January 3, 2006
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.
And what of the choice to solicit responses to a blog posting on a particularly controversial subject? With unprecedented ease of access comes the temptation to "shoot from the hip" and respond with little thought or care for how one comes across. Are "Christian" blogs noticeably better in this respect? Or does the lack of a filter for all but the worst of responses almost inherently set up the readership for having to deal with extremists (in either tone or content) on both sides of a divisive issue? Of course, one can learn a lot from seeing how the far ends of a spectrum react. But is the church of Jesus Christ edified and built up? Are non-Christians who choose to peruse the conversation likely to be attracted to the faith? Will mediators and peacemakers win out over the rabble rousers? I'm not yet convinced that the answers to any of these questions are affirmative.
Besides, what messages are we sending when we allow bloggers or those who respond to them to post almost any linguistic utterance at will for all the world to read? To the undiscriminating, surely the answer is that even the most meaningless, intimate, hateful, crude or careless thought deserves an outlet enabling others to talk back. From a non-theological perspective, this is the ultimate demeaning of human language. From a Christian perspective, it may be an offense to the Word who alone gives human communication grace. But then, you might not be reading these words if it weren't for a blog site. So am I overreacting?