After five days of following the blogosphere’s Jason Stellman whirlwind, I just have a couple of comments to make.
I got in to work early on Monday, so had a chance to cruise around a couple of my regular favorites. At creedcodecult I had to do a double-take, I assume like many, at what appeared to be a very untimely April-Fools post or maybe an update on the FV-war. Of course, like many found, it was quickly clear that Stellman had in all seriousness communicated his changed convictions regarding Scripture and Faith.
My first reaction was a rather gut-wrenching sort of feeling. I think that, before I really understood the implications of the announcement (or maybe I actually grasped the real implications first), I simply grieved for a man I really don’t know.
Stellman is a semi-famous figure for a few reasons, though I can’t comment much on that. I’m 2k-ish, so I sort of get where he’s big there (I don’t get all the meanings and implications of 2k, so a lot of the details of his writing are beyond me). I’m fairly clear on the Federal Vision problem (as much as anybody can when it often seems there isn’t anything completely clear in the first place) and don’t agree with it, so I was supportive of his work to oppose Leithart’s position as a teacher and so on. But I’ve mostly followed Stellman’s blog because he seemed down-to-earth and, being new to the Reformed/Covenantal/Presbyterian world, I attached to whatever source was discussing the topics in language and imagery I could at least digest. Stellman has been that sort of good reading more often than not.
What does all that mean? It means I don’t have a great amount of attachment to the man himself. He is (was) himself a minister in the PCA, which is very significant. He was closely tied to WSCAL and some of the circles in which I found myself upon encountering my church and the PCA. So I think that, to a guy who’s only a year old in the Reformation, it weighs a lot when a highly regarded minister departs from his flock, his religious ties and ultimately two key threads that bind the faith that I understand to be Christianity.
I grieve for this man, because it appears he’s turned away. I don’t entirely understand his conflicts, but I think if he’s spent the last few months consulting the great and small in the faith for solutions and guidance, I bet he’s pretty squared with the facets involved. I don’t even think I can hazard a guess as to what secret key there is to unlock things for Stellman. Prayer, I guess.
What brings me to grieve the most is the miasma of darkness that has flowed from the blogosphere in only five days. The explosion wasn’t even a trickle. I swear it was like a dog-pile in a football cartoon. One after another just jumped on the man with the ball. And they somehow all succeeded in losing the man with the ball. I think Stellman just shot out of the mess like a greased pig. I wonder if, in all the horrid stabs, if anyone even touched the poor man’s heart with kindness or (Lord help us all) true help.
Sure, there were some real well-wishers and Lane Keister from Green Baggins was probably the most outspoken in compassion for Stellman. But overall, those who professed support and those who condemned very quickly turned upon each other in feral combat, often with little sense or sensibility. There was a flashmob of slandering, pandering, stomping and biting with little care to Christian charity or even civility (there’s some 2k for you). Lost in the mix was a man who appears to have messed up somewhere, or has a huge chink in his theological framework, that everyone should clearly see needs help of some sort.
Pastors came out of the woodwork to use Stellman as a soapbox to condemn 2k or confessionalism. They analyzed and psychoanalyzed the Leithart trial and books and articles. They took opportunities to blast WSCAL theologians who have contributed immensely to my understanding of the Gospel and God’s revelation. And, to be fair, a couple from WSEAST too. The smear is broad and thick. The machine-gun staccato of “I could’ve told you so” and “That was so obvious years ago” echoed in the spaces between assaults.
So I can’t say I feel his pain because (from my humble perspective) Stellman is seeing a nuclear bomb going off in his heart right now, with all the people he’s interacted with (probably over a long period of time) turning on him or on each other with vitriol and spite. When I slipped quickly and quietly away from the faith in which I was raised and chose witchcraft for my religion, there was a fairly significant series of associated pains. My family and friends were pretty shocked and saddened by my defection. But I wasn’t the kind of person Stellman is. I wasn’t a pastor, theologian, trusted and known individual. I was just a little me with no influence and little credibility to start with . This kind of insanity, probably immense beyond what he could have predicted, is more than a decent man should have to endure – enough to bring the weight of age crashing down on him.
Granted, God is God and He deals with us as He wills. Stellman had a high office and calling. His suffering and trials must rate significantly more intensity than lil’ ol’ me. Especially if he is wrong. To depart from the faith at any time is huge, and to leave ministry under such terms is the biggest deal. Maybe he is wrong. Maybe he hasn’t made everything clear. Maybe he’s not clear on everything and this is (at the root) a long, dark teatime of the soul rather than defection from the Kingdom. I, personally, am inclined to trust that God will not depart from the servant He called to Himself, but that’s me and my little (often foolish) perception.
I guess the flash was inevitable. I suppose this is a miserable mess that must happen and maybe it’ll stir up something wonderful in the end. But for the time being? I haven’t gained much esteem for many in the Reformed world through this. I have lost respect for a few that, up until this week, I have held in fairly high regard. A couple of pastor/theologians I’ve enjoyed studying are not very enjoyable any more because of the opportunistic salvos they’ve released. Were they just rash leaps, I’d probably forgive and forget, but true colors were revealed and that’s enough for me.
It leaves me with this. I will continue to pray for Mr. Stellman and his family, though I don’t know them and probably won’t. I will pray for my own pastor and our elders, as I perceive anew the intensity of their burden and efforts. And I will pray for me and my family too. Closest to my weak little heart is the memory of “changing my religion” and this all reminds me of the hurt it causes. I had a little tweak of fear to realize that I am too easily swayed by the winds of doctrine and words of men. It could happen to me. Just look at the progression I’ve made in the faith since 2004.
I wish I could give encouragement to Mr. Stellman. I wish I could tell not a few pastors and laymen to get back to their church and think about how Christian they’ve been this week. I’ll finish off here with just one observation: Most of the people in the comboxes out there might need to be put back in the cage or whatever their particular tradition calls it.