Let me leave any accolades aside (as it might seem self-serving). Besides, as the old saying goes, nothing matters before the word “but” so I will spare you of having to skim through all that stuff. There are a few things that I would like to encourage you about. Please take this as iron sharpening iron as I expose what I see to be the pitfalls, Achilles heels, and weaknesses about which I think you need to be aware.
You have been told on more than one occasion, by people you respect very much, that you are arrogant. And you know what, you may be too arrogant to consider whether or not it is true. Here are some things to think about concerning arrogance:
First, you write and/or teach about theology every day. Every day. I know that this might seem like a good thing and in many contexts it truly is. However, what you must continually ask yourself is Who do you think you are? Do you really think you have that much to say? From teaching three nights a week (and many times on Sunday), to blogging, to new theology courses and Boot Camps, to Credo Clips, to book writing. And then there is this blog. You pride yourself that your blog is a “content” blog. However, maybe others don’t have content blogs because they are humble enough to respect the subject. They point to others, don’t you point to yourself? Again, I ask, do you really have that much to say? That much to say about God? Do you have that many good ideas that can’t wait? What ever happened to the discipline of silence?
Second, let me ask you a question: How many things have you started? When you were fifteen, you started Blade Runners, a lawn mowing business. How long did that last? When you were twenty-one you started Shape Fitness. Again, how long? Then there was Areopagus for Christ, All-American Bible Study, the DTS E-Team, Adopt-a-Prisoner, and countless other dreams and visions that are no longer around. Of course, you have been in your current ministry for over a decade now, but maybe that is because it worked, not because it was right.
Third (and please don’t take this the wrong way), who do you think you are being in ministry? Do you really think that you are qualified? Doesn’t it take a pretty large head to do what you do the way that you do it? Seminary graduation does not a pastor make. You mother told you many times that you were not tender or sensitive enough to be in ministry. Yet you plunged forward. Your wife continually tells you that you are too harsh (at least with her and the kids). Does harshness and ministry have anything to do with each other? Though you have tried to distance yourself from many of your father’s failings, harshness is an apple that did not fall far from the tree.
I know that you value transparency in others. And I know you well enough to know that you second guess whether your transparency is always a good thing. Let me give two examples about how your transparency may be having a negative effect:
First, concerning your recent struggles with depression and doubt: I appreciate you being open and candid about such things, but there is a reason why many mature believers don’t share such things (at least not in such abundance as you). These things can disturb the faith of otherwise stable people. I think that you could be normalizing something that should not be normalized. You have talked about how emotionally stable you used to be before you turned 35. Now that you are nearing 40 you say that you are emotionally volatile. I understand and sympathize with depression and fatigue. However, are not those of us in Christ supposed to becoming more and more like him? Is not the joy and peace that passes understanding supposed to characterize our lives more today than they did yesterday? Are you not, with these bouts of depression and doubt, going in the opposite direction? And to add to the problem, you put it up on a billboard, normalizing (or worse, canonizing) something that may not need to find such support. I know you think that you help people when you are more “see though”, but could it not be that you are hurting more than you are helping? At least it is something to consider.
Second, I have read every blog post you have ever written. I have read your book. I have been though every course and every class you have ever taught. Obviously, I am a follower of Michael Patton. I appreciate the pain that you and your family have been though and are going through. I hurt along with you. Your sister’s suicide and your mom’s paralysis are indeed terrible. But I am starting to get the feeling that you wear these things like a badge of spirituality. Be careful with this. People do care about you and what you are going through, but your continual referral to these events can make you sound like you have no other platform upon which to speak. You may need to move on. “Moses my servant is dead . . . now you be strong and courageous and move on.” Just temper the use of personal sufferings in your teaching. It may be coming across as self-serving. In fact, maybe you should be humble enough not to talk about them unless absolutely necessary. Again, just something to think about. (But bringing them up just now was a bit self-defeating for my advise and illustrative of the problem!) As a matter of fact, this entire “open letter” seems to illustrate some of the things I have been saying, doesn’t it?
I have many other things about which to speak to you, but I will let you dwell on these for now.