07 September 2013

You say Hiatus, I say ...

by Frank Turk

Oh for crying out loud ...

So I announce my hiatus after planning it since June of this year, unplug for ONE LOUSY WEEK in which I just barely don't blog, and suddenly a 3-year-old post becomes someone's object of interest.

You know: if it was my post on leaving or staying with your local church, or one of the many posts of daGifts, or one of the posts about politics, I honestly had already prepared myself to say, with no qualifiers, "so what?"  In fact, of the roughly-500 posts I have made here over the years, there is really only one or two I would even bother with at this point if they received any sort of blow-back -- mostly because there's such a thing as too little, too late.


I will not tell you what the other blast-from-the past which would draw me out of Hiatus would be (because: hiatus) but the one you know that would be irresistible to me would be the one post which still draws 2% of the traffic all-time to this blog.  I mean: last week, 150 people read that post, 3-and-a-half years after it was relevant.

Right?  Who can resist it?

Well, apparently, Matthew Grant McDaniel is one of the 150 -- or maybe one of the tens of thousands of views -- that post has received in the last 3 years because he has penned what I would call the most-comprehensive response to that post since its original run in 2010.  It certainly beats the pants off this response:

Right?  And I'm the bad guy.  I'm the body part of disgraceful use.  I'm the one who needs to justify his language, approach, heart, mind, soul, and lack of coffee shop invitations.


Let's take a deep breath here before we go on.  Because the truth is that Matthew has really invested sincere and serious work in trying to reply to my original post, and he deserves some credit for that.

I congratulate Matthew for investing a lot of time in his piece.  It wasn't tossed-off, and at the very least: it does a fair job of representing Derek Webb as thoroughly as possible.  The problem, of course, is that he's responding to me and not Derek.  To that end, a fair question is whether or not he represents me with any degree of fairness.  I mean: let's put our cards on the table.  Back in 2010, I delivered about 5000 words and 11 pages (single-spaced; it would take 40 minutes to read it out-loud) on this subject (not including the digital ink spilled in the comments).  In that, that post is not hardly a tirade of name-calling and taunts: except for the one Counting Crows allusion, there is no snark or name-calling or any sort of real incivility.  Almost all of it focused on the interview in question and the three main topics I thought, at that time, needed attention -- the Gospel, the Church, and the Artist.  If he's writing an open letter to me in response to that, you would think that he would seek to cover that ground the way he might imagine I should cover the ground with Derek Webb..

But most of what Matthew did here is dedicated to adding new items from Derek not in evidence when I wrote the original post.  So it seems to me that his response confuses anachronism with refutation.  That is: he doesn't see that the many new pieces of evidence he is presenting were not historically in evidence when I wrote my open letter.

If I was really committed more to my hiatus than to other things, I'd leave it at that.  Are there new things in the mix regarding Derek Webb?  Sure -- I grant it with no qualifications.  Done.  What that has to do with whether or not my critique of that interview is useful or even civil is not clear.  Thank you; good night.

But here's the thing: I think Matthew wants me to engage Derek now, 3 years later, on his next evolutionary step.  He wants me to engage this video, for example:

A video in which Derek confuses how we "feel" about an issue of morality with whether or not the church has an obligation both to God's Law and God's Gospel -- what Derek sort of slyly refers to here as the "whole counsel of God".  You know: I watch that video, and the longer I watch it the more I hope Derek will say something about the way the Law ought to point us to the Gospel, and what I find instead is that Derek says is (in effect), "I don't want to hear any Law because I don't think I hear enough Gospel (through the media from the Church on this one subject)."

Is Derek really that ignorant or naive about sin in general?  Does he really think being fat is not socially stigmatized?  Does he really think that someone is a body part of disgraceful use because he confronts and holds accountable his friend who is a liar, a glutton, is covetous, a thief, an adulterer -- or worse by far, an idolater, a God-hater, a person who refuses to accept as holy what God holds as holy?

I mean: he is rather sassy about the alleged "whole counsel of God," but where does it recommend in the Bible that we ignore each others' sins because we have sins?  Don't we have James 5 and Proverbs 17 and Heb 10 which say exactly the opposite?  Conversely: I'd be willing to review how he sees the "whole counsel of God" (since he brings it up) to visit the question myself of what my responsibility is as a friend, a husband, and father and a brother in Christ to visit the sins of those who are in my life.  But what I'm not really willing to do is to simply let earnest and passionate talk overcome joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control and most of all: love. Because love is not merely letting someone walk their own way until they fall down a hole: it is rather something else when someone is walking toward the hole.

