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UPDATE May 15, 2015: I have been notified by Julie McMahon that she has been asked in an emailed correspondence, to ask me to remove this post. That’s not going to happen. In my never humble opinion, this is simply a further working out of Tony Jones’ self-admitted Narcissistic Personality Disorder (admission on Pg 10 of pdf). Only an NPD could believe this to be a reasonable request.


This is from a series of tweets of mine this morning — Tuesday, February 10, 2015 (with a few tweet responses from fellow Canadians, James Forde and Michael Bells) beginning here — note I’ve done some editing and made additions for clarity to the Tweets.

We need to acknowledge that narcissistic & yes, psychopathic leadership is a problem in the Church — and figure out how to deal with it. This requires educating ourselves to the realities of psychopathy and NPD.  Books by Robert Hare & Kevin Dutton are good places to start.

If you’ve been an unintentional co-conspirator with an NPD/psychopath or a “commender” as my friend Futuristguy Brad Sargent puts it — admit it, apologize & make restitution — learn from your mistakes.

If you aren’t a book reader, then at least read this on NPD and this on psychopathy.

Too many Christians are now “dones” because of the actions of leaders with NPD &/or psychopathic traits. This needs to change.

Too many NPD/psychopathic leaders have been protected because of the size of “their ministries”. A trail of broken bodies is NOT the Church.

Too many narcissistic/psychopathic theologians have been protected because of their supposed “insights”. Victims be damned.

Again, if you’re a leader in the church, and have actively promoted an NPD &/or psychopath — acknowledge & repent for the sake of the Church.

James Forde: Most people get swept up in the star gazing that happens and don’t see the leader for what they are & end up as a silenced victim! Then when they have the courage &/or support to come out and bring things to light they are either accused of being jealous or nuts and those either under the spell still (or who stand to gain financially or in power) do what they can to protect the leader.

Read this 2009 NYTimes article on Mark Driscoll and ask yourself how rational Church leaders could support this man.

Go to Tony Jones’ #WhyTony Scrib site, where he admits he’s NPD, and ask yourself how these other “leaders” continue to support him while demonizing Julie, ToJo’s ex-wife. (I’m intentionally not linking to ToJo’s site.)

The celebrity-driven church actively promotes narcissistic/psychopathic leadership. This is NOT the church of Jesus. Not even a facsimile.

Michael Bells: That “model” is only a cheap plastic ‘copy’ of the real thing – it’s not even close to Jesus’ way, 🙁

I am not suggesting all Church leaders are NPD/psychopathic. I don’t believe that for a moment. However, far too many are, even if only 1% — that 1% figure is the recognized percentage of psychopaths in society. As well, according to Kevin Dutton’s research the #8 position psychopaths end up in is clergy.

And let me end this Tweetablog with an edit of this tweet of mine from yesterday,

Do not be surprised the Church is plagued with many narcissist leaders. Narcissists are attracted to power. This is a problem with the church that promotes “powerfilled” leaders — directly contrary to Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 20:25:

“You’ve observed how godless rulers throw their weight around, how quickly a little power goes to their heads. It’s not going to be that way with you. Whoever wants to be great must become a servant. Whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave. That is what the Son of Man has done: He came to serve, not be served—and then to give away his life in exchange for the many who are held hostage.” (MSG)

Updated at 1:57 PM EST February 10, 2015

This post was first published by Bill Kinnon @

Today, Messengers (the term used for those sent from their SBC churches) at the Southern Baptist Church Convention gathering in Houston, SBC 2013,

passed a resolution calling on all Southern Baptists to report allegations of child abuse to authorities.

Commenting on this, Christianity Today’s Gleanings blog noted,

The resolution, filed more or less in response to the high-profile lawsuit against Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM), was amended to ask that “SBC leaders and employees practice the highest level of discernment in affiliating with groups or individuals that possess ‘questionable’ policies and practices in protecting children against sexual abuse,” according to Baptist Press (BP), which live-blogged the morning’s votes. [emphasis added]

As much of a no-brainer as this really should have been, it is rather a strong slap in the face to Southern Baptist Celebrity leaders, Al Mohler and Mark Dever — who less than three weeks ago, along with PCA Celeb, Ligon Duncan were busy strongly supporting their buddy, C.J. Mahaney — SGM controlling stakeholder during the multiple alleged abuse cases at Sovereign Grace Ministries’ churches including the one where Mahaney pastored. Dever going so far as to preach at Mahaney’s fledgling new church plant on June 2nd, 2013 in Louisville, KY — telling the gathered few how wonderful Mahaney is,

