May 28, 2017

Fridays with Michael Spencer: January 27, 2017

Along the Maine Shore 2014

From March 2008

A truly prominent, not-post anything blogger has put forward the following theory:

Those who use the prefix “post” to describe themselves are claiming to be smarter than those who don’t.

Example: A “post-modernist” is saying “I used to be mired in the darkness of modernism, but now, through my superior intellect, I have arisen from the tomb of modernism and ascended to the higher plane of post-modernism.”

Or: A post-conservative is saying, “Once I lived in the dark swamps of conservatism, but now I’ve finally used my brains and looked at what Neanderthals inhabit conservatism. I’ve packed my bags and left for the sunshine and springtime of post-conservatism.”

And, of course: A post-evangelical — such as yours truly — is saying “Those stupid, sheep-like evangelicals can’t hold an intellectual candle to the brightness of my post-evangelical insights. How truly significant and wonderful it is that I have emerged, under the power of my stupendous brain, into post-evangelicalism.

You may send your best examples in to the Internet Monk research department.

I have three responses.

First, I don’t think that’s a completely wrong analysis. Intellectual arrogance is a common sin, and I’m sure I’m guilty of it. There are other reasons a person might take pride in being “post” whatever. There’s certainly a social dimension, as people “join up” with groups and movements they feel have moved beyond other groups and movements or just have an image they want to identify with. Pride comes in many different forms and some of them are quite subtle.

But intellectual pride goes both ways. There are those who take intellectual pride in their “old fashioned” legalism and their King James Onlyism. It’s no less potentially sinful to say “I’ve never changed and never will” than to say “I’ve changed and that makes me better.” It’s prideful to say “I’m smarter than those _________ Christians, who can’t see their own flaws and apostasy in comparison to my group.”

While I agree with the prominent blogger that being “post” whatever may be evidence of intellectual arrogance, I can’t say that’s automatically true or that there isn’t just as much arrogance in the other options of where we position ourselves in relationship to other Christians. It’s all a version of “My way of looking at things amounts to a kind of righteousness.” I think not.

Secondly, the process of thinking, learning and discovery, by its very nature, takes us in the direction of being “post”-whatever we were before we thought, learned or discovered. There’s nothing wrong with being “post-ignorant” or “post-uninformed.”

It seems that some Christians want to present themselves as being “keepers of the foundational” truths, and that their “progress” has always been “back to the truth,” but not “post” anything. Ahem. So Calvinists, for example, don’t call themselves post-evangelicals, but in actual fact that’s precisely what many of them are. They are people whose journey of discovery has taken then into the world of reformation Christianity POST their sojourn among generic evangelicals.

Charismatics are usually post-cessationists. Catholic converts are post-protestants. Many reformed Christians are post-revivalists or post-Arminians. I don’t think anyone is making a claim the other camp is stupid. Just wrong, from the learner’s perspective.

If the purpose of learning, study, inquiry and discovery isn’t to transcend your previous ignorance and to move forward in your experience of truth, then what are we doing pursuing so many books. sermons, lectures and classes?

Why are we reading prominent blogs, if not to be “post” something in our own knowledge of the truth?

Third and finally, my own “post-evangelical” journey isn’t a triumphant parade of intellectual triumph over the stupid. That isn’t to say that there isn’t plenty that’s stupid, worthless and even spiritually dangerous going on among evangelicals. It’s to say that I’m intentionally moving past where evangelicals are going, to take a broader, deeper examination of their roots, their valuable contributions and their diverse options for the future. I believe that evangelicalism’s current directions are dire and portend an end to the movement as classically defined, but I believe evangelicalism “deep and wide” has hope worth stirring up and content worth keeping.

I have far more respect for evangelicals in general than those who typically criticize me for being “post evangelical.” Their pessimism exceeds mine by far. I believe there is much about evangelicalism that can be salvaged and much about it that reaches into the broader experience of truly “catholic” Christianity. My prominent critics typically find evangelicalism a train-wreck with only one hope: a wholesale rejection of all things Charismatic and catholic in favor of a kind of reformed Baptist/independent Baptist fundamentalism.

If there’s a competition for who is the most pessimistic “post-evangelical,” I can’t really run with the big dogs. Look up the people who think Rick Warren is a new age guru and Tim Keller is a mystic.

