The Blessing of Blogs: Is the New Media Good for the Church?

The weblog phenomenon is being felt in every sector of our culture including the church. Some are heralding the blogosphere as an egalitarian "new media" that is changing the way people communicate and process ideas. But will blogs foster communication and understanding among God's diverse people, or inflame our divisions by giving all believers, mature and immature, an equal voice? Dr. Craig Blomberg, professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary, begins our new year by questioning the blessings of blogs.

I'm hardly an expert on blogging. My own ministry has been critiqued once or twice by bloggers, and my experiences with their postings have largely led me to ignore them. When Out of Ur ran a controversial story about a good friend of mine this fall, I read and contributed to the responses with interest for several weeks. That is the sum total of my experience with blogs. But it's enough for me to raise some questions. If Marshall McLuhan was even partly right that "the medium is the message," then what message does the medium of blogging send?

At first glance, one might argue that a blog is no different than an e-mail, or a letter to an editor in a traditional newspaper or magazine, or those old-fashioned communiqu?s that were hand-written and sent through something now called snail-mail. For private individuals who daily record their thoughts and experiences, it corresponds closely to what used to be called a journal or a diary. There can be good ones and bad ones, carefully and creatively written or barely intelligible to anyone but their authors. They can contain profound perspectives worth reading and pondering or banal drivel that at best wastes your time and at worst pollutes your mind. But all those options have always been possibilities with older forms of writing as well.

Is there anything distinctive about blogging? The most obvious answer is the ease of access in getting one's remarks "published." A traditional letter went only to its address?e. E-mails go at most to a personally selected distribution lists. Magazines and newspapers reject numerous "letters to the editor" for every one they publish. Diaries and journals have normally been intended for the author's eyes only. But when I read a friend's daily blog, all I have to do is click on "X Comments," type my response, and within seconds it appears on my computer screen as something anyone in the world can imbibe with the right web address and technology. True, some blog sites have filters to screen out certain language or pictures, while others have real people who may decide to censor correspondence. But the percentage of comments that still make it into (virtual) print still seems unprecedented.

January 03, 2006

Displaying 1–10 of 20 comments

JC

April 01, 2006  5:20pm

I write to think. Often times I find myself writing something, thinking about what I just wrote, and then deciding to revise it and say it another way or say something totally different. In some ways blogging has become a way from me to "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ"... I think that the content that you find in blogs, both in posts and comments are the overflow of people's hearts. You find what is important to them and even what they worship... granted some people put up a mask but that's no different from the real world... I'm pretty sure there is no harm being done to the truth. It's not some poor defenseless victim of whomever manages to wrestle his way to the top and lays hold of the mantle of power. As long as my questions and statements are out of a sincere heart of searching for the truth there's no harm done. I do see however, that some are using their blogs to lay hold of that mantle, so that they can accomplish their own desires. Blogging is an offense to those who feel they have some how come to weild the mantle of power. Their empire is in danger of being undermined. But we need not fear for our kingdom is actually His kingdom and even the gates of hell will not stand up against. I have found it important to engage in the conversations of others and to find some way to journey with them down the trail, if only for a comment, so that we're farther along together, closer to the end, and more and more convinced from a heart of faith. So in my humble opinion, put on your Dori voice from "Finding Nemo" and just keep blogging, blogging, blogging...

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Makeesha

February 20, 2006  9:38pm

Don't you think this all comes down to what we as ministers should be instilling in people anyway? Just like the Christians out there who don't represent Christ in the work place, there are going to be bloggers who are not good representatives. Just like careless words are spoken at a church function, so there will be careless words typed in a blog entry. I don't think it's necessary to label one as a greater evil because it happens to reach more people. I think the important thing is to get to the heart of the matter...the heart. Just like anything negative within the Body, the only solution is to help to bring people closer in intimacy with Jesus so they better reflect Him...be it in blogs, letters to the editor, or daily conversation with their neighbors. To focus on one medium, just like focus on one sin, would be folly.

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jonathan erdman

February 13, 2006  6:52pm

May I suggest that the lack of a "filter" may result in generating more honesty and genuine response than when we filter our words for fear of critique or from sheer cowardice. Or perhaps the ability to "shoot from the hip" allows us to respond on our instinct? And perhaps it is the instinctual response that is more true to our genuine beliefs, in many cases. Doesn't everyone know of the power and divine nature of God by instinct, but then decides to think better of it (Rom. 1)?

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seeker

January 18, 2006  3:08am

I agree w/ mr. kirkpatric also - the medium offers new ways to communicate, and that means new ways to miscommunicate as well. I am not sure i totally understand or agree w/ "the medium is the message" - in fact, what is probably more true is "the content is the message" - the medium varies in its effectiveness in reaching its target audience. I for one love blogging, and have learned much from others.

