His obsession---the sky. He had a paranoia about it, probably stemming from something that occurred in his mother's egg. So let's take a deep, cleansing breath and recognize that the sky is not falling. Falling, no. Rolling up like a scroll, yes. Just not yet. A few things will happen first.
Some technophobic believe we've already opened up Pandora's box with robots, genetics, and highly complex machinery. Someone is going to invent something that he can't control, a modern day Frankenstein's monster (except a real one), and we'll be running for our lives like Japanese in a bad lizard movie. All of those fears make good fiction and some scary stories, but the real problems with technology lie elsewhere. My global positioning satellite is zooming in on the world wide web and then focusing on one small part of it: the Christian www.
The world wide web and modern Christianity are a perfect match. I don't know about a match made in heaven, but they do come together based on the unique interests and needs of Christianity. Matt Drudge was created by the web. And all he did was provide black hyperlinks on a white background that looked like they were plunked out on an old manual smith-corona. Christianity wants more visibility and attention. The web allows for that and at a very low cost. On the relative cheap, a church can build a fortress of a website that likely dwarfs what's really happening.
You've heard of the big fish in the small pond. The web can make the small pond an ocean and big doesn't describe the fish anymore. Immense fish in the Great Lakes. The world isn't meant to make Christians feel significant, and most of them don't feel that way. The web can produce a stronger sense of a missing significance. Even if not many are attending, the crowd grows because of a new, larger web audience. Even part of the status of an organization in the minds of its constituency ties into its online presence.
Some great opportunities have arisen from the web---easy access to a wealth of teaching, print, audio, and video, new avenues of gospel presentation into homes, a place to visit to find the distinctives of a particular institution. There are also some harmful traps on the web distinctly in the realm of professing Christianity---more false teaching, bad examples spread, and something of a replacement for actual, tangible church life.
What I want to talk about are just a few of the damaging blindspots that I see today online. We need to take the biblical commands and principles and apply them to the web for our own spiritual discernment and the honor of God. We still need to be scriptural even with the anonymous feel of the internet. The Lord still sees everything. There are many more, but I'm going to list four of them.
1. A Skewed Promotion of Men Who Haven't Earned this Veneration in the Real World
2. A Muddying of the Distinctions between Male and Female Roles
3. A Replacement for Actual Church Involvement
4. A Loss of Respect for Age and Authority
A Skewed Promotion of Men Who Haven't Earned this Veneration in the Real World
A recent trend is former fundamentalists coming out and telling "the" story of what led them to leave fundamentalism for evangelicalism or new-evangelicalism. Their story makes them the hero and the separatists or fundamentalists or independent fundamental Baptists are the villains. The entire authority for the point they are making is their own personal experience told not only from their own perspective, but their own slant.
In their stories, they often "profile" their villains with stereotypical descriptions. The villains must be villains. That is what vindicates their story and their move. Normally the former fundamentalist was a deep student yearning for more, but the separatist villain was shallow and couldn't or didn't answer questions. The story-teller has a great memory for mistreatment. He often has deep, really mystical insight into the villain's motives.
These "stories" either do or try to do several things. First, they are getting sympathy from people like them and the ones who already dislike fundamentalists or separatists. They are carving out their new niche here. They could secretly be a Nazi prison guard, but it doesn't matter as long as they are not a fundamentalist and an evangelical, or just a rabid Calvinist. They could have serial killed youngsters at recess, but as long as they're a Calvinist and a big tent evangelical, welcome.
Second, they not only get sympathy, but they are martyrs who have been abused. They have moved into the very popular American class: the victim. They are victims, which, of course, deserves our sympathy, but not just any sympathy. They have gone through the terrible ordeal of being in churches with standards higher than their own.
Third, fundamentalists are abusive (evangelicals are not). Fundamentalists abuse. They were under tremendous pressure because of these fundamentalists. They were threatened with the extreme persecution of having to leave a church that they don't like being a part of, but having the further embarrassment of having people now know that they don't like being a part of that kind of church. On top of that, these abusers treat them like they think they should stay, that it's wrong to leave (and other similar types of heavy-duty suffering).
