Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Inbox: Qman Asks the $64,000 Question

“Very interesting and relevant blog. The question I have at this point is who actually benefits from it at this site? Is there anyone else out there? There seems to be little response as far as I can tell. I did not see a mission statement for this site and if it’s only very local, then wouldn’t a wider distribution be better for getting across insights like this?”

Ask and you shall receive ...

A Little Background

ComingUntrue started last December, oddly enough, as a place for Bernie to dump his sermon notes online so he could access them from anywhere (he travels and uses multiple platforms). He saw potential for serious like-minded Christians to be able to post and comment on each other’s thoughts and studies. (I’m putting words in his mouth here, but I think that was pretty much the extent of it.)

So Bernie asked if I would be interested in contributing. I was only very slightly resistant. I had the idea it might be inconvenient to use Blogger and, more importantly, I thought perhaps that everything there was to say about Christianity was being said somewhere already. But I shortly discovered I was hasty on both counts. For while it’s true that there are ridiculous numbers of Christian blogs and sites out there (many of them quite well done), what I didn’t initially see — and still haven’t seen — is somebody coming from exactly where we’re coming from. And most of them are not posting every day.

Finding the Writers

Bernie posted last December to start things off. The same day, I started writing. I felt it important to keep things fresh, and for me that meant posting something every day. But I immediately realized I wasn’t going to be able to write seven days a week all by myself.

Bernie (who runs a small business) has spates of wonderful, deep, moving and intensely spiritual things to share ... which are almost all verbal. They get committed to word processing with regrettable rarity. I pester him regularly and will continue to do so.

Fortunately, I had read some solid, superbly researched stuff from RJ on one of the many sites she has published at over the years, some of it aimed at teens and some at an older crowd — all of it, to my mind, in need of being revisited. She kindly gave us permission to tap into her resources, which has been great. Her millennial temple posts, among many others, are choice.

That filled a day a week or two for the first while. I thought about asking Immanuel Can if he’d be interested, but Bernie said, “Watch out, he’ll write about Calvinism ...”

“Surely not,” I thought, and called IC, who decided to write about football instead. Once, I think. Then ... er ... Calvinism.

But to my joy, IC became our other weekly contributor. He’s someone I bounce ideas off almost daily.

SOOO ... a Mission Statement?

Mission statements terrify me. They give me hives. They scare me almost as much as the words “systematic theology”. There are things that you know are kind of necessary and occasionally have to be done but, like parenting, when you set about actually doing them, you don’t so much see what you’re doing right as what you’re doing horribly wrong, what you’re missing, forgetting, misstating or otherwise making a hash of.

Immanuel Can and I agree, I think, that we want to engage with Christians generally, without restricting ourselves to a particular denominational frame of reference. If you’ve read more than a half a dozen posts, you are probably fairly clear about where we’re coming from: that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant word of God; that Jesus Christ is the answer to everything that matters; that relying on too many commentaries will pickle your head but reading, praying and meditating every day won’t; etc., etc. To get too specific or exhaustive on that front gets scary fast, but I hope we’re at least fairly consistent in what we write.

There is probably nothing in the world that I encounter daily that doesn’t make me think “The Bible has something to say about that”. Maybe other sites are less likely to mash up Monty Python and the Millennium — I’m not sure — but I can’t listen to music, watch TV or read a book without thinking of how and where Jesus Christ agrees with, modifies or corrects every single experience we have in this life. And if he doesn’t, he should. So if I have a mission statement for my own writing, it’s to observe where those intersections occur and how they turn out.

IC could undoubtedly add something profound here.

Profound? Why should I start now? But here’s a few thoughts:

I’ve felt the mission was really fairly simple: in our thinking and writing, to unify our own seriousness about Christ with the reality of life in the present world. Theology and reality … that’s what it’s about for me. At the same time, as my posts on Worldviews suggest, I tend to see “theology” as a thing everybody has — even when they are totally occupied with denying they have it — and so things like philosophy and cultural studies come into play on the basis that they are different ways human beings try to make sense of reality.

For those of us who sincerely believe that the fundamental reality is God, these three disciplines blend: whether people are denying, ignoring or embracing the existence of God, it is that position, more than anything else, that makes them who they are. In that sense, the reality about them is theologically conditioned; and if they don’t even realize that fact, it doesn’t make it any less true. Christians are theologians; so are atheists, agnostics, and even those too indifferent to ever read a blog like ours.