“So you all who are here in this church, and particularly if you’re visiting or if you’re sort of new to Sovereign Grace, you have a privilege in having this man as your pastor that you don’t fully grasp, and that’s absolutely fine,” Dever said. “Just thank God for him and enjoy the word of God as he brings it from a life and a heart full of the gospel, and know that I am delighted to be here. It’s a privilege to address you brothers and sisters.” [emphasis added]

The original resolution did not come from one of the many other SBC Celebs sharing the platform at the Houston event, but rather from the cheap seats, via an SBC Messenger from Georgia, Pastor and blogger, Peter Lumpkins. (“Cheap seats” is used affectionately for we, the little people) — with much support from folk outside the gathering, including SNAP’s Amy Smith.

Amy experienced her own SBC rejection because of the stand she’s consistently taken for abuse survivors — in spite of the spin attempted by an associate pastor on staff at Amy’s home church — where the pre-SBC13 Pastors Conference was taking place. (Quick synopsis: this pastor communicated that it would be best for Amy & her husband that they no longer volunteer in that SBC church’s youth ministry — because of her work with SNAP.)

While all of this was happening, there was another interesting development in the CJ Mahaney/SGM Abuse public relations debacle. The 2nd Mahaney-supporting leaders’statement which originally appeared to be from the corporate entity, The Gospel Coalition, and written by three of its key leaders including founder Don Carson, had this quietly added to it:

This statement reflects the views of the signatories and does not necessarily speak for other Council members, bloggers, and writers for The Gospel Coalition. [emphasis added]

In response to a Tweet where I wondered,

Perhaps Carson, DY & Taylor received some pushback from other TCGers“,

Boz Tchividjian, who with the ministry G.R.A.C.E. supports abuse victims  replied,

Internal pushback has occurred.’

There is a scene in Paddy Chayefesky‘s Academy Award-winning film, Network where the lead character, news anchor Howard Beale declares,”I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore.”His audience soon joins him, stating “We are mad as hell, and we’re not going to take it anymore.”*

At this point in time, there are many Christians who are “mad as hell” at what has happened to far too many “little ones” in the church — and are no longer willing to be lead in silence by Celebrity leaders. These “little ones” have been hurt, damaged and even sexually abused without warranting more than a passing sentence or two of care from these “Church Celebrities”.

What these Celebrity Leaders effectively communicate is that properly held doctrine by big-time church leaders is far more important than a few broken people. (Who was it who said, ‘to make an omelette you have to break a few eggs‘?)

But God, as He so often does, has chosen to raise up prophets from the “lower classes” of the church. (No disrespect intended.) Dee and Deb at the Wartburg Watch, Michael Newnham at Phoenix PreacherMatt Redmond, Julie Anne Smith, Amy Smith, Peter Lumpkins, Chris Hubbs, Zach Hoag and many others.

No doubt the Celebrity leaders are not only stunned by how these little people have spoken up, but also that their voices have been and will continue to be listened to.

To God be the glory.

UPDATE: Read this post at TWW. I’m singing from the same songbook.


*Note that this becomes irony as it morphs into a tag line, rather than conviction, in the film.
Edited a 2nd time for clarity at 12:13 AM Thursday, June 13, 2013.

The quote below, from the website, of which Southern Baptist Pastor Tom Ascol is a primary leader. (Ascol is a committee member & recent signer of the SBC Calvinism Advisory Committee statement TRUTH, TRUST, and TESTIMONY in a TIME of TENSION),

In the first place, Calvinistic Christianity is nothing more and nothing less than biblical Christianity. It follows, then, that the future of Christianity itself is bound up in the fortunes of Calvinism. Obviously the future of Christianity itself is not in doubt, for our Lord declared that the gates of hell shall not prevail against God’s church. And yet we should be quick to acknowledge, of course, that God is not obligated to keep his church existent in America. In God’s sovereign providence, Christianity has been wiped out of other cultures over the centuries of its history. Still, we have hope for revival because our hope is in the God who revives. The same God who opened our own eyes can open the eyes of others.