Fourth, it's everyone else's fault. They have flown with turkeys so long. These eagles have been now set free. Down with turkeys.
Fifth, they want to "help" others like them. This validates their own experience when they can find others. This is all therapeutic, you know. You find others, bash the worst examples of what you left and smear the whole group. My how grand we've been. We are so wonderful. They are so bad. We must warn. Others could be abused like we were. Let's help rescue these others before they chew off three legs and still remain in the trap.
Sixth, they want to show how they've matured. Now they can drink, go to movies, listen to Christian rock or punk, mix swim, dance, date, touch, go to the prom, get tattooed, use whatever Bible version they want and other important Christian growth. What is all of this that's happened to them? Transforming grace, that's what (not worldliness because that's only in the heart). Oh and they just want unity (unity = reduce doctrine down to a few "important" ones and then even water those down for the sake of staying together).
I have a unique opportunity here, because one of the young former fundies with a story was once a member of our church. He's actually a real prominent one. In his story, he, of course, is the hero, and he marches through former churches like Sherman at the end of the Civil War, leaving them pummeled in his path. He could have just left fundamentalism and went about living the new kind of Christian life that he would say he loves so well. He has a whole new group of friends and he could just spend time with them. However, he couldn't do that. He's not that kind of person.
This new evangelical has to start blog upon blog in which he can be the very young hero with many elderly villains trampled over. They were wrong. He was right. He's an extremely young person and instead of forging ahead into his new life, he starts by trashing the places he had been before. However, I know the real story, and I'm going to tell it. I will change his name in this case to protect the guilty, but this is what happened. For everything that I write, I could present witnesses. We'll call him Bill. Bill is not his real name.
I met Bill when he attended school in Indiana (not Hammond). We were looking for a couple of teachers for our school and we considered him and the young lady he was going to marry as teachers. When we talked to the school faculty, they couldn't recommend him and his wife to us. Why? He had been looking at pornography. What they did know was that he had been assisting in a church in the summer and the pastor caught him watching pornography on the church computer. He was immediately removed from his position and sent away from the church.
I thought that maybe we could help Bill if he was willing to be under accountability and discipleship at our church, and that we would work with him in our church. I took him and his new wife in part because I knew that we he was intelligent, said he wanted to serve the Lord, and that he was willing to submit to discipleship. Doesn't that sound like grace, even like a doctrine of grace? Doesn't sound too mean, you know, unforgiving like "fundamentalists are"? He had skills. I wanted to help the young man. Later I found out that he had not been up front with his wife about his pornography issue until after he was engaged to be married. By the time everything was planned and invitations sent and more, he told her about what had taken place. I also learned that he had been addicted to pornography and looking at it since he was a boy. While at his college (one that he trashes), Bill broke through the filter of the college computer to support his internet habit.
After he and his wife got to our church, I found that he was often a proud, know-it-all. He wasn't much of a help with other people (selfless ministry) because all he wanted to do was talk about theological matters with just a few people in the church. He took up a tremendous amount of time, which I patiently gave to him, often spending an hour after church services speaking with him. On the other hand, his wife was a jewel---hard worker, very helpful, and a good teacher.
So he started teaching elementary in our school, along with his wife. Part way through the year, Bill mentally snapped. He temporarily went insane. I had never seen anything like it in my life. One school day our principal received word from one of the students in his class that Bill was just sitting straight up, almost comatose at his desk, saying nothing. When the principal went down to check, that's what he found too. The class was talking, messing around, doing whatever they wanted. He wasn't teaching. He wasn't doing anything except sitting there in some other zip code. It was about half way through the day. What we found out is that he had lost his mind. He was delusional and incoherent.
We had to dismiss him as a teacher in the middle of the year, which was quite a hardship to us. But that was perhaps the least of it. We spent many hours in counseling, helping him through this episode. For at least a week, we always had somebody watching him to be sure that he wouldn't do something harmful to himself or someone else. He would sit staring straight forward, eyes vacant. When I would go to run an errand, I would take him with me so that he wouldn't be left alone. We were paying him during that time too, despite the fact that he wasn't working. We've always been stretched to the limit financially. We don't operate with debt, but we can't afford to pay two teachers for one class. We had to do that. This all was an embarrassment to the school, trying to explain how we happened to hire someone so mentally fragile.
