Blogging or Flogging? Making a Place for Grace in Online Communication

NOTE:This article appears in the July/August 2006 issue of Frontline Magazine. It appears here with permission of the publisher.

What Is Blogging?

“Welcome to the new tech boom,” exclaims Newsweek. What is this latest discernable culture trend? It goes by many names—Web 2.0, the “Living Web,” user-generated content… Whatever you call it, it is obvious that the Internet has erupted into a hub of personal interaction and networking. “Collective intelligence” is valued and desired.

Examples of the embracing of community and social networking online can be seen in the increased usage of particular sites. While Internet activity continues to accelerate at the modest rate of 4% more users here in the US (February 2005–February 2006), Google’s blogger.com grew to the tune of 528% more users over the same time frame. Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia assembled by the collaborative efforts of its readers, regularly appears among the top visited sites on the Web and experienced a surge of 275% usage growth in 2005. MySpace.com, with an astounding 37 million visitors in March 2005, has become the second most popular site on the Web, right behind Internet portal site Yahoo. MySpace was recently acquired by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. for $580 million.

Some Common Terms

Blog: An online journal or diary, usually with capability for readers to interact with the author/material through comments.

Chat: Text-based conversations that take place in real time. This is also known as “Instant Messaging.”

Emoticon: Symbols used to suggest emotion. These are also known as “Smileys.”

FAQs: “Frequently Asked Questions.”

Flaming: The act of posting messages with intent to insult and offend. Flaming can lead to an all-out “blog war,” where the battle is about persons and personalities rather than ideas and content.

Forum: A Website to facilitate discussion. Readers may begin “threads” on topics they wish to converse or debate on, and to which others may “post” their reaction. Also known as a “Discussion Board.”

Lurker: One who reads a blog or forum but does not regularly participate by posting.

Netiquette: Online manners. While these may vary to a degree by community, there are some unifying principles, such as ALL CAPS BEING THE TEXT EQUIVALENT OF SHOUTING.

Newbie: An inexperienced individual, either to a community or to the Internet in general.

Spam: Comments that are pointless and off-topic, usually containing advertising.

Troll: An individual who posts inflammatory messages with the motive of disrupting discussion and antagonizing the members of an online community.

URL: “Uniform Resource Locator”; the Website address (such as http://fbfi.org).

Problems and Pitfalls

However, these cultural trends are not without their problems. Accusations of accuracy problems continue to haunt Wikipedia. MySpace, as any savvy Christian parent, teacher, or youth worker can tell you, is fraught with lewdness, immorality, and rampant unrestrained worldliness. Sites hosted on services like Blogger can vary widely in their reliability and value according to the whims of the individual authors. These issues have caused some to question whether or not a Christian has any business being involved in such venues. One prominent Fundamentalist leader offered this assessment on blogs at the ACCC 2005 Annual Convention:

“For the most part, I look at them as a pooling of ignorance and generally a waste of time. I suppose that they can be helpful in some ways, but I don’t pay any attention to them personally. I think they can be quite a distraction, especially for younger men who should be learners more than pontificators.”

Such concerns are not completely without merit. However, I believe it is important to understand that the technology we are discussing is first and foremost a platform for communication. For the careful Christian, Internet communication can provide a medium for thoughtful interaction and influence. Many thoughtful and relevant discussions of particular interest to Fundamentalism have taken place on the Internet recently. Sites such as SharperIron, Religious Affections, Pensees, Paleoevangelical, and My Two Cents have brought seminary presidents alongside small church pastors and church members, providing a platform to discuss ideas and tearing down notions of inaccessibility. Opportunities for learning and thoughtful discussion between generations have helped to eradicate generational stereotypes and see progress made for the cause of Christ.

Purpose and Principles

Ultimately, blogging is about influence. While an average blog audience may be much smaller than the circulation of a newspaper, magazine, or broadcast, a blogger often has more direct influence with his audience than traditional media. Recent research shows that “the Internet’s largest impact comes in connecting people to other people for advice or sharing valuable experiences. For about one-third (34%) of those who used the Internet in a key way in a decision, the Internet’s capacity to let users draw on social networks was part of the decision-making dynamic.” David Alan Black observes that a successful blog “combines solid, substantial satisfaction of the mind and soul with gladness and rejoicing—even a bit of frivolity at times.”

Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.
James 1:19, 20

Many “newbies” to blogosphere communication struggle with frustration over content. Granted, there is much content that would warrant legitimate concern. Blogs and forums seem to thrive on controversial topics. It is tempting to indulge in venting—releasing frustrations, anger, disappointment, and critical speech. Someone has quipped that when Fundamentalists begin blogging, it could be more accurately described as “flogging.”

Advice For Christian Bloggers

In the face of changing technology, there are unchanging principles of communication and conduct the believer must adhere to. It is important to maintain consistency in this area of speech. In 1 Corinthians 9:24–27, Paul tells us of the importance of temperance in all areas of life, and warns of the consequences if we become out of balance. If we wish to exalt Christ in our lives, it must be evident in our speech and our keystrokes!

1. Be Purposeful

He that is slow to wrath is of great understanding: but he that is hasty of spirit exalteth folly. Proverbs 14:29

The wide-open nature of Internet conversation confers an open door to criticism and complaint. Because blogs are gauged on traffic (how many people “visit” or read the article and ensuing comments), marginal issues often become major points of discussion, while more positive posts may seem to get glossed over because of widespread agreement. Inevitably, as in everyday life, one will encounter malcontented, disgruntled people.

Being reactionary is a tendency we must be careful to avoid. If you decide to respond to someone, are you so concerned with combating the assertion that we forget the individual behind it? Christlike communication demands that we be known as people of propriety and restraint—known for moderation in our temperament, possessing a gentle spirit of forbearance (Phil. 4:5).

2. Be Passionate

Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord. Romans 12:11

Some have equated this attitude of meekness with a weak constitution. Recently, in exhorting a brother on his online attitude, I was accused of being governed “by my feminine side.” However, gentleness and fervency are not mutually exclusive concepts in the Word of God.

The committed Christ-follower must be passionate when it comes to truth. Militancy and tenacity may not be popular in our postmodern society, but contending confidently for the truth is not something we should be tentative and apologetic over.

3. Be Personal

That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ. Ephesians 4:14, 15

The idea of a virtual or alternate reality is often connected to the technology of the Internet. It is relatively simple to create an online persona. Part of the appeal of blogging is that it can open the door to interaction with new friends, new interests, and new ideas.

In the process, however, we must be careful to preserve truth. I do not speak of the truth of God’s Word here, but of our truth—us. Rather than hide behind a cloak of anonymity, Christian leaders have a tremendous opportunity to let people inside their lives and see the struggles and victories of following Christ—what Tim Jordan referred to recently at the 2006 National Leadership Conference as “truthing it.”

As this communication platform continues to develop, we must realize that concerns are warranted and precautions are necessary. However, opportunities also abound. Latest studies show that “nearly two-thirds of online Americans use the Internet for faith-related reasons. The 64% of Internet users who perform spiritual and religious activities online represent nearly 82 million Americans.” To overlook this opportunity to declare and communicate truth would seem a tragic oversight indeed.
Greg Linscott
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Greg Linscott serves as pastor of Faith Baptist Church in Skowhegan, Maine. He is happily married to Jennifer, with whom he shares three beautiful daughters. They are expecting their fourth child in February 2007. Greg has served as Forum Director for SharperIron since its inception. He also maintains a personal blog at http://greglinscott.wordpress.com.

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