In the second place, despite evangelicalism’s turmoil, there remain true Christians present in America. Wherever true Christians exist, hope for revival must also exist. For whoever believes in God’s redemption through Christ and recognizes his own utter dependence on God, whoever recognizes that salvation is of the Lord, whoever seeks to glorify God in his worship and life, that person is already implicitly a Calvinist, no matter what he calls himself. In such circumstances, to make the person an explicit Calvinist, all we are required to do (humanly speaking) is to show the believer the natural implications of these already-held fundamental principles, which underlie all true Christianity, and trust God to do his work, that is, trust God to reveal these implications to the person.

In the third place, across denomination boundaries, God has been pleased to open many formerly blinded eyes to the truth and light of the doctrines of grace. In these days, the old paths are being trodden afresh. Interest in the writings of the Puritans, the theology of Jonathan Edwards, and the preaching of Charles Spurgeon and Martyn Lloyd-Jones, has increased exponentially. Undoubtedly, access to historical and contemporary treatments of the doctrines of grace on the Internet has something to do with this. In the last ten years, at least, God has used the Internet to do more to bring exposure to historical reformed theology than anything else. It is not an exaggeration to say that for this generation, it represents what the Banner of Truth Trust was for the last – the vehicle by which mass exposure is brought to the teachings of those spiritual giants who walked before us.

Narrowing the focus to our own Southern Baptist Convention, God has used mightily the work of the Founders Movement to bring about widespread exposure to and acceptance of the doctrines of grace. [emphasis added]

Perhaps this is like throwing the cat amongst the pigeons, but SBCers who think the “Founders” are stepping back from their mission, are obviously not “true Christians” and are not “implicitly… Calvinist.”

God help us all.

UPDATE: See Chris Hubbs‘ post, Is this Calvinism’s Default Position?


Mildly updated for clarity at 5:31 PM Friday; June 7, 2013

With apologies to Will Shakespeare for the title.

Perhaps it is just me — and the things I read — but there is a level of madness in the present North American Evangelical/Christendom landscape that appears to know no bounds.

From the Ridiculous

One narcissist, from his perch as a theological academic of indeterminate stripe, portrays himself as a victim of inverse racism — while another, his former traveling companion, a self-proclaimed “gigachurch pastor” commends himself as a true green arbiter of all things Jesus funny. The two proving the fine line between comedy and pathos.

Through the Painful

In the city that hosts the World that Walt built, three Megachurch pastors resign over adultery — one of them from one of the “10 healthiest churches” in America. A Charismatic voice claims it’s “the spirit of Jezebel” whilst another voice states “it’s probably more related to the feelings of isolation experienced by large-church leaders.”

To the Tragic

— the embarrassing disaster that is Sovereign Grace Ministries led by C.J. Mahaney (no matter what rearranging of deck chairs on the SGM Titanic has recently taken place) and the amended and expanded sexual abuse lawsuit they now face. (Read The Wartburg Watch posts here, here, here and here. They have been more than faithful in staying on top of this story.)

This is a tragedy at so many levels — the worst being what has (allegedly) happened to the victims and their families. Many of their stories first told at SGM Survivors over the six years that blog has existed — for those who had the willing eyes and hearts to read and comprehend.

In July of 2011, well before the lawsuit was announced, I wrote a post entitled C.J. Mahaney & Semper Reformanda or …Not So Much, triggered by the SGM Wikileaks documents;

It appears that Mahaney has both misunderstood & misrepresented the Gospel in his own network of churches while marginalizing or discarding any who dared question his motives, methods & ministry…

And later…

…a legion of wounded SGMers are in recovery from what they’ve suffered at the hands of this “ministry” led by C.J. Mahaney, their lead apostle. And this while Mahaney has trod the conference stage of the Reformed universe – as one of their “humble” super-apostles to be emulated.

In the followup post, Wait! Don’t Look Behind the Curtain I quoted my friend, Dan Gouge (from the City of God team blog),

Al Mohler and Ligon Duncan have both stood up for Mahaney and, in essence, insist that his critics shut up and that everyone else move along.