As the next few days passed, he was finally able to come out of his shell. And then we found out why he had snapped. For years he had been faking it. He had been looking at pornography for at least a decade. At the same time, he had been trying to impress people around him with how righteous he was. His parents had been in a kind of Christian service and they had not prevented him from getting involved in this type of lifestyle. He had learned how to put on a show. Being noticed for his spirituality was very important to him, despite the fact that he knew that he was looking at these things. He confessed that his brother had done the same thing. They had both been involved. Part of his eagerness to impress other people was a kind of means by which he could prove that he really did belong and fit into the standards of holiness that were around him.
This battle within Bill for so long had so stressed his mind, body, and emotions, violating the carefully set up scruples that he had himself set up. A big part of his break-up at our church in particular was the preaching. He had never been under consistent, thorough expositional preaching, verse by verse. He had never been somewhere like our church where the gospel was preached with precision. One specific point that contributed to the apex of this struggle in his heart and mind was an emphasis in our church on the believer not living in a continual state of carnality. In particular he said that he was penetrated by a dealing with 1 John 2:19. His soul was confronted with the realities of the gospel, the scriptural expectations of a genuine conversion. This unsettled him greatly.
When some of his mind returned to him, he confessed a continued battle with pornography. He had gone so far as to go to a convenience store a few blocks from his apartment to purchase hard copies to look at. He had continued to feed his mind on the images but at the same time try to keep up the facade that he loved the Lord and wanted to serve Him.
Bill confessed his need for salvation. He had examined his heart whether he was in the faith and he did not think so. He had just been going through the motions. During this very weak time, a few weeks after the worst of it, he professed that he made a profession of faith. I asked him what happened. He still found it difficult to communicate coherently. He would make meaningless, imbecilic statements like someone who was talking in his sleep. When you heard it, you would just smile and nod your head, knowing that he didn't have everything together. At that time, he said that one night he had been saved. What had happened was that he had a pillow with a heart on it. He said that at night when he went to sleep, he saw the heart on the pillow and he knew that Jesus loved him. It was at that moment of realization, he said, that he knew that he had been saved. He stuck with this conversion experience.
We knew that Bill knew the facts of salvation. He had a brilliant sort of mind. This was part of the battle for him. His thoughts bounced around all over the place in his head like a pin ball. He insisted that this night time pillow prayer was when he was converted. We nodded our heads in approval, not wanting to cause any problems in his head, and continued to watch him. He said that he wanted to be baptized, and since we believed that obeying the Lord was important for his fragile psyche, we went ahead with the baptism.
Bill couldn't keep cogent thoughts enough to be counted on for any kind of contributory task in the church. We wouldn't assign him anything. However, he liked reading. He read and read and read. His wife would come home from teaching all day and he hadn't done anything at home. He would just sit and read. So she was the breadwinner and she would come home to cook for him and care for him. He would read. He still wanted to discuss theology like playing with truth in a test tube. He liked figuring doctrines out like a brain teaser, a puzzle. When you talked to him, even though his eyes were somewhat distant, and you could tell he wasn't all there, he would tell you something very deep that he had gotten in reading a book.
Most of the time, these doctrinal finds of Bill's had nothing to do with what was important to him for living the Christian life. They weren't devotional in nature. They were in the way of arguing about theological issues. After months, we told him that if he wasn't going to work, he had to do some chores at home. We had to make him accountable and check on him to get this accomplished.
About that time, Bill got a visit from his parents. They came from another continent to get to our church in California. We were not of the same belief and practice as his parents. Close, but not in fellowship enough to have his father preach. When they came with some relatives as well, they were very cynical about our church, very critical. You could tell that they were blaming us for what had happened to Bill. That was the furthest from the truth. They were very excusing of his behavior and very defensive. They communicated to Bill that they didn't like us. While staying with Bill and his family, they decided that what he needed more than anything was a television. So they went out and bought him one. I was disappointed. Knowing Bill's big problem, and that the negligence of his parents was part of the problem, I thought a television was a bad move in light of the amount of skin that showed up on today's programs.