One of my favorite authors, Thomas Hardy, once wrote in defence of one of his great novels, “It is not an argument; it is an impression.” I’ve always loved that distinction. And I would say that this blog is both an argument and an impression. My idea is to take the world as I find it — which means a place where theology is alive — and make it evident to anyone else who cares. In that process, arguments are involved; but the totality of what we write is more about impression, especially the impression that God is not a distant hypothesis but a present reality, one that can and must be integrated with our real-world lived experience.

So Is There Anyone Else Out There?

We have a small but solid core of readers, primarily North American, but with a regular audience in South Africa, the UK, China, Spain, France, Ukraine and even Iran, believe it or not. Below that Top 10 it’s difficult to be sure. So we’re not exactly local. However, as has been noted, other than Qman, Tertius, Micah, DLCarroll and a few others who have commented more than once, and the occasional anonymous commenter, most of our audience is remarkably quiet.

Maybe everybody agrees with us? Or maybe they’re so horrified they can’t bring themselves to stop long enough to hurl imprecations at us as they flee? We remain a little unclear on that issue. We do greatly appreciate every bit of interaction we’ve had with readers.

Serving Our Audience

It’s really a great compliment to hear we’re being appreciated and that some folks see us as better suited to a wider exposure. You are probably right that we could be taking advantage of some publicity tools that so far we have not, and we are definitely not resistant to all ideas on this. At the same time, so far we’ve been deliberately avoiding certain kinds of tactics, such as linking to dodgy websites or using the advertising and commercial tools Blogger offers to generate money and pageviews at the expense of potentially turning our audience into a commodity. We’ve also avoided media that tend to produce short, unintelligent or emotional exchanges rather than intelligent ones: so we’ve been very skeptical about deliberately chasing Twitter, Facebook and other social media kinds of links. And we make these choices even though we know full well that letting the fur fly would surely increase our popularity rapidly.

What we’re trying to do is to build slowly, on quality not sensation, and with a respect for our readers and contributors. Admittedly, this has so far limited our scope, and we’d be happy to do better. But we want to keep building with integrity, if we can, and prefer to be small than to be large in any way that is exploitative or unprincipled.

We’re Listening

All that being said, we are more than happy to consider anything we haven’t thought of that would allow us to reach a wider audience, provided we can do so in the right sort of way.

All such suggestions are gratefully received.


  1. South African reader reporting in.
    Thank you for this blog, I really enjoy the posts, they are so thought provoking and enlightening I rarely feel I can add any comments of value.
    The regular schedule makes it sometimes challenging to catch up if I've been offline for a couple of days, but once I'm up to date I eagerly await the next post.
    May God bless you for the all the Wisdom and insight you share!

    1. I'm right there (here?) with AJ "they are so thought provoking and enlightening I rarely feel I can add any comments of value" and aside from saying "yes, that's a very good article" (mostly in my head but sometimes out loud - embarrassing in a coffee shop but I stand by my verbal outpourings) - I am more taking in then typing out. I will add when I think of something worthwhile, However, usually the topics I read are very well covered and answer my own questions already.

  2. Thanks, that is definitely a $63920.- answer. Tell you what, I'll add $202.35 for a total assessment of $64122.35 if you also answer these questions (if you think I should up that number, let me know :-). You explained the idea behind this site and the way it should operate, which I actually like, however, how does the format work? I am fairly new participating on the web in this fashion and was previously on a philosophy forum site. A forum format seems different then in that anyone could start a major topic or thread on which others then commented evolving the thread into a discussion of the topic at hand. A blog, as here, then lets you only comment on major threads started by the main blogger(s), founders, of the blogging site? I did see that you solicited suggestions from readers concerning material for a Friday lightning round to deal with a variety of topics, but that format would not be the same then as in a forum. Also, the forum I was on had the nice technical feature of allowing search for commenters' (participants') names, even using wildcard searches.

    This may not be within the planned scope of this site and I would just like to get a better understanding concerning this.

    1. For anyone unfamiliar with the forum concept, Qman is referring to online discussion sites where people hold conversations in the form of posted messages. Immanuel Can still participates in forums, I think; I don't generally, though I used to way back in the '80s. Maybe I was in the wrong forums but I found they generated more heat than light. Like I say, could be just me.

      We haven't really thought about doing the forum thing here. For one thing, all three of our regulars work full time. You may have noticed that the amount of time it takes for your own comments to get posted has varied wildly. Sorry. We try to get right on it, but work, family and travel schedules limit our ability to do so. And that's with a comparatively small readership and a limited number of comments.

