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prov·o·ca·tion - something that provokes, arouses, or stimulates. pant - to long eagerly; yearn. a collection of thoughts intended to provoke and inspire. these posts are hoping to encourage people to think, especially Christians, and pant even harder for the waterbrooks of the Lord. If you are not a believer in Christ Jesus, I welcome your perspective and encourage your investigation on these matters.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Blog Beneficiaries and Groping for Gravitas

For some time now, I have heard and felt the pressure against blogging. Some think that bloggers are deviant and immature. Some calls us second-rate journalists or wanna-be scholars. Others think that this is nothing but a public forum for gossip, slander, and lies. While I think that there is some legitimacy to these charges, I believe in large part that blogging has been beneficial to Christianity. It is true that many have been turned off from blogging by what they have read (or more importantly the tone in which it was written), but at the same time people are being turned onto blogging at an exponential rate--which makes me wonder if those who do not blog feel that the influence blogging gets is unwarranted and deemed threatening to those who once controlled the airwaves. About three months ago, I drafted a post called "Kissing Judases" which I failed to post (needed editing) that was meant to be a follow-up to a post I called "Across the Theological Beltway." Sometime this week, I hope to publish the post. However, what has motivated me to do this was two posts I read that I think are a significant contribution to this subject matter. The first is a post by Mark Dever called "The Unbearable Lightness of Blogs." In his post, Dever says something worth considering, which I have written about earlier (see my post "Chronological Snobbery and Rootless Christianity"): One reason that I've been reluctant to enter the blogosphere is that I am concerned that blog-writing and reading only adds to a bad tendency that we today already have--a fascination with the newest, latest, and most recent. And the newest and latest also often means that which is of only immediate value, that which is passing. That is opposed to that which is enduring, and which has in fact endured and lasted. We write words here which crawl along electronically and leap out through your fingers and eyes to take precious minutes and hours that the Lord has entrusted to us. Could these small things we write really be that important? It is true that blogging right now is new, recent, and somewhat of a novelty. I must admit that I am invested in a trend if you want to call it that. And it is true that much of what is said is immediate (and I would add impulsive). Juxtapose this to the great literature of Christian history would be to compare a banqueting table of delights to Ramen noodles. So I agree. But . . . it seems to me that the immediate value can have long-term benefits/consequences. While blogging could be excessive and a waste of time, I think those who exercise discernment and balance could really make a difference - not just for today, but for tomorrow (and maybe the day after that and after that and . . .). While many blogs are very "light," I hope that we would not be contributing to the plague of levitas. The second post of the week is by Dr. Russell Moore called "The Spiritual Danger of Blogging." While stressing the spiritual dangers of gossip, slander, and the like, Moore makes the following comments: It goes without saying that gossip and paranoia deaden the heart. But even among those who flee such things, there's still temptations to fight in the blogosphere. Without question, the blogosphere gives a platform to those who wouldn't ordinarily have one. In many cases, that's a good thing. Some of the most insightful blogs I read are from young pastors and some of my students. But, let's be honest, blogs also tend to give a microphone to a kind of deadening cynicism and blind self-righteousness in the guise of taking on self-righteousness, legalism, and what-have-you. That's a temptation for everyone, computer-literate or not, but blogging seems to be the newest way to mask paranoia, cynicism, and just plain pugilism. Again, I share some of the same concerns with blogging (see my post "Does the Blogosphere Provide An Acceptable Medium For A Viable Apologetic?"). But can we focus on some of the benefits of blogging? For instance, I know of many scholars and students who have undertaken blogging to provide interaction, sharpening, and input on blogposts who could later turn into papers or articles. Other times, blogs have served the purpose of informing one another on matters of great importance which otherwise would go unnoticed. Even still there are bloggers who have engaged in intelligent, mature, and meaningful debate which has engaged more people to turn theology more into an intellectual exercise of abstraction to real life application. For the past couple of months, I have made specific attempts to talk to a few scholars and leaders on the conservative side of the evangelical camp about getting on board with blogging. The typical response is either 1) they don't have time, 2), blogging is of the devil (Momma Boucher complex), or 3), they do not know how or the benefits of blogging. Unfortunately, it appears the more conservative or orthodox you are, the less inclined you are to use contemporary means of accomplishing the same goals of yesteryear - with even greater impact. It is my hope that blogging will not be written off by the leaders in the conversative evangelical camp. We are already losing much ground because of our lack of connectedness on the frontlines of debate and interaction (and no, it is not JETS either). I am afraid if the only advertisement we hear that blogging is a spiritual danger, then we are shooting ourselves in the foot and incurring a backlash of backwardness that will effectively tune us out of the theological conversations going on today. Yes, we need gravitas, and I hope that one of the benefits of blogging can be to that end. If not, then let us fault none other than ourselves for that outcome. ****************************************** For extra reading, check out Bob Kauflin's posts: * Blogging to Worship God 1 - Content * Blogging to Worship God 2 - Attitudes * Blogging to Worship God 3 - Motives UPDATE: Tim Challies has picked up on Dever's post. Check out his post called "The Profound Blessings of Blogging." Also, Steve McCoy has written about Moore's post, believing that the post is in some way directed towards him. The post is called "Russ Moore, Blogging, and Revolution." Some interesting comments on this post as well you might want to check out.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

