At the end of 2011, I wrote about three things I hoped to see in the Christian blogosphere in 2012. There, I explained I hoped to see more solid theology blogs by women get appropriate recognition, satirists and “discernment” bloggers to chill out and grow up, and for bloggers to spend less time focusing on controversy and more on Jesus.
Of all of these, probably the one I was most concerned about was the final one. In 2011, there was one topic everyone was talking about: Rob Bell and Love Wins. This year we saw a few significant dust-ups — a room full of pachyderms; Jesus, religion and poetry; and dating and marriage, among others — but nothing so all encompassing. Even so, this year’s public challenges gave me a lot to consider a few things I’d like to see in the blogosphere in the coming year.
1. A more thoughtful approach to engaging with controversy online.
This is probably the most difficult challenge we face in the 21st century. The Internet provides us with so many opportunities for spreading the gospels and growing in Christ. But it also provides numerous opportunities for us to sin. This is, in part, because we don’t know how church discipline and the Internet work together.
Think about Matthew 18:15-17 for a minute:
If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
Critical to this issue is the following: “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church.” How do the Internet and the Church in this context come together? There is no easy answer. Some think it’s perfectly acceptable and appropriate to take an issue online, to the court of public opinion, in response to this command from Jesus. Others believe it’s anything but acceptable.
I’ve seen numerous websites appear sharing extensive grievances (typically—and somewhat disturbingly—accompanied by multiple years’ worth of saved personal correspondence). In many cases, I can see things from both sides. I understand the hurt those behind these sites feel… but I have some very serious reservations about the motivating forces behind the decision to go public, and the way in which it’s handled. We must be careful to avoid giving the devil a foothold in our lives by letting bitterness fester (cf. Eph. 4:26-27).
What does this have to do with the Christian blogosphere? First, we must consider how to respond to attempts to ignite controversy. Most of the time, the best thing we can do is to not share a link, post a response, or allow comments promoting such things. It’s not wrong to be aware of such issues, but it’s probably unwise to give them airtime.
Secondly, it would be beneficial for Christians to spend a great deal of time prayerfully considering the implications the Internet has for the global Church. Because we’re more interconnected than ever, we need to figure out how best to faithfully obey the principle of Matthew 18:17. This not something that can be solved in a blog post here, a single meeting, or a conference. But it is something we need to deal with.
2. Public personalities need to own personal responsibility.
This is the second great challenge we face, and something that again has no easy answer. Any of us who have a public personality must realize that our actions have consequences. Our attitudes and behavior need to reflect the convictions we profess, lest we be revealed as hypocrites. Practically, this means we need to consider how what we say and do will affect others. We don’t want to cause our brothers and sisters in Christ to stumble, but neither do we want to cover fear of man in the guise of love. It’s a tough balance, and one I certainly haven’t mastered, but it’s something I’d love to see take hold among Christians engaging online.
3. Give the grace you have received in Christ.
We’ve seen many examples of people forgetting that behind the pixels are people just like you and me. I have life outside of this blog (thankfully). So do you. Yet, it’s easy to forget that when we read text on a screen. Even as those who have some degree of public notoriety need to own personal responsibility, we should extend to them the same grace we have received in Christ. This does not mean we overlook blatant ongoing patterns of public sin (such as those who repeatedly show a lack of self-control, whether emotionally or otherwise), but it does mean we seek to give the benefit of the doubt, thinking the best of them as much as we are able, and doing all we can to bring concerns to their attention in a Christ-exalting fashion.
These are a few things I’m hoping to see this year. How about you?