A lot of people come up to me at conferences, to which, as a very successful hipster-progressive post-evangelical blogger, I have been invited to speak, asking me how they, too, can make a name for themselves as a voice for the disaffected semi-faithful.
Normally a successful writer conceals the hidden mainspring of his success with golden platitudes like “insight” and “perseverance.” I used to be reluctant to divulge the true secret of my success, until I realized that, like Washington politics, progressive opinion is not a zero-sum game. To paraphrase the great Thomas Friedman, the world is flat, hot, and bothered. So now I give the following advice (and invite them back to my suite for more in-depth conversation if they’re cute).
Post-evangelical blogging is not for everyone. If you are going to be successful you need to have a few important things settled from the outset:
A. Your personal background. It is imperative that as a post-evangelical blogger, you grew up in circumstances that the average 18-29 year old evangelical reader would recognize, such as a non-denominational Bible church. This experience serves as your fundamental reference point for any assumptions or general statements you make about Christian fellowships, beliefs, or behavior.
B. Your departure. It is equally important that you now look back upon your formative circumstances from a point of critical detachment. Your Christian perspective should express itself primarily in contradistinction to this background, which you share with the majority of your readers. (If you are uneasy with calling yourself a “Christian” you may refer to yourself as a “Jesus-follower” or a person of “deep yet questioning faith.”)
C. Your crisis. If at all possible you should narrate your grievances with the ways Christians you used to know treated people, either yourself or others. Use the fact that they acted badly as evidence that their deeply-held beliefs are false.
D. Your re-evaluation of Christian moral teaching. Observe ways in which the beliefs of Christians you used to know differ from those generally accepted by the surrounding culture, and how those same Christians were themselves incapable of living up to their own standards. This shows that they were wrong to maintain those standards, and also that current cultural practices are more natural and authentically human.
With these preliminaries in place, the main thing about post-evangelical blogging is to be relevant. Relevance may seem difficult to understand, but it is actually achieved through an easy and–dare I say–mechanical process.
The Secret to Achieving Post-Evangelical Relevance
As a prospective progressive blogger, you are no doubt familiar with the organs of contemporary thought: Jezebel, The Daily Beast, Andrew Sullivan, Paul Krugman–the list goes on. The trick of post-evangelical blogging is to take the progressive issue du jour, be it gay marriage, birth control, gun control, abortion, or assisted suicide, and re-interpret it as a fundamental and authentic challenge to the assumptions of the suburban evangelicalism which, for you, represents the sum total of Christian belief and experience.
Explain the personal conflict you experience between your evangelical roots and what you now truly believe is a devastating challenge to those formerly-held beliefs. Suggest that instead of being so quick to oppose the issue, Christians should extend “grace” (don’t define) and a “generous response.” Above all, they should “re-evaluate” their views in light of this challenge. Remember: “Questioning” is a one-way street.
Write at great length about authenticity and humanity–or rather, assign those terms to whatever culturally-acceptable practice you are promoting.
If you are a man, express a deep and sensitive regard for feminists and those with alternative sexual lifestyles, and be quick to reevaluate your male, presumably heteronormative perspective in light of new information about what is culturally ascendent.
As a general rule you don’t actually need to do the difficult intellectual work of re-evaluating anything, as long as you talk about doing it. Your audience doesn’t know the difference.
To strengthen your message, write in extremely short paragraphs containing not more than a sentence or two, sometimes just a single phrase. Avoid capital letters and you will be as raw and authentic as my unfiltered cigarettes.
Finally, avoid unhelpful discussions of the concept of “sin.” Serious Christian intellectuals are working hard to wrest the language of “sin” from the patriarchal power structures which have used it to repress people since the rise of Judaism. Undoing four thousand years of oppression isn’t done in an afternoon. After all, even Jesus, though he claimed to have overthrown the authority of Caesar, Satan, and the Sanhedrin, refrained from challenging the all-male priesthood, which has perpetuated this idea of “sin.” This is not amateur hour, and you can save yourself a lot of trouble by avoiding “sin” altogether.
I hope this advice helps. Here’s my card. What do you say to drinks at my place after this?
The opinions expressed in this article are not my own, nor are they those of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, where this article first appeared.