My intention is to discover what in evangelicalism presents a “Jesus-shaped spirituality.” I do not adopt the post-evangelical label as a way to say I am smarter or others are stupid. I adopt it to say that living among evangelicals must be an intentional, deconstructive journey, sorting through tradition and trend, looking to scripture for authority and being open to the work of the Spirit, even among people very different from me…and maybe even not as “smart” as me.

The warning that “post” anything can be intellectual arrogance is a good word, well heard and hopefully heeded. But at the same time, drawing a caricature of other Christians who may use the label “post” may be another version of the same thing.

There’s no immunity for any of us; just a constant need for humility, mutual respect and careful consideration of what God may be doing in those different from ourselves.

Comments

  1. I think a lot of the shouting matches between the Emergent Church and the Young Restless And Reformed crowds in the early 00s fell into this category. Both agreed they were better than the evangelicalism they “post-ed” out of, and both thought they were much better than each other.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      …. and both were ants on a football field. So many of these fierce grand arguments are between tiny little tribes – especially now.

      It is healthy to step back and see ones place in the world – even if you are convinced you are right/correct/true [maybe you are, but…]. If people realize they are not commanders of armies at the borders but neighbors in the same dingy neighborhood of a vast city it is easier to get along. Something about American Church Culture, and Armchair Theology, tips toward puffery. I was a participant, which is humiliating.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      “First thing to remember is these guys do NOT hang out together. The Universe cannot have two Centers.”
      — Kooks Magazine, regarding Conspiracy Cranks

      Or two One True Ways.

  2. Michael was a special breed of malcontent. I sure miss him. RIP Michael, enjoy yourself.

  3. Klasie Kraalogies says:

    Would it he humble or arrogant to say that I am post-post? 😉

    • Perhaps neither. I’m thinking post-post puts you in a different metaphysical realm all together. “Post” seems to keep some kind of tie to the “pre”. “Post-post” maybe means you have exited the house and driven off to find a new place of residence… characterized by disgust?, disappointment?, relief?, joy?

  4. Michael didn’t mince words. Always refreshing. But I think he might have written this differently if it was more recent. Seems to me evangelicalism has more than ever now made an an idol of political power and cultural dominance. And with the recent election the gloves seem to have come off among those inclined to be combative about it. Granted, there were some moderating voices, but those were few and far between, and not nearly loud or persistent enough to make much difference.

    Never considered myself superior, and I’ve been out of most of evangelicalism for several years but open to the possibility of returning. That is no longer the case; I refuse to be part of to the lack of discernment and pursuit of power that has overtaken white American evangelicalism now.

    • I’ve been out of most of evangelicalism for several years but open to the possibility of returning. That is no longer the case; I refuse to be part of to the lack of discernment and pursuit of power that has overtaken white American evangelicalism now.

      Seconded. And not out of any sense of personal superiority, but out of a deep genuine fear of what this unleashed monster is going to prove capable of.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        Yep. I really began post-ing out of Evangelicalism after 9/11. A trajectory which gradually accelerated.

        The me-of-then was very uncomfortable with much of what I heard [and did *not* hear]…. but me-of-then would not have believed Evangelicalism would become what it is now., I believed, at least, that Purity Culture would buffer against – always present – tendencies of racism and nationalism. I was wrong.

        The best lack all conviction, while the worst
        Are full of passionate intensity.

        I have a much fuller understanding of Purity Culture now, me-of-them was sadly naive. There is more shame in my post-ness than there is hubris.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          As the Taliban and Boko Haram have demonstrated, Purity Culture can always be forced into Greater and Purer Purity.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        …out of a deep genuine fear of what this unleashed monster is going to prove capable of.

        “EIN VOLK! EIN REICH! EIN TRUMP!”?

        (And even if Trump is NOT the Fuehrer type, there are going to be Trumpeters for whom he IS. Delusional, but still… Remember some of the over-the-top Obama fanboys back in 2008?)

      • There is no fear in love. Leave it to the Lord as we can do nothing without him.

  5. Anyone have an idea of who this prominent blogger was? Is he/she still around… or is she/he post?

  6. I am not one who ranks modesty among the virtues. To underestimate one’s abilities – to the logician – is as much a crime as to overestimate one’s abilities.

  7. Interesting. I’ve always looked at it just the opposite. To say you’re “post” anything is to tacitly admit the superiority of the previous paradigm. You’re basically saying I’m not important enough to have my own identity. I’m what comes after the other thing. A really new thing will not characterize itself as “post” anything. They will be what comes next, not what comes after.