Gutless-Grace Girlieman Inspires Po-Motivators…Story At 11

WOW. Only in the blogosphere could such a tagline have any semblance of cohesion. Welcome to the TeamPyro blog. Initiated by Phil Johnson, long-time ghostwriter for John MacArthur, TeamPyro is one of the most popular blogs in the fightin’ fundie Christian blogosphere, known for being a firebrand of Reformed wit, and inflammatory criticism of virtually everyone else. Not to mention eye-catching design.

It is the latter that has me blogging about ’em today. This weekend a couple of Phil’s accomplices on the ‘blog posted a particularly incendiary post, indicting (in the courtroom of their enlightened opinions) Jesus-followers participating in the emerging conversation for favoring style over substance, running roughshod over Scripture and the good news of God found in Christ–accusing of us of virtually everything except for eating small puppy dogs. They baited emerging church conversants/practitioners to come in and make our case, with the stated goal of the whole shebang being to reach 1000 comments through the sheer controversy of it all. And I decided to waste my time participate in the thread.

What does this have to do with design? Well, these Pyromaniacs have created a medium of expression all their own, inspired by the Demotivators, called Po-Motivators (see Andrew Jones recap much about Po-Motivators here and here. UPDATE: Andrew has his own response to this Pyro post here.) Well, no fewer than four Po-Motivators were generated by Johnson in response to the comments thread in this post, influenced in part or in toto by yours truly. In Phil’s own words, “Mike Morrell inspires me.”

This is not meant as a compliment.

Without further ado, here are the brand-spanking new images “inspired” by me:

I wish I had cool dreads like these…

I actually rather like the Bible, but oh well.

This is a strange tribute indeed from Mr. Johnson. I have “known” him, in a virtual sense, since the early days of the popular-use Web in the late 1990s, when he maintained his Hall of Church History and Theology Bookmarks. Our relationship has really blossomed since then from one vantage point. I mean, back nearly a decade ago he ignored my emails taking him to task for calling Anabaptists violent extremists (he seems to have cleaned up this rhetoric since then) and saying that those of us engaged in house churcheswant to play ‘church’ but despise authority.” And now, look how far we’ve come! He’s creating original artistic renderings in my “honor”! I’m speechless.

While I am unable (and unwilling…see below) to respond in kind, bloggers far more design-gifted than I have crafted their own comebacks to these pithy little postcards. Here are a couple:



And so, the question is begged: Is such debate even helpful? Jesus often refused to answer his critics, even refused to defend himself when he was on trial. He could “read” people’s souls, and know when not to bother. (This is buttressed by the whole not casting your pearls before swine thing.) Fools, it seems, rush into ill-advised conversation where angels fear to tread. There is plenty of sound spiritual precedent to hold one’s tongue and not enter the fray.

At the same time, I’m deeply uncomfortable putting myself in the position of “Jesus” by default and fellow Christians–obnoxious though they can be–as “Jesus’ accusers.” This is rather unreflective and un-challenging hermeneutics. Surely, iron sharpens iron and a three-stranded cord isn’t easily broken. Certainly, it is blessed and good when sisters and brothers dwell together in unity–and sometimes, this cannot happen without soul-searching conversation and–indeed–hard confrontation when the occasion calls for it. Vineyard founder John Wimber wrote a helpful paper 15 years ago, Why I Respond to Criticism, that addresses many of the salient issues at stake.

Criticism of the emerging church conversation is nothing new, though it’s actually a bit newer than some of us may realize, as it’s “felt like forever” since we were free from constant cross-examination. But Stephen Shields was able to write accurately at the very end of 2004 that we “have so far been impressed by how generous and restrained critique has been.” The reason was this: from the 1990s onward, different groups of us began quietly rethinking and reimagining what it means to be faithful to God and God’s work on earth in our postmodern context. Because the early thinkers were church planters, ministers who worked with kids, and other “off-the-radar” folks in praxis, at the grass-roots, we weren’t on the map of heresy-hunting “discernment ministries,” who spent the 90s warning conservative Christians about alleged goddess worship in Mainline churches, laughing revival in charismatic churches, and that crazy liberal innovator Chuck Colson and his Evangelicals and Catholics Together initiatives.