      A second source of reluctance I have with opening things up more is that considering the (occasionally) controversial nature of some of the topics we've discussed, the thought of moderating trolls and excessively vibrant commentary is something I find a bit daunting. And leaving things wide open in order to moderate 'after the fact', as some sites do, is more than I would expect some of our older and more gracious readers to put up with.

      For locating older posts via the writer's name, I've found the "Search this blog" box in the right column useful, though I must confess that when I have experimented with it I have noticed that (1) it is not always exhaustive (no idea why that would be); and (2) it doesn't show the relevant posts in date order. And as with most search tools, putting quotes around a search phrase is more accurate than simply typing in two or three words. But it doesn't sound like it's as effective a tool as what you describe.

      Too Hot to Handle on Fridays, as you say, is not a true forum concept either, but we are definitely always interested in suggestions for it, so fire away. And frankly, IC and I might well be interested in doing individual posts or even series if we know there are topics of interest to readers that happen to be in our wheelhouse(s).

      Thanks again for all the constructive feedback, Qman.

  3. I suppose I should speak for myself.

    Yes, I am familiar with the rapid exchange format, and occasionally even weigh in when I see either a) an opportunity to be helpful, or b) an error so egregious and of such spiritual consequence that it quite simply cannot go unchallenged. But I try to be selective, since an immense amount of energy can be expended on a discussion that goes nowhere.

    As Tom points out, trolls are the problem. Far too many people (and atheism appears to generate many such) get thrills out of gleefully provoking sincere and respectful folks (Christians in particular) with excessive exhibitions of foulness and sacrilege. We have no need or desire to provide our audience as fodder for their hobby. We would wish for good conversation, not the sort of debased nonsense that so often passes for debate in many open forums.

    At the same time, I share Qman's interest in seeing *good* conversations advanced -- those that are fruitful and respectful -- I wouldn't much care if they were from supporters or from those opposed, nor would I be anxious about how difficult or perplexing the challenges put to us in such a forum could be. We would welcome them.

    I have no conclusion as to how to proceed. But I am thankful for the kindness of those who have been commenting both publicly and privately to us. If we can continue to be of service, we trust that by the Lord's grace we can continue to be here for you.

    And we'll keep working on how to increase your input and how to respond better to any special concerns, interests or needs you may have.

  4. Thanks for the explanations. I know firsthand what you are referring to with regard to the trolls, having gone through that myself. My interest in participating in these venues came after watching some video debates between John Lennox, the religious British Oxford mathematician and Philosopher, and some popular atheists. I was impressed by his tremendous skill in defending Christianity and laying bare the shortcomings in the arguments of his opponents. I therefore got interested in the philosophical argument as a tool of logic to expound the argument for the existence of, and the belief in, God and the consequent reality of the supernatural. When pursuing this interest via debates in a philosophy forum, the trolls indeed came out of the woodwork and it eventually became clear that one might as well talk to a brick wall since no argument, logical or otherwise, would ever be able to change their mindset. They, as mentioned above, were simply there to obfuscate, distract, mislead, misdirect regarding topics critical of atheism and agnosticism. Since they themselves could not offer logically convincing arguments the discussion was usually futile, often became shrill and needed to be abandoned.

    I learned from this however, that it seems to be part of the human condition that one can get so set in ones way by habit, convenience, indifference, ill will, laziness, disinterest, priorities, flawed logic, etc., so that the idea of the supernatural, religious themes and teaching, simply cannot penetrate. At least it cannot unless there is a divine call and consequent intervention by a life event that forces the person's hand.

    In my opinion, it is one of those mysteries that divides humanity into seemingly irreconcilable camps dividing along lines that are necessary, like different talents, for the survival of humanity and camps that are indifferently or willfully tending towards the dissolution of religious and humane values. One can, of course, postulate that this is simply a consequence of The Fall, or, as the atheist would say, that it is really a non-issue.
    Looking at the contemporary national and world scene suggests of course that the latter point is in error.

    So some topics here might be, what are the limitations of logic (and I do not mean the mathematical and scientific branches) in bringing about the desirable biblical qualities that society should possess, or is logic simply barren and powerless by itself to do that without being guided and accompanied by religious faith. Simply put, who are we, and why are we who we are, and why are we not able to change in who we should be, and whose definition of who we should be is valid in the first place? It's not that I am confused about these things {because I for one have a firm compass in Christ) but I see this confusion all around me for those without compass or using a nonworking instrument.

