Archive for month: March, 2011
This post is part of series we are calling “Ethics for Online Theological Discourse.” Here are the preceding posts: Intro;  the dangers of the screen-to-screen mode of communication;  Wisdom from the 17th Century.
There is a great post at Christianity Today by John Dyer on the phenomenon of online theological discourse. The title is enough to make any blogger cringe: Not Many of You Should Presume to be Bloggers. I am about to post a new addition to our series on theological discourse via social media which focuses on the biblical Wisdom Literature’s teaching about speech. I am glad to see Dyer taking that route, and I am eager for the release of his forthcoming book on technology, From the Garden to the City: The Redeeming and Corrupting Power of Technology (Kregel).
This post is part of series we are calling “Ethics for Online Theological Discourse.” Here are the preceding posts: Intro;  the dangers of the screen-to-screen mode of communication.
So Andy was kind of enough to invite me to blog with him. I’m grateful. I tend to be an all-over-the-place thinker, so the subjects of my posts will tend to be that way…
In light of our series on an “Ethic of Online Theological Discourse”, I found Philip Jacob Spener’s thoughts to be a particularly appropriate interjection. Regardless of how you perceive the consequences of Pietism for historical theology (I have my concerns too), I believe he has it right here. In this section of Pia Desideria (Spener, Philip Jacob. 2002. Pia Desideria. Ed. Theodore G. Tappert. Eugene: Wipf & Stock Publishers), he discusses how to engage in debate with “unbelievers and heretics”. I’ll add the nuance of “people we believe to be heretics”. It should be noted that he doesn’t say that we shouldn’t challenge error. But, there’s a wrong way of being right.
“We must beware how we conduct ourselves in religious controversies…” (97)
“We must give them a good example and take the greatest pains not to offend them in any way, for this would give them a bad impression of our true teaching and hence would make their conversion more difficult.” (98)
“All of this should be done in such a way that those with whom we deal can see for themselves that everything is done out of heartfelt love toward them, without carnal and unseemly feelings, and that if we ever indulge in excessive vehemence this occurs out of pure zeal for the glory of God.” (emphasis mine; I think a lot of unhelpful rhetoric/talk masquerades as zeal for the “glory of God”) 98
“I therefore hold that not all disputation is useful and good.” (100)
Spener calls that we “do not stake everything on argumentation.” (99)
Wise words. I’m ready for Andy’s next post.
Ethics for Online Theological Discourse : Screen to Screen vis-a-vis Face to Face (notice the wordplay?)
This post is part of series we are calling “Ethics for Online Theological Discourse.” Here is the preceding post: Intro.
Since the release of Rob Bell’s video promoting Love Wins, cyberspace has been flooded afresh with a great deal of uncivil discourse. Since so much theological dialogue is now taking place online, Christians need to begin thinking much more seriously about the nature of those tweets, posts, and comments we are publishing for public view on the Internet. Theological discourse within the church has had a rather checkered past, marked by ferocious attacks, gross misunderstandings, and overly simplistic polarities between artificial extremes. Ever since Paul confronted Peter so forcefully that day in Antioch (Gal 2.11-14), the church has witnessed the highly charged passions its members can display over theological allegiances.
But since so much theological discourse now occurs online, our ranting and raving—however justified or unjustified—is available for public viewing and hearing. Uncivil theologizing rarely seems to win outsiders over to Jesus.
I just wrote a book that provides biblical models for how we address bad theology and ethical failures among God’s people. So I am not calling for doctrinal compromise or for a facile agreement to just disagree for the sake of politically correct tolerance. During these series of posts, Joel and I are calling for a more critical and more careful appropriation of social media as a means of expressing our theological convictions.
Let’s start by considering social media’s mode of communicating—it is screen-to-screen, not face-to-face.
This is a big deal.
When our interaction with others is faceless, we unwittingly depersonalize our interlocutors to the extent that our criticisms become less charitable. When writing a blog post, I am staring at text on a screen, not a face sitting across the coffee shop table. To write text about another’s text feels like slinging words at other words, rather than exchanging actual blows with the real live person behind those words.
I am not saying that there can be no screen-to-screen theological dialogue (or else I would not be free to write this post!). What I am saying is that the dangers and pitfalls inherent to screen-to-screen communication must be acknowledged and responsibly navigated if we are going to publish our convictions online.
Another insufficiency of screen-to-screen discourse is that it permits only limited interactivity. Sure, people can add comments in agreement or disagreement to blog posts or they can tweet back their rebuttals. But when you are engaged in an intensive, face-to-face discussion, you are constantly having to pause to clarify what you mean and to respond to the immediate interjections and questions of your dialogue partner. We are not so inconvenienced in screen-to-screen discourse, which means that the comments we are making on the Web are often without the nuanced clarifications which face-to-face interaction requires.
If we are going to conduct serious theological dialogue within cyberspace, then we must discipline ourselves to overcome as much as we can the limitations inherent to screen-to-screen interaction (and when those limitations cannot be overcome, we need to honestly acknowledge it). Simply remembering that we are hurling words at faces, not just screens, might tone down some of our rhetoric. Simply remembering that screen-to-screen communication is notorious for misunderstandings and misinterpretations should promote the highest degree of clarity in the articulation of our viewpoints.