But in 2004 all this began to change–Christianity Today did a cover story on us and Brian McLaren was selected as one of the Top 25 Most Influential Evangelical voices in America. While our numbers may not have spiked considerably between ’03 and ’05, suddenly we were news. And that made us open season for all sorts of people. Not even drummers are safe.

I don’t wish to denigrate the sincere concerns of others who weren’t in our prayer meetings, conferences, email discussion lists, and message boards for all these years prior when we were “subterranean.” But in some ways, it’s been difficult to catch them up to the conversation thus far, particularly when they don’t seem to want to listen. (Lord knows I’ve tried!) And really, I don’t want to give my best and most ardent energy trying to define and defend a paradigm of spirituality. As I said in one of my too-many comments in the Team Pyro post, “I just hate [this mode of discourse], for all of us, because our theologies, spiritualities, and praxes become more like a bad rap song, all self-referential instead of singin’ about what we want to sing. Instead of conversing about what we’ve conversing about (or, if you prefer, theologizing), we start conversing about the conversation itself…which is kinda nerdy and boring…this internet thing sucks for handling disputes.”

And that, my friends, is where I’ve come down. It’s not that the Team Pyro folks aren’t my kin in Jesus. It’s not that, were we part of a single, local church, I wouldn’t spend hundreds of hours hearing their concerns and sharing mine, pleading for common heart and direction. (I happen to expend a ton of such energy in my local church, with great reward. I’d take a bullet for these people, and they know that.) But they’re not local, and none of us are particularly invested in one another’s lives and well-being. Either side of this ramped-up debate could easily find thousands of forums online attacking our lives and theologies, and we could expend a lifetime waging verbal warfare with our critics.

But it isn’t worth it, for me, any longer. After this weekend, I feel drained. Like I’ve undergone a serious spiritual attack with nothing to show for it. I don’t say this to demonize the the particular post-ers/commentors on TP. But I think we can all get sucked into a system, a transpersonal grid that has a collective spirit all its own, manipulating the whole in ways its individual parts would never consent to. I believe this is part of what the sent-one Paul meant when he described the church’s opposition to and transformation of the principalities and powers. Mutual love and respect has to precede any truly transformative conversation, and form the basis for any relationship that might later require painful words of exhortation or correction. The connection just ain’ t there, brothers.

As someone once said, Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Philippians 4:8

There are literally thousands of blogs updated daily that stimulate, challenge, and edify with spiritual explorations into the heights, depth and breadth of knowing Jesus Christ, loving God and neighbor. Why should I have submit to such spiritual sadomasochism, treading in areas where I know wounded people hang out to inflict further pain on one another? As our apparently-patron saint Bono sings in “One,”

You ask me to enter
But then you make me crawl
And I can’t be holding on
To what you got
When all you got is hurt

I can’t keep holding on, brothers. And–with God’s grace–I won’t, any longer. I will stick around, if needed, to respond to any comments on that particular Team Pyro post, but–for my integrity and theirs–I can no longer be a party to this level of discourse.

If you find yourself to be a misfit, ragamuffin friend of Jesus, worn-out by religious rhetoric and in need of some kindness and renewing mercy, I leave you the following benediction: An encouragement from one of the more gracious of the postcard replies, appropriately, from Emerging Grace:

from Emerging Grace

29 Responses to “Gutless-Grace Girlieman Inspires Po-Motivators…Story At 11”

  1. 1 John L September 3, 2007 at 9:47 pm

    Excellent post Michael. I confess to spending a little time on the Pyro’s “1000 posts” thread today. Some of the conversation has been thoughtful, and some not – I simply walk away from the ugly ones.

    Sorry this has caused you grief. Keep in mind: Reformed thought represents about 3.6% of the global church. Not much to be overly concerned about, really.

  2. 2 Glen September 4, 2007 at 1:36 am

    Mike, just spent [wasted] the last 2 hours reading some of the posts over there. Enjoyed yours a lot. I went to seminary with many of the same minds. Your thoughtfulness is much appreciated.

