Seven Years and Counting

SharperIron launched in January of 2005 and is now seven years old.

For me, the experience has been broadly—and sometimes intensely—educational. In the early years, that experience involved writing monthly, reading weekly and dropping into the forums once in a while. In the spring of ‘08 my involvement increased steeply. SI quickly became a technical, financial, and interpersonal challenge. Though I’ve often felt a bit out of my league, the challenges have never failed to be interesting. They have also rarely failed to teach me things. I’m grateful for that.

The site has been on a journey from day one. The question I ponder fairly often lately is, where has it been headed and where is it headed now? If I can borrow a phrase from a real leader (George H. W. Bush), “the vision thing” often eludes me.

As with any new thing, a website only gets to make the Really Big Splash—the everybody quickly discovering it splash—once (if at all). And SI did have quite a splash in ‘05 and ‘06. We’re well past those days now and have to think more in terms of what long term contribution we can make to conservative Christianity in general and fundamentalism in particular.

Your thoughts on what that contribution should be are most welcome.

In its unique and relatively small way, the site can encourage (and has encouraged) accessible, thoughtful writing and discussion—as a means of believers sharpening one another. Beyond that, it isn’t clear to me what a website like this one can do. But I remain open to discovering more.

Something we need

Speaking of accessible, thoughtful writing, consider this an open casting call for writers. Though we continue to find some pretty good stuff in the work of various bloggers as well as some print publications (such as Baptist Bulletin and Voice), SI could use more work that is exclusive and arrives at regular intervals.

So if you’re tired of blogging on your own but would like an outlet once a month or once a quarter, send us a sample of your writing. The best stuff is concise, passionate, timely and accessible (no advanced theological education required)—yet pushes readers a bit into areas of study that are unfamiliar or only marginally familiar.

But we’re not solely interested in “issues” and cerebral content. Reflection on how truth applies personally—in experience—is no less important than thinking about assertions, arguments, and evidence. I happen to think the latter is undervalued in our age—and in fundamentalism in particular—but in our efforts to correct that imbalance, we shouldn’t create another by neglecting “the thinking of the heart.”

It’s all thinking, and, to me, that’s what SharperIron is about.

If you’ve never been interested in blogging but would like to get your writing in front of the Internet readership a bit, SI may be a good opportunity for you as well. We’ve never entirely fit the blog mold.

Some coming changes

Aside from cosmetic changes, the Forums at SharperIron have remained essentially unchanged for seven years. That’s something like half a century in Web years. The team reached a consensus some time ago that a forum relaunch would be a good idea.

Accordingly, look for that to happen sometime in June. The plan so far involves shutting the forums down for a while (not more than a couple weeks probably) to redesign and reopen—hopefully with a little fanfare (needed: experts in “the fanfare thing”).

Redesign ideas include shrinking the number of categories, introducing some new ones, giving users more ability to tag and interrelate threads, giving the forums more front page visibility and perhaps interfacing better with Facebook and Twitter—and of course, a visual update (including more industry-standard post-formatting tools; think WYSIWYG).

Your ideas on these improvements and other ways to improve the forum experience are most welcome.

In the months leading up to the Forum relaunch, expect to see some design updates to other parts of the site.

Identity questions

Along the way, critics have accused SI of having an anti-fundamentalist bias, of being a secretly neo-evangelical organization, etc. The criticism resembles truth in one respect: we’ve always had readers and forum participants who were not what some fundamentalists would include in their definition of “fundamentalist.”

And we’ve always been interested in helping fundamentalism by challenging it, rather than simply lauding it. (Certainly fundamentalists should understand the value of challenging people—it’s just that, as a movement at least, we’ve preferred to major on challenging those outside rather than those inside. But those days are pretty much over.)

One conversation the Team has had more than once concerns whether we should re-characterize the site from being “for” fundamentalists to being “hosted by fundamentalists.” It’s evident that this shift would involve some trade-offs. On the positive side, the change would free us from the perception that we need to define in some way who is a fundamentalist and who is not when we decide who may participate in discussions.

Also on the positive side, there can be little doubt that the segment of Christianity willing to openly style itself “fundamentalist” is shrinking. So, de-emphasizing the fundamentalist identity of those who participate in discussions has the potential to open us up to a larger field of potential joiners.

