Last week, The Christian Post published my article “If God wants us to be saved, why isn’t salvation simpler?” In the article, I succinctly summarize three deeply perplexing and highly complex questions about the nature of salvation. I conclude by referencing my book What’s So Confusing About Grace? which offers a three-hundred-page synopsis of my forty year exploration of these topics. I then point out that even if we are unable to find satisfactory answers to our questions, we can rest in the fact that God is infinitely wiser, more powerful, and more loving than we can imagine.
Within a few minutes, the first comment was posted courtesy of a gentleman named Allen Sipe. Here is that comment:
“Totally not helpful. A marketing ploy to sell a book. Write an article…raise a number of excellent questions…then offer no possible, biblical answers except by suggesting your book. This is an ever increasing sales tool by numerous authors and bloggers. Tiresome.”
Fortunately, Mr. Sipe’s dour comment was soon buried in the discussion thread. Nonetheless, it was helpful in effectively illustrating three daunting challenges to authorship in the 21st century: entitlement, inattention, and reductionism.
Entitlement: Why isn’t Everything Free?
Let’s begin with Mr. Sipe’s complaint that he has noticed “numerous authors and bloggers” increasingly using the “sales tool” of writing articles to promote their books. That sounds nefarious, doesn’t it?
But the fact is that Mr. Sipes is quite incorrect. The notion that authors try to promote books that they spent months or years writing is not new. What is new is Mr. Sipes’ own sense of entitlement to free content. That’s the real trend. It’s the trend toward expecting that everything should be free on the internet. This entitlement has become so deeply ingrained today, so second-nature, that folks actually get offended if you fail to provide your wares for free.
And so, Mr. Sipes can dismiss an author who actually tries to sell the book they spent years researching, writing, and editing as “tiresome”.
Inattention: Why aren’t the answers simple?
Now let’s turn to our second trend: inattention. Once again, we can return to Mr. Sipes: “Write an article…raise a number of excellent questions…then offer no possible, biblical answers except by suggesting your book.”
I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that Mr. Sipes is irritated not simply that the 300-page book costs money but that the answer should be a 300-page book at all. Here the offending trend is that of raising a daunting question which cannot be answered in a 1200 word article: If you’re going to raise questions in an article, surely you should the courtesy to answer those questions in the same short article.
This leads to the problem of inattention: the bottom line is that not every answer is so simple that it can be provided in a 1200 word article. Indeed, some questions cannot be answered properly apart from a single sustained argument that spans dozens — or even hundreds — of pages. So then we face the question: should we give up on such questions altogether? Or should we instead shift our expectations as to what a proper answer would look like?
I vote for the latter. But the fact is that it is nearly impossible to sell the extended argument of a 300-page book to folks who are used to answers coming in 1200 words or less.
Reductionism: Just tell me what to think!
Finally, we turn to the last trend that, for want of a better term, I’m calling “reductionism”. Folks like Mr. Sipes assume that the question is raised to the end of getting the right answer. But that is deeply reductionist. One does not simply ask questions to get the “right” answers. As the old saying goes, sometimes the journey is more important than the destination. Or to put it another way, it is more important to learn how to think than to learn what to think.
Alas, lofty musings about personal formation sound like so much gobbledygook to those who simply want to be told what to think about a particular topic.