A brief note about blogging

I’m now back in my cozy study in Huntsville, AL but yesterday I was at the first session of the Shepherd’s Conference where John MacArthur delivered the first address on the relationship of premillennialism and amillennialism (I just happened to be on campus for some other meetings). With almost clockwork precision the bloggers immediately took to their keyboards and began to question everything from John MacArthur’s theology to his integrity. In fact some who questioned his wisdom in doing this have delivered the exact same message from their own pulpits (albeit from a different persuasion). Not a small firestorm has erupted over this and the comments are very revealing. It seems that blogging has afforded some the opportunity to say things about a man that they would never say to his face and won’t say when given the opportunity at the Shepherd’s Conference Q & A. Let me make a few observations as a pastor, a casual observer, and as a writer for this blog:

1) Many Christians genuinely struggle with how to interpret the Scriptures. This is not an issue that should be solved by bloggers but by the leadership of local churches. Giving terse answers to complex questions in a weblog is rarely helpful to anyone.

2) Because of #1, many Christians have no idea how to formulate their theology apart from what they read in a book of someone else’s formulations. The result is that people tend to “adopt” what “sounds good to them.” I know many pastors who do this exact same thing and they have admitted as much in our conversations.

3) Many well-meaning Christians do not understand the message of the Bible and therefore have no coherent biblical theology. Saying “it’s all fulfilled in Christ” or “it’s all about the cross” is not a serious attempt to answer this issue or to deal with the complexities of interpreting the sacred text.

4) In blogging and in all of life we need to (all) learn to be “quick to hear, slow to speak” (Jms. 1:19). How we express our theology in blog form should be measured and careful. Speaking personally, I have not always done this here or in conversations but here at ET we sure are trying. I long for the day when Christians are not using words like “TR” and “watchblog” to describe each other (if you don’t know what those words mean then consider yourself blessed). Theological labels, whether positive or negative, are rarely helpful.

So before you write that post seeking to correct a man who has given the last forty years of his life to the gospel or chime-in with an “amen, go get em!” in a comment section of some blog…think before you write. In fact if it’s really important someone else has probably beat you to the post and said it already. If you think it needs to be said and you’re not sure of the tone, run it by some church leaders. I think many pastors would be shocked at how their people are representing the church on the blogosphere but even worse, I think many congregations would be shocked at some of the things that fall too easily from the blogs of their pastors. One simple plea: please be more careful and cautious.

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10 responses to this post.

  1. “2) Because of #1, many Christians have no idea how to formulate their theology apart from what they read in a book of someone else’s formulations. The result is that people tend to “adopt” what “sounds good to them.” I know many pastors who do this exact same thing and they have admitted as much in our conversations. ”

    I was saddened today when discussing an interpretation issue with someone today that essentially the point above was their justification for why they held that interpretation (the issue has nothing to do with the current blog controversy). What a challenge to grow our people to understand the word and not just parrot what sounds good to them.

  2. Posted by Caleb on March 9, 2007 at 8:26 am

    Great words of wisdom here. I need to make sure i apply your counsel esp. in the blog world.

    Caleb

  3. Paul –
    These are some tremendous cautions. On the heels of John’s rather typical way of introducing a topic, I briefly perused the blogosphere and was deeply grieved at some of the smug bravado and personal invective from men who, although perhaps sincerely perplexed at John’s approach, demonstrated an utter lack of self-restraint.

    Lest anyone think I can’t be objective, I thought some of John’s comments were unnecessary, and he could have spent the better part of the sermon dealing with various NT usages of the OT to be clearer and more helpful. But for non-premillienialists (least of all those who are 5-10 years new to the discussion) to suggest that John was insulting, harsh, or lacked integrity is profoundly misguided thinking. I’ve been to many Ligonier conferences where Sproul speaks his mind with both sarcasm and frankness regarding premillenialists, and I was neither offended nor surprised. His provocative style always sent me back to the scriptures, and where I strongly disagree I try to remember my place in the theological and intellectual food chain. Were Sproul to ask for my views (which is, appropriately, a pipedream), I would offer them with conviction sheathed in respect and gentility. If I blog the results of my study, I hope to remain careful when “taking on” a stalwart in the faith.

    I suspect that, as you mentioned, some congregations would be embarrassed at the ease with which their shepherds are provoked. I’m thankful that most non-premillenialists I know were thoughtfully challenged and went on to enjoy the conference undistracted.

    Jerry

  4. Just a footnote:
    What’s happened to those days when theological discussion had an appropriate and measurable pecking order? What is it with the new generation of electronic theologues who come to the scholars bench univited? Perhaps we need to rethink the potential dangers of blogospheric anonymity. Perhaps more balance would result if we asked ourselves a few questions prior to choosing what we post and how we say things. Here are a few helpful (or not so helpful depending on your vantage point) questions to ask before entering the fray:
    Would I be an awkward addition to a theological conference Q&A? (In England, I was once asked to join Wayne Grudem on the platform for a Q&A, and while I reluctantly agreed so as not offend my hosts, I clearly didn’t belong. At one point I was asked to respond to one of Grudem’s points with which I disagreed…I forthrightly offered my view but was clearly decorous given Grudem’s years and brilliance which notably overshadowed my lack).
    Have my church leaders recognized and affirmed my textual skills?
    Where in the ministry have I been obviously used to help the church come to a deeper understanding of scripture and greater Christ likness?
    Would I be considered an also-ran if I presented something at a theological society?
    Are there more skilled and gifted pastors or scholars whose works clarify the issues in ways I couldn’t? Perhaps before I blog something “definitive” I could simply send my people to these men first (of course, this would require a growing humility).

