INsites: Thinklings

They are "The Seven Samurai of the Intellectual Universe." No, I'm not talking about Ms. White's dwarves. Dopey, Grumpy and Doc have nothing on The Thinklings. When it comes to group blogs, Thinklings is near the top of my totem. With probing posts like Is Being Mr. Rogers Bad?, What's Wrong with "Jesus Is My Boyfriend," and Open Letter to the Obese Guy at the Gym Who Never Wipes the Machines Down When He's Done Using Them, the Thinklings have carved an indelible niche into the world of religious blogdom. Whether dealing with contemporary worship or the color of Gatorade, these seven dwarves, er, Samurai, never fail to provoke thought and elicit laughter. Jared Wilson describes himself as a "theology geek, literature dork, and film nerd." He's an original Thinkling, a regular contributor to the site, and definitely not Dopey. JW recently distributed noogies to the pea-brained Decompose staffers. The following is a record of that one-sided drubbing.

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MIKE: I hear you're a King's X fan. Have you ever seen them in concert, and what’s your favorite song by the Texas triumvarate?

JARED: I've seen King's X three, maybe four times. Never seen a bad show, although once they got into their later albums the song list was not as much to my liking. Fellow Thinkling Bird and I have seen them a few times together, and there's even a humorous recounting of an "incident" involving lead singer Doug Pinnick crowd surfing in the infamous Gatorade thread on the blog.

Favorite song of theirs is a classic and the quintessential King's X song -- "Over My Head."

MIKE: In your bio, you’re a “recovering student.” What exactly are your recovering from?

JARED: I am primarily referring to required reading that robbed me of several years of reading for pleasure and required courses I had no interest in. I'm a huge fan of academia and scholastic achievement; I'm not a fan of "school." If that makes sense. But I was blessed to have two English professors who saw me as a protege of sorts, who encouraged my thinking and writing (despite my unashamed conservative evangelicalism). I still keep in touch with those men and still consider them mentors.

MIKE: Your Thinkling role is as “The Writer and Critic.” What does that involve and what other roles do Thinklings occupy? Do you have any openings?

JARED: It doesn't involve anything other than we needed something unique for me to answer that particular survey question. At the time, my film reviews set me a part a bit, as well as my writing aspirations. I think I'm also the one guy most invested in literature and literary criticism. I think I'm seen as the "professional writer" of the group, although I have yet to become a professional anything.

The other Thinklings assume various roles, but one curiosity I have is over how particular folks' online presences don't seem to match my experience with them in real life. Just as a for instance: Back when I worked with Kenny and Shrode, I saw Kenny as a more vigorous debater with a powerful voice; to the extent that he posts, Kenny seems less like that now. He actually seems downright meek. Shrode was also known (not by me necessarily) in those days as sort of . . . how I shall put this? . . . "difficult to work with." I never found him that way myself, but we had a lot in common and were friends. Others saw him as sort of arrogant, I think. I think most of our readers would find that (mis)perception very surprising, as he's 100% NOT LIKE that in his online presence and is probably our most even-keeled poster. Shrode is definitely our site's designated pastor.

We have an opening for spam janitor, if anyone's interested. Also, we are interested in a P.I. to track down Asbell and any investigator with paranormal and/or cryptozoological experience to decipher the mystery that is Blo.

MIKE: Spam janitor? Does it involve hazardous waste? Anyway... Thinkling theology seems fairly diverse. Is it? What common beliefs bind the group together, and where do you differ?

