Recently, Mr. Frank Turk, of the once widely read blog, Pyromaniacs, (at least within conservative Evangelicalism), published a post titled, The End, in what can be considered a disavowing of some of the mental attitudes and practices which he believes were offensive or a harmful example and periodically having less than ideal motives. He states, in the initial portion of his final blog post as he departs from his noted role on the conservative Evangelical web:
Way far north of 95% of Christian blogging is really just exhibitionism, either exposing one's own poor judgment and thinking or exposing others faults (usually both) for the sake of gaining attention for one's self. I think unintentionally, I have done this. I repent of ever doing that, and I repudiate everyone who is blogging for the sake of exposing himself or herself to gain an audience.Most of you reading this blog know that in 2012, when Pyromaniacs' flagship personality and majority benefactor, Phil Johnson (Pastor at Grace Life church in California and Executive Director of John MacArthur’s GTY program/ministry) vacated his role at the blog, I wrote a rather stiff piece, criticizing the unflattering habits of this band of brothers and my anticipation of the eventual drying up of the waters at that site. The title of the piece is, Pyromaniacs: When Bullies Lose a Leader and you can click on the title to scan my appraisal.
I examined Mr. Turk’s estimation of both life online and the remorse he has for his now and then, lumbering efforts where he admits to needlessly stinging others and more substantially, his inducement for blogging at times, namely, self-aggrandizement. I must say that I was genuinely convinced of his sincerity and intent on personal remediation.
This is seldom a thing done in private between two parties and sadly among Christians, never mind online. The owning of one’s infractions along with a deep and sobering reflection as to their consequences, offered to all those willing to receive such an unpretentious admission and overture of reconciliation, calls the Christian to not just accept but embrace such spiritual and Biblical candor with humility and a reciprocation of forgiveness. Thus, I certainly do accept Frank Turk’s contrition as forthright and my hope is that everyone observing this gesture, would do so as well.
There is Always Someone Waiting to Take Your Place
In the piece I wrote about Pyromaniacs, I referred to the three men as acting like bullies, at times. Whether this ultimately is fair or not is for the reader to assess but I now believe Mr. Turk is divesting himself of the elements which would qualify him as such, with his abnegation of those regrettable features. Of course, one would nullify this view if suddenly, for example, one was to read of Mr. Turk taking back up the online persona he has renounced. I do not anticipate such a duplicitous display preferring, instead, to take him at his word.
But wouldn’t you know it, the moment he spiritually transforms into a more distinguished illumination - which is now pointing him to increased face-to-face ministry - there is a line of bullies a mile long heatedly grappling to take his place and beating him about as he resigns!
The most ironic thing about all of this are the online proletariat responsible for doling out Mr. Turk’s verbal flogging, which is a company of compatriots who profess to crusade for those who are, get this…victims of abuse! Yes, that is right, The Wartburg Watch strikes again! I am not sure if I should be laughing or crying this is so preposterous.
If you are not aware of The Wartburg Watch, they are, well…I’ll let you decide what they are. You can read what they claim to be but like any good inquirer, I strongly recommend you observe what they actually do.
Recently, they had a blog post about Frank Turk’s online footprint reduction titled, Frank Turk Retires His Blog and Demonstrates That He Hardly Knew Us and it emerges as apparent that these online abuse advocates relish in engaging in some rather nasty treatment of others, themselves, at least as I see it.
From what I have deciphered in the blog post and comments section, their general suspicion - which apparently (at least as I see it) warrants granting themselves license for various forms of composed punching and cliquish juvenile group think along with back patting as they impress one another with their inscribed maltreatment against Turk, crowned with exaggerated cynicism and recollections (I’ll address this in a moment in my closing section) - is the issue of Tom Chantry’s arrest on a number of sexual abuse charges against minors which allegedly occurred before Chantry’s ordination and installation as a Reformed Baptist Pastor and Turk’s coming to his defense to some degree, at least with trying to fight off an online judge/jury/ horde, as it seems he viewed it.
