Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Demise of the Denominational Stump-Speech

I have said before that blogging is more like conversation than publication. Let me add that, in my estimation, politicking up to this point has been more like publication than conversation. Since (and even before) Paul started raising money to contribute to the Jerusalem church whose blessing he desired for the Gentile mission, churches have always been political and always will be (and "political" is not a bad thing). But the politics of church and church-related institution is changing right before our eyes. Blogging typifies the direction that it all is going—more toward conversation. As a result, I pronounce the following new political realities:

  1. The death of the stump-speech. If I read Pressler and Patterson correctly, one block in the foundation of the Conservative Resurgence was a simple, effective stump-speech outlining the problems with the SBC and a proposed solution. Conservatives carried this stump speech throughout the country to groups small and large, building grassroots support for the movement. A good "elevator talk" is still quite helpful, but here's how things have changed: In our world of telecommunication, your stump speech is likely to be promulgated throughout the convention the very first time you give it. On the one hand, that's a good thing, right? I mean, you're getting widespread exposure for your message. On the other hand, in a week (and I'm really stretching it by giving it a week), your stump speech is old news. You can't post the thing over and over online. When you go to deliver it in person, people will yawn. So, one of the changes before us is that the tasks of convention politics are becoming less like the activities of a vocational evangelist and more akin to the work of a pastor in a local church. You need new material on a regular basis. The "sugar sticks" will be depleted in a hurry.
  2. The impotence of "declarations" or platforms. When's the last time you read a stirring discussion centered on the Memphis Declaration? The authors of the Memphis Declaration stopped referencing it almost before the housekeeping staff had emptied the Coke cans (and who knows what else) out of the hotel room trash cans in Memphis. And the Joshua Convergence's Principles of Affirmation? Even less effective than the Memphis Declaration. I don't know that static documents are any more helpful than static speeches these days. People come to know what you stand for by interacting with the stream of material that you provide. Over time, the recurring themes and passing inconsistencies of your work become evident to all, and they make an assessment on that basis.
  3. The power of listening. Not necessarily agreeing, but listening. The most effective blogging involves fielding questions. Think Fox News, not CBS. The result is not always dialogue—people sometimes just scream their talking points past one another—but the most effective person in this platform is the one who will genuinely listen to those who disagree and then effectively rebut their arguments. I'm not talking about the kind of "listening" where we sit in a circle and hold hands. I'm talking about listening as a polemical weapon. When it becomes clear to the reader that you aren't listening to the arguments of the other side, the reader can only wonder whether you are just incapable of understanding the arguments of the other side (or worse, have no answer for them).
  4. The doom of insincerity. The only way that you can produce a steady stream of convincing material and be prepared to engage those who disagree in genuine dialogue is if you sincerely believe what you are saying. At least, that's the only way I can do it. Publication enshrouds; conversation probes. Eventually, inauthenticity will out. You can be riddled with inconsistencies, but they must be your inconsistencies, if that makes sense at all. One underestimated political force today is the compelling value of authenticity and transparency. Of course, there are limits. Admit to some taboos and you will get no credit for your transparency in revealing them. But some willingness to come to grips with your own foibles is almost necessary. There is a fine line somewhere between the tenacity of a bulldog and the stubbornness of a mule. The former is purposive, while the latter is mere disposition.
  5. The elevation of writing. Radio and television made writing of much lesser importance than speaking. People wrung their hands about the dawning of illiteracy. Blogging is all about writing. Blogging is not the only force at work in the political world, and speaking is still incredibly important. Nevertheless, blogging provides a more influential medium for writers than they have had in recent years.
Conversation is a warm and fuzzy word, but it ought not to be. Gossip is conversation, too, after all. I'm no futurist, and I do not see these developments as any sort of panacea. Nevertheless, I view these developments as a slightly positive step. Indeed, I think we may be living in a reincarnation of the days of seventeenth-century religious pamphlets or nineteenth-century denominational newspapers. Both were more conversational than the 1970s, although neither was as instantaneously responsive as the new electronic media. Both were occasions of strident denominational dialogue. Both were occasions of significant denominational growth.


Malcolm Yarnell said...

Good analysis, brother Bart. The written word in cyberspace is having a greater impact.

However, let us remember that ministers must be about proclaiming the Word. Let us be very careful to remember that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. Preaching will never be passe, even when we discover that writing and reading is also a form of communication that has a deep impact upon us and our thoughts.

I have led people to Christ through vocal interaction; I do not recall leading any to Christ through the printed medium.

In Christ,

Bart Barber said...

Dr. Yarnell,

You are absolutely correct. The only writings I know that show that kind of efficaciousness are the scriptures.

I was speaking more to politics than to evangelism.

Malcolm Yarnell said...

Yes, politics. Not a dirty word, just a potentially dirty word. Politics are a branch of ethics, which is a branch of theology, which should be based upon the Word. There is a concept: political theology, based on the Word of God!