Look: I am actually willing to stipulate a lot about Derek, as I was back in 2010.  For example, I said this back then explicitly:
I have to grant you something: you are right about the problem the church has in addressing the "gay" issue. I blogged about that a few years ago myself, refer to that post frequently as the topic comes up and further notes are required, and I commend that to you for context of my note to you today.
I also said this back in 2010:
I know someplace, somehow, you "get" [the Gospel]: the Son of Man was not sent to be served, but to serve, and to lay down his life as a ransom for many. He came to suffer much at the hands of the leaders of Israel and to be put to death. And he did this not as a moral example but as a sacrifice -- as the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
My complaint about this interview was never the one I would make to Rob Bell or Joel Osteen or some of the greater miscreants in the sociologically-Christian English-speaking world.  My complaint is that one fellow who definitely knows what the Gospel is somehow doesn't deliver it to sinners when he's face-to-face with a sinner talking about sin to an audience of sinners -- to the extent that somehow we are merely about the broad declaration that we "pre-emptively love" rather than pointing out what we lack, our transgression, in the place it really occupies between us and God.

So when that is reductively re-purposed as "Frank asks Derek to define the Gospel," when in fact my question is, "where is the Gospel in this interview when it matters most?" I think the number of uses we can find for Matthew's defense and rejoinder are limited.

I can credit Derek, for example (and as cited in Matthew's blog post), for engaging the execrable Rachel Held Evans and telling her plainly that her views are not Gospel at all -- and that the Gospel must be God-centered, not man-dependent.  I would stipulate Derek's version of the "Jesus + Nothing = Everything" equation as far as it goes.  I would stipulate all of Derek's on-going flirtations with antinomianism as being Gospel-minded and an earnest (if strange and ambiguous) attempt to be like Paul who was (falsely) accused of the same thing.

What I simply can't do is grant that Derek's recipe for the whole pie is helpful either to the church at large, or to sinners who need the Gospel.  That concern points out my other two concerns -- which are Derek's uses for the church, and Derek's view of himself as an artist.

But here's the real rub: Derek made a statement to Stedman that he's willing to sit down with anyone, any time, to hash out stuff like this.  But in response to the original blog post, I have not received one word from anyone within the Kevin-Bacon-6-degrees between myself and Derek about my standing invitation to work this out face to face, on the record, in a way that Derek can explain his problems with my approach and his innocence on all counts.

Let's put it back on the table: I have Delta Sky miles, and some fun money, and a few vacation days open as discretionary time.  My wife is fantastically-generous with me when I ask nice. I think that, rather than letting anyone else talk past either of us, I'm offering at least 60 minutes at a convenient site for Derek, with a neutral moderator (I'd settle for a moderator of Derek's choosing only to stand in as host and referee to keep the conversation balanced), in order to talk about this on the record.  There are no "gotcha" questions as Matthew hypothesizes.  There are only two necessary things: a real urgent belief that this topic is critical for the people of God and for our lost neighbors, and a sincere and firm belief that the Gospel is the solution.

That's it: that's all.  The only other thing that can break into my hiatus would be Derek's willingness to have a 60-minute sit-down to resolve our differences.


DJP said...

Best (and shortest) Sinatra retirement evar.


Tom Chantry said...

I'm vaguely reminded of a somewhat prominent pastor who was formerly a charter member of the church where I grew up. In his later years he came back and preached a farewell sermon to us. Several, actually. We began comparing his farewell sermons and discussing which ones we found the most profitable.

Farewell, Frank. Enjoy your hiatus. See you in a week or two.

Matthew Grant McDaniel said...

Frank, thanks for stepping in from your hiatus to submit this very fair response. I expected to get slapped around at least little (alas, my posture of expectation for most of life), but you were very kind. That is a great relief, and I am glad to spur along good discussion.

For the record, I agree that the snark or name-calling was really not found in your original post. Asthis is the interwebs, that general incivility I mentioned sort of crept in over the last three years among the crowd of folks commenting, recollecting, Tweeting etc. And I think it’s to be found on both sides, without question.

You did a great job catching my strategy: my mix of old and (mostly) new material was intentional. I thought long and hard about just responding to you point-by-point, but I didn't want this to turn into a Reformation-style disputation exchange. I wanted a heartfelt (and somewhat concise and accessible) dialogue, so I made some strategic decisions of focus.

My goal wasn't so much to refute your Open Letter as to limit the scope of its critique --namely, keeping it to the content of Derek's replies in the HuffPo interview, and not making it a broader referendum on his beliefs, past and present. The evidence I proffered was an attempt at defining the person to whom we refer, that the HuffPo response was an exception, not the rule. You did a great job being willing to stipulate those things, so I think I at least was able to bring to light the points of agreement between you and Derek.

