Influence. It’s a funny thing. It’s inescapable–someone will always be perceived to have it or not have it, to either use or misuse it. We complain about it, but we also want to be influenced. Very few people are thorough-going “Lone Rangers” about anything. We see the utility of influence. We want someone to point us on a good course, to help us over a hurdle, and to set a model for us. Influence is how you get some things done or prevent others. Who doesn’t want influence on certain policy issues or certain church initiatives or with our children and spouses? We live in a world where influence is traded, debated, manipulated, and fabricated. Some people look influential but they aren’t. Some people look insignificant but wield influence like a sword. Some name drop and talk about how much “pull” they have. Others need only raise an eyebrow and real actions follow. Some people want influence badly while others run from it.
There used to be a commercial about a brokerage firm named E.F. Hutton. The quip in the commercial was, “When E.F. Hutton speaks, people listen.” Dropping that name at a dinner party silenced the entire soiree as party-goers leaned in to hear whatever E. F. Hutton was poised to say. E.F. Hutton has been sold a couple times, merged with other companies, and now apparently restarted by former executives of the original firm. If I had to guess, many readers of this post have likely never heard the name “E. F. Hutton.”
So goes influence. It, like money, makes itself wings and flies away.
Which is why you shouldn’t really listen to me. I’m nobody. “Thabiti Anyabwile” is not a Swahili name for “E. F. Hutton.” Don’t stop what you were doing. Don’t tune in to a post because I mention it in a twitter feed. Don’t begin to think my opinion about anything matters much at all, certainly not to the extent that you need to hold that view simply because somebody said I once said it. I ain’t nobody.
Now, some of you think you knew that already. That’s good; keep it that way please. But I suspect that some others have mentioned my name in this or that conversation, favorably or unfavorably, and imagined that I had some influence they should either accept or counter. Some have decided they either like or dislike me because I’m associated with this or that person, because I get to preach at conferences, because I’m a member of The Gospel Coalition (TGC), because I blog at TGC, because I hold a particular theology, and because they think such “platforms” give me influence.
Here’s the thing about influence: It mostly lies in the subjective impression of the person being or resisting influence. We see someone prominent, standing out, and we assign to them the magical quality of influence. But influence is not often real, objective, measurable. It depends on the person wanting influence convincing others to see them as influential. Don’t get me wrong; some few people really do have power and authority to make some things happen. But the rest of us have some level of “clout” assigned to us by those watching us and trying to make sense of whether we exist for some positive or negative good in the world. I don’t want “clout.” I have no power. Ideas have power. People… not so much.
That’s why you shouldn’t listen to me, as though some authority or influence resided inme. I don’t want the kind of influence that rests upon personality, “platforms,” networks, and least of all “appearance” or “image.” If you find yourself on the opposing end of an argument or an idea, let’s stay focused on the argument or idea. I don’t want to be your enemy and I hope not to treat you like one. If you find yourself moved by an idea, by an argument, by some principled application, then know that you’ve been influenced by an idea. If you got it from me, that’s incidental. Everything I have I first received. Central is the grace of God and the truth of God.