Malcolm Yarnell said...

I am off to the Bodleain.

Sorry to have interrupted your conversation.

Bart Barber said...

<Green with Envy>Off to the Bodleain, eh? Cheerio!</Green with Envy>

By the way, here's your book title (no charge)

Priestly Politics: Persuasion and Decision Making among the Royal Priesthood

Bro. Robin said...

Great Analysis!

You further confirm my belief that you are a sharp tool in the SBC shed.

This will be a medium by which ideas will be used to transform organizations and belief structures. Those who can communicate well will have the advantage.

Thanks to Dr. Yarnell for bringing us back to the preaching of the Word to transform lives.

cameron coyle said...

Great observations Bart!

The best aspect of bloggers: with time they show you who they really are, even if they don't know they're doing it. That's harder to come by in other mediums.

Tim Rogers said...

Dr. Yarnell,

The Bodleain? Is that a Tex-Mex Resturant there in the DFW area?



Malcolm Yarnell said...

I am sorry. Accidental misspelling. The Bodleian is the proper spelling. They do not allow food, and you have to take an oath not to start any fires. You may ask, "Why no fires?" Well, in the old days before central heating systems, Duke Bodley wanted to make sure his books were preserved, and cold scholars like to be warm. Thus, they started fires to stay warm and provide light to read. However, fires tend to burn books. So, in answer to your query, Tim, it is a library and definitely not a restaurant. Moreover, you cannot check books out from the Bod (short version), but must read them there. Which is why, again, I am off to the Bodleian. And, Bart, "Cheerio" went out before the Beatles were popular. Right now, must go. Cheers.

Gary said...

I have long lamented the passing of the pamphleteers. I think it broadens the debate and raises awareness of important things. A few questions, though.

Is the BFM one of those static documents that is now passe? I wonder this in light of the debate about whether it should be amended every time two brothers disagree.

Are we losing the nuance of political speech to the relatively blunt instrument of immediate written communication? Unless you work very hard at writing, significant meaning is lost without the writer or respondent knowing it.

Is the accessbility of self publishing also a cousin of the new media? Books that would have been pamphlets or stump speeches are more affordable to print and distribute than was the case ten years ago.

Finally, the aspect of authority present when listening to a speaker or reading an author seems dissipated when everyone is talking at once. Is this good or am I wrong in thinking it true?

Interesting subject; thanks for opening it up. Gary

Malcolm Yarnell said...


I would argue that the BFM is even more important today than ever as an indicator of the proper understanding of biblical interpretation that Southern Baptists have. Due to its much broader support base, it far outweighs any blogger declaration.

On your other points, you have certainly hit it on the head in each one. May I summarize my response to each with one statement? Mass communication abilities may mean an increase in empty chatter as well as level-headed and deeply thought conversation.

You, sir, must continue to practice your craft as you do so well in order that Texas Southern Baptists do not lose sight of convictional biblical encounter with church and culture. And these biblically-convicted bloggers must do the same, in spite of the often (seeminlgy) overwhelming voices to the contrary.

On another matter, we note the sad passing yet incredible life and legacy of Jerry Falwell.

In Christ,

Bart Barber said...


What I have started by introducing this topic, you have greatly furthered by asking your questions.

1. On the role of the BF&M.

Persuasion of others was a prominent reason for the production of many of the early Baptist statements of fatih. I do not believe that the static document, in and of itself, is very useful as an element of persuasion, political or otherwise.

On the other hand, I still believe that a statement of faith is indispensable as a governing document for any denominational entity. As I have implied in other contexts, I believe that Dan Taylor's experience with the New Connexion of General Baptists demonstrates the vigor that a denomination can experience through the robust application of a statement of faith.

It will need to be amended from time to time, but we should always be judicious about the amendments. In the past, we have only amended the BF&M in response to serious sustained controversy. I think that is a good standard for the future as well.

2. Are we losing the nuance of political speech?

I don't know that we are losing the nuance, so much as we are seeing more of the process by which it is developed. But I suppose that the jury may still be out. Will blogging be a medium that rewards bellicosity for bellicosity's sake? If not, then although political conversation may not begin with nuance, the back-and-forth will eventually create it as people are challenged on their bold statements and retort with "What I actually meant to say was…"

3. Is self-publishing related?

I imagine that there is a relationship, but I haven't the foggiest idea what is the nature of the relationship. Blogging might forestall more permanent publication—people get it off their chests online and by the time they conclude "I could make a book out of that" they have already spewed it all into the ether and have held nothing back for publication.

But I don't see that as an inevitable barrier. Blogging might also be the forum in which writers refine ideas eventually to sort out the best from the ho-hum by gauging public blogger reaction to the ideas.

But I think your question had more to do with whether self-publication is having some of the same impact upon politics as blogging is having. Certainly every presidential candidate has a book on the market—that is a relatively recent development. But again, the impact of those books is not very enduring, I don't believe.

