The Fetid Pool

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I have a new book coming out April 1. I plan on telling you more about it in the next couple months. I am also speaking at a few  conferences this spring and helping to organize a couple small ones too. They are great conferences, and not because I have anything to do with them. I’d like to tell you about the conferences and encourage you think about attending.

But here’s my dilemma. How do I do any of this without swimming in the fetid pool of self-promotion? With all the tools of social networking and all the trappings of evangelical celebrity culture (whether in a hall with thousands of people or in your own circle of friends), we must all be vigilant against shameless self-promotion. Especially those of us who have a blog.

But that begs the question: is all self-promotion bad? Certainly, most of it is. And I see it all around me and am leery of it in my own heart. “Come, check out my blog. Read my books. Listen to my sermons. Follow me on Facebook. Hear from me on twitter. Did I mention I know Mr. Famous and Mr. Important liked my book? You might be interested to hear what they said about me over there. Perhaps you missed this stunning review over here.” Blatant self-promotion is easy to spot, not that that stops Christians from engaging in it.

But other forms of self-promotion are more insidious, more complicated, harder to discern. For starters, there’s the fact that publishers, conference organizers, and magazine editors have a vested interest (and I’m not saying it’s necessarily a bad interest) in you promoting yourself. Is it self-promotion if you’re trying to help someone else by putting yourself forward? And what about all the mixed motives the human heart must navigate? Am I complimenting this person because I really like him or because I want something from him? Am I doing a favor for someone else with the expectation that he’ll scratch my back when the time comes? A “tit for a tat” and “a blurb for a blurb” you know. Am I afraid to criticize my friends when necessary because I fear losing their influence? Am I critical of another Christian because they are mistaken or because my heart is jealous, or both?

I don’t think I’ll ever pull pack all the peels of the onion to know if my motives are one hundred percent pure, or if they are even north of the Mason-Dixon line. But at least I can be on the lookout for pride masquerading (not very well) as self-promotion. So why do I want people to know about my books? Why do I want our church website to look spiffy? Why do I want people to consider coming to a conference this spring?

Being willing to ask hard questions is a must. Do I want money and recognition? Do I feel the need for validation? Do I like it when I look successful? Or do I want people to learn more about Christ and honor him with their lives? Yes, yes, yes, and yes. I pray that my heart is mostly concerned with the last yes, but sometimes it’s hard to tell.

I despise self-promotion in myself and in others. And just to show you how twisted the heart can be, I’m sure that part of the reason I hate to be self-promoting is because I have a dread fear of appearing to be self-promoting. Whatever humility I evidence, I bet half of it comes from not wanting to look proud. I grew up in a very loving home, but there was an unwritten rule against tooting your own horn. It just wasn’t done. Maybe it was the fear of the Lord or the law of the Midwestern Dutch but decent folks just don’t promote themselves. Wherever it came from, it’s a good rule. It’s pretty well impossible to sing your own praises and stay in key. Better to go quietly go about your business and let another commend your work (Proverbs 27:2).

I’m not quite sure what the solution is against self-promotion. But the first step is to admit it’s out there (big time) and in here (bigger time). The second step is to get more impressed with Christ.

So while I try to do both those things, I will continue to have my books displayed on the right hand side of the blog. I will tell you about exciting events, even if I’m apart of them. And I’ll mention my upcoming book because I love the Heidelberg Catechism and the gospel treasured there. I will also try to disbelieve the most flattering things people say about me and not get bothered by the most disparaging. I’ll try to love people and not use them. I’ll try to be candid instead of calculating, even if means I put my foot in my mouth once in awhile. And above all, I’ll keep trying to take ten looks at Christ for every one look at me.

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