JARED: I guess we're diverse depending on who you ask. The Boar's Head Tavern guys always deride us as being all Baptist, and that is actually true to some extent. Denominationally, the original seven Thinklings consist of three Southern Baptists, one Free-Will Baptist, one Church of Christ guy, one non-denominationalist of the Southern Baptist persuasion, and one non-denominationalist of the charismatic Southern Baptist persuasion. We have our theological and ecclesiological idiosyncrasies, but I think we're actually pretty similar. We're all evangelicals and generally conservative, theologically speaking. We do have an old-earther theistic evolutionist among our ranks, which I consider the most interesting "deviation." And even we insiders were surprised to discover one of us voted for Kerry (after months of hammering heavily on politics leading up to the election). We are generally continuationists when it comes to the charismatic gifts, even though we've only got one actual charismatic. We differ almost down the middle on the predestination debate. (Original and honorary Thinklings together, we also include four pastors, two associate ministers, and two worship leaders.)

Extending the profiles to so-called "honorary Thinklings" -- friends with posting privileges -- we throw in more Southern Baptists, a couple more non-denominationalists, and a PCA theonomist. Yeah, he's the surly one.

I don't think I really differ in any way ideologically that sets me apart. I'm probably the only guy a part of a congregation that would be considered a seeker church. I'm not too proud of that, though.

MIKE: Thinklings is incredibly popular. What do you attribute to the sites’ appeal?

JARED: I think it's a bizarre paradox of eclecticism (in personalities and topics) and idiosyncrasy. I think the wide swath of material we cover attracts folks, but then once readers hang around they begin to feel a part of the particular Thinklings camraderie. I can't say I understand it, but something about our friendship and the way we "hang out" together, inside jokes and all, resonates with some people.

To those who like us and what we do and decide to stick around, we are very protective of their inclusion. As easy-going as we have become (the early days of our online presence were dotted with fierce debates and blog-wars), we still take a very hard line on trolls and anyone or anything else that might detract from the community we hope to accomplish.

MIKE: I've always been leery of trolls myself. What kind of person are you targeting with Thinklings and what would you like your regular visitor to come away with?

JARED: I wouldn't say we're targeting anyone, except maybe people like us. That could be almost anybody, though.

We have quite a loyal Brit fanbase, which still intrigues me.

Depending upon the post, I suppose we'd like regular visitors to come away edified, educated, and entertained. If we even accomplish one of those things, I'd feel satisfied.

MIKE: Your group is patterned after Lewis’ Inklings in many ways. Besides the tobacco and ale, what most would you like to emulate about that group?

The friendship, the mutual appreciation. (Can I say the publication credits, too?)

MIKE: If C.S. Lewis were alive today, would he be reverenced as he is now?

JARED: I've been thinking on this question for most of a day, and I'm embarrassed to say I still don't know. The evangelical landscape is very different today, as are the places that landscape overlaps with the literary and academic worlds. I don't think that Lewis as he was then could be as reverenced in our culture. But the Lewis of his day is reverenced today, so obviously the influence he achieved then continues to resonate. But I don't think he could have risen to prominence in our day. I only say that because we have no real Lewis of our day in terms of widespread respect and influence.

MIKE: Thinklings often discuss the arts – film, music, literature. A common tension faced by Christians in the arts, has to do with artistic integrity versus getting the Gospel out. Where do you see that balance? Is the first objective of the Christian artist to get the message out or be true to the craft?

Well, I think that might be a false dichotomy. Getting the message out, depending on what sort of message you want out, does not have to be at the expense of the craft. And vice versa. I think if I had to choose, I would say the Christian artist should be true to his craft first and foremost. I say that thinking of a gifted, mature, thoughtful Christian artist, however. I'm thinking of someone for whom "the message" is not a gimmick or a propaganda piece or just a way of having the right label on his work. A capable Christian artist can almost create without consciously thinking of sticking the message in; as Dorothy Sayers says, his faith will out. (Or maybe it was me who said that in a blog post. Either way, some genius said Christian artists shouldn't have to propagandize to legitimize.

That's not to say they shouldn't create conscientiously in terms of spiritual content. But I think for a believer, being true to the craft necessarily entails a Gospel-influenced message, while one could easily create a Gospel message that is otherwise a bad work of art.)

MIKE: The Thinklings often address unfavorable trends in the Body of Christ. From your vantage point, what must contemporary Christianity most fear?