What’s remarkable about this is that there seems to be a reflex here that is shockingly similar to the one that kicked in at the Vatican when the child sex-abuse scandals started to leak into the media. (Note: Let’s be clear, I’m not saying that C.J. Mahaney is the equivalent of a sex offender.) The hierarchy circled the wagons and went about blaming everyone else while trying to protect itself. Neither T4G nor SGM is a hierarchy like Rome, but there is an undeniable star system at the top of today’s Reformed church world with a handful of powerful men who dominate conferences and bestseller lists, and it appears that they have taken to looking after their interests – the interests of the powerful – at the expense of all those whom they claim as followers. (emphasis added)

Though it has not been alleged that Mahaney was directly involved in sexual abuse, Dan’s comment was prescient in that the Mahaney-led SGM allegedly engaged in coverups not unlike that of the Roman Catholic Church. With mini-Pope’s like Al Mohler defending the honour and integrity of Mahaney, whilst Ligon Duncan cast aspersions on the victims;

I would… encourage you to ignore the assaults of wounded people on attack websites and blogs, and that you discount the opinings of those who have no real knowledge of these matters or relation to SGM or authority to comment upon them, and that you refrain from assuming that you (or they) are in a position to render judgment on these things. (The original link for this in the Reformation 21 site archives does not work — but it’s alive and well at the Wayback Machine.)

Matt Redmond, blogger and author of the very good book, The God of the Mundane, wrote this yesterday in his post, Answering Some Objections I’ve Gotten About the SGM Lawsuit

What I keep hearing is we should wait till the verdict comes in to hear both sides because SGM has totally denied the accusations. Therefore no blog posts and no articles till then. Before the trial of Sandusky, an article “Love Notices Wet Hair” was published on The Gospel Coalition site and distributed widely. That article was posted 7 months before he was found guilty. Either we need an admission of how wrong that was, or we need a similar stance. Really all they would need to do is write a blog post that said, “in light of the accusations against SGM we offer this post.” That would be a start.

I would also like to see a public announcement about the need for any and all named parties to stop speaking at conferences. This would benefit everyone. I want you to imagine what it must be like for a victim of abuse to continually hear about the speaking engagements of those who enabled the abusers or were themselves an abuser. To see them rise in popularity. To see them above criticism. When the Reformed community does not see any problem with CJ Mahaney speaking at conferences because he has denied the charges against him and none have to be proven in the courts, our cult of personality has reached an apex. (emphasis added)

Zach Hoag, another gifted blogger and author, wrote this in his post A False Gospel of Reconciliation yesterday

I’ve written before about the current lawsuit against Sovereign Grace Ministries and how it represents a rapidly approaching counseling cliff for the evangelical church at large – a cliff especially perilous when conservative churches deal with matters of abuse. Well, this week, more allegations were filed against SGM, and they are horrific. And, as of now, the major evangelical institutions that are closely connected to SGM – namely, The Gospel Coalition (where C.J. Mahaney, a defendant in the suit and founding leader of the SGM movement, is a council member) and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (major supporter/ally of C.J. and SGM, with President Al Mohler as close friend and staunch defender of C.J.) – have not issued anything in the way of cautionary or even concerned statements regarding the man or the movement (that I am aware of). There has been total silence about a celebrity preacher and an organization that is now literally inundated with accusations of sexually and physically abusing children and conspiring to cover it all up over many years. Nor have any/many connected big-name individual leaders, themselves also institutionally powerful, come out with words of warning or grieving. Instead, powerful men like John Piper have made gestures of support in the midst of C.J. and SGM’s legal troubles.

The silence is deafening.    (emphasis and links in the original)

The attitude of many who purportedly swim in the same spiritual streams as Mahaney et al, is either that the rest of us are out to get SGM because we don’t like Mahaney, or we simply hate the beauty and truth that is NeoReformed theology.

In a Twitter back and forth with Spiritual Sounding Board’s Julie Anne Smith, me and fiery writer & Calvinist gadfly, Frank Turk (who, despite our profound theological differences, I consider a friend), Frank made this Tweet comment about the present debacle

@kinnon @DefendTheSheep Like I said: I admire the starch it takes to find a sex offender when the charges of spiritual abuse can’t work out

It would appear that Frank and many of his NeoReformed brethren see the lawsuit as simply another attack on poor C.J. — and their shared NeoReformed/Complementarian doctrine.

And therefore the tragedy is compounded as many of the NeoReformed appear most concerned about protecting the belief in the veracity of their doctrine. They don’t appear to really care about what happens nor what has happened to the victims of the cult-like behaviour of C.J.Mahaney and Sovereign Grace Ministries.