I will close with this from 2 John 12:
“Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink [screens and pixels...?]. Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete.”
I am so pleased to announce that this blog now becomes a joint effort. My dear friend, Joel Busby (whom I have quoted a few times already), will now begin writing posts as well. I am looking forward to learning from his wisdom and insights.
In a recent post I commented on a couple of lectures Karl Barth made for the 1937 Edinburgh World Conference on Faith and Order. These lectures are published in Karl Barth, The Church and the Churches (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005). Here are a few more thoughts….
In his third lecture, “The Union of the Churches—A Task,” Barth emphasizes the complex and compelling paradox that we must labor intensively for the unity of the One worldwide Church while acknowledging that the task’s fulfillment is accomplished by Christ alone. Barth aggressively smashes up any naivete concerning Church unity. The authentic uniting of the Church is such a gargantuan task that no hope whatsoever can be placed on the churches themselves, or individual Christians. Our only hope for uniting into One Church is the supernatural work of the One Lord: “…in Christ alone this task is fulfilled… His voice and summons alone can bring that union into being” (p. 45).
In spite of the fact that Church unity exceeds our capacities to effect, Barth calls us to enter in partnership with Jesus in bringing about ecclesial oneness. He proposes four conditions that individual churches and denominational traditions must strive for….
1] The “relinquishing” of a church’s (or church tradition’s) “own particular confession for one which it will share in union with others” (p. 41).
2] The refusal to seek unity on the basis of a “secular motive” (such as trying to be united for the goal of being politically correct, as we might say today, or philosophically amenable) (p. 42).
3] The refusal to seek unity by compromising truth or by masking latent divisiveness (p. 43)
4] Repentance from any and all means by which a particular church or church tradition has contributed to the divisive multiplicity of the churches (p. 43-44).
Such conditions seem so insurmountable to promote in the current ecclesiological scene in North America alone. And that insurmountability seems to be part of Barth’s point. The Task is impossible. But we labor toward it regardless.
Sounds like the Christian life, if you ask me….
COMING SOON: Beginning next week I will begin crafting posts centered around the theme “Toward an Ethic for Online Theological Discourse.” I have heard N.T. Wright call for some serious thinking about an ethic for blogging, a call that any of us who are presuming we have something to say publicly within the cyber realm should heed (if you do not like N.T. Wright and possibly shifted in your seat in mild annoyance at the mention of his name, then all the more reason to heed that call). As a new blogger, I am interested in establishing my own personal ethic for how I write online, and “the Rob Bell thing” as my friend (and future co-blogger!) Joel Busby calls it, has provided urgent wind behind the sails.
We simply must begin disciplining our conduct online. We seem so eager to publish our theological thinking on blogs and tweets, but we also seem to be unwilling (perhaps unknowingly) to apply some serious theological thinking to the means and manner by which we publish those thoughts (and rants). It is quite disastrous in my view that visibly etched into the pixellated text of the blogosphere are such unkind and careless words… of which so many Christians are the source.
I do not mean that we should not offer critique.
But, to quote Busby again, “there is a wrong way of being right.” I just wrote a book presenting biblical models for how we are to address and critique the church in its errors, illusions and misdeeds. Those models include prophetic anguish (not cynical anger) and reverent wisdom (not elitist intellectuallism). Guiding our blog posts and those hastily typed tweets and angrily typed comments should be some ethic for the proper, constructive, biblical employment of words that directs us truthward in the most helpful and Godly fashion.
Haunting anyone who would ever click “publish” for a blog or comment should be these words of Jesus in Matthew 12:26:
“I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give an account for every careless word they speak….”
These words of Jesus apply to the our words which are being so unscrupulously used in this whole “Rob Bell thing.”
I invite you to join in with me (and Busby, who will be joining soon me as a co-blogger ). Please contribute to the dialogue as we work together in crafting an “Ethic for Online Theological Discourse.”
1] Blogging in light of the Wisdom Literature’s Instructions on “Speech”
2] Online Theological Discourse and Paul’s criteria of Love and Edification.
Etc., Etc., Etc.
I am certainly concerned with ecumenism, that is, the collaborative efforts to bring about international church unity. But until reading a couple of Barth’s lectures published in The Church and the Churches , I lacked a proper sense of urgency.
For Barth, there is only one Church. There may be a multiplicity of localized faith communities, but there is only one Church. To console ourselves with the notion that the multiplicity of churches is ultimately just a necessary expression of the “ideal, invisible, and essential Church” simply will not do: “this entire distinction [between the Church invisible and the multiplicity of visible churches] is foreign to the New Testament” (p. 19). The fractured state of the Church cannot be overlooked by believing in an invisible, overarching entity that encompasses all divisions. “However well this may sound, it is not theology, it is mere sociology or philosophy of history” (p. 21).