A legitimate concern one might have with blogging, in its totality, is this: as it turns out, folks that read blogs usually visit those sites that are largely within a certain domain of agreement with the views they already hold. And most blogs tends to link up with other blogs that are within their range of allowable views. Sure, there is some disagreement on blogsites - hence the discussion - but, they are usually disagreements within a set circle of agreement. Difference within the context of sameness - that sort of thing. The problem is that, when argument pools are so limited - and the tools and links of blogging can maintain that narrow sphere of dialogue - enclave deliberation occurs. Cass Sunstein's recent research shows that, given a small argument pool, fora of enclave deliberation are situations ripe for group polarization, where each deliberating member comes to hold a more extreme version of the pre-deliberative view. Thus, actual dialogue across lines of robust disagreement becomes even more difficult to facilitate.

Now, this does not entail that all blogging is a slippery slope into extremity and a breakdown of public discourse across lines of disagreement. Certain measures could be taken. For instance, you could link those sites that actually spell out a robust line of disagreement. In other words, don't just link friendly positions/sites; link those sites that convey a completely different take on the issues.

That's just one of the issues some of us have with blogging. But, alas, here I am: I suppose I'm only at best a hypocritical ludite.


1/23/2006 10:30:00 AM

Blogger Timmy said...

Ah, Caleb! Where have you been? Glad to know you're out there. I guess you are not thinking about getting a blog then, huh?

I think that the blogoshere is like any other medium of communication and dialogue. There are the lightweights, and there are heavy hitters. I wouldn't consider myself a heavy hitter by any means. So I am defaulted as a lightweight I guess.

My point is this: when I first starting reading books, I did not know where to start, so I read everything I could get my hands on. As I continued to read more, I soon figured out that much of what I earlier read was crap and should either be used as fire starters or sold on e-bay. As time passed, I began to gnaw on weightier writings and developed more discernment. This took time and painful experiences in reading materials which turned out to be a waste of time.

On the blogosphere, the same is true. I am still a relatively new blogger who is finding some blogs to discard with new ones to consider. My blogroll is not intended to be a favor to my friends (most I have never met), but rather a virtual shelf of bloggers to review. Right now, I am not at the point for "robust disagreement" because I am just not quite there yet. I have considered doing what you are saying in linking up those who seriously disagree with me (outside the "set circle of agreement" or "context of sameness"), and in the future you might see that happen. But what I have experienced from such people is that they tell me that I am "not in the same paradigm" as they are, and that I cannot be a part of their "conversation" for whatever reasons their purport.

I think your participation in P&P would serve a great cause in advancing what you are talking about. So what are you waiting on? What you have to bring to the table is desired. Let me pull up a chair . . .

1/23/2006 01:25:00 PM

Blogger Timmy said...

Oh, and one more thing - Does anyone think that the greater danger is to couch blogging as a dangerous activity? Is this to scare people away from blogging or reading blogs? Can this "spiritual danger" be equally susceptible in other areas of expression or communication, such as in board rooms, offices, SS classrooms, or dining room table?

Blogs are a public forum and deserve public scrutiny when irresponsible and reckless blogging takes place. This, however, is due to a lack of maturity, and unfortunately, the lessons learn are painful and public. When I first started blogging, never did I imagine that what I said would REALLY be on record for the world to see, read, and criticize. Needless to say, times have changed, and hopefully my blogging has as well.

1/24/2006 04:54:00 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I suppose my concern is with the behavior of bloggers that I know. Admittedly, this is a silly sample - so the move to population at large is jumpy. But, often it appears that bloggers end up only talking to people that already more or less agree with them - and they end up constructing a worldview, a theology, and a politic accordingly.