    BTW, how did you use the Lord’s name in vain over there?

    I left them a comment. I think that their own quote attributed to Benny Hinn is the most explicit use of the Lord’s name in vain that I can remember seeing.

  3. 3 Helen September 4, 2007 at 2:02 am

    Hi Mike, walking away from what leaves you drained is an excellent idea.

    It’s probably something I should do more often 🙂

  4. 4 Frank September 4, 2007 at 2:31 am


    “John L
    Sep 3rd, 2007 at 9:47 pm
    Excellent post Michael. I confess to spending a little time on the Pyro’s “1000 posts” thread today. Some of the conversation has been thoughtful, and some not – I simply walk away from the ugly ones.

    Sorry this has caused you grief. Keep in mind: Reformed thought represents about 3.6% of the global church. Not much to be overly concerned about, really.”

    And represents even less of a % when you consider the whole of humanity – which makes such arguments COMPLETELY MEANINGLESS! Time to focus on those things we are called to!

  5. 5 zoecarnate September 4, 2007 at 4:17 am

    Thanks for the encouragement, everyone.

    Helen, you have been such a trooper over there. I appreciate your gentleness and candor. And while I hope you have some “destination” amidst your “journey,” please know it doesn’t have to come via the Pyromaniacs’ hoops they want you to jump through.

    Glen, I said “begeezus,” related to one of the blog owners growing apoplectic about Helen asking incisive questions on the nature of faith, doubt, and certainty. I said something like “C’mon, Phil, do you really think Helen’s questions are gonna scare the Tulips-and-Begeezus out of the Reformed blackbelts who haunt your blog?” And Phil deleted my posts for “taking the Lord’s name in vain.” I later reposted with different wording, and it was OK. I, too, think that taking God’s name in vain is more of something you do with your life, with willful intent–but hey, I respect his convictions.

    Frank and John, I totally hear what you’re saying but want to say three things in response:

    1.) Reformed folk might only be 3.6% of the Church and even less of humanity, but they are mighty; their policy, intelligentsia, and theology are far more influential than their actual numbers suggest. (See Young, Restless, and Reformed for some sketches of this)

    2.) It’s kind of like the pot calling the kettle black, doncha think? : ) As a North American house-churcher, I’m probably even more statistically insignificant than a typical Calvinist (Barna figures notwithstanding)! Even when you bolster me with being an emerging conversation participant, surely that overlaps with many existing denominational boundaries…I don’t think we in the emergent/postmodern/post-denominational what have you are exactly numerically flourishing!

    3.) I don’t mean by my post above to indicate that I have problems with all Reformed theology or Reformed people per se. Some of my best friends are Reformed; heck, even I espouse some Reformed affinities, though eclectically and not in thoroughgoing enough a manner to please the purists. 🙂 Nonetheless, I have immense respect for many Calvinists of history, such as the Huguenots, Karl Barth and Leslie Newbigin. In terms of living folks, I have the utmost admiration for Tim Keller and RTS-Orlando folks Steve Brown and Joel Hunter. Not to mention our good friend and advocate Stephen Shields. I might differ with them all on certain matters of theology, spirituality, and praxis but they can speak into my life any time.

  6. 6 John VS September 4, 2007 at 4:38 am

    I appreciate your desire not to retaliate in kind. Personally, I couldn’t resist. Check my site for 10 new motivational posters designed for the “frozen chosen.”

  7. 7 andrew jones September 4, 2007 at 6:43 am

    nice post, Mike, I look forward to clicking on a few links.

  8. 8 Frank September 4, 2007 at 9:23 am

    I would also reply that I am not nearly as concerned about who is the most statistically relevant as I am concerned about the purpose and mission of Christ to the “kingdoms of this world.” I have argued nearly every religious tradition and ideology ad naseum, and none have garnered me any headway whatsoever – all the while the majority of humanity fails to acknowledge that my myriad of arguments even exist!