I wanted to clear up any insinuation that Derek had/has somehow fallen away from the faith. As I mention in my review of Stockholm Syndrome, I made the tough decision to give him the benefit of the doubt. My hypothesis: the interview, venue, audience, word choices he was making (even playing at Wild Goose, which ruffled even my feathers) were for Gospel reasons, even if I couldn't see them.

I don't want to try to provide a point-by-point response in my comment here, as that would be as laborious for you to read as it would be for me to write. I also respect your time and the hiatus, knowing that if I write the kind of reply your points deserve, it'd be like you never left. So, really quickly:

I don't think the intention of the gluttony analogy is to redefine hamartiology. I think the utility of it is less in describing the nature of the sins, and more in how it illuminates how we ought to treat one another given those sins. I think that part of it is still effective. You’re right- someone who confronts a friend on his sin is not by definition a jerk. But, someone who starts every single interaction with that friend like that (the thought experiment we are asked to consider) probably is a jerk.

It's that ever-cited balance between love and truth. We need them both. Folks accuse Derek of weighing too heavily on love and not enough on truth. Folks accuse you (any Calvinist it seems) with weighing too much on the truth, and not enough on love. My take: if those criticisms are accurate, then both you and Derek have what we need. (cont.)

Matthew Grant McDaniel said...

(cont. from first comment)

The problem you rightly addressed from the beginning (one I admit I still have when I go back to read that HuffPo piece) is why didn't Derek clearly represent the Gospel when asked --and asked in a very choice situation where thousands if not millions would read it.

And (barring the slight possibility that editorial changes to his answers blurred out any Gospel explicitness), I agree that Derek blew it. And I think he's admitting now, three years later, that he was wrong and he's sorry.

That's why the Tweets with Rachel were so instructive. Where many just lose their patience (and I'll sheepishly admit I chuckled at "execrable" and I probably shouldn't have), Derek clearly volunteered to exhibit those fruits of the spirit you cite in an otherwise patience-trying and tense situation.

This is also why I have some hope that he would actually relent and accept your invitation. I do fear this may be a Frank : Derek :: Derek : Questlove situation. But I think this sort of reconciliation among the brethren is going to be more and more necessary, the more we as Christians move from a ‘moral majority’ into a ‘prophetic minority’ in our culture and context. We need each other. This is where it has to start. And that’s the whole message of his new album, after all.

Thanks again, Frank. Let me know if you would like me to respond in full-- happy to oblige either way.

Frank Turk said...

There's only one thing which will bring me back out of hiatus early, and it is listed in this post.

After that: spend your time wisely. Responding to this post will not be one of those things.

Michael Coughlin said...

I don't know who any of the people are but great post, Turk. Welcome back from Hiatus! I'll debate you anytime in C-Bus Ohio. Delta flies here, bro. I'll even supply the food.

Rob said...

Might I suggest a Photoshop blurring of the word used in his response tweet? I see enough profanity at HuffingPaint, and don't need to see it here at Pyro...

MarieP said...

Maybe you're the person Webb's referring to when he says he was wrong, he's sorry, and he loves you?

Chris H said...

@DJP: Do you see what I meant in my Facebook comments now? Seriously... why do people prod the Turk? Didn't they see the sign?

Frank Turk said...

Rob- unfortunately, that's the live tweet stream, not an image. I'll see what I can do. It turns up again in Derek' video as well.

APM said...

" Just when I thought I was out... they pull me back in."

Aaron Snell said...

Aha! I knew it!!

Do I get any Pyropoints for predicting it?

Aaron Snell said...


That video (the Derek Webb one, not Pat Benatar - gotta admit, didn't see that one coming) is, for me, further evidence that the point you've been making about artists is not a passing or peripheral one, but actually goes to the heart of What Is Wrong. The modern notion of "artist" that centers on autonomous self-expression is poisonous when we make that a platform on which we stand to be a "voice in the church." It forgets at least two things: for most of human history, "art" has been a service industry, and the Christian version of "artist" fences its definition with the stone walls of "under the lordship of Christ."

And I say all this as someone who has formally studied and earns my living in the arts.

Solameanie said...

Frank is the Phil Collins of the blogging world. His "FIrst Final Farewell Tour." (totally tongue-in-cheek, of course, in true Brit fashion)

I'm also thinking of the old WWF/WWE days when Jesse Ventura would do color commentary on Hulk Hogan's title matches. When Hogan would win again, Ventura would splutter and fume, then say "That did it. I'm just gonna have to come out of retirement and win this thing."

I could go on with this fun, but then Frank might resurrect the clown and nail me with it. ;)

Tim Bushong said...

"My wife is fantastically-generous with me when I ask nice."

Ha! I thought you ALWAYS ask nice. Great post.

Seth said...

Hey Frank... Vacation/hiatus stinks when you don't put "the technology" aside. Unplug.105 theiveV