us and help us know Jesus better. We need friends who let us be ourselves and patiently walk with us in our journeys. We need mentors who will model the way and take us under their wings. We need spiritual directors who will patiently teach us to listen to the quiet voice of the Spirit. We need to learn spiritual practices that will form us and shape us into the image of Jesus.
    We need quiet. And slow. And personal. One voice at a time. Face to face. Unhurried conversations. Time. Patience. A willingness to make mistakes, and a willingness to let others do the same. Small victories. Miniscule changes. Moments of reflection.