So now Bill could sit at home and watch television while he wasn't working and we were taking the duties that he was supposed to take during the year. Bill still came to church. He would sit in services and then afterward pepper me with questions about issues that he wanted to talk about, essentially ignoring everyone else. I regularly encouraged him to work on relationships with people that weren't necessarily offering him all the things that he wanted, which was about books and theological issues. I desired for him to be more concerned about his own character out of love for God and his wife.
In addition to weekly prayer meeting, we had men's prayer time one Saturday morning a month. The men's prayer time is at 7am, which in California is very early since people get up so very early for commute during the week. Men rise often at 4 and 5 am to start their long treks to places of employment in some of the busiest traffic in America. Bill wasn't working, but he still couldn't get to some of the men's prayer times. He would complain about us not praying enough. I told him that this was just public prayer. Also, I was doubtful about his complaints, seeing that he didn't get up half the time for the scheduled prayer meetings. What he wanted to do was "lead" a prayer time on Sunday mornings before services. I was all for prayer, of course, so had a hard time resisting this. It just seemed like this was something else that was disingenuous in light of how I knew Bill was in his basic character. It looked like another show to me.
Bill actually had a lot of time on his hands for prayer, since he didn't have a job. When he was finally able perhaps to get a job, he was offered one by a business man in our church. This man was a very weak Christian if a Christian at all. I had taken him through a thirty week discipleship, which he fought all the way. I didn't like the idea of Bill with this man. The man wanted a Christian to hire though. I went out of my way to tell him that I thought it was possible that Bill could fail. Bill did fail. The man had to fire him because he couldn't get the job done. The man had immigrants who knew very little English that were his best workers and Bill could not accomplish the job up to their standards.
Bill couldn't get a job for months. He was always looking for a kind of job that fit his personality and desires. I told him to get a job anywhere, but because he had to have one that fit him, he took a long time. When he finally did get one that suited his fancy, it didn't last. He didn't make it there either.
The ladies of our church during this time really showed friendship to Bill's wife. She didn't know what she was bargaining for when she married Bill. Her family was sure they were getting a solid man. He was good at acting that way in front of them. They thought they were getting someone just like them---a separatist, independent Baptist with strong standards of holiness. Ladies really helped her through this time. She was the strong one, carrying her husband along.
While Bill was with us, he received letters from his brother, arguing with him about Calvinism and about the text issue. His brother would recommend books for him to read that would push Calvinism and the critical text. His brother, a fellow pornography man himself in their boyhood, wanted him to believe like him. I really didn't know the extent of this communication. Bill would suggest some of these books to me and I was hopeful that his brother could suggest books that would help him be a better man and better husband, instead of being a Calvinist.
One of the books I remember him receiving that Bill passed along to me was one by John Piper on the death of Christ, right about the time that Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ came out. I read it and even though there was some good doctrine in it, I thought it was overall weak and afraid to differentiate what Scripture said with what the Catholics believed about the passion. That should have been a major concern, I thought, for Piper because he had marketed the book to look just like the advertised materials for the movie. There was nothing in the book that would have been offensive to the typical Catholic. Of course, my point was not to try to be purposefully offensive, but to use the truth as a sword that cut through the false doctrine and pulled down that stronghold. Gibson's movie was Catholic, so what Piper wrote should have differentiated with Catholicism. I noticed that Bill was very defensive of Piper.
Bill wasn't getting a lot of respect at our church. He wasn't earning it. We treated him very well, but not giving him the status that he would think he deserved. That always bothered me. He was very proud. Everyone around noticed this. When someone tried to talk to me, he was right there attempting to take my time. If you didn't give him your time, he would suggest that you didn't want to answer his question (or that you couldn't). If he did do anything in the way of service, he would make sure that he mentioned it to others. Often his testimonies during testimony time were an opportunity to parade some of his accomplishments.
Then one day Bill told me that he was in deep financial trouble. I understood that. He didn't hold a job and his wife was earning the living, paying the bills. You couldn't live in California especially with one small income from one spouse, in this case the woman of the family. He had a child now. His brother had called him and told him that there was job in another state in the midwest and that he would have it. This was Bill's type of job, one that he would like. He came to me and said that he needed to move because of his conviction to support his family. I knew that where he was moving there was a giant new-evangelical church, pastored by a Calvinist that he was presently really into. I saw this as him going there to be in that church.