From what I understand, Chantry was a blogging associate of Frank’s at the Calvinist Gadfly and when Frank was invited to be one of the Pyromaniacs' triumvirate, Chantry followed and became a heavily favored regular commenter. Thus, when all of this transpired with Chantry, and Frank Turk being Chantry’s reasonable ally and TWW being who and what they are, well, a Twitter war erupted (*as a side note, it did not escape my notice that about a month before Tom Chantry’s arrest, Dan Phillips’ unremitting Twitter presence suddenly went dark, as he described it.). The result, it seems, culminated with Mr. Turk’s exasperation, exhaustion and ultimately his luminosity and for The Wartburg Watch, fresh game for a pitchforking blog post, at least in my view.
I will say that to some degree I understand TWW’s frustration but on the other hand, they get little sympathy from me seeing that they undertake with the very same malignant ingredients which harmed Pyromaniacs’ reputation. In this episode of their ongoing ecclesia opera, TWW’s battle is a vain one, with the mirror being their real enemy.
My Objection with The Wartburg Watch
I would rather conclude the post at this point, even before mentioning Frank Turk’s tormentors, but I am unenthusiastically constrained to qualify my criticism of TWW simply because of people being who they are. By that I mean, people generally invest their ego in some position on a matter and then go about hunting for evidence to satisfy their selfdom and in this case, lest I be remiss in carefully crafting my words, let me be clear.
I get their essential goal. I have no grievance with the uncovering of corruption, especially ecclesiastical malfeasance where serious injury is cloaked and capacious offenses minimized if not dismissed and done so with a scent of insolence toward those who would dare demur. In that respect their ethic is admirable.
What I do contest, however, is a consciously overly hostile temperament and technique. I don’t know the blog owners, personally, only from the product of their writing but I will say that while they are clearly academically or intellectually skilled to some degree and highly galvanized - a trait which speaks of conviction and in many cases that is to be appreciated - in my opinion, they repeatedly write with extreme prejudice and seem to project onto almost every piece, some sort of personal trauma or injustice they received somewhere in their past and it appears that from this, they permit all kinds of nasty and offensive commenting by others as if these are surrogates through which they can vicariously squeeze out the toxicity of a personal emotional/psychological infection which has gone untreated to for far too long. Of course, this is what I have observed and is only my opinion so you be the judge.
This, again, is not to say that their vital aim is faulty, nor is this to say that they do not get some things correct. They do and I applaud that, especially their exposure of CJ Mahaney and his relationship with Al Mohler/Southern Seminary and The Gospel Coalition with respect to Mahaney’s utter failure as the head of SGM (Sovereign Grace Ministries) under which a number of criminal offenses involving the sexual abuse of minors took place, never mind the remainder of his contracted troubles as the organization’s commander along with his false Apostolic doctrine at the time.
Hence, I agree with their goal to address other problems within the Evangelical church which appear to be disregarded or instantly diminished. Where there is injustice, and especially ecclesiastical unscrupulousness, profiteering and other assorted malefactions, every Christian should be concerned and rightly informed.
As I said, my contention is with their collective belligerence and modus operandi. And beyond what I believe are the blog administrator’s personal projections is the belief that their construct is self-refuting and will cripple any effort to gain a hearing from those outside of their camarilla in using the method and encouraging the disposition they do so at their blog.
They come across, and fairly so to me and many others in my experience, as screaming banshees far too often. Sorry ladies, only those who like shrieking deities are going to hearken, even if you are authentic. You are consistently forfeiting the very audience you seek to acquire. Exaggerations do not attract, rhetorical asymmetry does not convince and ridiculous and highly prejudiced matrimony only results in you not being taken seriously when you may, indeed, have a genuine case. Sure, I know, you can point to a few publications and new allies in your fight against the establishment but who, within the establishment, have you won and who is willing to value your complaints and give them a proper weighing with the desired change? The answer is, not one of any real consequence.
The Wicked Witches casting hexes, vexes and downing the opposite sex is……not going to accomplish anything other than creating a mutual admiration society, but maybe, in the end, that is all you really want, who knows?
There is a blogger named Todd Wilhelm who contributes at TWW and has his own blog, Thou Are The Man. I believe that his prospects of being heard are far superior to that of his aforementioned companions. His work and investigation into problematic constructs and various problems within the so-called conservative Evangelical community is consistently well-documented and articulated. I am not sure how his comment section rolls and to what degree he permits the excesses which occur at TWW but in any case, he does seem to be more proportionate. Thus, my praise is limited to what I know and have observed up to this point in time.