Whether they mean to or not, they seem to be saying,

Screw the victims, C.J. believes the right stuff.’

There's a dog, and it's chasing sheep.

Somewhere in the past few months, while whiling away unavailable time on the interwebs, I read about how sheep farmers in the English-speaking world tend to use sheepdogs to control sheep, rather than the middle-eastern method of almost exclusively employing human shepherds.


Of course.

I saw a metaphor in this.

Reading the quote below brought the metaphor into sharp relief ( at least for me ),

All herding behavior is modified predatory behavior. Through selective breeding, humans have been able to minimize the dog’s natural inclination to treat cattle and sheep as prey while simultaneously maintaining the dog’s hunting skills, thereby creating an effective herding dog. (emphasis added)

Sheepdogs bark and nip at the heels of the sheep to force them go where their masters want them to go. And it’s amazing to see the kind of sheep shows ( shown below ) you can create under the control of the sheepdogs.

To steal boldly from the Phoenix Preacher, Michael Newnhammake your own application. ( And buy Michaels’ book here. )


Here’s the video referenced above:

This post first appeared at on May16th, 2013.

Church Livestock

kinnon —  February 27, 2013 — 28 Comments

Rev. Dr. Muttonbutt

My buddy, Dave Fitch responded to another friend, Ed Stetzer on Ed’s “assault” on the “mega church sheep stealing critique”.

I love’em both, but probably agree with Fitch’s argument more than Ed’s.


That’s not what this post is about.

Rather, its about the imagery. Of livestock. As a metaphor for the people in the pews.

Hey, Kinnon. It’s biblical.

Indeed, madam. You are correct! Sheep as a metaphor for God’s people is, in fact, to be found in the Scriptures.

Sheep were highly valued. Then.

Think of Jesus’ story of the one lost sheep, and the shepherd who left the 99 to search for that one.

How quaint.

I would suggest we view sheep with much less value today — if we view them at all.

And what of the shepherds? Well, then they were were possibly the lowest of the gainfully employed. (Think of Jesse not even considering having his youngest son, David, the shepherd, come to be consecrated by Samuel.) Shepherds lived with their sheep. They smelled like their sheep. They knew each one by name. A single shepherd tended no more than 100 sheep in New Testament times.

Today, returning to the church livestock metaphor, a shepherd (or pastor, in its latinate form) with only 100 sheep would be considered a failure. And how could any “successful” shepherd be expected to know all of “his/her” sheep.

Might I suggest the metaphor breaks down in its present usage within the church. And that this misused/misunderstood metaphor is responsible for much damaging separation between those who call themselves shepherds and “their” sheep — as if the shepherds are their owners. (Sheep cannot be stolen — except from their owners.)

Might I further suggest that the use of the phrase “sheep-stealing” is particularly bizarre amongst those who call us to be missionally-minded.

The reality is that we are all sheep. Or none of us are. (Shall we save the goats for another conversation?)

UPDATE: My buddy and City of God blogger, Dan Gouge ramps this up a notch or eleven with The Factory Farms of Christianity.

I love Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of John 1:14,

The Word became flesh and blood,
and moved into the neighbourhood.

This is the season we sing of the coming of the new born King – Immanuel, God with Us.

The shocking concept that the creator of the Universe comes as a babe to be with us — to be in our midst — he moves into, and grows up in our neighbourhood.

And when he grows up, he is accused by both the religious authorities and the occupational rulers of conspiring to overthrow their power — conspiring with his disciples.

Coffee Chat Discipleship Conspiracy

Conspire, as stated in the previous post, at its latin root means to “breathe together”. Jesus and his disciples in deep relationship with one another, ‘conspired’ — they ‘breathed together.’

Discipleship, in its truest sense (as practiced by the One we claim to follow) is life lived together in conspiracy — ‘breathing together.’ There is an intimacy that is not reflected in the Western pedagogical sense of classroom with teacher/pedagogue, and multiple students listening at their desks.

Jason Blair tweeted this, this morning:

American discipleship has a lot of ‘talk’ and ‘study’ but not a lot of ‘do.’ Why do we expect anyone to listen to us, and why do some?

I often read of pastors/church leaders conducting Sunday morning “discipleship classes.” I believe they are mistaken. Perhaps these are catechism classes — which some might be shocked to know I believe are important.

But. Discipleship cannot be taught in a classroom setting, it can only be caught from lives lived together.