    It’s not that I can’t receive from many traditions – I happen to believe that we can receive from those outside of every one of these traditions as well – I have simply come to a place where internal arguments only exasperate at best, and debilitate at worst. We can never win them (and I’m sure that “winning” is not the goal here), but our expression of freedom, lack of universal judgement, and movement toward human betterment and transformational practices will convince those who long to see!

  9. 9 Bill Samuel September 4, 2007 at 11:49 am

    Maybe a good guideline is it’s worth spending time in a conversation if there is a reasonable chance of it being edifying. There are many Reformed folks with whom one can have edifying conversations in which all participants can go away strengthened in faith. But the Pyromaniacs clearly have absolutely no interest in edifying conversation with those who see things differently than they do.

    It’s fine to open yourself up and risk even when there does not seem to be a very good probability of something edifying resulting, but when it becomes clear that the conversation is serving to tear down rather than build up the Body of Christ, it’s time to move on. It’s all too easy for folks like the Pyromaniacs to distract us from doing what the Lord is calling on us to do.

  10. 10 Rod September 4, 2007 at 12:28 pm


    I’m with Bill on this. I still have the Pyro feed in my Google Reader because they challenge me to examine my positions more closely. And I occasionally try to inject some objectivity into their meta. But they have no interest in true dialogue.

    They are more interested in demonstrating how smart they are than they are in uncovering the truth. Let’s face it. They believe that they already have the perfect truth.

    While I sometimes respond to what they post, I try not to let them set the agenda. If we get locked into responding to their attacks, that is just what we are doing.

    There might be some value in a mirror site that responds to the Pyro nonsense. But Phil’s rules and moderation are so restrictive that real dialogue is impossible. And then you have the problem with all their cheerleaders.

    I suggest that the next time one of us wants to respond to some outlandish statement over there that he posts a reply on his own blog. That increases the chances of a real discussion.

    God Bless,

    Rod Pickett

  11. 11 brotherjohnny September 5, 2007 at 2:27 am

    Hey, that first ‘po-motivator’ reminds me of a conversation I had with a brother while walking in a local park.

    After a brief discussion on the difference between the ‘pharisee-type’ and the ‘sinner-type’, I went on to tell him the parable about the two guys going into the temple…and how the pharisee was like, “Thanks, God, that I’m not like that ‘sinner’ guy, there…”, and how God justified the sinner because he was a broken man rather than the proud religious jerk who was boasting in himself.

    Just then, my brother, in a very soft and humble voice said, “Yeah. Thank God were not like those Pharisees”.

    He flipped the Holy Script!
    And righteously so!!!

    I was blown away…

  12. 12 Frank Turk (centuri0n) September 5, 2007 at 3:47 am

    The grape juice one is in the top-5 of the rebuttal posters so far. No question.

    After that, I wonder why it took po-motivational posters to get the po-motive side of the blogosphere to get even quasi-serious about engaging critics of their, um, opinions?

  13. 13 zoecarnate September 5, 2007 at 4:37 am

    Hi Frank, welcome to the ‘blog! Yeah, I dunno…I think (and this is just what I think, ’cause I haven’t kept up with Team Pyro exhaustively) that emerging folks have always “engaged” you all on the Pyro blog, but often the level of engagement was to no one’s satisfaction. For a variety of reasons. One is that your style is, shall we say, highly combustible and people feel inclined to respond in kind. But if you’ve received a new wave of attention since the po-motivators (have you? I guess you have, as I’ve seen many write-ups about ’em in the emerging blogosphere, though on this most recent comment-fest extravaganza I think I was one of maybe 1.5 post-ers of an ’emerging’ persuasion, ’till recently when I linked to your post and you’ve had a few more ‘adversarial’ participants), it’s because art often conveys what verbal arguments cannot…a picture’s worth a thousand words, and all that. Difficult for an iconoclast, I know…

    Here’s the thing, Frank: I appreciate how much time and energy you put into your blogs. I know this is stuff you care about–me too. But I feel disinclined to keep participating–it’s a diminishing returns thing–when I feel inherently disrespected (‘dissed’) at the door. The kicker is, I understand why you all feel so inclined toward antagonism, tough love, or what have you. It’s because to you these ideas we’re discussing–they’re life or death! Not just here, but for eternity! You feel like if we continue to explore the spiritual currents we’re navigating, we’re going to end up in hell forever, in rebellion against God…and that we’re leading many others in that same direction, all because we refuse to humble ourselves to Scripture and sound doctrine. Because you’re not fatalistic Calvinists, this makes you hopping-mad, and you care. I get that.