Bill seemed to me to be drifting. He wasn't the cat's meow. He wasn't looked at really highly. He wasn't at the top of the heap. If he went somewhere else, he could start over. The people there wouldn't know about his despicable behavior and he could be a big shot again. This looked like running from problems. However, I looked at his wife. His child. I talked to our other pastor and some other men in the church. We agreed grudgingly that we would let him go with certain criteria. There was a certain church he should join when he went. I told him that I was afraid that he was going to go there and within a year join the new evangelical church. He insisted that he believed like us and that he was going to do that. So we sent him. A lot of people helped them.
They left and went to that midwest state. They joined that church I recommended. Upon getting there, Bill started questioning the pastor on everything, challenging him. And this lasted about a year before he joined the Calvinist, new-evangelical church. He dropped dozens of his beliefs and on things that I never ever heard him ask about. I told our church that Bill had left the church. I told them what our criteria had been and that Bill had broken them, even though he said that he would not.
When Bill was with us, I answered every possible question he asked. I taught him part of a year in third year Greek for free. After they moved to another state, the day that one of our benefits for Christian school teachers, a certain amount of money for dental that we allotted to be a blessing and help, would run out, we received from them a dental bill for the top amount that we allowed. We sent them the check. That was my only communication that I received from Bill, was that dental bill. He never checked in at all to discuss theology and all the multiple questions he had about his beliefs. Right now, as far as I know, he still hasn't paid his college tuition.
But what does Bill do now? Very soon after he left the church we sent him to, he began a blog bashing fundamentalism, blaming his problems on all the churches he had been in. There was nothing against him or his parents in these blogs. He was good at this. This was his type of activity, something very theological and very argument oriented. He was able to cobble together a lot of support from Calvinists. Men link to him all over the nation. In my opinion, he's got people fooled.
I told one person about him at the evangelical blog, Pyromaniacs, who was giving him big time kudos. He too was a former "fundamentalist" and he had a website bashing them called the Texas Underground. For the most part, I would have agreed with his opinion of that branch of revivalism. I thought he was pushing this young man, a neophyte, way too much. I wrote him privately and he essentially told me off. He could care less about the porno problem that Bill had recently had. Then one day I noticed that this man's name just disappeared off of the Pyromaniac roll along with all his posts. He dropped off the face of the earth. He had a problem that was akin to Bill's, and he had it when I wrote him about Bill. This man was one of the most popular men on the evangelical internet at the time.
Bill is still going about bashing fundamentalism, blaming his own problems on them. I know that his problems have zero to do with fundamentalism. He has told "his story," and none of this is in there. None of it. Instead, he goes after fundamentalism and the people from his past. And people validate him for it. They accredit it. They are doing that because what he says makes them feel good in some way. He doesn't go through the biblical basis of gaining that kind of credibility spiritually. He says the things that many, many want to hear.
Of course, by giving people those credentials, they also feed a major problem for Bill, his pride. He is able to move up to what he really wants to attain without having to do the real things that it is supposed to take to get there. He need only talk a particular talk, say what it is that people really want to hear. He is skilled at that. That is where his talent set is at. He can get it done there. And so he can be that big fish in an even bigger pond. This also justifies the decisions he has made, despite what a church has done for him. And in the end, the church that has done so much for him is the villain in the story. Those church people get to read him and see him all the time and really know the truth. Others are associating with that and they don't even know it.
Some may wonder why I tell this story. For one, it is the story. It is my story about his story. His story leaves out most of the important details. I tell it because of the credentials that are gained on the internet without anything that resembles anything scriptural in the real world. A person can gain a following because he knows the right buttons to push. He doesn't have to earn it with years of faithfulness, not sinless perfection. None of us are claiming that, especially not me. However, a young man shouldn't be put up into such a place of honor without proving himself in a local church, just because he can find a niche among other disgruntleds that are out there. This is one of the major blind spots on the Christian www.