    I’m not talking about great theological discussion amongst colleagues and friends (peers, if you will)…I’m speaking of the seemingly uncontrollable urge to weigh in, absent any proven expertise, right alongside those who’ve demonstrated years of work in a particular discipline (an urge I strongly suspect would be immediately curtailed when “face-to-face”).
    At this point, someone may say, “Are you claiming that discussion and interaction with great theological minds is harmful?” Not at all! In fact, that’s how we all grow. What isn’t warranted is using the electronic veil (mask) of blogs as some kind of scholar’s robe, and unreservedly assuming an equal place at a table-talk we’d never be invited to in person. The student may become like his Master, but he still knows which is which.

    Just some thoughts…

  5. In fact, the following response from a long-time friend reflects a maturity beyond his years…

    “I appreciated sitting under John again, even though I would not agree with his assessment of amillennialism. But I know where John stands on that and I respect him deeply and love him much. He is a hero in the faith to me and even if I didn’t agree with all that he said, I loved hearing him preach. I grew so much week by week under his faithful ministry.”

    Exactly!

  6. Posted by Rich on March 10, 2007 at 9:30 pm

    A good friend emailed this to me a while ago. It comes from a mature and wise elder in his church. The points are well made. I thought of this after reading Jerry’s thoughts.

    Begin quote ….
    “I must confess that I think I am just that old dog that can’t see the forest through the trees.

    I think I understand technology on a fairly broad level and am typically a proponent of its highest and best uses. And I think I catch the drift that the webblog design is an advance in communications media if used properly. So I embrace the technology.

    My biggest struggle is that I do not embrace the audience addressed nor do I typically endorse the content communicated. That may be as generically judgmental as you will hear me go on this subject, but my limited exposure would suggest the following propensities of blog sites:

    · A forum for gossip

    · A forum for criticism and slander

    · A forum for immature people to spew verbal diaherrea when they would be better of keeping their mouths closed on a subject they really have little to no expertise on

    · A forum for promoting self (through the proclamation of authoritative renderings, disguised as opinions)

    · A forum for giving the blogger an audience that has not been earned (by proving himself worthy of attention)

    · A forum for being provocative and creating unfettered divisiveness

    · A forum placed outside of any authority under the false presumption that public debate is the highest form of authority

    · A forum that allows the authors an escape from the responsibilities of real life where their time might be better spent

    And those are just random perspectives from glancing infrequently at your blog.

    Are there positives to blogging that potentially outweigh my heavy-handed and unfair criticisms? Sure. I have read the justifications and I’m sure among many other things there is a heart felt desire to use this mass audience potential to promote the gospel and stimulate one another unto love and good deeds. I just believe the negatives are outrunning the positives at this stage because the technology makes it way too easy to fall prey to the temptations I have enumerated above.”
    End quote –

    After I read this and considered it, I almost gave up blogging entirely. I saw my own sin in these cautions. Some of them, especially in relation to an almost wholesale lack of submission to any accountability or leadership in blogging, are VERY needed.

    Thanks for the wise thoughts Paul and Jerry.

  7. Having read many, MANY, blog posts on this topic, I find it to be a vexing exercise. Regardless of position, there is certainly clear evidence of indwelling sin. Pride–be it intellectual, spiritual, ecclesiastical (sp?), theological, eschatological, ad infinitum ad nauseum, is ugly, reprehensible, and contrary to the gospel.

    The contending for their position on the part of many very often seems primarily, almost eagerly contentious and sectarian. It does not seem to be the humble pursuit of truth for the sake of edification, worship, spiritual maturity, and the cultivation of hope in the glorious appearing and revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

    Regardless of who said/or says what…much of the blog ambience that characterizes this discussion is a sorrow to the heart.

    If JM set a bad example, than bloggers should not perpetuate or exacerbate the problem by justifying their own manifestation of that which they deplore in others.

    I have enough first hand exposure to know that there is a deep affection and respect that exists between men like JM, RC Sproul, Mohler, etc. Doctrinal differences–to be sure. But a significant measure of a mans maturity is his Christ likeness in personal relationships–not his ability to verbally/theologically/exegetically slay his opposition. Particularly when one’s position on the matter at hand (while very, VERY, important), is not a matter of eternal destiny or foundational to the Sola’s of the Reformation.

    Please, hold your convictions with the passion and strength they engender, but do not compromise your character in the process. It would be a pity to be correct and have no one who cares to listen to you–and this has and does happen to established and aspiring theologians of every theological orientation and conviction. Don’t be one of them, please. We really have quite enough of them already.
    March 10, 2007 | vexed

  8. Posted by Caleb on March 12, 2007 at 10:10 pm

    Great point here Pat, “Please, hold your convictions with the passion and strength they engender, but do not compromise your character in the process.”

    This happens way too often in and around the blog world. I think many people would do better to invest their time either A. doing biblical exegesis and studying the Word on there own or B. reading theological journals and/or books from guys who actually know what they are saying.

    Often times I put myself in this category…That’s why i let our big guns (more mature pastors) do most of the postings here. :)

    Together for the gospel,
    Caleb Kolstad

  9. Within the boundaries of the fundamentals of the faith, the importance is not what views we hold, but how we hold them.

  10. Posted by Sherry C. on November 24, 2007 at 8:46 am

    Thank you, everyone. What wise counsel! Yesterday, I deleted all but two blogs from my favorites. Rich, I see my sins. Pat and Caleb, I will take your counsel. May I be more gracious if I should decide to get involved in blog debates and comments of other Christian leaders. I have failed in the past and have regretted many comments I have posted. I have been the victim of others who would lord their knowledge over me when I have asked sincere questions or made my beliefs known for discussion. Slow to speak, quick to hear…something easy to do if one relies on God’s grace! I am glad to have happened upon this article.

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