From Issue Writing to Idea Writing and Other Transitions

One of the most difficult roads to navigate as an online writer is how to approach issues – and especially, religious issues. 

1.

It’s difficult, first of all, because there are a lot of them. Really, there’s probably the same amount that there’s always been but we now know about more of our issues than ever because of the information explosion fostered by the Internet. This is a period of extreme exposure, of repeated eruptions of the Real. And, like the catalytic emergence of the printing press in the 16th century, I strongly believe the Internet has ushered in Reformation days for the church.

There were times when sexually abusive white men like Bill Gothard could retain unchallenged power and influence over the religious empires they had created. There were times when the long-passed sexual abuse of children by churchmen could remain a buried cold case (buried even deeper by countless legal loopholes) and the theologically-justified church coverup could stand victorious, a rousing vindication of the institutions (and harmful theologies) involved. There were times when the explosive aggression and arrogance from a megachurch CEO could be swiftly managed by guilt-tripping, scare-tactics, and damage control, never to see the light of day before the public eye.

There were times when the public turned a blind eye in general because it’s the church, and it oughtn’t be questioned.

Those times are over. So too are the times when women could be oppressed, LGBT people marginalized, people of color appropriated, and science denied without a hint of any pushback at all (except from those liberal academic elites who all have an anti-christ agenda anyway). Now, faithful, believing Christians are the ones speaking prophetic truth to power.

And these are Reformation days. 

We have issues, so many, and they are being confronted, everyday, all the time, click after click after click, and things are changing and we are reforming and this is GOOD. Very good.

But it’s also difficult, right?

2.

It’s difficult, second of all, because as an online writer these many religious issues can become an end in themselves. We go from the Spirit-led, Pentecostal, and prophetic speaking of truth to the obligatory, strained, and laborious chasing of articles and ambulances. We don’t necessarily notice when we pass from the one to the other because we are online writers and there are so many issues. (But after a while we notice because the joy and creativity are gone.)

Note well: I’m not saying we shouldn’t address the issues – may it never be.

But I do wonder: Have some of us online writer types crossed the line into the territory where addressing the issues is not about life but sport? Or maybe work? The batting back and forth without knowing why we are even doing it anymore? Or what it might be accomplishing?

Is our prophetic speech suffering from so many words suited to a medium that can unwittingly make a game of real Reformation?

It’s difficult.

For me, this train of thought is leading to a conclusion about how I want to be an online writer in the future. I am not necessarily renouncing the past (though there are doubtless things to renounce or at least rethink) but I am certainly letting go of what lies behind to lay hold of what lies ahead. I don’t want to be an Issue Writer anymore, though issues are addressed.

I want to be an Idea Writer.

3.

I will probably write more about it, but it’s still quite fresh. Last night, for the first time in my life, I experienced the closest thing to what might be called a conversion in the classic sense – brought on, as it were, by the conversion experience of a fictional character I was watching on TV. The final moments of True Detective S.01 deliver the most powerful depiction of conversion I’ve ever witnessed in film or television. After watching, I was in ugly tears and deep, gutteral prayer.

(Yes, God speaks to me through the TV, mainly.)

Now, neither my theology nor my ecclesiology will allow me to conclude that this was a moment of initial conversion, that is, of coming to faith in Christ. But my faith has been a gradually growing (and sometimes receding) thing all these years, and a painfully slow maturing of late, and last night was something altogether…different. I don’t know precisely how to put it into words, so I’m not going to try to go much further.

Suffice it to say, I came out of that moment with an understanding of such clarity that it could not have come from me. I have been grasping for this, unsuccessfully, for 3 or more years (hell, maybe my whole adult life), met with mostly arguments, counterpoints, doubts, debates, wrestling, and more wrestling. Last night was a settling. It was a never-going-back moment. It was light in the darkness.

Or, in the words of Rust Cohle, it was the light winning. 

As an Idea Writer in the world of the church, I want to be someone who believes there is light, and it is winning. There is not only a dark digital sea of issues but the brilliant pinpoints throughout its territory and the Sun that vanquishes all in the morning.

I’m not going back. 

Feel free to come along.

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About Zach Hoag

Zach J. Hoag is a writer and missional minister from notoriously non-religious New England. His book, Nothing but the Blood: The Gospel According to Dexter was released in 2012. Twitter & Facebook.


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