And “hosted by fundamentalists” rather than “existing for fundamentalists” has the additional advantage of more accurately describing how many of us see the status quo—that is, to a lot of us, the site has had not-quite-fundamentalists participating in various ways from day one.

The decision hasn’t been made yet (and really involves a pretty minor tweak to how we “brand” the site in any case). So consider this a not very subtle trial balloon. In any case, those who run the site are, and fully intend to remain, fundamentalists (in the strictly-peaceful, not hurt anybody or blow anything up sense!).

To sum up, from my point of view, it’s been a pretty interesting and fun seven years and I look forward to days as good—or better—ahead. Thanks to all of you who have been readers, writers, commenters, moderators, editors, and admins since ‘05. Thanks to the high-energy, entrepreneurial guys who got the site started. Thanks even to detractors who have prompted many team conversations that would have otherwise been pretty dull (though dull is really nice sometimes).

Most of all, thanks to God for putting us in such an interesting world, giving us minds, and encouraging us to imitate Him—in our small, weak ways—by thinking, creating, interacting, and persuading.

[node:bio/aaron-blumer body]

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There are 44 Comments

Ed Vasicek's picture

SI has been an amazing influence upon me and, in a sense, my congregation.

I have learned much, been challenged much, and have been able to stay more abreast on what is going on in both the fundamental and greater evangelical world. I have been led to books I might not have heard of, articles I would never have read, and viewpoints that helped me understand other perspectives that came from men and women who respected the integrity of the Bible as much as I do.

For me, SI is a source of ongoing education and provides unique opportunity to fellowship with precious believers I have never met face to face.

Aaron, thank you for doing such a great job managing the site. I believe SI has more influence than any of us realize. Please, keep up the good work.

I am also encouraged that you are revamping the Forum categories. I agree that they need a reworking. Your other suggestions, like going to a "hosted by fundamentalists" description is excellent. I have found the term "embracing the fundamentals" to be useful when describing a doctrinal viewpoint or for those who will "sign" our doctrinal statement in the future.

Joel Tetrau (Joel, I miss your posts!) tried to serve us well by categorizing fundamentalists, but the term is still so ambiguous that the changes you suggest are good ones.

Please keep up the good work. For many of us, SI is our "home" on the web.

"The Midrash Detective"

G. N. Barkman's picture

Aaron,

Thanks for your diligent work at SI. I first came across SI two or three years ago, and read it for a year of so before signing on to comment. I, like many, grew up in a strong fundamentalist context, but became increasingly discouraged with much of present day fundamentalism. Without specifically intending it, I became increasingly distant from the fundamentalist scene. It just didn't seem to matter much, and as I became more immersed in my own ministry demands, I invested less time in staying in touch with my fundamentalist friends.

SI brought me back in touch with my fundamentalist roots in a positive sense. It was never my desire nor intention to absent myself from fundamentalism, but circumstances were moving me in the direction. I owe a great deal to my background, and consider strong fundamentalists some of my greatest teachers and examples. My desire has always been to contribute to the health of this movement, if possible. SI has allowed me to become re-acquainted with the world of fundamentalism (or at least a portion of it), and for that I am thankful. Keep up the good work!

Warm regards,
Greg Barkman

G. N. Barkman

Charlie's picture

I must admit that I run a full spectrum of emotions when it comes to SI. Sometimes I appreciate it, other times I abhor it, many times I'm simply nonplussed. Even when I dislike it, though, I think it's still important for me. It's one of my few remaining ties to institutional Fundamentalism. I spend most of my time with Catholics, Anglicans, and sundry Reformed-ish folks these days. I really can't think of a better contact point with Fundamentalism than this place. I'm looking forward to the next incarnation.

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

In the article, I mentioned trade offs of the "hosted by" shift, but didn't mention the downside. One of them is that fundamentalists who want to interact only with fundamentalists (which tends to mean "only with fundamentalists of my type") would find the Forums less attractive. ... but I think for the most part, those who have wanted to do that have been dissatisfied w/SI anyway. There was never any way it could be inclusive enough to gather all fundamentalists of a particular flavor yet exclusive enough to not have any fundamentalists of any other flavor. And a few of the "flavors" see theirs as the only real one.