I tend to view the divisions within the worldwide Church to be a practicality that is, however less than ideal, necessary and to be tolerated. Barth would chasten my casual pragmatism:
“We have to deal with [the multiplicity of the churches] as we deal with sin, our own and others’…. We must not allow ourselves to acquiesce in its reality; rather we must pray that it be forgiven and removed, and be ready to do whatever God’s will and command may enjoin in respect of it” (pp. 22-23).
I am slightly turned off by idealistic chatter about unity, whether it be applied to politics, a sports team, or the worldwide Body of Christ. So I am deeply grateful that Barth’s vision of unity ascends such rosy, politically correct sentimentality:
“Unity in itself will not suffice: nor will any or all of the ideas and ideals which we may link with that concept. Unity in itself, even church unity in itself, is, as surely as the independent multiplicities are, merely fallen and unreconciled human nature” (p. 13).
I am also grateful to find that Barth’s vision of unity has nothing to do, per se, with everyone just being nice to one another and getting along in blind disregard of concrete differences. His understanding of the oneness of the Church is bound to the identity of Jesus as the Church’s One Lord. The oneness of Jesus alone establishes the oneness of the Church. And Barth is also helpful in pointing us to the fact that only the One Christ can secure the unity of the One Church.
How do we participate in Christ’s ongoing labors to that end? I’ve got two more lectures to go, so remain on your seat’s edge….
 Karl Barth, The Church and the Churches (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005). The use of “unthinkable” in the blog post’s title comes from p. 24.
This is a risky (and maybe risqué) post. Clicking “Publish” on this one is about to feel really awkard. But the church is plagued not only with pornography but also with a reluctance to discuss it. After almost 7 years in college ministry, I have found that struggling with porn is standard fare for most young Christian men. I have failed to tackle the issue with the urgency it deserves until this past year. Twice now I have spoken on pornography, and will be doing so again next month at Samford University.
My most recent sermon on the issue was at Southeastern Bible College‘s Monday morning chapel service. I am very grateful for their hospitality. A number of gracious folks wanted access to the points in the talk, so I am listing some of them here. Pornography will be a topic of occasional discussion here on this blog, so be warned.
1] Porn Sabotages Real Sex by Emasculating Males. The word “emasculating” may seem harsh—it makes men cringe to read it. But so many men experience a sexual desensitization from their porn use. Many men married to beautiful women stop having sex with their wives as their porn addiction deepens. Wilder, more violent footage and imagery is required to maintain arousal. Real sex begins to pail in comparison to the manufactured scenes on offer from the porn industry. Sin will always betray us, offering us some falsified beauty that actually detracts from and destroys the real thing. My contention here about pornography’s theft of the joyful experience of real live sex is not just a claim from a Christian minister who wants to rant, rave and moralize on his blog—check out this post at CNN’s online Health section for a secular take on how porn sabotages real sex.
2] Porn Sabotages Real Sex by Emotionally Incapacitating Women. I have been reminded to be careful not to cast porn addiction as only a male struggle. A growing number of women are viewing porn. But my point here is that as married men view graphic images of perfectly sculpted bodies of women who never have a headache and who always have an unlimited supply of energy, then wives may begin to feel as though the competition is too fierce to stay in the game.
For most of human history, erotic images have been reflections of, or celebrations of, or substitutes for, real naked women. For the first time in human history, the images’ power and allure have supplanted that of real naked women.
Here is what young women tell me on college campuses when the subject comes up: They can’t compete, and they know it. For how can a real woman—with pores and her own breasts and even sexual needs of her own (let alone with speech that goes beyond “More, more, you big stud!”)—possibly compete with a cybervision of perfection, downloadable and extinguishable at will, who comes, so to speak, utterly submissive and tailored to the consumer’s least specification?
If our wives know we are staring at pictures of 25-yr olds with implants and laser-enhancements, then they will be less inclined to display their own bodies in the marriage bed. If they cannot replicate the wild, erotic passion of an actress who is making cash to act out a scripted fantasy, then they might just stop being as responsive during real live sex. Again, the point is that pornography sabotages the real thing.
3] Viewing Porn makes us a partner with Satan. To click on a pornography site is to help fund Satan’s vilest projects in the world. The complex web behind the footage and the videos has tendrils that are connected to red light districts across the world where little children are imprisoned as sex slaves. It is a system that promises cash and stardom to young girls then nurtures drug use that numbs the reality of the brutalizing demands. Many porn addicts find themselves in need of ever-increasing deviance in the sites and images they visit. Child pornography is on this path. As a preacher, I do not normally talk about hell, fire, brimstone and the Devil. But I do when I talk about porn. To view it is to partner with evil.
So many young people I work with are passionate about social justice. Yet in my view, pornography is one of the greatest social justice issue of our times—embedded in its production are racism, mysogyny, and even slavery. If we want to be passionate about social justice, let’s start with how we use our laptop’s mouse.
If you are reading this and you are struggling with pornography, I am pleased to report that Jesus and His Gospel are strong. Strong enough, in fact, to destroy the destroyer and to redeem the destruction. I am also pleased to report that there is help. For starters, here are a couple of links…
Also, here is a great book to start with—