Outreach? Here?

A while ago I was talking to a guy about my blog here, and I mentioned that it alternated between theology and video games, which – well, you know, I don’t imagine there’s a lot of other people who do a similar thing. It was an oddity that he commented on – something along the lines of “Don’t know who you’re trying to reach with that combination”. It’s been swimming around in my mind ever since – and now I’ve got something to say about it.

Yes, it turns out this blog is actually just a place for me to work through my deep-seated emotional issues. Surprise!* I should preface by noting that I might’ve misunderstood the line – it might’ve been a more general comment on the probable audience non-existence from, say, a marketing perspective. If so, that’s fine – we’ll get to that shortly.

*That was a joke.

So this is all sort of assuming that the line was basically wondering what sort of people I’d be trying to ‘reach’ with the blog – the implication being that it’s some sort of religious outreach program where I’m trying to further some sort of Christian agenda. For example, you might imagine that I’m trying to reach out to non-Christians and teach them about Christianity sort of on an intellectual level to make it easier for them to respond whole-heartedly to Jesus. That’s not my intention. It might be a sort of accidental side effect, uh, and if it is then I suppose that’s okay? But no, it’s not designed to be a tool for conversion.

Alternately it might be that I’m trying to reach other Christians and teach them about Christianity. That’s sort of true, although I’m still a bit uncomfortable with the pastoral connotations. I don’t have a particular theology that I’m trying to push. I have my personal opinions, sure, and my reading is going to be biased towards stuff that I enjoy, sure. But there’s not really anything systematic about it. Suggesting that there’s some grand theological or pastoral scheme at work is giving the blog far too much credit.

Furthermore, with both of these options, reaching outsiders and Christians, they’re both wrapped up in this assumption that whenever you’re talking about Christianity, it’s got this sort of hidden religious agenda to it. You’re not just neutrally talking about it like you’d talk about the weather, you’re furthering the cause of the kingdom or destroying roadblocks to Jesus or – there’s this weird street-corner evangelist strain that underpins the whole idea. I resent that.

The image I have in my head of this assumption is that it’s almost a sort of marketing scheme – and, as before, that might not be what was actually intended. But to clarify, no, I’m not selling anything here. Primarily, personally, the blog’s a way of interrogating identity. That might be hard to see within the weekly cycle of posts, but it’s what it is. In some ways, the primary function of the blog is to make me think about identity on a schedule. So yes, it’s about exploring my heritage as a Christian, and yes, as part of that you might find something that enriches your personal faith, and that’s lovely for you. But it’s not my goal. This isn’t a marketing scheme, and I don’t measure my success by the level of spiritual growth that I smugly imagine myself causing. No: success is measured by the number of likes per post and the end goal of monetising the website.*

*Also a joke.

Similarly, as I’m mucking about in the bowels of the faith, you as a non-Christian might find something that makes you think that maybe Christians can be alright people. That’s lovely, and I’d be very happy if that was the case, but again it’s not my specific goal. Jumping back to the second paragraph quickly, you can now see how it doesn’t matter if the guy was just wondering about my inability to market to a specific audience. Sure, there’s probably not a huge audience for these posts. That’s fine. I don’t really care – because at the end of all this, I’ll have several hundred thousand words of writing, a few years practice reading theology, and a better grasp of my identity as a Christian. That’s basically what I’m after.

Within that, though, there are a bunch of caveats. I mentioned earlier that obviously I have a bunch of personal opinions and they’re going to come through pretty strongly. Even if they didn’t, they’d still colour the way in which I structure and discuss material. So regardless of my intentions, the blog arguably has an impact (albeit negligibly small) on the lives and faiths of other people, and so in some capacity there’s a quote-unquote ‘outreach’ aspect to it. It doesn’t matter how you wrangle it: ultimately, I’m talking about how Christianity works and that could conceivably contribute to an individual’s faith. So given that I’ve just spent 800 words bagging on someone for suggesting this has an outreach element, uh, in some capacity he was correct.

However – caveat to the caveat. If we do consider the blog as a form of outreach, which it arguably is at least a little, then it would require some hefty qualifications as a sort of outreach model.* First and foremost, it’s disinterested in any sort of conversion. None of these posts exists with the rationale of “And then they will become Christian!”. It’s just a bunch of really old church writers, and I’m discussing how they approached different ideas. Sometimes I talk about culture or whatever else – but it’s more about how the mechanics of Christianity work. It’s the politics of Christianity, or the sociology of Christianity, or whatever. If you really feel the need to consider this blog in terms of how it contributes to the kingdom of heaven, it’s about creating a stable, sensible voice that can engage productively with contemporary society without sacrificing the heart of the faith. That might sound like outreach, but again, for me it’s primarily about identity. It’s nothing more than an overactive survival instinct tethered to my conception of self. I want to be a Christian, but I don’t like sounding like I’m from the 1950’s. It shouldn’t be this difficult.

*To be clear, I still don’t like the term ‘outreach’. It feels like unwanted street harassment.

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