But in my experience, the really interesting people are the ones who are not quite what I am but not so different that can't find any common interests. (IOW, even if we could have an SI where only fundamentalists of a particular kind take part, that would be kind of dull)

But adopting a broader doctrinal standard is not on the table (though making the current one more precise in some ways is a recurring theme), so "the fundamentals" themselves remain central to any future scenario... as does the belief that the fundamentals are worth defending and contending for.

David R. Brumbelow's picture

As a Southern Baptist who believes in the fundamentals of the faith, I enjoy Sharper Iron.

I grew up a Southern Baptist whose preacher dad subscribed to the Sword of the Lord. Back then most conservative SBC preachers did so. I now look forward to each copy of The Biblical Evangelist.

You guys (independent Baptists, Fundamentalists, etc.) have had an influence on the SBC Conservative Resurgence and the SBC in general (and, I would argue, evangelicalism in general). I appreciate the information and the work you put into this site. I appreciate any emphasis on the fundamental doctrines of Christianity. I enjoy getting the perspective of independent Fundamentalists. Keep up the good work.
David R. Brumbelow

JD Miller's picture

One of the reasons I would hesitate to change too quickly is that SI is quite unique as it is. It has already had an impact on fundamentalism in a way that we will not know this side of eternity. My hesitance is partly a fear of the unknown. We have no idea what this site might change into. What I like about coming here is that I am able to be challenged in thought by those who at least have a basic core of agreement about the fundamentals that will at least have a certain effect on our hermeneutic while still not making the approach so restrictive that it would limit a variety of views.
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Though I could welcome the input of a conservative who holds to the basic fundamentals, but does not call themselves a fundamentalist (Dever, Mohler, MacArthar, etal) I would want to structure it so that we do not have Universal Unitarians participating (though the Unitarian would certainly add a new dynamic to sharpening our iron, there are plenty of other blogs where we can interact with people who do not share much common thinking with us).
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If the change is made, I would want some sort of doctrinal statement to continue (a certain amount of fundamentals that would have to be agreed to) so that it was not opened up to too wide a range of participants. I'm guessing you have already considered this, but I would like some further input from the moderators as to your thoughts. Thank you to all those who work behind the scenes to help us sharpen iron as we interact with one another.

Joel Shaffer's picture

Sharper Iron has really made me appreciate those who are more conservative than myself within fundamentalism. Many of the Type A's and Type B's (using Joel Tetrau's taxonomy) on this site have blown away many of my stereotypes that I once had of certain fundamentalists and certain institutions where they came from. Several of my dialogues with others have helped me articulate my views better and have even helped me modify views on a few issues. Although I probably am in the minority as a Type C, I don't feel like an outcast, but rather feel respected as a brother in Christ........

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

To JDMiller... nobody's interested in lowering the doctrinal standard, so Unitarian Universalist et. al., is--well, over my dead body, as they say.

To everybody: your responses have really encouraged me. Thx.

JG's picture

You wouldn't change anything that is required for membership except the "fundamentalist" self-identification? If so, at first glance I think the "hosted by" is a good step.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

That's pretty much the idea. We've had a lot of conversations about strengthening the doctrinal statement in one way or another, but none about weakening or lowering it.
So it's the "only people who claim to be 'fundamentalists' can post here" idea that's always been a bit shaky and maybe should just go away.

Steve Davis's picture

I believe "hosted by" would be a good move. It would allow guys like me who were discipled in Fundamentalism, hold to the fundamentals, and have good friends in Fundamentalism but no longer identify with the movment or find the term helpful in real life ministry to stay in touch and even write for SI.

Steve Davis

JG's picture

who have substantive differences with guys like Steve to still take part in friendly discussions with him. As it stands now, if Steve takes part, the site has a de facto definition of "fundamentalist" that I reject, and so it's doubtful whether I should take part. If you want to welcome both the softies like Steve and the guys who hold a tighter line, like me, you've got to change something.

An alternative could be to say it is "for fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals", but eventually you'll have evangelicals who aren't very conservative start to blur that line.

Ed Vasicek's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:
To JDMiller... nobody's interested in lowering the doctrinal standard, so Unitarian Universalist et. al., is--well, over my dead body, as they say.

To everybody: your responses have really encouraged me. Thx.