As “discipleship” begins to replace “missional” as the subject du jour, I think it critical we look at how Jesus discipled.

And ask him to help us ‘conspire’ to build his kingdom.


And it wouldn’t be Christmas at the Kinnon abode without a little Rob Mathes Music – When The Baby Grew Up

I’m not sure where I first heard this story. And I really can’t confirm the main characters. Though I remember Charles Spurgeon as the protagonist — without any Googleable proof, unfortunately.


The apocryphal story goes like this:

Spurgeon was at a conference with many people of different denominations. One of those people was a man quite taken with the holiness movement.

Pitcher of Milk shadow

In fact, he professed to actually having achieved holiness. And he kept referring to this throughout the many days of the conference.

Finally, at breakfast on the last morning, Spurgeon took a full pitcher of milk and poured it over the holiness fellow’s head. The man screamed at Spurgeon, “You idiot, why would you do this to me!”

To which Spurgeon replied, “I was simply testing your theology, good sir.”

My memory of this story prompted by Mark Galli’s review of a book I doubt I will ever read.


Apocryphal — of doubtful authenticity, although widely circulated

(This post was prompted by a Twitter conversation between Aaron aka @culturalsavage and moi from earlier this afternoon, Nov-15-12.)

In the 20+ years that Imbi and I owned a post-house in Toronto (an editing, graphics and post-audio facility called Scene by Scene®), we worked on thousands of interstitials for broadcast clients including Canada’s two largest private television networks, CTV and Global. These were the on-air promos for “Coming up Next”, or “Thursday at 9pm”… you get the drift.

5, 10 and 15 second attention grabbers meant to keep you connected to the network, or anticipating future viewing pleasure. (Forgive me for having participated in promoting prevarication.)

Interstitial image KTV

On-air promos/interstitials are the primary way networks reinforce their branding.

Our company was paid well to produce high quality brand promotion for broadcasters. (As an aside, I will always remember when the 1st Gulf War started, as I’d just finished creating 36 CTVNews promos for the Gulf Crisis when Imbi went into labour with Kaili. The day after Kaili’s birth, I was back changing them all to Gulf War.)

At one level, Twitter is a broadcast medium. Depending on the ratio of following to followers, it mimics the one-to-many communication of a TV network — primarily seen in the every-moment-tweeted Kardashian/Beiber/Kutcher inane celebrity universe.

LOOK AT ME, LOOK AT ME, LOOK AT ME — their tweets demand. They aren’t interested in a 140 character-at-a-time conversation — they simply want followers — ones who will buy what they’re selling.

I don’t tend to follow these Twitterati. They add next to nothing to my social media engagement. Their tweets simply reflect the dominant pathology of celebrity — narcissism.

Twitter to me is most engaging as way to discover new ideas and arguments — as well as new production software and technology. 🙂 My particular bent.

I have no problem with writers who point to their own writing — as long as that’s not all that they point to.

What I find particularly odd in the Twitterverse, are Christians who view Twitter like CTV viewed on-air promos — as a place to simply promote their wonderful brand.

We are told to “stay tuned for a big announcement.” Or ReTweet to win prizes — their books or tickets to their speaking events. They highlight every great thing someone else has tweeted about them. They let us know exactly where they’ve shared their great wisdom — to the applause of the gathered multitudes.

But, sorry, they really don’t have time to engage with anyone who hits reply to one of their tweets. (Followers really need to learn their place.) They’re on to bigger and better things that they’ll tweet about momentarily.


In my never humble opinion, when the primary focus of one’s Tweet output is you and what you are doing, then Twitter has simply become interstitialed narcissism.

[The image above is from the rebranding we did for Global when they went from KidsTV to KTV in the previous millennium. Scene by Scene® is a registered trademark of Medri Kinnon Productions Limited.)

Zero-Sum Games & the Church

kinnon —  November 5, 2012 — 15 Comments

ZeroSum Games w 3D Shadow

a zero–sum game is a mathematical representation of a situation in which a participant’s gain (or loss) of utility is exactly balanced by the losses (or gains) of the utility of the other participant(s)Wikipedia

I Win! You lose! It’s a zero-sum game.


This is, effectively, an extension of a previous blog post from January of this year, Theology — Is It a Bloodsport? It came out of a heated “conversation” Jared Wilson and I had on Twitter. One that may have not been the most productive. What I found most disquieting in that discussion was the language of team sports as a metaphor for interaction regarding Christianity’s different theological positions.