    Ideas and teachings matter to me too, but in a different way. The Reformed part of me embraces God as sovereign over salvation, as the judge and dispenser of justice…as well as mercy. And I don’t see the two at odds with each other. I know you probably don’t care for George MacDonald (one of the few Scotch preachers you’re not a fan of!), but you might resonate with the statement of his that God’s ways are so much higher than ours, and we often distinguish between divine traits that are in fact inseparable. Hell is merciful, MacDonald preached, even as heaven is just. But we shouldn’t be too shocked if both heaven and hell are different than our hearts have conceived them. Salvation is in God’s hands, and I’m sure you’d agree that we aren’t redeemed based on our mastery of the subject of salvation, but God’s liberating work accomplished in Christ. “Salvation is of the Lord.” And I don’t say this to say we shouldn’t seek understanding–we should, because resonance with God’s understanding of things can only benefit us and God’s glory. All the same, my sense of the Other-ness of God and the Mystery apparent even in God’s revelation in Jesus inclines me to utilize words like “play” and “imagination” in talking about God, without these being dirty words.

    So where does this leave us, Frank? I have no idea. I think you’re combative and disrespectful ofttimes, and you think I’m…a gutless-grace girlie man. And we can’t seem to find a common language and timbre for mutually-transformative discourse. And this is a shame…I truly believe it. I will tell you this: For the past year or two I’ve primarily chosen to learn from Christians along paths I’ve never personally been on: From Catholics and Orthodox and Mainline, as well as Quakers and Anabaptists from the “radical reformation” stream. There’s only so much time in the day, y’know, and so I’ve thought I’d learn from them. I will still continue learning from such–as much as this might rankle you (sorry). But this weekend has reminded me that, as much as I’d like to suppress it for a host of reasons, some of the places I’ve been still have things to teach me. So I resolve–with you as my witness–that I am going to remain open, over the next year, to be ‘available’ to listen to people from my past as well as my possible futures: Not only Calvinists, but Pentecostals and Southern Baptists as well. Now, this may not be with you, personally, Frank (sorry again). And with my schedule at the moment, it may just be with books! I want to read more Newbigin and Keller, as well as Steve Brown’s A Scandalous Freedom where he goes into a vigorous presentation of the classical Reformed understanding of Justification. I might also ask my friends at Christian Audio for some John Piper review books-on-CD, as its been ages since I’ve given him a good listen. (I have Piper linked on zoecarnate you know, as well as Monergism, Zens and Reisinger…) And hey–if you have some books you want to send my way–classics or Johnny Mac or your dissertation–fire away! I’ll read ’em, within reason. Email me and I’ll give you my address. We’ll see what happens!

    I may not be this chatty in the future, just so ya know. Please don’t take it personally. I am trying to maintain a regular blogging discipline, but I’m also a new dad, continuing ed husband, and I’ve started a new degree this month…in addition to keeping up with my job, freelance editing. (Come to think of it, the best way to get me to read some things is to hook me up with a gig copyediting for Crossway! I know Phil could pull some strings…resume available on request. I’m fair and honest–just ask Udo Middelman from L’Abri. ;0 ) So goodbye for now…and remember, we’ll always have Peter David‘s run on the Hulk.

  14. 14 chriswest September 5, 2007 at 5:20 am


    Happened over here from all the hoopla with the teampyro blog. I’ll shoot you straight, I have no idea what is going on. I do agree that they can seem pretty snarky. Thanks for trying to help people like me get an educated opinion on the whole Emergent thing. I mean that to say, an opinion from people inside who are willing to hear correction.

    Just out of curiosity, do you think that Emergent types ridicule non-emergent types similarly? I mean, doesn’t this all have to do with maturity? We’ve all got our names to call the “others”.

