I imagine that you have some big milestones in mind, looking in life from the vantage point of a fourteen-year-old. There’s a date with the driver’s license people coming up early next year. Eventually, there are other dates—you know…DATES—on the horizon. College may seem like it is a long way away for you, but in our minds it is looming large. So much of being a teenager is future oriented, some parts dread, some parts anticipation.
I see other milestones ahead that you may not have considered. Among them is this: I know that the day is coming when you are going to meet me through what I have written—especially through what I have written online. I’m nervous about that. When that day comes, I want you to find this post. I’d be delighted if you found this one first, because it might help you in sorting it all out.
In some ways, you, son, were the origin of all of this. I began to blog because of two reasons in pretty equal measure: I had opinions about things that were happening in the Southern Baptist Convention, and SOMEONE kept awakening our little household at inconsiderate hours like 3:00 am. Often unable to go back to sleep, I sometimes after getting you back to bed would pick up my computer and talk to the Internet (Dad advice: making non-emergency calls to your friends at 3:00 am is a good way not to have friends any more).
I want you to know that there were times when I should’ve been doing something with you or your sister when instead, for no good reason that I can identify, I was arguing through my computer with people I don’t know. Less of that happened as you got older and I got wiser—just as you’re part of the reason why I started blogging, giving it a lot of my time, you’re also part of the reason why I do it not nearly as much any more. I’m mentioning this not because I harbor any deep and profound regrets (as of yet). You haven’t been neglected. It’s just that one of the lessons that I’ve learned along the way is that, bewilderingly, something inside us sometimes pulls us away from the real, live people who are right next to us and into abstracted conversations with people we may never meet before Heaven. I just hope that you don’t discover Online Bart and think, “That looks like it was significant and fun, so I’m going to give myself over to a lifetime of creating online content.” Of the posts that I did NOT publish and the comments that I did NOT make, there’s not a single one that I regret. Beware the trap of overestimating the importance of online conversations.
The blogging also created some new opportunities for you. You’ve met some interesting people and had some fun opportunities because of the people I’ve met through blogging.
I want you to know that I’ve tried to stand up for some things, because I want you to be the kind of man who can stand up for people and for ideas. I opposed the ideas in a book entitled The Camel Method (go to this post and you’ll find links to an entire series of posts) because I believed that it compromised the gospel and was too friendly toward Islam. I opposed the denial of religious liberty to Muslims because I believed that it compromised the gospel and was too hateful toward Islam. I still stand by every word of this post.
I’ve tried to stand up for a healthy relationship between Southern Baptists who are Calvinists and those who are not. A healthy relationship involves being able to critique one another (or even to critique everyone at the same time) but also involves learning how to thank God for one another and trying to spend time articulating our vast areas of agreement and not only our points of difference.
I’ve tried to stand up for Baptist doctrine because I believe that it is biblical doctrine. I still believe what I wrote in this post, although nobody talks about these questions any longer.
But I’ve made some mistakes along the way, and you’ll discover them eventually. Sometimes I allowed my anger to get the better of me. Hear me, my son: Your anger pretends to be your friend and defender, but it is usually your enemy. I’m not going to point out my worst posts to you, although some of them still generate more traffic than some of my better ones. Why are people still reading this stuff?
Let your mistakes be a part of your sanctification, and then they aren’t so mistake-y. Repent of mistakes and let God teach you lessons through them. I do not delete my posts, even when I regret them, because leaving them there keeps me from trying to escape the consequences of my actions (and you should take responsibility for the things you do, son) and the ongoing embarrassment of their existence serves as an ongoing tutor to aid me in being a better disciple of Jesus Christ.
One last thing: You know me better, son, than any of these people do. If Online Bart ever seems to be a different person than Dad is, trust what you know about Dad. It’s easy to be someone different in writing or on the Internet than you really are. In some ways there will be differences arising out of the different subject matters involved. You and I have not spent much time discussing levels of contextualization in missions. I’ve not blogged much about the St. Louis Cardinals. Different topics and interests find a home in different parts of our lives. That’s unavoidable. But if I’ve ever appeared to be more important or more serious or more noble online than you have known me to be—well—we know better, don’t we?
My generation has pioneered this Internet thing. I’m counting on your generation to flourish in the environment that we’ve provided for you and to learn from our mistakes. Many of your friends will be destroyed by things that they discover online in one way or another. My prayer is that you will do better than I have and will harness this powerful tool and surrender it to Jesus so that he will use you to do great things for His kingdom through your life online.