Almost every day a new person, someone I have never met or corresponded with, writes me an email in response to my blogs or one of my books. I do my best to answer such writers if the tone and spirit of their correspondence is gracious and invites a thoughtful reply. The only exception is when a person simply wants to trash me personally and or attacks my work in a way that offers me no real room for cordial conversation. In such a case I will usually provide a short answer that expresses my inability to respond to such a letter since there is no room for dialog and mutual respect. I desire dialog and mutual respect and always offer the same back wherever I can.
Harshly negative responses once deeply troubled me. I still struggle with this kind of criticism. It leaves me feeling fragile and defenseless. It is humiliating. I was too sensitive while I was a pastor, and I have had a hard time dealing with the same kind of thing over the last nineteen years as the president of ACT3 and as a published author. Everyone who teaches and writes invites criticism. I expect it. What I did not but have finally come to expect sadly, is the angry person who simply wants to tell me off or makes a “case” for why my life and ministry is a disaster. I recall the late Vance Havner saying that every minister needed “the heart of a saint and the hide of a rhinoceros.” I am quite sure I have neither in abundance but I will press on praying for them both till my numbered days are finished.
A few days ago I receive a very interesting email regarding my posts last year on the late Keith Green. While I never knew Keith I loved him and feel he was, as I said at the time, the “real deal.” He made more than a few mistakes but they were made because he was young and filled with real zeal. Such zeal frightens folks, but some people need to be frightened now and then. Lethargy grips far too many of God’s people, and the church will never be bold and obedient until the prophets are heard. Keith was a prophetic voice. But he was more, as I noted in my articles. My “new” friend wrote the following to me (slightly edited by me):
I have to admit that I had not heard of you until recently. For this I am sorry. I just came upon a couple of articles you have on your blog site about [the late] Keith Green. I thought these were wonderful. I'm 49 years of age and was raised in the heart of the Jesus Movement at Maranatha Church in Portland, Oregon. Maranatha Church, along with Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, California, were probably the first two Jesus Movement "mother" churches of the late 1960's. I was there as a child among all those converted hippies. This experience gave me a broad context that some who have only heard about these events—but who weren’t actually there—or some who have since seen [the more recent] copies of real revival, do not have. I later bumped into Keith Green hearing him for the first time at Jesus Northwest. I'm thinking this was around 1977. This was amazing stuff. But like you I was concerned all along the way—deeply concerned to the point of considering writing him a letter but figured he'd not have gotten it—a big mistake I now realize. I remember seeing how strident he was at a concert that I attended in Vancouver, Washington. He was right on with what he said but when he apologized in the last article that came out before his death it was as if Keith had finally figured out grace. "I'm sorry if I blew you away with my lack of love,” he wrote. I loved that humility. It was like a glow came over him—and then I saw what I had seen at Maranatha—zeal with love; with so much more love than zeal. To get rid of the darkness we can rail against it or we can turn on the light!!
I still love Keith Green. His music seems so different than his teachings, or at least the words that I recall—his music isn't angry. Thank you for publicly calling Keith Green's former teachings into question—it's a very good thing to hear. I am sure that it is going to be hard for some people to hear this message since many never saw the zeal with love that I got to see at Maranatha—it was either a dry church or the passion of Keith Green for so many people in that context.
Rev. Armstrong I really do appreciate your writing. It was fun to read what you said. I want to thank you for your measured and balanced approach to Keith Green. It is so sad that he wasn't able to live to be a fully grown-up Christian. I wonder, along with you, what would have happened if he had lived and matured. I suspect that he would have been a very sweet man who taught the love of Jesus and more or less ignored the condemnation of those who at one time he had said were playing church. After all what's the point eventually? It seems to me that it is much better to be an example of balance and to be [more] like Jesus in the world. One former Foursquare pastor told me one of the greatest things I've ever heard as a Christian: "The most releasing day was when I found out I wasn't the Holy Spirit." I love that thought so much—I imagine Keith Green would have really figured that out too had he lived a little longer.
After I received this letter I wrote the author and asked permission to print an edited and anonymous version of his words to me. He wrote back another thoughtful and engaging letter. This reflects something of the breadth of readership on this site. It is a breadth I intentionally cultivate and desire. I welcome readers like my friend. Here is what he wrote in his second letter:
Thank you also for taking the time to write to me after I wrote to you. [You may use my thoughts anonymously.] One thing happened at the Keith Green Vancouver, Washington, concert that a friend of mine remembers but I don't is that apparently Keith got down on his knees during the concert, raised his arms to the heaven and proclaimed "Oh praise IT.” This was his commentary on the "I Found It" public relations campaign [directed by Campus Crusade for Christ across America] going on at that time. That was so funny [also insightful and courageous] but I've never heard it mentioned by anyone. A friend told me this story and said he was there with a friend whose father was on the national "I Found It" board. He said this guy wasn't amused!! That incident sums up Keith Green and his biting commentary on the times. He was really unvarnished.
Thank also for telling me about your site(s) and your new book. My vision has been to [move in the direction of] so much of what you are doing in your speaking and writing. I'm not sure when or exactly how those doors will open but I hope I'm ready when/if they do. It's exciting to talk to you and hear and see what you are doing. I'm one of those odd Christians who is a Democrat [something like] the teacher and author Tony Campolo but I am sometimes saddened by what I hear, not necessarily from him but from the other people on the Christian Left [who are evangelicals] . . . I wish they would build bridges with the Christian Right. The hard thing for the Right I think is that they just don’t know the difference—they just don't understand compassion in a [real] works kind of way and I believe we can teac
h them by being sweet to the
m. I think bridges can be built. My dad was a pioneer in migrant-rights worker movement back in the 1950's and then worked in the War on Poverty thus I feel so blessed to have seen what can be done to change people's lives by such action— something I think my friends on the Christian Left are trying to do—but honestly I don't quite understand either extreme among Christian evangelicals. I think of something that shocked me when I really realized it. At the end of the age, when we stand before the Lord, he is not going to ask "How many people did you lead to me?" This was shocking to me as a born again guy who has always been taught that bringing people to the Lord was the critical thing, which I do still believe. But Christ is going to ask us about our involvement in social justice. I was hungry and you fed me. It's such a shocking difference in spiritual priorities from what I usually hear in church. This is rather weird isn't it?
Thanks again. It's really fun to meet a new person who is insightful and is looking to teach and lead Christians into thinking and to balance. If there's anything I can do to help you let me know. I look forward to seeing more of your work and thoughts in your writings.
I hope this is the beginning of a relationship even if it is only via the Internet. This is not a virtual friendship any more than Christians who exchanged letters in centuries past, and never met face-to-face, had real friendships for the kingdom of God. I welcome my new friend into the circle of those who know and love me. I need his insights and his prayers. I need your insight and prayer too if I am to do a better job in my work for the whole church.