Major League Baseball announced a rule change last month. The classic fake-to-third, throw-to-first pick-off move will now officially be considered a balk.
Pitchers can still step off the rubber before faking to third, and base runners can still never, ever be fooled by this futile move.
Baseball often tweaks its rules over the winter, but the league is always careful to announce those rule changes so that everybody knows what the rules are when play begins on Opening Day.
Imagine what the first month of the season would be like if they didn’t do that — if they just kept changing the rules without ever telling anybody. April baseball would be a confusing spectacle, but I suspect that by mid-May or so the players and teams would have the new rules figured out.
Even when the rulebook can’t be trusted, you can eventually figure out what the rules are by trial and error. Even without a rulebook, you’d still have umpires, and gradually, over time, you could deduce what the rules were based on how the umps called the game and what rules they chose to enforce. You’d have an implicit rulebook, slowly pieced together from witnessing various penalties and punishments.
That’s how evangelicalism works.
And that’s why I never pay much attention to the perennial discussion of how to “define” evangelical or evangelicalism. That discussion doesn’t matter. There is no definition. There is no rulebook, only umpires. Lots of umpires. There’s an ever-changing cast of out-of-shape guys in black pants running out onto the field, calling balls and strikes and expelling players, managers, coaches and other umpires. Nobody hired them. Nobody appointed them. And they can’t seem to agree on the rules because there are no rules except how they decide to call the game.
So when someone says to me that the Bebbington Quadrilateral is a useful tool for describing the emphases of evangelicalism, I smile and nod politely. I agree, Bebbington’s formula is an elegant, insightful construct. But nobody told the umpires about it. And after more than 20 years of getting ejected from games, I can assure you that the umpires don’t give a flying fig about Bebbington.“Yer outta here!” the umpire yells, and it won’t do any good to point out that your biblicism, crucicentrism, activism and conversionism suggest you’re entitled to stay on the field. Whatever idiosyncratic rulebook the various umpires are using, it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with such definitions. You can be an evangelical according to Bebbington, or according to Barna, or according to Hoyle, but if they say yer out, then yer out.
Rules? Definitions? Community? Membership? Personal testimony, history or choice? It ain’t nothin’ till I calls it, the umpire says. Those don’t matter.
Support marriage equality? Yer outta here! Believe the Earth is 4.5 billion years old? Yer outta here! Support contraception? Yer outta here!
“Contraception? Really? That one’s new,” you mutter to yourself as you head back to the clubhouse.
Come on in, make yourself at home. The place is packed with emergent types, black Protestants who voted the wrong way, mainliners, egalitarians, biologists, biblical studies profs — but there’s still plenty of room. There’s a seat over there in between Brian McLaren and Earl Weaver.
Relax, have a beer, join us. We’re watching the rest of today’s game on the TV. The crowd’s going nuts over a big argument at home plate. A bunch of women bloggers are really giving the umps the what-for. They’ve got their caps on backwards Tommy-Lasorda style so they can get right up in the umps faces. They’re kicking dirt. They’re really good at this, but it can’t last. They’ll be in here with the rest of us soon enough.
Meanwhile, one of those emergent guys is over by his locker, toying with a fake mustache. He’s thinking about pulling a Bobby Valentine and sneaking back into the dugout.
I’m just going to get ready for tomorrow’s game. There’s always another game tomorrow. We’ll see who the next battalion of umpires is and what kind of rules they decide to make up. Maybe I’ll get to stick around for more than an inning or two this time.