I am trying to learn in my life the importance of being around folks of all walks - the poor, the minority, the disinherited, the outcast, etc - in the formulation of my worldviews. I have to say, my views are changing as a result of this exposure, and, frankly, I'm glad. My concern, I suppose, is that blogging can quickly become one more way in which, when done poorly (admittedly), we can march off into one more myopic view of the world. Imagine the political leaders we might support in this country if Christians ever saw and honestly (i.e., not in a patronizing way) had community with the very people Jesus talked with, partied with, ate with, and touched. And not just "church" time. I've never felt real connected to that dude down the pew just because we're litterally singing from the same page.

Seems to me - though I might be wrong - blogging can (not necessarily must) act as another way for well-to-do-ers to narrow their space of community and the resulting world view to people that they are already comfortable being around.

I wonder if Jesus would blog. And what would it look like? Honestly, I don't know what the answer would be to either question.


1/24/2006 01:51:00 PM

Blogger Timmy said...

To your questions, I would not speculate although other have (and their answer is that "yes" Jesus would blog.

To your concern, let me say that I agree with you said in part. Sometimes I wonder if bloggers using blogging as a substitute for real Christian ministry (not to say that this is not of any ministerial value). Our spiritual fruit should never be measured by blog statistics, links, or the popularity in the blogosphere.

You also said that we need to have more community with other believers outside "church time." I agree, and I would venture to say that other bloggers would agree as well. The blogosphere has produced that sort of community of like-minded Christians who have found more in common in theology and values than many times the man on the pew. Part of the attraction to the blogosphere is the connectedness this medium provides to those of kindred spirit, united in the same purpose, beliefs, worldview, etc.

Ironically, the very community you are longing to have is the very thing that you are against when it comes to bloggers. You said,

"But, often it appears that bloggers end up only talking to people that already more or less agree with them - and they end up constructing a worldview, a theology, and a politic accordingly."

But later you said,

"I've never felt real connected to that dude down the pew just because we're litterally singing from the same page."

Is this not a contradiction Caleb? I mean, to be really connected to one another, we need to have more in common than the same song to sing, right? Well, many bloggers do have more in common, have deeper connectedness, real community - and this is through shared convictions, theological framework, worldview, etc. It is simply impossible to have the dynamic and degree of community without such commonalities. Yet the very fabric which binds us together is the folly of our friendship?

Hear me. I am not at all advocating myopicity and bigotry, but there are distinctives, which, when embraced, develop contours which conform our thinking to one another. Those contours cannot form the context of our converstaions unless we agree on some fundamental matters. Regardless of whether it is blogging, scholarship, or fellowship in the basement of the church or the local coffee shop, inherent to every level of meaningful moment in community, therein will be ties which bind us together. For better or worse, we unite under those auspices.

You know, Caleb, you and I disagree on a number of things, but I don't know that I have a closer friend in my life than you. For 21 years we have grown to appreciate and value one another even in spite of trivial and tangential takes. What makes all this possible? I will leave that for you to answer.

1/24/2006 03:00:00 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you misunderstand my distinctions and interpret them as contradictions. Come now, Timmy. Let us consider:

A.) I'm clearly not saying that I am morally opposed to blogging or some such. That would be a silly statement to make, especially in the form that I'd be making it in. The point is merely that there is a good and a bad way to blog, given legitimate concerns one might have with the practical effects of the way that blogs are commonly designed. I'm sure you agree. This is, indeed, a normative consideration. But, one shouldn't be quick to confuse my rather modest proposal with the practice of making extreme statements.

B.) Granted, the blogosphere may be a good way of creating community, esp. in today's humdrum rat race to the edge of the cliff. We're all busy, etc. In fact, as it turns out, you and I are at the moment enjoying our friendship through these means. But, that's all possible because we have a REAL relationship outside of, i.e. beyond, the realm of cyberspace. We are friends first in meatspace, actual reality, or whatever you want to call life these days. At best - and I hope you'd agree - the blogo-frienship is a distant second to community in the flesh.