4. Dissipation of authority with everyone talking?

I think that a certain pecking order of bloggers has somewhat emerged over the past year. Politics always involves pecking orders and authority. Everyone gets to speak, but do people listen to just anyone? I don't think so.

What I'm suggesting is that the manner of accruing authority is somewhat different in the world of blogging. In the beginnings of the Conservative Resurgence, being an eloquent preacher at a large church was the #1 predictor of influence.

How many bloggers with influence have you ever heard preach at all? Some, to be sure, but I'm guessing not all.

So, I don't think that blogging equals the rebirth of the Levellers. It is just a realignment of political authority.

gary said...


My small point about self publishing is that it may be another example of broad accessibility to the microphone. Books were formerly assumed to have some claim to authority because some professional made an investment in publishing/marketing it.

I like the idea of giving every frustrated writer a shot at fame. Compared to oral conversation, writing is a difficult medium for conveying subtlety, though.

You make a good point about how it sorts out...eventually. When bloggers become news sources, though, it is apart from this sorting out. In fact dubious rhetoric is a short cut to becoming a "go to" guy for some reporters. That impact may be out of proportion with the truth value or readership of the blog.


Bart Barber said...


You make two great points. I see the parallel with self-publishing. I also see what you mean about the recognition accorded to the bombastic in the blogging medium. Good points. As you have so deftly perceived, I think the difference it between the short-term and long-term effects.

Boyd Luter said...

Bart and Group,

There are some excellent thoughts here, both in your post and the comments. However, I fear that you underestimate the potential evangelistic impact of the written word about the Written Word.

The following is not meant to present me in a positive light at all. I only say these things because they are my experience with seeing people get saved through a writing ministry. Since I don't know anywhere close to as much about what has happened with other writers, I will stick to my first-hand experience.

From 1977-83, while pastoring at Canyon Lake, Texas, I wrote weekly columns for both the weekly Canyon Lake Times-Guardian and, for over half that time, the daily New Braunfels Herald- Zeitung. The nature of the columns varied widely (e.g., seasonal themes, cultural/political analysis/ critique, movie and book reviews, even occasional popular level biblical exposition), but there was always an evangelistic thrust at the end.

In the beginning, I saw this as mainly a public relations opportunity, since my small congregation didn't even have a church newletter and no other local pastors were writing. But, it quickly became much more.
Over those six years, there were many published letters--often multiple letters per month--to the editor either praising or villifying my expressed thoughts, some from all around the U.S. or even foreign countries (from the large crowds visiting the beautiful Texas Hill Country). In addition, there were many letters that the papers chose not to publish, but which they forwarded to me, in which readers had made professions of faith in Jesus Christ. What a joy to follow up with these people by phone or letter (in the pre-email era)!

By the way, now that I'm back at Canyon Lake (at a different church), I have started writing weekly columns again in the last several months. And, while the letters to the editor haven't showed up yet, several people have already contacted me or have come to church as a result of reading my columns, some of which have either come to saving faith or are, at least, still asking seemingly sincere questions about Christ and the gospel.

However, the most amazing response from a written evangelistic piece I did happened in the early 1990s, while I was teaching at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University. I was asked to write an article on the Great Commission for Decision magazine, which I labored over to be clear and simple, because I had heard that they had a very wide readership.

Wow! I got several letters from people professing saving faith in Africa, as well a peppering of similar letters from Latin America, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, as well as quite a few from people here in the States.

What a joyful, and humbling, experience! As far as I know, I am not an evangelist (or a son of one). Hopefully, like all evangelical pastors or teachers, I just try to be consistently faithful to "do the work of an evangelist" (2 Tim. 4:5).

Bottom line: The written word concerning the Written Word is very powerful indeed! Anyone who has ever met me knows that there's absolutely nothing special about me. It has to be His Word, because I'm such a irenic pussycat personally, that I would not have the courage to write pointedly if I did not believe in the power of the Word from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet.

So, brethen, PLEASE take your opportunities to also write in broader contexts than the blogs, including those which reach beyond a believing readership. You never know how the Lord might use your written words about the Written Word. If the Lord can speak through Balaam's ass, and even see fit to use such a flawed, ordinary vessel as Boyd Luter, guys as gifted as some of you truly could have a huge impact!


Bart Barber said...

Dr. Luter,

Thanks for your comments. What an encouraging testimony. Again, I am speaking about politics, not evangelism.

BTW, give my greetings to David Goza.

Malcolm Yarnell said...

Dear Boyd,

Thanks for that vivid testimony regarding your personal experiences.

And yet, the Word is meant to be proclaimed orally, if I read my Bible correctly.

Bart, before you have to repeat yourself, I will say it for you. This comment is certainly not in line with your original post, and I deserve a slap on the wrist.

In Christ,