Writings by Cole Huffman

Reading, Writing, and the Arithmetic of Keeping Up

Reading widely in the evangelical world I encounter a lot of subjects. We’re writing on any variety of things but not always clarifying the issues. In discussions with Christians I'm often asked my opinions on so-and-so or their view of such-and-such. While I try to stay aware and informed with currents and who’s who, I don't always have enough interest or time to tune in or keep up. I’ve never been compelled to attempt omni-loopness, but like most of us I don’t want to feel myself out of the loop.

“The loop” feels increasingly loopy though—and sometimes more like a noose—in that keeping up with all the trends, controversies, and Kardashians of evangelicalism can be dizzying. I think we resemble T. S. Eliot’s poetic remarks in Choruses from the Rock:

"Endless invention, endless experiment,
Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness,
Knowledge of speech, but not of silence,
Knowledge of words, and ignorance of The Word.

"Where is the life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?"

Ponder with me Eliot’s probes, one at a time. Where is the life we have lost in living? Living at the breakneck pace we do, we’re often only able to react not reflect. That’s great for Twitter feeds but the life we lose in this is the life of unhurried contemplation. We have knowledge of motion but not of stillness, of speech but not of silence. We are becoming a scattershot people.

Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Wisdom is skill in living. It doesn’t make you dour such that we can tell who the wise people are by those who aren’t having any fun. Neither is the wise person so much an umpire of life distinguishing balls from strikes. For that a simple knowledge of good and bad, right and wrong will suffice. The wise person is more like an appraiser ascribing value: This is worth my time and attention and love and focus and commitment and energies more than that.

Where is the knowledge we have lost in information? The world is awash in information now. But in all this digital flotsam and jetsam a lot of us are only treading water, having lost or never gained the knowledge of how to swim. My point is the one who knows how to swim maximizes his buoyancy. The ones drowning in the sea of information are trying to drink everything in. While the words are etymologically linked, mere information is not mature formation. Eliot was right: We have knowledge of words and ignorance of The Word, both.

Take the word/Word “gospel,” for example. I’ve just read a simple little book by Greg Gilbert entitled What Is the Gospel? Gilbert justifies its writing by taking his readers on a mini-tour of “evangelical preaching…books…websites…[where] you’ll find one description after another of the gospel, many of them mutually exclusive” (p. 18). He then cites examples: the gospel is new wine that requires one to get rid of his old wineskins; the gospel is the good news that God’s face is always turned toward you; the gospel is syncing with the way of Jesus; the gospel is living in the reality of God now—here and today. Gilbert summarizes:

“Is the good news simply that God loves me, and that I need to start thinking more positively? Is it that Jesus is a really good example who can teach me to live a loving and compassionate life? It might have something to do with sin and forgiveness. Apparently some Christians think this good news has something to do with Jesus’ death. Others apparently don’t.” (p. 20)

It’s a jumble out there. “Endless invention, endless experiment”—with things we’re not supposed to experiment with, really. Again, all of our writing is not always clarifying the issues. And our impulse to originality confuses the original. If I didn’t have theological degrees I think I would be confused by a lot of today’s evangelical witness. What precisely am I supposed to know and believe?

Here’s how I figure it: We should keep up less and get behind more. Get behind two or three subjects you’ll determine to know well for the glory of God. You don’t need an opinion on every controversy. Nor must you buy the book everyone’s buzzing about, especially if you haven’t read Christianity’s greater and more enduring works. For every new book you read, read an old one next. Slow down. Fix your concentration. Discipline your loves. Simplify before you diversify. And the God of peace be with you.

Posted by Cole Huffman at 5:15 PM
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