Toward a Vision for SharperIron

BatonIt seems to be a day for firsts. SI’s first change in leadership at the top. My first go at leading anything remotely like SI. And for many of you, I expect, a first impression of what the new guy is like. I’d love to give you a classic for all time. I offer this instead.

Three cheers for “starters”

First, thanks to Jason for biting the bullet, letting go of SI, and being willing to hand it off to a pretty obscure small-town pastor in rural Wisconsin. But I also want to thank him for just being a starter. Guys like me owe a great deal to guys like Jason because guys like me do not start things. We come after, maintain, hopefully grow. But we rarely have the guts to make something where there was nothing. So I’ll add my salute to those of the many who have already thanked Jason for getting SI going.

A place for writing

I was drawn to SharperIron back in ’05 because it offered me a place to write. I wanted to write to fundamentalists and wanted to do so with a freedom I didn’t think I could get in the print media. At some point I e-mailed Kevin Bauder about my quandary. He told me about SI and suggested it might be what I was looking for. He was right.

A commitment to write monthly for SI revived skills that had atrophied during my post-seminary years and then took me beyond those skills. The format was good for me. Knowing that those unpersuaded by my arguments would have the opportunity to say so and to offer counterarguments intensified the thought behind the writing. It made writing harder work, but more satisfying work. And when the back-and-forth has been thoughtful and on topic, I’ve enjoyed it.

As things developed, I also found that what others were writing at SI challenged and intrigued me. The Filings made me aware of important developments “out there” I would not otherwise have known about until weeks later, if at all. And the forums occasionally provided helpful perspectives on matters I wondered about or provided a bit of the college-hallway style debating I’d been missing since school days.

But the writing was the big draw for me and is what I see as most important at SI.

Writing that sharpens

Virtually all agree that the writing quality at SI has been uneven. But what has distinguished the better writing from the rest is a bit murky. Over the coming months, I’ll be conferring with a number of leaders and thinkers I respect in an effort to burn the fog away from that question. With that goal (and others) in mind, I am recruiting a Board of Advisers for SI. (It may eventually become an editorial board. I’m going after outstanding men and women, but most of them are still thinking the matter over. They will not sign up unless they’re serious.)

I’d also love to hear from many of you about what sort of writing has been most valuable to you and why.

In the meantime, I believe I can rough in some of my vision for SI writing. I believe the writing has been at its best when it has spoken to fundamentalists in ways they are not spoken to anywhere else. Sermonic writing has been valuable, devotional writing has been valuable, and reviews of conferences and books have been a more important part of the mix.

But what Fundamentalism has lacked over the years is a strong enough self-critical voice. Fundamentalism has had too few willing to challenge its own conventional wisdom in the light of Scripture and too few places for these challengers to be heard. The movement has needed more restless and inquisitive minds raising inconvenient questions. It’s been too easy to think, We’re okay because we’re not like like those other guys.

SI has helped Fundamentalism compensate some for that self-correction deficit. I hope I can help it excel further in that area.

As important as that function is, there is much more SI has offered and has yet to offer in the writing department. Many conservative evangelicals who do not consider themselves fundamentalists are now interested in what fundamentalists are saying. And many of these are reading SI on a regular basis. Fundamentalism has offered plenty of talk about Evangelicalism. SI offers an important opportunity to talk to it. Perhaps we do that best by speaking well to one another while Evangelicalism listens in.

I believe SI should also offer writing about things human. Surely people devoted to the authority of Scripture should excel in the study of how to apply the Scriptures in the world God has made. Successful application, however, requires not only understanding the Word correctly but also understanding the human being and human society correctly. While Evangelicalism offers plenty of Christian-worldview thought on human nature, society, culture, politics, arts and sciences, the fundamentalist flavor of that worldview is underrepresented, to say the least (some say Fundamentalism has no worldview at all).

SI will not run out of good topics to explore anytime soon.

Problems to solve

Nobody I’ve heard from has claimed SI has no flaws or weaknesses. The line between rousing debate and ugly quarrel is often micron thin, especially if you’re involved in the exchange. And the line between important news and sordid gossip is notoriously fine as well. SI has not always managed to stay on the right side of these lines, and we’re not going to find a way to master that balancing act perfectly in the foreseeable future.

But I have heard some excellent ideas from several of you already, and I’m confident that we can improve these balances. I believe we can find ways to make the forums more appealing to folks interested in connecting, learning, and growing; and less attractive to those who just love conflict or who have a hobby horse to ride or who aim only to prove themselves the smartest people in the room.

And I believe we can improve our handling of news, especially fundamentalist news. We can do better at providing the accountability and support through awareness while maintaining proper respect for privacy. These tend to be tough calls, and I don’t doubt there will be differences of opinion about how we make them.

Nuts and bolts

I have not been on the inside of SI workings deeply enough or long enough to have a handle on everything yet. I’ve already begun putting together the SI Board of Advisers and am recruiting new (or inactive) writers. While these efforts continue, I’ll be working on the following in roughly this order:

1. New SI server

For various reasons, we need to move SI to a new Web server right away. The migration is scheduled for this Friday evening, May 16. The site will be down for several hours (and hopefully not several days!). Details to be announced.

2. Personnel decisions for key administrative roles

Leadership team details are in flux as I write. My brother Adam will continue to serve as Managing Editor. Dan Miller is Interim Forums Director. Beth Murschell is Interim Ladies’ Forum Director and Registration/Accounts Management. Michelle Brock and most of the Moderators are continuing in their roles for the time being (most have agreed to serve until we get to item five below). Brad Waite and Austin Matzko are advising me in technical matters, as is my brother Aric (yes, even my mother has trouble with all those A’s sometimes: Aric, Adam, Aaron, and Andrea).

3. Site redesign

We’re working on a new look and feel for SI that will allow nontechnical editors to more easily display a wider variety of content in a wider variety of ways and locations on the site. I’m really hoping to roll out the redesign in a month or two.

4. New advertising program

Once the tools are in place to manage the front page (and other pages) differently, we’ll be ready to offer new options to advertisers.

5. Forum reform

I’ll be working with the current Moderator team and the Board of Advisers to develop a forum reform package for later this summer or early this fall.

So, to all of you at SI, thanks for your patronage and thanks in advance for your patience. This is a role I’ll need to grow into. I look forward to that growth, and I believe SI will grow in the process as well.

blumerandson1.jpgAaron Blumer, a native of lower Michigan, is a graduate of Bob Jones University (Greenville, SC) and Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN). He, his wife, and their two children live in a small town in western Wisconsin, where he has pastored Grace Baptist Church (Boyceville, WI) since 2000. Prior to serving as a pastor, Aaron taught school in Stone Mountain, Georgia, and served in customer service and technical support for Unisys Corporation (Eagan, MN). He enjoys science fiction, music, and dabbling in software engineering.
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