So I think that the time has come to talk a little bit about an open secret. The secret is that liberals (and the moderates who admire them) don’t like dialog very much. They talk about it incessantly, sure, but they like all the questions aspiring to a place in the dialog to be cleared beforehand, pre-approved, or vetted.
If there is someone who might ask an actual awkward question, one requiring an answer, such a person who so rudely intrudes a question into the Q&A is grabbed where the pants hang loose, and is frog-marched to the nearest exit. That is what happens when a question barges into an actual 3-D event.
When the question is posed on the Internet, the solution is simpler. You just ignore the small fry, pretending you didn’t hear him. “Why did King Ahab have the vineyard belonging to Naboth, lately deceased, rezoned? And why was it rezoned so quickly?” The palace has thus far declined to comment.
This is not engagement or dialog, it is Dialog Theater. Actual conversation across the evangelical world is not occurring. It is being managed to look as though something close to it has been occurring. But it stands in the same relation to real debate and discussion what oak veneer in a 1970s double wide is to the wainscot at Balmoral.
The pretense has different ways of working. When someone suggests they are being frozen out of being able to contribute to the discussion, they are patted on the head, and told they are a nobody, and that Big Men cannot afford to fritter away their time answering all the yippy dogs of the Internet. Not only yippy dogs, but yippy dogs with a delusional sense of their own importance, which are, let me tell you, the worst kind of yippy dog there could be.
Some might wonder here if any of this here stuff is autobiographical, and if I am acting a little chafed because my name is not up in lights. Yes, more than a little of this is autobiographical, but I really do like the plaque Ronald Reagan kept on his desk: “There is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he doesn’t mind who gets the credit.” Any Christian who is not willing to be little in the kingdom, for the sake of the kingdom, is not reading his kingdom manual frequently enough.
This is not a new problem. Preachers have been throwing elbows at other Christian preachers since the first century.
“Some indeed preach Christ even of envy and strife; and some also of good will: The one preach Christ of contention, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my bonds” (Phil. 1:15–16).
And as long as they were preaching Christ, and not some LGBTQ+ travesty in St. Louis, Paul simply rejoiced that Christ was preached (v. 18). So when it was just a matter of personal ego, Paul was absolutely willing to let it go. But if the gospel were being attacked by means of a personal attack on Paul, he would take the fight to the last ditch.
But the public pretense (that we don’t matter, really) wears pretty thin when you know the facts, facts that come to us in three different ways. If nobody knows who we are, then why are speakers who agree to come to Moscow for one of our events pressured to cancel? This has happened to us multiple times, sometimes successfully and other times not. There is a difference between living in a nowhere place where no one comes, and living in a place that is under an embargo. We kind of know about the interdictions. We can see the ships outside the harbor. The second way we know that our content is spreading in places it shouldn’t oughter, serving as a guilty pleasure enjoyed by well-placed individuals in the evangelical firmament, some of whom would rather their bosses not know about it, is that they contact us. “Hey, would you write about this?” I know that the top floors of evangelicaldom are shot through with quite a bit of the social justice flimflam, and it really is bad. But I also know that there is a good deal of covenantal contraband in those places. Theocratic justice is the new love that dare not speak its name. And third, people have forgotten our old friend technology. As it turns out, it is possible to look at the analytics, look at the stats, look at the trackers, and follow the adventures of a hot little something you said, studiously ignored in public, but obviously bounced all over tarnation in private.
So in some ways I do have to compete in this archery contest blindfolded. But that’s all right. We live in Sherwood Forest. And so when I shoot, I frequently hear one of the sheriff’s men yell, “You missed! Again, you poltroon!” But again, that’s all right. I can still hear the thwack when it hits the target.
Oh, right. Another thing. When something is said publicly, it is usually rude, crude, and unattractive. This technique is to get you designated as guaranteed troll bait. If I retweet something pithy that Thomas Watson said, and some naïve but rising gentleman in this reformational world of ours is foolish enough to retweet that, he will get the treatment: “Outrageous. We call upon John Piper and the Gospel Coalition (and you too, you little twerp) to sever all ties whatsoever with Wilson. #SlaverySitlerServileSubmissionSumbitch”
You can tell you are dealing with a fanatical troll when they can’t afford to let you agree with them about anything. But that is a subject for another time.
Go back to the top. Every age of the church has had its great issues, and we are no different in that respect. But we live in a managerial age, and so our great issues are not being thundered by preachers, debated by scholars, or published by courageous printers setting the world on fire. No, our great issues are being massaged by managers, administered by actuaries, deboned by HR, and plumped by PR.