I will say though, within his critiques, there seems to be the sporadic intrusion of his own past personal injury, in having been a member of a 9Marks church plant overseas and where, in his leaving the church, they aggrieved him, if I understand his narrative correctly, with implications of formal excommunication due to proprietary and not Biblical requirements being forced upon him and the situation which came via the United Christian Church of Dubai’s Elders. A dilemma he eventually resolved.
My appreciation for Todd’s desire to address ecclesiastical malpractice goes without saying and may God bless and refine his efforts and that a greater assemblage would attend to his evaluations and especially the ears of those in a position to listen, respond and eventually provide remedy though I do believe his commonwealth with TWW, in their current form, will hurt those chances.
Aimee Byrd, who is a contributor over at the blog, Mortification of Spin, published a recent post titled, Christian Celebrity Culture and Shot Glass Communities. In it, she addresses a number of things but mainly her destination is to challenge the way we formulate our responses to tragic events within the Evangelical community. Her opening states:
2016 has revealed a lot of problems with the Christian celebrity culture. There have been big names that have fallen, treasured orthodox doctrines downplayed and distorted, and many people and churches terribly hurt. Those who warn about this culture, about the ignored or overlooked issues, and even the suppression of abuses within it, are often dismissed because of their tone or accused of overreacting. One popular response to the lament of celebrity culture in evangelical and Reformed communities is an acknowledgement of its prevalence, but with a “What can you do?” shrug. We’re always going to have a celebrity culture.Here, she lays out a recognition of our need of reformation in the way those in power are engaging with their constituents with respect to a prevalence of Evangelical celebritism; a commodity which currently cannot afford to wash itself in public thus, denying it is ever dirty thereby, encouraging pristine posturing which ultimately constrains them to tap dance or leave the studio completely rather than admit that there is a problem with the program or its personalities.
Others, accepting this reality, say they want to leverage celebrity culture in order to do good. That sounds like a plausible response but can too easily become an excuse for uncritically selling-out to celebrity and it usually ends up making its advocates practically indistinguishable from those who are more obviously in it for the purpose of self-promotion.
There is something to be said against washing in public but when you decided to roll in the mud in front of everyone and then want to go wash in private only to reappear with an attitude of incredulity that one would dare reference that moment ago when you were lying in filth, well, you’re asking for it.
Byrd identifies what I believe are the communities, healthy and unhealthy, which have coalesced in protest to the failure by establishment leadership to concede to and adequately address, Evangelical moral and practical crises. Mrs. Byrd relays the following in her citing a blog who provided a quote from a book:
I have recently been reading up on a needed corrective to the establishment, or as referenced in a more secular article, the official public sphere, defined as subaltern counterpublics. That is a loaded term that pinpoints smaller spheres that are affected by and interrelated to these establishments, “where members of subordinated social groups invent and circulate counter discourses to formulate oppositional interpretations of their identities, interests, and needs.” Ioannis Kampourakis explains further:I find this exceptionally enlightening with respect to how it is qualified. I am confident -not from hard evidence but from my protracted observations regarding responses by various establishment principals - that their bafflement and utter astonishment at the formation of these subaltern communities (SAC’s) is measurably their fault and is the result of their insular practices and avoidance of self-audit.
Nancy Fraser, coining the term from Gayatri Spivak’s “subaltern” and Rita Felski’s “counterpublic”, argues that counterpublics are formed as a response to the exclusions of the dominant publics and that their existence better promotes the ideal of participatory parity.
…Fraser highlights the argument that the official public sphere not only rested upon, but was constituted by significant exclusions.
Interestingly, this is precisely how and why the establishment media were so stunned when Donald Trump won the presidential election in November. The political SAC’s multiplied and then, when the occasion rose for them to exert their influence via voting, they did so to the chagrin of the self-appointed nobilities which included some rather perniciously pious so-called conservative Evangelicals.
Her conclusion on the matter is paramount and what I am persuaded is the beginning of a good model. In my quote I obviously leave out a few portions so I recommend reading the whole piece but still, I wanted to share much of it here:
“I like to think of these subaltern counterpublics as shot glass communities, strong doses of truth that cut through the spin of the establishment…The establishment often looks at them as nuisances, and the shot glasses often look at the establishment with disdain. But there is an interdependency that should be recognized and used for good….We need to recognize good talent and work. And yet, we cannot take it all at face value. The Top Men need to listen to the critique. They need to hear from the oppressed---and do something about it. They need to correct bad teaching and not believe their own hype.”