  5. Very astute.

    The call, of course, is always there...we have been fully informed of what God expects of us, and the door is open wide for us to do it. But sometimes no one's answering. There can be many reasons. Hard-heartedness is one, but you list several others that I think are just as probable in individual cases. But so long as we are not orienting our lives to the truth, namely that God does actually exist and is actually calling us to receive His Son and enter into relationship with him, our lives do remain in confusion. And what else should we expect, if a person is in denial of the fundamental fact in the whole universe? Frankly, it would be less problematic for their thinking and living if they chose instead to deny the Law of Gravity. Unrealism always has its punishments.

    I have found that many, many so-called "atheists" today are atheists-by-default. That is, they have some vague notion that "smart people" or "scientists," or even "everybody with sense" is a thing called an "atheist," and that this marvellous ideology delivers one forever from the difficult business of having to think about God (along with the other preliminaries like fear, guilt, uncertainty, sorrow, admission of guilt...). So they buy in at a completely unintelligent level. They declare themselves "atheists," meaning only "I've chosen not to think about all that." I would say that described 80% of the atheists I meet.

    A much smaller number does that at first, but then doesn't leave it there. They bolster their confidence afterward by reading the old atheists (Hume, Nietzsche, Russell...) or more likely the more trivial new ones (Dawkins, Dennett, Wilson...), or more likely still, a few websites. They may stock up a small arsenal of cliche critiques of Theism (the Euthyphro Problem, the Marxist angle...) and they feel set for life. But like the first group. what they really want is never, never, never to have to think about it again, to feel any anxiety about their spiritual state.

    The fear and resentment that drives their atheism makes them very poor partners in a rational discussion, but particularly when they're in a self-reinfocing mass. The things they offer are usually not "conversation openers" at all, but rather "question closers" designed to allow them to shut off thought with a triumphant "So there!" But they're secretly just avoiding; and that is precisely why, when their little quiver of arrows is all shot they immediately resort to rudeness, name-calling, posing, vile suggestions and blasphemy -- because the real point is to *shut down* discussion and *end* the questioning, so any tactic at all that succeeds in doing that will do.

    Actually, I sympathize with the terror that is driving them. I suspect they all know at some level that atheism is deeply irrational. (That's not hard to show, of course). I would like very much to have a sincere conversation with them. But to talk to a bunch of them, all at once, in any open forum never seems to be a recipe for good conversation, since they are all so determined *not* to pursue the subject with any sincerity.

    I think of Paul here: he was fearless and completely open to debate anyone at the Areopagus: but when his opponents just began to blaspheme (Acts 13:45) he simply refused to go further with them -- not because he was defeated, but because they were insulting the holy -- and to provide anyone a forum for that is wrong.

    Any solution to that dilemma is welcome.

  6. I also appreciate this blog and get much spiritual food from the posts by the two hosts, Tom and IC. I was somewhat aggressive with my initial comments on the subject of Calvinism and I apologize if I was taken as disrespectful or overtly argumentative.

    I've spent most of my 52 years being disobedient to God's call for my life. He's mainly asked me to be obedient to His Word and share His Son's saving grace with others. I've failed at that in the past, but intend to be obedient to His will in my life in the future.

    I get excited and agitated simultaneously when the Word of God is used, for example like Calvin uses it, to try and prove an idea instead of letting the Word speak truth spiritually and logically. This "doomed from womb" and "totally depraved" theology is directly from the enemy. There isn't even a doubt in my mind it's Satan's attempt to obstruct understanding of what Jesus came as a God/Man to accomplish. The "whosoever" may believe that is spoken about in John 3:16 cannot be twisted to mean a predetermined percentage of the population and still be considered Godly teaching. Likewise, suggesting that we are conceived into depravity and doomed before we ever reach the age of knowing what sin and having the ability to commit it is ludicrous. Depraved (evil, perverted) people are supposed to be the creative, loving and possibly Christian population? Really?

    Sorry I went off there, what I wanted to say is thanks for this blog and keep up the good work. God bless you.

    1. Micah, I can totally relate to the disobedient/humbled thing. No apology required. Nice to hear from you and thanks much for the encouragement.

    2. Thanks, Micah.

      I agree that the Neo-Calvinism that seems to be breaking out in the evangelical community today is a problem on a whole bunch of levels. I don't think you're wrong to be concerned. But feel encouraged: we know that good doctrine has behind it the authority of the Lord Himself. We shall not be defeated.

      "The game ain't over yet."