Guilt by association?


Maybe it’s me, but it seems like the Christian side of the Internet getting a bit… crankier.

This Internet is a wonderful tool for Christian ministry—it allows us to share further the spread of the gospel, connects us with fellow believers around the world, and lets us equip and encourage believers who desperately need it.

It also provides a terrible opportunity for sin to gain a foothold in our lives. 

Recently, I’ve seen more than a few websites attacking a Christian publisher as well as a well-respected blogger—simply because of their association with another Christian leader (and in the blogger’s case, the connections are extremely loose).

What’s increasingly disturbing to me is how easily we succumb to guilt by association.

We see it too often:

  • Pastors who are public figures take shots at bloggers as being single guys living in their moms’ basements who don’t have lives, jobs or girlfriends.
  • Bloggers who are confused on the relationship between discernment and divisiveness.
  • Professing Christians whose long-harbored bitterness toward a particular church or leader who set up websites featuring months and years of saved personal correspondence and detailed analyses of every minute detail of a leader’s public ministry.

…and if you’re a friend of the “enemy,” heaven help you.

How we deal with this continues to be one of the most difficult issues we face, both within our local churches and as part of the global body of Christ.

And it doesn’t seem to be getting any easier.

Honestly, it’s easy to look at the watchblogger/”survivor” type websites out there and write them off entirely. But I’m not always sure that’s the best thing to do—not in a “their arguments have merit” sense, but from a perspective of desiring to help others.

When dealing with “survivor” blogs…

While it’s tempting to do so, we have to be careful to not heap condemnation upon them. Though we must recognize that all-too-often their methods are both ill-advised and and entirely sinful, many of these kinds of bloggers are people who are badly wounded by real or perceived slights and sins.

Whether the facts line up with the feelings, the feelings are real and need to be considered in making a judgment of their behavior—not as an excuse, but as a reminder:

Bitterness is poison to the soul. When we leave hurts too long, they spread like cancer. It’s no wonder Paul commands us to be done with our anger quickly (cf. Eph. 4:26-27).

When addressing controversy…

Tim Keller’s advice on gospel polemics is very helpful, so much so that I can only reiterate what he’s said so very well:

  1. You don’t have to follow Matthew 18 before publishing polemics. This doesn’t mean you don’t go to person X to confirm their views prior to publishing, but that the rules for church discipline don’t apply.
  2. You must take full responsibility for even unwitting misrepresentation of someone’s views.
  3. Never attribute an opinion to your opponent that he himself does not own.

Number three is probably the greatest challenge bloggers face in addressing controversy. As much as possible, make sure you can demonstrate what someone actually believes before you say anything publicly. But more than that, try to address controversy in a spirit of love for a potentially misguided brother or sister.

Protect and defend sound doctrine, without question. But be mindful that your methodology doesn’t do as much damage as some destructive heresy.

When dealing with accusation…

I remember one pastor who, when his book was being lambasted by critics (including those who were otherwise friendly to him), went on the attack. Rather than hearing the legitimate criticism about his book, he declared that critics were revealing their own issues and hang-ups more than anything his book said.

This hurt, not simply because I was indirectly implicated by the statement, but because it called into question a stated desire of this particular individual: to turn critics into coaches.

This is my plea for the prominent public pastor, and indeed for all of us who occasionally face accusation: please remember not to think too highly of yourself than you ought (Rom. 12:3).


While not every critic is worth listening to, some most definitely are. When someone criticizes us, it hurts, especially when it’s about something we’re passionate about. However, we need to remember that in the end, the Lord will vindicate us if we’re truly in the right (cf. Psa. 135:14)—but thoughtful, carefully worded criticism may God’s grace at work in our lives.

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  • david carlson

    if it is getting crankier than slice of hate and their ilk, times are truly desperate.

  • Dave Jenkins

    Great thoughts Aaron. I appreciate the fact that you consistently model grace and truth. That fact especially shines through in posts like this that you write. God bless you brother.