In that post, I spoke about my own lack of indoctrination into what I see is the idolatry of sports.

I make no bones about the fact I’m not into sports. From the time I was 8 until I was 13, I lived in Europe on Canadian Air Force bases. My family didn’t have a TV and neither did any of my friends’ families. If I listened to any sports, it was on Canadian Forces Network radio—a week tape delay of Hockey Night in Canada. And as much as I love the sound of Foster Hewitt’s voice, I rarely listened to him. So I guess I was never predisposed to view life through the lens of professional sports.

I, therefore, don’t find what appears to me to be the language / actions of team-loyal sports fans being applied to theological discussions as particularly helpful.”

I would state, rather categorically, that if there is a state religion in the U.S., that religion would be organized sport. The level of angst that exists for the success or failure of one’s team is more than a little disconcerting – especially when the fan is a Christian, or a “Christian leader.”

Pascal put his finger on the problem of human life when he saw how entertainment had come to occupy a place, not as the necessary and momentary relief from a life of work, but as an end in itself. When entertainment becomes more than a pleasant and occasional distraction, when time and income become devoted to entertainment and to pleasure, when sports teams become more important to us than people—even the people to whom we are close—then something has gone badly wrong. The frothy entertainment culture in which we live is a narcotic: not only is it addictive, so that we always want more; it also eats away at us, skewing our priorities, rotting our values as surely as too much sugar rots our teeth.” — Carl Trueman, Fools Rush In Where Monkeys Fear to Tread, Page 111.

In my childhood, I was taught the lie, “it doesn’t matter whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.” The truth is closer to, ‘it doesn’t matter how you play the game, it’s whether you win or lose.’

Trueman again,

For many, though, sport has become an integral part of their identity, and, more often than not, it is watching sport, not actual participation, that does this. The success or failure of a team becomes the vicarious success or failure of the supporter. In other words, sport becomes a means of finding authenticity and value. Other areas of life can be neglected, malfunction, or simply go to the dogs; but as long as “the team” is doing well, all is OK with the world. Indeed, in good “opium” fashion, we can be enduring all kinds of garbage being dropped on us; but the “team” gives us hope—albeit specious and illusory—of fulfillment and happiness.” Carl Trueman, Fools Rush In Where Monkeys Fear to Tread, Page 123.

Many, if not most North American children are indoctrinated into their particular team fandom at a young age.

Rachel Held Evans, in her latest book, talks about her Roll Tide addiction,

I grew up in the great state of Alabama, which journalist Warren St. John deems “the worst place on earth to acquire a healthy perspective on the importance of spectator sports.” 1 In Alabama, the third most important question after “What is your name?” and “Where do you go to church?” is “Alabama or Auburn?” So soon after I learned to identify myself as a nondenominational, Bible-believing Christian named Rachel, I learned to identify myself as an Alabama fan. My little sister and I knew what intentional grounding was before we’d acquired the dexterity to play with Barbie dolls, and as kids we liked to imitate my mother, who had the habit of willing an Alabama running back down the field by moving closer and closer to the TV set the longer he stayed on his feet. By the time he danced into the end zone, the whole family—Mom, Dad, Amanda, and I—would be huddled together around the TV, screaming our heads off, nervously looking for any yellow flags on the field.” Rachel Held Evans, A Year of Biblical Womanhood, Page 2

At it’s very worst, this American obsession with winning teams is exemplified by what was allowed to happen under Joe Paterno’s leadership at Penn State. Winning at any cost — even if that cost was children sacrificed on the altar of pedophilia. UPDATE 3: View this graphic. And weep.

But I would suggest that for most Americans, the worship of sports is milder than that, but perhaps more insidious.

Trash Talking

One of the manifestations of this is the prevalence of trash talking that began in sports but has become a very noticeable part of social interaction. It’s roots may be in the rather innocent, “Hey batter, batter” of baseball but the language is far stronger today — and much more destructive.

I note these two stories on American President, Barack Obama, known as a hyper-competitive player. From CNN,

Reggie Love, the man by President Barack Obama’s side for two years in the White House, said the president leads like he plays basketball… …“He’s a competitor, and I think when you compete … you can’t spend all your time sort of being overly emotional or reactional to what’s going on,” Love said.