JARED: The idolatry of self-worship. I think that encompasses every other specific thing I could gripe about (consumerism, hedonism, worldliness, intellectual laziness, biblical illiteracy). Really, the thing we must most fear is what followers of Jesus most feared from the very beginning -- sin. In that sense, there is no real difference between the contemporary Christian and the first one. Only the avenues and opportunities have changed. The real difference, I think, is that back then, and up until relatively recently in the Church, they took sin seriously. American Christian culture doesn't seem to talk about it much at all.

MIKE: According to the sidebar list, the most popular Thinkling post has to do with the color of Gatorade. Why is that so popular?

JARED: You got me. That is the thread that will not die. It's about as old as the blog itself and we still get one or two comments a week on it. I think it's just one of those things that really gets people wanting to give their opinion. And then, depending on how their opinion matches up with the gender theory involved (men see Lemon-Lime Gatorade as green, while women see it as yellow), there might be some defending of oneself to do.

Early on, though, the post became less about the initial question and theory involved and more about the hilarious conversation-slash-debate in the comments thread. That's really been the key to The Thinklings' success over time -- vibrant and fun comment threads.

MIKE: What are your plans for the future of Thinklings? Anything your readers can look forward to?

JARED: Wow. This sort of question makes me wish we made plans. We're just going to keep posting and hope people continue to enjoy the site.

Looking forward, I can say that we've talked about doing another Thinklings Book Club series. The first one didn't go over so well in terms of participation, but there was a lot of interest, so we're thinking that if we pick a more accessible book, it could be fun. (We're thinking maybe N.T. Wright's "The Challenge of Jesus," since that book figured heavily in early, pre-blog Thinklings e-mail discussions.)
I'd also like to look into recording upcoming Ent-Moots (that's what we call our real-life get-togethers) and either providing them online as podcasts or even burning CDs to sell with all the money going to a charitable organization.
Somebody recently mentioned using CafePress or something to sell Thinklings branded merchandise. (Actually, maybe it was me who mentioned that. Or Dorothy Sayers. One of us, anyway.) But I think that's probably too egocentric. Even for us. In any event, readers can look forward to more of the same from us -- eclectic ruminations and general goofiness from a group of guys doing their best to keep up with Jesus.

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Terrific stuff, Jared! I hereby propose we christen thee Senior Samurai. Really folks, if you haven't visited The Thinklings, put on your smoking robe and thinking cap and get on over there. (And for the record, that Gatorade is lime green.)


blestwithsons said...

Whew! You took a huge risk with that last parenthetical comment...but came down squarely on the good, proper, and inherently correct green side. Your credibility remains intact!

Jeanne Damoff said...

They seem to be a fun, frolicsome bunch. I read the posts you linked, Mike, and also read about 120 of the comments on the Gatorade thread. Pretty crazy that they were pushing for 100 and are currently at 1000+.

A few thoughts. Mr. Rogers maxed out the Cheez-o-meter, but he was precious to the core. WAH scares me (did you read the hilarious Lark News spoof on that?). And . . . it's yellow.

Mirtika said...

HAH. I remember dropping by the Thinklings back when the Gatorade debate was fresh. Even hubby and I went at it (yellowish green, greenish yellow, etc).

Thanks for coming Jared.

Mir<--old Earther creationsit, sorta continuationist, lawdy-don't-bring-up-predestination, Evangelical.

lindaruth said...

Good interview Mike and Jared. I lurk about the Thinklings on a regular basis, but I've never gotten up the nerve to post a comment. In the midst of the hilarity, there's often thoughts that make me think. You guys do a good job over there, Jared.

Ame said...

Great interview - "The idolatry of self-worship." - if I teach my girls one thing, I want them to know this life is NOT all about them ... they hear that from me often.

And ... lime green? yellow? i don't really care - i think the color looks gross so have no plans to drink that "flavor!"