    Either way, enjoyed your attempts.

  15. 15 Jake Meador September 5, 2007 at 10:36 pm

    Mike- Good post… and don’t forget there are plenty of presbymergents who feel torn between two worlds ;). I’m definitely Reformed in the sense that I fully affirm the doctrines of grace, the five solas, and covenantal theology, but I also love the missional heartbeat of emergent/ing. My favorite podcasts are Rob Bell, Mark Driscoll, Matt Chandler, and Joshua Harris, if that tells you anything.

    Anyway, thanks for the attempts made to dialog in a variety of atmospheres, it’s a great way to stretch yourself and expose yourself to new perspectives :).

    Your reformed brother,
    ~jake 🙂

  16. 16 Steph September 6, 2007 at 12:54 am

    Hi Mike,

    I found your blog from that pyro post, which I found the link to… hmm I think it was another blog. Anyway, I am new to the whole Emergent/Emerging scene, and am doing my best to catch up.

    Just wanted to say I really admired the way you handled yourself in those comments, and I have added your blog to my feeds.


  17. 17 Jake Meador September 6, 2007 at 3:20 am

    Mike- That’s the funny conflict for me… most of the presbymergents I see are PC(USA) but I’m very much in the PCA world… definitely more the Reformed-Evangelical PCA (IE Tim Keller or Covenant Seminary… NOT the TR camp), but PCA nonetheless. It’s an interesting place to find oneself, to be sure. But it’s been a fun trip so far and I’m excited about the coming years :). By the way, the blog is going through a bit of a construction phase right now, which I think my co-blogger, Eric, noted in a post earlier this week, but if it looks like crap right now, that’s why.

  18. 19 Peter K Bell September 30, 2007 at 2:34 am

    Yes, Mike, there are only so many hours in the day/week or whatever.

    To use the old Platonic logic, either one of these two is true:

    a) Either Jesus is alive and well in only one small segment of the ‘Christian’ population [the ones claiming this for themselves[,


    b) Jesus is alive and well in believers in many streams, with many external ‘accidents’ of language, culture, doctrine, and other non-essentials.

    If a) is true then you better find that group and join it, and tell all the rest of us where to go!

    If b) is true then you are making wise and generous use of your limited time, and seeking Him wherever He may be hiding. I congratulate you for this, and pray for your peace, and commit myself to join you in your search and in the ongoing conversation.

    Love and blessings,

  19. 20 brotherjohnny September 30, 2007 at 4:27 pm

    Amen, Peter.

  20. 21 A.Tatum February 29, 2008 at 9:25 pm

    Just read this post – a little late, I know. But really, nice! I have to admit, though, that some of the Team Pyro posters did make me laugh a few times (before I read this post). And now that I know that a few of them were inspired by you, my friend, I laugh even more! Can I get an Amen! for not taking ourselves too seriously (even when people make fun of us)? It was good (in an intrinsically good sense – i.e. truly GOOD) to see you today. Hope to see you again soon.

  1. 1 Many Shades of Reformation - Semper Reformanda « zoecarnate Trackback on September 4, 2007 at 3:39 pm
  2. 2 I’ve Been ‘Sliced! (or, when heresy-hunters attack) « zoecarnate Trackback on March 1, 2008 at 4:27 am
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  4. 4 God So Didn’t Love The World « The Official Blog Of God's Only Inerrant Party Trackback on June 3, 2010 at 8:53 pm
  5. 5 Phil Johnson Takes A Stand against John Knox’s Church (yet still remains a good Calvinist) « The Official Blog Of God's Only Inerrant Party Trackback on June 7, 2010 at 12:48 am
  6. 6 Talking to Tim Challies – Kingdom Dissonance | Mike Morrell Trackback on August 7, 2011 at 11:56 pm
  7. 7 demotivator Trackback on November 8, 2011 at 10:08 am
  8. 8 Heresy Hunters: I Get By With a Little Help from My Friends | Mike Morrell Trackback on February 24, 2012 at 4:29 pm

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