Please consider this post as being intentionally below our usual front page standards. “Intentionally,” because we’re coming off of a holiday and I haven’t completely taken my heels off my desk yet.
What I aim to do here is share some pretty much random thoughts on the year past and the one head from a SharperIron point of view.
The year past
Over all, twenty-ten was not a bad year for SI. Site traffic was down about 3% compared to the year before, but from October 1 on, was higher than the year before by a significant and increasing margin. November increased over October and December increased over November. It’s hard to tell yet whether that represents a trend. But I’m encouraged by the fact that we began 2010 with traffic levels below those of 2009 and finished the year well above them.
Of course, site traffic is kind of like church attendance. It’s just the easiest factor to look at to gauge how you’re doing—not necessarily the most meaningful one.
In 2010, we completed our first-ever survey of SI readers. Some interesting results came from the survey. While I can’t say we attempted any specific changes in response to the survey, the results did become a part of the team’s perspective on what we’re doing. And survey responses did shape our discussions on things like approach to moderating, selection of Filings and other posts, and the site’s relationship to doctrinal issues.
Speaking of—another significant event of 2010 was the unveiling of an expression of the doctrinal views of SI’s admins and moderators. It’s a modest start, but an important one. Folks have sometimes (in emails and posts) referred to “SI’s position” or “SI’s view” on this or that. The phrase has never really had any meaning since “SI” is pretty much everybody who posts. But as a way of referring to what the site leadership believes, the phrase has been hollow as well: we never said what we believed about anything beyond the existing Doctrinal Statement. Now there’s a bit more to work with.
Where our handling of doctrine will go in the future remains to be seen.
Financially, we did OK in 2010, too. I’m no CPA,1 and all the crunching hasn’t been finished yet, but I’m pretty sure SharperIron, LLC finished a tiny bit ahead for the year in the dollars and cents department. Thanks to all of our advertisers, as well as those who donate from time to time or use the Amazon box.
Since the styling and functionality updates in June (“SI 3.1”), we’ve had some intermittent problems with site performance: slow page loads. Some tweaks a week or so ago appear to have helped, but it may be necessary in 2011 to go back to a slightly beefier (but more than “slightly” more expensive, I think) server configuration. So we may be asking for money again soon.
But right now, looking ahead mostly brings writing topics to mind. Though some ideas are brewing on how to make the site a bit more “social” in 2011, I’m mostly looking forward to doing more actual writing—what got me involved in SI in the first place back in ‘05, as a once-a-month writer.
Some topics I’ve been gnawing on follow. If you’re interested in writing on these topics, I’d welcome your perspective as well. Take a look here for details on how to construct your manuscript and get it to us.
What does “depending on God” mean?
I suppose all believers are keenly interested in this subject unless they believe they’ve already figured it out. Reading a few of the early chapters of David Platt’s book Radical piqued my interest again in doing some writing against popular misunderstandings of the concept.
In particular, why do we keep speaking of “depending on God” and “depending on our own strength” as two options when Scripture is clear that in reality, there is no such thing as “our own strength”? And if it’s true that “our own” is an imaginary category when it comes to ability and power, what are we really doing when we fail (which we surely do) to “depend on God”? How do 2 Corinthians 3:5-6 and 1:9-10 help us sort it out?
Thinking biblically about poverty
Platt’s book got me thinking about poverty as well. A recent discussion in Sunday School about what obligations believers and “the church” have for ministering to the material and physical needs of “the poor” meshed with recent discussions here and elsewhere about the “missional” view of the church, “kingdom-now” thinking, and related topics. In addition, as the evangelical mainstream continues to shift leftward toward the liberal social agenda (which has become the doctrine and practice of the old mainline denominations) I’m increasingly interested in chipping away at some of the thinking that underlies this leftward trend.
I’m concerned that a new generation of sharp, devoted, well-intentioned evangelicals and fundamentalists have absorbed some popular fallacies in the areas of poverty and social justice. The results could eventually be pretty serious even in our own neck of the woods.
It isn’t about “politics,” per se, but about what we ought to believe about the nature of human beings individually and collectively—and how to truly help people.
Our society (and many evangelicals as well) seems to be devoting a great deal of energy to “solving” the poverty problem without first going to the trouble to understand its causes. What really helps the poor depends on what really makes them poor to begin with and what keeps them that way. When we understand that, we’re ready to talk about solutions.