Obama trashing Rubio2

And then from Politico,

It is Obama’s own burning competitiveness, with his remorseless focus on beating Mitt Romney — an opponent he genuinely views with contempt and fears will be unfit to run the country…

Obama is sometimes portrayed as a reluctant warrior, sorry to see 2012 marked by so much partisan warfare but forced by circumstance to go along. But this perception is by most evidence untrue. In the interviews with current and former Obama aides, not one said he expressed any reservations about the negativity. He views it as a necessary part of campaigning, as a natural — if unpleasant — rotation of the cyclical political wheel.

Obama’s trash-talking competitiveness, a trait that has defined him since his days on the court as a basketball-obsessed teenager in Hawaii, was on display one night last February, when the president spotted a woman he knew was close to Sen. Marco Rubio in a Florida hotel lobby. “Is your boy going to go for [vice president]?” the president asked her. Maybe, she replied. “Well,” he said, chuckling, according to a person who witnessed the encounter. “Tell your boy to watch it. He might get his ass kicked.” [emphasis added]

Obama is simply a product of the dominant culture.

His team will do anything to beat the other – and that sentiment is reciprocated. To a Democrat, Republicans are knuckle-dragging fools who hate women and want to return to the 50’s. To a Republican, Democrats are Socialists who will steal the election in order to worship Stalin or Satan, take your pick.

The trash-talking, zero-sum gaming of U.S. Politics is in danger of destroying the American nation.


I’m more concerned about what it’s doing to the church.

Matthew Lee Anderson, in his review of RHE’s new book, says this at the end of his rather long (but must read) review:

…I am increasingly saddened by the state of our Christian discourse online, including my own involvement in it.

I’m no Roman history expert, but I take it that it was their love of entertainment that led them to the Coliseum. It’s a bloodthirsty idol, entertainment, for it knows no boundaries nor respects no persons. Over the past two years, Christians have engaged in a variety of controversies—which they have been doing for a long time, but which seem to be coming and going with a greater rapidity while being discussed at a significantly more shallow level. I think of Rob Bell’s book, Jesus>Religion, Mark Driscoll’s book, the Wilson dustup, and now this conflagration. And there are, I think, others I am forgetting.

In each, the form of arguments have rarely been commendable and the level of discourse ennobling. We have increasingly, it seems to me, been taken by these controversies and fought for pageviews in the midst of them. And that has meant mostly fighting each other, clashing verbal swords and letting the digital blood flow in the streets. I know well that there is a time to disagree and to draw lines. And I also know that when the controversy is upon us, the drumbeats of war always beat the loudest, and it is usually in such moments that we should speak of peace. Perhaps we would all do well to wield our intellectual swords with a good deal more care.

One of the reasons I’ve had such a hard time blogging in these past six months, is what went down this summer on The Gospel Coalition blog of Jared Wilson’s when he used a Doug Wilson quote on his Fifty Shades of Grey Post, now deleted – and the Internet blog storm that was created — the Wilson dustup mentioned by Anderson, above.

I’ve known Jared through our relationship with the late Michael Spencer, for probably five years. I’ve held him in high regard for most of the time. But I was shocked by his response to the people who were profoundly offended by his blog post, particularly in the way he trash-talked them on Twitter, as well as in the comment sections of the multiple posts he wrote based on his first post.

If you follow Jared on Twitter, you’ll know he’s a huge sports fan — especially football. I honestly believe that Jared was engaging in social media debate in a manner little different than what he would do amongst his friends known as The Thinklings. His responses were simply representative of the perspective formed by the culturally dominant world of sport. Trash-talking being a normative response.

Jared is hardly the most egregious example of Christian trash-talking. And its not limited to his fellow Calvinists.

Some of the stuff I read from Christian Progressives in response to Evangelicals and other Christian conservatives is really little different from how Democrats feel about Republicans — only its shared with less love and affection. (That’s sarcasm, by the way.)

As I bring my own, too long, post to a close, I realize that perhaps all this is a plea like that of the late Rodney King, “Can we all get along?”


Perhaps, we could all simply become less resounding gongs or clanging cymbals — the ones Paul, the Apostle spoke of here.

UPDATE: Read Michael Kruze’s post here: America’s Increasingly Tribal Electorate

UPDATE 2: Todd Littleton advances the conversation much further.