And not all shot glass communities are concerned for truth. Some just like to be a strong dose of condemnation. Some are after ruining reputations. Some are so burned by the establishment that they are now bitter. They are tired of trying to engage and are now only concerned for revenge. There are both Top Men and shot glasses that it would be best to turn away from.This insight is not only invaluable but essential to be grasped. Counterpublics are not all bad. These SAC’s are the result, sometimes, of fugitive hegemony who refuse to listen to valid grievances and reasonably respond. Their own cursory demeanor is a noticeable contributor to the generation of such factions.
But what about those in between? What could happen if instead of pretending like this isn’t already the dynamics at play, we recognize the need for one another? Kampourakis pleas that if we keep proceeding as if social inequalities do not exist when they do,” it merely “works to the advantage of dominant groups in society and to the disadvantage of subordinates.” He affirms the “positive value of counterpublics” in that they “bring to the fore issues that might have been overlooked, purposely ignored, or suppressed by dominant publics.” In the parachurch realm, I see these shot glass communities as a pathway to transformed consciousness.
As Mrs. Byrd points out, however, there are also those who must be avoided in their expeditions because they are willing to act out in the very manner of which they expostulate. They exaggerate, posture, ego-flame and glorify retributive wounding instead of earnestly pursuing constructive remedy.
Aimee Byrd correctly signals to us that from detached institutional administrators - who have acrimoniously failed to manage instances of serious negligence and other scandals - to inimical shot glass communities whose motto it seems is more blood and less patience and civility, there is a productive region in-between where dissenting residents may equitably collaborate.
Problematic, as Byrd cites, is that many of these issues are the result of parachurch organizations, many of whom who do not have any real ecclesiastical government nor constitutional process for organizational discipline either in matters of heterodoxical teachings or with onerous personalities conveniently afford casual affiliation thus, plausible denial of accountability. After all, they are minimally affiliated under the banner of “the gospel” - as if such a dereliction is permitted in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
A Prototype Specimen
In my estimation, a prime example of this tension between the seemingly tone-deaf ecclesiastical oligarchy and the objecting counterpublics, is the case of Mr. C.J. Mahaney who, in my view (which is shared by others), should not be active in an ordained or influential role within the church, at this time.
(This does not indicate that he may not be active in that manner, in the future, nor that within his local church he may not, but his swift and dubious rehabilitation and re-installation do not bring to mind the course one should undergo in light of the catastrophic failures and collateral damage which transpired under his reign before returning public ministry in an ordained role, even just within a local church, never mind the church at large).
In my view, he publicly and manifestly demonstrated his lack of qualification both theologically and practically, for leadership and an ordained role in his seismic fiasco as the head of SGM, and my evaluation certainly does not stand alone. An entire organization was built upon his errant doctrine of active Apostleship as well as his facilitation of immense inter-personal failures under his guardianship along with the remarkably inept handling of the criminal offenses mentioned earlier. As I put it a couple of years ago in a blog post I wrote called, The Gospel Coalition, SGM and CJ Mahaney-Opinion-Ecclesiastical Malfeasance:
Ultimately, this is not the result of qualified or competent theology, this is not the result of competent or qualified leadership and this is not the result of competent or qualified practice. If, in the end, CJ Mahaney was ignorant of all of these matters, he is at best the most incompetent and unqualified men for leadership in quite some time in the body of Christ and is wholly disqualified for and from ecclesiastical leadership and the teaching of doctrine.Unfortunately, on the whole, the rejoinder by the conservative Evangelical establishment was pitifully filled with disdain toward a number of worthy persons who sought answers. Obfuscation seemed to saturate the responses to this crisis by Mahaney's ecclesiastical advocates.
It was rather fascinating to observe Mahaney’s benefactors assign to him a handful of spiritual supervisors for his rehabilitation and then, in miraculous Jimmy Swaggart-like record time, announce his recovery only to be followed by the reward of a move to Louisville, Kentucky along with aiding in his planting a new SGM church not to mention, the convenient move of the SGM headquarters, from Maryland to Louisville. Now granted, this is my description of events with a slight tongue-in-cheek style, but not much, mind you.
