D. G. and Me
I have never met Darryl Hart. I know him almost exclusively through his writings. If we met face to face, I am not sure how we would get on. I know that we disagree about some things we both care about.
My relationship with D. G. makes me think about a comment I heard James Taylor make in a recording of a live concert. When someone shouted out to him from the crowd, he responded by noting that he and the shouter did not really know each other and concluded, “Maybe it’s better that way.”
I do not know how I first came to read Darryl’s books, nor which I read first. What I do know is that, when I read The Lost Soul of American Protestantism, I realized that for me it would be on the short list titled, “The Most Important Books I Ever Read.” I got that sense, “By George, I think he’s got it. Now I understand.”
I concluded that there was one thing I had been taught in seminary that I longer could say from “the heart.” It was that as conservative Presbyterians “we are Old School – New Side,” and that the First Great Awakening was mostly good but the Second mixed tending toward the bad. I knew I was a confessional, ordinary means of grace Calvinist but not an experiential one in the way “experiential” is usually understood.
What prompts these reflections is that yesterday D. G. said this: “No matter how great it is when minds of a certain caliber think the same thoughts, it is embarrassing to be conceiving those ideas some fifteen years later. Kudos to the Curmudgeon for his insights and apologies to readers for redundancy.” I had read one of his blogs, which I agreed with, and then re-published something I had written 15 years ago. I assume the apology for the redundancy is tongue-in-cheek, but I was tempted for a moment to take the comment about “minds of a certain caliber think(ing) the same thoughts” seriously. But only for a moment, because, except when I lose it, I do have a mind, but it is not of whatever caliber Darryl’s is. I have never had an original thought in my life. I am not by any standard a scholar. I read others, try to digest what they say, and am sometimes able to restate the material for others in ways they find understandable and profitable. That’s about it.
This set me thinking about the way we evaluate the quality of the thought o others. Sometime ago I spoke on the losing side about a proposal before presbytery. I had not planned a speech, but as no one else said things I thought needed to be said, I rose and gave a speech. The issue was not a constitutional one, but I felt strongly about it. The next day I got a call from an elder who strongly commended and thanked me. For the next few weeks, I received less effusive but similar comments. A few words came filtering back – “brilliant, eloquent, right.” I was “a true friend” and “courageous.” These views of me and my speech came from the minority of folks who agreed with what I argued, but they were sincere and warmly spoken.
Not many months thereafter, another issue came before Presbytery and again I spoke for a minority position. This time it was a constitutional matter, and I prepared for what I would say by writing an outline for comments I would offer. In my opinion it was one of the best and most compelling speeches I had ever made in a court of the church. Here’s the interesting thing: Almost to a man those who had said such nice things about me and my earlier speech felt the exact opposite about my speech this time. It was wrong-headed and unconvincing. My thinking was clouded and my position misguided.
What made the difference? Primarily whether they agreed with what I was trying to accomplish and how they felt about the people involved. It was not the quality of the thinking and logic. Both speeches were given with a certain amount of controlled passion. But the first was not nearly so well thought out and constructed, and it did not nearly so clearly have Biblical and constitutional implications.
How do we think about issues? How do we think about people? I am afraid that there is more prejudice than we know. Too often we judge that people are good, their thinking erudite, and their causes right, or not, based on what we at a gut level want to believe and do.
This said, I am absolutely confident that D. G. is a first class scholar with a first class mind and probably an all round fine fellow as well. I am also absolutely sure that on this I am right. If you disagree, I am afraid you are simply wrong.