C.) That all being said, sure, blogs can be great for filling in the gaps or crossing distances or being a virtual coffee shop or whatever. Heck, it might be good for ministry stuff. I'll leave that for the cops and bureaucrats to figure out. I simply suggest that a potential threat posed by blogging is that it might lead to substitute for the sort of embodied relationships across socio-economic, political, racial, and gender lines that people really need. My point about the lack of connection with the dude on the pew is that "Church" in contemporary Christianity has come to mean, as is often noted, something we do in a building somewhere out on the highway close to where all the white people like me live. Whatever. The thing is, most of that stuff going on there is just plain fake. We go there and we say that, "hey there brother, we love everybody, and so forth." But, who are we kidding? Turns out, much of the Christian world is, in many ways, invested in efforts to be on top, economically, politically, etc. Look at voting trends if you need data here. Why are "we" in favor of the policies that "we" support? (Think: Big business, opposition to social assistance programs, tough punishment, retribution, etc.) Would Jesus be? Why are we? Here I can only speculate, but I imagine it has something to do with the fact that The Christianity of Power, in the Big Building, has lost sight of its mission of bringing good news to the poor, proclaiming freedom to those in captivity, and liberating the oppressed here on earth (Luke 4, i think) because We don't see poor, captured, and oppressed people among us. We no longer identify with them! That's got to be missing the mark; consider the humility of Jesus. And I don't think blogs are helping (though they are not *necessarily* preventing) that from changing.

D.) So, Timmy, its not a contradiction to say that many bloggers are talking to folks within a relatively small circle and that little connection across party/economic/social/racial/gender/political lines is going on in our Buildings. Lots of chumship in the former, notsomuch in the latter, except where agreement already exists. Ok. But, blogging is hardly the model for correcting the problems in the Buildings. I think part of the answer has to be found in relearning WHO, as followers of Jesus, we are supposed to make an effort to be in relationship with. One of the threats to talking mostly with people that, as you put it, are "of kindred spirit, united in the same purpose, beliefs, worldview, etc." is that we run the risk of losing community with anyone that isn't priviledged, white, educated, upper class, churched, etc. To under estimate the way in which those categories are relevant to the formation of world is to risk impoverishing it.

I should seek, I think, to be in relationship with The Different. And, that's because Jesus first crossed the tracks to love me (Praise God!). I'm here to say I am SO glad that he invited (and every morning anew invites) me to relationship with Him, even when my situation was (is) less than agreeable. And, that was all in the flesh. Christ wasn't virtual - if so, we are among the most pitiful.

Of course, it's cool to me to know that what I just said is probably obvious to someone like yourself. Unlike many in the Buildings, you've always been a man that actually is in community with the oppressed and the wretched of the earth. So, I've no worries about blogging acting as a substitute for someone like you, Timmy. Of course, of course.


1/25/2006 02:55:00 PM

Blogger Timmy said...


You said,

"The point is merely that there is a good and a bad way to blog, given legitimate concerns one might have with the practical effects of the way that blogs are commonly designed. I'm sure you agree."

Yes I do.

Also, you said,

"We are friends first in meatspace, actual reality, or whatever you want to call life these days. At best - and I hope you'd agree - the blogo-frienship is a distant second to community in the flesh."

This is true too. Yet I would venture to say that although I do not know the faces of certain bloggers, I do know their heart, theology, and passions to a far greater degree than the faces I see everyday. Sure, there is no replacement for real relationships that carry the context of shared experiences, but I also do not regret the time I have spent with those who have edified and challenged me through the blogosphere - something I rarely receive in REAL life.

Again, you said,

"Here I can only speculate, but I imagine it has something to do with the fact that The Christianity of Power, in the Big Building, has lost sight of its mission of bringing good news to the poor, proclaiming freedom to those in captivity, and liberating the oppressed here on earth (Luke 4, i think) because We don't see poor, captured, and oppressed people among us. We no longer identify with them! That's got to be missing the mark . . ."

You know me, Caleb, and I have called the Church out on its political and power euphoria in America. While we are called to engage the culture and be salt in our world and government, there is a legitimate concern to say that the more political a Christian gets, the less potent his words become (see Derek Webb's CD for proof of that). I have also admonished the Church Growth Movement and triumphalistic attitude of Christians as well. You might be right in that blogs are not helping the cause of Luke 4, but I also think that blogs can also serve as a mouthpiece for those who haven't one. For instance, one of the things emphasized on many Christian blogs is world hunger, AIDS relief in Africa, disaster relief, etc. I don't hear about this on main mediums of news, information, etc. Blogs don't directly reach the poor, liberate the oppressed, etc., but it can indirectly - if used for that end.

I guess that's it for my response. Let's cross tracks together, brother. Let's go "outside the camp" out to Him who thought it not fitting to set up his headquarters in a Temple but rather among thieves. May we have the heart and mind to love and embrace such people and the hands of compassion to show them the love of our Savior.

Until then, don't give up on blogs entirely. Rather, you ought to join me and work for the causes you already described! The ball is in your court . . .

1/26/2006 03:37:00 PM


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