I say convenient because of the documented connection of SGM (when Mahaney presided) with Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, of which Al Mohler is the President and of which and to their credit, TWW well-documented starting with SGM’s initial and then elevated giving to the seminary from which there appears to be have been a reciprocation toward or for Mahaney in his being embraced by Mohler along with the advocacy of his personality and teachings, via The Gospel Coalition and Together for the Gospel (T4G), both parachurch ministries, which included promotions/endorsements for his books. Wow.
Do not be Puzzled
And so, one wonders why these alternative or counter societies have risen - clearly some with the banner of incessant discontent and armed with hysterical thunder but others with genuine Spirit-led potency and weighty objections - and now are, with vigor, articulating their voices. I don’t nor should you. It seems rather inevitable.
History demonstrates time and time again, that and no matter the context, when officials prolongingly condescend, patronize or completely ignore their boroughs, preferring instead, a delusional self-serving narrative in order to salve their doubtlessly conflicted consciences (at least I hope there is some inner struggle in such matters by the aristocratic ruling elites), fraternal orders of the disrespected, real or perceived disrespect, organize.
What I do contend with, and have in this post, are the cancerous groups who encourage an industry of perpetual victimhood and who exercise precisely the same rhetorical vituperation of which they claim to hold in disrepute. Generally, these kinds of people, both their gurus and the acolytes who follow them, overwhelmingly have unresolved personal/psychological issues which nefariously sanctions them the prerogative of hoisting onto the issues they raise, all of their internal torments with all of its accompanying hyperbole surrounded by a concert of sycophantic group flattery as they offer on their altars of malevolent loquaciousness, the subjects of their scorn while romanticizing their own values, ideals and interactions as a virtuoso community of love, care and healing. Poppycock.
Those excesses aside, it is clear that there needs to be a balanced and fair forum for these instances and particularly with parachurch bodies. As well, churches and denominations need to ameliorate their explanations to or of these Evangelical maladies, especially one’s involving groups over which they govern.
Even in the most favorable light, what the counterpublics, or what Aimee Byrd calls, shot glass communities, must require of themselves is the humble acknowledgment that they do not always possess all of the facts, that they are not ceaselessly privy to the various routes of ecclesiastical adjudication either in motion or already taken with respect to potentially disreputable events. And a further prerequisite that these social cloisters must enforce is the acceptance that the results will not always be what they, in their partial illumination (though their general protest may be merited) expect.
So with respect to the most helpful of the subaltern groups, when things do not go as they hope and a determination with its conclusion is reached and is reasonably orthodox – again, remembering that the counterpublic does not possess full-disclosure - it is vital that these bodies not only resist the temptation to collectively pout or engage in retributive rhetoric but need, themselves, to be held accountable for that kind conduct if or when it does arise and not only toward healthy such entities but especially in the direction of the unhealthy ones. This, in my view, is something that many of the leading voices of alternate societies are rather unwilling to do in the name of their righteous crusading which apparently is the ruling principle use to justify postmortem tirades and general mayhem.
Back to Mr. Turk
As to the commencement of this post, I bid adieu to Mr. Turk. With that said, however, I encourage him to not make his absence permanent. The online or web community of people are both real and willing to listen. I agree with the assessment that our substantial investment must be face-to-face, local church people. We ought to discover ourselves getting our hands dirty with those we see, touch, hear and feel. Yet, as the Apostles wrote, as David wrote and as God inspired all writers of the Bible to lay down script, we are encouraged to communicate to a larger audience through the written word.
Certainly none of us now pen under the auspices of divine inspiration yet still, we do write and share our illuminations from God’s Spirit as we believe we are given and by example, we have in our church fathers and their ancestors. They wrote for a far greater body of hearers and we have no less a liberty.
Thus, to you, Mr. Turk, as you decline from any significant online Evangelical community participation, I encourage you to consider a future renewal in the manner suited to your newly expressed values. You do not lack the natural or spiritual endowment which is absent in so many dull and lifeless ministers of the gospel. God has not only given you wit but a sizeable teaching gift.
I do want to make clear that I am not composing this piece with the hope of some appreciative reciprocation, not at all. I imagine you may retain some objections to my personality, style and substance at the blog. I understand that distinct likelihood and you are definitely not alone, if that be the case. I only write out of respect to your final effort at Pyromaniacs.