To me, our doctrinal statement has been and will continue to be the defining factor. Moving to "hosted by" will likely attract other people JUST LIKE MANY OF US. I almost did not join because I was spooked by the fundamentalist label. In my neck of the woods, the type A's have claimed exclusive right to the label and I am not a type A.

Because of the baggage often associated with the label "fundamentalist," the term has a wide spectrum of meaning. What won me over was the SI doctrinal statement's definition of what the term meant HERE.

The bottom line is that the modest change in presentation will not alter the site much; it may bring in more type B's and C's (we cannot thank Joel Tetrau enough for his taxonomy!).

And Charlie, thanks for continuing to hang around. You are such a blessing to us.

Aaron, these changes can only make things better. As long as we keep the doctrinal statement, how can we not give you two thumbs up?

What I might suggest is a forum to discuss the meaning of specific Bible verses, or at least adding a description to a forum for that so we know where to post 'em. Our love for the Word is (or should be) the hallmark of a healthy fundamentalism. Thanks for all you do!

"The Midrash Detective"

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

It's pretty much part of the definition of "Type A" ("or "hyper" in some other taxonomies.... in this case, I like "Type A" better. Less pejorative) that you believe everyone else is not really a fundamentalist.

To me, it's one of the many situations where disputes about terms and definitions gets in the way of talking about substance. The real differences in perspective on separation, relationship to culture, etc., are more important than what we call them (though I'd never say what we call them doesn't matter... labels do matter-- is it "pro choice" or "pro abortion" or "pro death" for example--It's just that there are some situations where they only get in the way.)

If anybody knows a good web marketing expert--who might help out a bit for marginal (or no) compensation, we could use some help coordinating a nice "forum relaunch whoopydoo" (I can't seem to find a correct spelling for whoop e do). I still think you only get to do the really big splash once but a little splash wd be nice. It's one of the many things that are not my thing.

(Edit: actually Bob Hayton has some things going on marketing-wise, so I'll pick his brain... but the more the merrier)

(Edit again: Occurs to me that I should mention that "hosted by fundamentalists" was not my idea. Someone on the team sprung that one a while back. ... just don't want to give the impression that all the ideas come from me... if you were at all inclined to think so.)

Steve Davis's picture

JG,

You must be trying to inject humor. Normally we would take this to the parking lot:-) But since much of Fundamentalism takes a tighter line than the Bible I'll let it slide.

Blessings,

Steve

Joel Tetreau's picture

Ah - another 7 years of sweet fellowship around the SI campfire and from the comfort of my "Lawn 4000!"

It's OK that we like our marshmellows a little different - JG being a little more of a "tough fundamentalist" no doubt likes his burnt. Steve - being on the more soft end likes his mushy. It's all good - everyone's enjoying koinonia and it always taste good no matter how you prepare it! Allow me to pour you both a nice cup of coffee. See.....this isn't hard! Smile

This is much nicer than when wer're all "bothered" and throwing marshmellows at each other! I mean I know it's sometimes fun but you do realize when we have those kinds of discussions the "outsiders" must think we're all nuts......I'll say nothing of the obvious implication there. Smile

Straight Ahead gang!

jt

Dr. Joel Tetreau serves as Senior Pastor, Southeast Valley Bible Church (sevbc.org); Regional Coordinator for IBL West (iblministry.com), Board Member & friend for several different ministries;

Pastor Joe Roof's picture

Joel's talking marshamallows when after 7 years its time for cake!

SI is far from perfect but it has been a place that has fostered some helpful conversations. It has been a place where God's fundamentalist, Bible-believing people have been able to see that the Kingdom is bigger than their bubble. One of the things I have appreciated about this place is the numbers of men younger than I who are mature and passionate about picking up their crosses and following Jesus in reaching this world with his Gospel. You have been a challenge and a blessing to me. I have also re-connected with people I knew in college and seminary. What a blessing it has been to see some of you again and read about your efforts to serve God. One more highlight has been the new friendships. These friendships have been meaningful relationships where there is genuine care, patience, and challenges to sharper my iron.

Oh, I had better mention the benefit of resources through SI. Because of the multi-faceted functions of this site, I have been able to access articles, ministry websites, books,and other resources that have helped me in the ministry.