Separately from that set of questions, we need to think through how these activities relate to the special purposes God has assigned to the church. But because of where the fight-poverty energy seems to be coming from, I suspect getting the cause-effect issues clarified solves much of the trouble here as well.
So why are the poor poor? The topic is begging for some attention in the year ahead.
Dressing up for church
Why did we ever get into the habit of donning coats, ties and nice dresses on Sundays? More importantly (maybe), having established this tradition for a few centuries (how long, exactly?), why are so many so interested in departing from the tradition now? And is there really any biblically relevant material on the subject?
Along with these starter questions, I’m interested in how their answers relate to the meaning of clothing styles in our cultural setting and in cultures in general. How is the meaning of one style versus another determined in a culture? Is there any Scripture to back the idea that what we wear says something (i.e., has meaning)?
Then we have a whole set of questions involving how one form of dress vs. another impacts us when we work or worship. The question of impact or results is a separate (though not unrelated) one from the question of meaning.
A major financial services firm (UBS) gave some conspicuous attention to its corporate dress code recently. The reaction has been interesting. Does the business world know something today’s (American) Christians are not willing to seriously consider?
Thinking is fundamental
When we launched “SI 3.1” last June, the new style included a new byline of sorts. It is not prominently displayed yet. Most browsers display it in the page title line (or tab title) when you go to SI’s front page, and it appears in Google hits: “Thinking is fundamental.”
To me, “thinking is fundamental” is stating the obvious and borders on tautology.2 But who can deny that “thinking” and “fundamentalism” have had a somewhat distant relationship for much of movement’s history? The reasons for that are complex, and I’m probably not up to the task of sorting them out, but I would like to do some writing on the subject in the year ahead. It makes perfect sense to me that believers with a worldview built on a solid commitment to the fundamentals of the faith ought to excel in redeeming the mind.3
Looking at the subject scripturally, what reasons do we have to highly value careful and clear (and when necessary—painful) thinking about what Scripture means, about the issues of our day and about our own “movement”?
It’s evident to me that we do not live in a society that has a sentiment deficit. Our culture does not emote too little. We may be reserved and quiet in our interactions with people (especially here in the Midwest), but when it comes to how we arrive at our beliefs about things—do we think too much? Not in Wisconsin. I’d guess even less so in most other places.
Speaking of clear thinking, though separation has been a rhetorical focus in fundamentalism for a long time, it is not a subject we have given “too much” attention to. Rather—in my view—it’s a subject we’ve (in general) not given the right kind of attention to. The Preserving the Truth Conference I’m slated to attend later this week is encouraging to me on that score. As an idea focused on the preservation of truth and the purity of the church, separation is an area of doctrine and practice that we must not allow to die if we can help it—despite all the confusion and muddled execution that has often gone hand in hand with it.
I don’t know yet what sort of opportunities I’ll have to field my questions, but some I’m taking to the conference this week—and also hoping to see some writing on this year—include these: Is biblical separation merely absence of fellowship to some degree or is it more intentionally censorious? (That is, when we separate are we saying, “We have differences that make it impossible for us to work together on Project X”? Or are we saying something more like, “We have differences that require us to put distance between us and you in relation to Project X because you are wrong”?)
Closely related: what do we have for exegetical support for one option or the other? How does one view versus the other play out in our relationships with ministries and leaders?
And what does “ecclesiastical separation” really mean (especially if it is defined merely as absence of fellowship) for independent Baptists who have each congregation separated from each other congregation as a starting point?
Finally, are there some things current pastors and teachers can do to help congregations and future pastors better evaluate what kinds of differences are separation issues and what kinds are not?
More or less “straight ahead”
So I look forward to what 2011 holds. There is work to do, and I hope SI can continue to be helpful in some important ways to believers in the year ahead.
1 In fact, I’m pretty sure I excel in making my own accounting more difficult for myself!
2 Added phrase only to try to sound smart. Excuses for using the word “tautology” are so hard to come by!
3 I have dabbled in the subject a little bit here in the past. As fundamentalists, why are we suspicious of the intellect in ways (and to a degree) that we are usually not suspicious of our intuitions or instincts or “heart” (which seems to often mean the same thing)?