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Craig Blomberg

January 12, 2006  11:01pm

An excellent spectrum of responses–as if to allay every one of my concerns. But then I get a form letter from my church's youth pastor encouraging all parents of teens (like us) to check out myspace.com and then decide if it's appropriate for our teens and if so, what parts, in what ways, etc. So I do. I even create a login and password so I can go all over lots of people's postings. To be sure, there's the occasional objectionable photo of almost nudity or violence that passes their filters, but I guess what struck me the most is the utter inanity of the vast majority of all the comments, some of which were written so poorly as to be barely intelligible. Yes, that is the ultimate democratization of publishing, but is it desirable? To use the ancient phrase, is there anything "socially redeeming" in it? As for historians, how many teens (and others) who currently preserve all this gibberish will be hopelessly embarrassed twenty years from now when someone else (a prospective employer or mate or. . . ?) saves it and dredges it up? My peers' conversation when I was young was no better, but few people ever thought of taping it for posterity, just because the technology made it possible. I really don't WANT to be an old fogey just because I turned 50 last summer. . . Maybe I shouldn't have ever read about how the Irish (scholars and clerics) saved civilization in the Dark Ages!

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Rich Tatum

January 07, 2006  9:29pm

Perhaps I don't take a contentious enough stab at things in my blog posts, perhaps I don't have a wide enough readership to attract contentious commenters, perhaps my audience is unusually peace-loving, or perhaps each blogger has a totally unique experience in this regard. But the comments on my blog post are almost all positive contributions to dialog. And it's the dialog I enjoy the most. I invite and respond to criticism because I recognize that my handle on Pentecostalism, Evangelicalism, Christianity, and morality is not the only valid point of view. I may, in fact, be wrong. I welcome the dialog. I view my blog as a place where I am learning what I think, and I get the blessing and benefit of others helping me along the way. In my intellectual journey, I have explored topics and ideas I would not have plumbed without a willing reading audience. My blog is, in this sense, a spiritual discipline. I also view my weblog as an instrument of change. My writing is already changing me. Further, I hope that my views will change those who read. Maybe they'll agree, maybe they'll disagree. But maybe, just maybe, they'll view things slightly differently now than before. I see Paul the Apostle as a sort of epistolary proto-blogger. When circumstances warranted a post, he addressed issues head-on in public forum writing with letters that would be read aloud to his audience. We don't have the replies (comments) to enjoy–we can only infer them–but there is no doubt that his audience responded to his posts with disagreement and calls for clarification. I'm no St. Paul, none of us are. But there is much to commend open dialog and response. Finally, Out of Ur is not typical of most new blogs. You have the visibility and built-in audience out of the gate that most bloggers do not enjoy. More, your audience is already more variegated than the typical slice of the blogosphere represented at most religious blogs. Birds of a feather blog together, but Leadership and Out of Ur reach a wider spectrum of opinions and ecclesiology than my BlogRodent blog or almost any other Evangelical blog I know of. And the results are fascinating. Keep up the good work, Eric. Rich Tatum

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Faith K

January 05, 2006  8:22pm

I sense fear and intimidation from a few bloggers, but think positive. Christian bloggers may pull christians together, rather than apart. It could bring out better people and uninhibited some individuals, if enter into with a pure heart. I personally would enjoy seeing this pull us together, rather than push us apart. After all is said and done, if we perfect ourselves toward God, it may be the biggest blessing the church has ever seen. We will be perfecting each other, afterall we will all be in heaven someday. Shouldn't we get to know each other before we reach those gates.

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Phil Hoover-Chicago

January 05, 2006  10:06am

A retired minister who has been a precious friend of mine for more than 30 years told me recently (as he had told me many years ago), "Don't put anything in writing that you would not want the world to read." And so it goes with blogging.

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andrew jones

January 05, 2006  8:59am

nice blog! and great to have some criticism against blogging for a change. ease of publishing access is just one aspect of blogging - one that correlates with magazine publishing, although there are less filters. but blogging is so much more than that. as believers "publish glad tidings daily" in a modular format that is findable and permanent, they contribute to the world's largest database. Rather than a few dozen good articles getting published each day, there are millions of discrete posts that will be aggregated all over the world for a long period of time. This scale of bigness allows a level of self-correction previously unattainable by tradional media with only a few people monitoring quality. Researchers of the future will have a great resource in piecing together information for church history records not in spite of the "had a coffee with Dr. ______ today" blog post but because of it. whole life blogging is far more holistic than essay writing, and allows the context of one's life to add flavor and credibility to one's message. I am so glad the writers of the gospels chose to include incidentals in the life of our Lord. Not important at the time of writing, perhaps, but invaluable to us today. Same as Luke writing the Acts in "blog-style" rather than an essay of "the birth and growth of the early church'. anyway - more i could say - hey - i love the graphic on top!!!!!

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Dave Taylor

January 05, 2006  8:32am

Though there are lots of legitimate uses for blogs, I for one see tremendous potential in the blogosphere to be "mutually encouraged by each other's faith" (Rom. 1:12). That's what I look for, and when it works, it works well. But I've been pretty disappointed by the partisan pride and strife that seems to crop up almost everywhere. The blogosphere offers us an opportunity to exchange views and ideas in a way that the church could actually function more like a body made up of diverse parts. But it seems like we've just moved our mutual suspicions, jealousies and disputes online. We have a long way to go. Nevertheless, I wonder if the many obstreperous and contentious bloggers out there might just be used of God to wear each other down until the fruit of the Spirit is more evident. In some cases with blogs I've followed, I've seen that process at work already, though admittedly it may take a long time. "Make a tree good and its fruit will be good" (Mt. 12:33).

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