It is a great place. I have worked with Jason and Aaron on that there are good and sound motives behind leading this site. I also interact with the moderators and know their desires to see this site used of the Lord.

Steve Davis's picture

Pastor Joe Roof wrote:
One of the things I have appreciated about this place is the numbers of men younger than I who are mature and passionate about picking up their crosses and following Jesus in reaching this world with his Gospel.

Joe,

Thanks for recognizing us younger guys. Didn't know you were that old Smile

Steve

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Marshmallow would be marshmellow and borrow would be barrow... and separate would be sepperate.
But we're stuck with English for now I guess.

JD Miller's picture

I missed Joel's article on the types of fundamentalists. I'd love to have a link to it. I definitely agree that terms can be a barrier to fellowship even when we agree with each other on a particular subject but define terms differently. Sadly we can end up ready to debate a subject based on a preconceived notion about a term, only to find out we actually agree with the other party but are just speaking a little bit different language. That sometimes happens with the term "fundamentalist." Other times we end up using the same language as another person, but realize that we are saying something totally different. That too happens with the term "fundamentalist."

I now have a bit more clarity on where you are going with "hosted by fundamentalists" and I am quite open to the idea. I am learning that when I have a question about a position, that I need to ask questions and not just make assumptions about what someone else is saying. This site provides an excellent forum for doing just that. Again thank you to all those who work up front and behind the scenes at SI.

JG's picture

I never knew Joel liked nuts in his s'mores. I think that is what his post means, though. I'm sure of it. No other interpretation of his words makes any sense.

Pastor Joe Roof's picture

Hey Steve- I still think I am young but when I pray monthly with a group of Pastors and I am the oldest guy there. I'm 44 until June and have been in the ministry for 20 years. Hopefully, by God's grace, will have "miles to go before I sleep."

Brenda T's picture

Quote:
Aaron said:
we could use some help coordinating a nice "forum relaunch whoopydoo" (I can't seem to find a correct spelling for whoop e do).

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/whoop-de-do ]whoop–de–do
noun
\ˌh(w)üp-dē-ˈdü, ˌh(w)u̇p-, -tē-\
Definition of WHOOP-DE-DO
1: noisy and exuberant or attention-getting activity (as at a social affair or in a political campaign)
2: a lively social affair
3: agitated public discussion or debate

*****
If the change is made to "hosted by" and some major formatting changes will be made to the website/forums, perhaps an opportunity should be made available for current and former participants who might not be so "whoopy" about the new "do" to no longer be listed as registered users. This sort of "tidying up the rolls" would more accurately reflect the names of those in agreement with the new scope rather than grandfathering in the disaffected who have already left SI (figuratively) or current participants who might desire to do so if a change such as this is made. Or perhaps registrants could be given the choice to be designated as either "former" or "current" if it's problematic to actually delete names.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Best way to unregister has generally been contact us and ask to be unregistered. I'm not sure there is any better way.

But if there are some strong objections to focusing the fundamentalist identity on those hosting/leading the site vs. everybody who posts, I'd certainly be interested in hearing the whys and wherefores, as they say. So far, I haven't gotten much to think about on that side of the question.

As for the whoopedoo... has more to do w/the forum relaunch, not the slight "brand adjustment"... which is probably not substantial enough to put the balloons and crepe paper up for.

(I should say too, that changes being explored to the site look and feel are not on the large scale... this one focuses on the forums and the rest is some cosmetic fine tuning)

Brenda T's picture

How about apple-bobbing and charades? Cake? I suppose not those either. Oh well.

Thanks for the info regarding unregistering. That explains why when I tried to do a people search using the "former user" selection in the role category it didn't list anyone. I thought that because it was a search option, there were actually people with that designation.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Has to be a bug in there... there should be some "formers." (Will check that out) The reason is that, as you mentioned above, when someone asks to be unregistered, we usually change the status to former and deactivate. This is so we don't have have weird holes where posts used to be and people quoting nobody, etc. So the threads still make sense and it's generally clear who posted what.

Edit: yes, there was a problem with multiple filters there so the "former" wasn't showing hits. Working on it.

Shaynus's picture

So the casting call for writers has come out. I foggily (is that a word?) remember that word documents need to be sent and formatted a certain way, ect. Does anyone have and SI writing template I could download?

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