Disadvantage of Blogs as Theological Discourse

Because I often write about the benefits of blogging and the great tool I see blogs to be I thought I’d look at it from the other side and investigate some of the disadvantages they come with. There have a been a number of ongoing comments here and its led me to think further about blogging as “theological discourse.” Taking my cue from Hauerwas I wrote that blogging has the advantage of fitting into a local context within a community of believers. I said,

“For Hauerwas, Theology and ethics take place within the local context of a given faith community and is always on the move. Because this is one of his main focuses (the church as its own polis) he typically spends his time writing short essays about specific ethical and pastoral issues, including medical ethics, interpretation of scripture, war, abortion, homosexuality, and the church in the political world.”

Theologically oriented blogs work best when they deal with specific issues that the blogger faces within his or her own context – issues that we know about best and are dealing with make for meaningful posts not just to people in close proximity to us but also to people visiting the site. This is because when we work out issues in dialogue we help others see some of the process we’ve gone through. Not that people will necessarily agree with us, but it helps to model thinking and conversation.

I want conversation to take place on this site, I want to deal with issues that are meaningful, challenging and need to be talked about. So we continue to invite more people in hoping that we as a community of people connected to this site will push our conversation forward – illuminating parts that have been overlooked. This is one of the major advantages to blogs – people from all over and vastly different experiences, backgrounds and influences join together in dialogue (this is one of the only ways this happens).

Ethics Outside the Community Are Only A Mirror of Real-life

The disadvantage to blogging then, at least in terms of “theological discourse,” is at least three-fold.

1. Real Witness Must Happen In Person – Christian tracts, TV shows, radio and now websites and podcasts all attempt to reach out and make a witness to the reality of Jesus and the Gospel. All of these methods are useful only insofar as they connect people to their real-life experience. They can be only pointers to real transformation. One can only share verbally or throw written words so much about Christ, the real foot work comes in when Christians meet others in person and their own lives point to the real work of Jesus. Without this aspect, all the above methods are of little value in creating disciples of Jesus. At best they can only help convince people of arguments for and against belief – they cannot in and of themselves help change practices and lifestyles – this is done in community.

2. Commenting on blogs is an Odd Form of Communicating – In normal everyday conversation we have the priveledge to see each other’s faces, hear inflections and tones, and tend to be more gentle in how we speak to each other. Rarely do I experience someone who jumps into the middle of a conversation as an antagonist (whether politely or impolitely). In all fairness I actually like the fact that people can come into conversations later down the road, this is a strength of the written word over the spoken word. But even still this kind of jumping into conversations makes for odd communication and sometimes makes it tricky to remain consistent in a given topic.

3. It Creates a Hard to Define Community Where People Come And People Go – Blogs as community formers lack boundaries for community life. As a Quaker I find my home in low-church structures, I don’t like over-controlling meetings and clubs where people tend to be overbearing. In other words, I’m the last person you’d find in a cult meeting. But the communities that blogs create are on the other very far end of these overbearing communities.

Interest and/or personal commitment in the blog’s topic, the commenters or the blog writer himself/herself that keeps people coming back. There are no other boundaries I can think of that create and define a blog’s community. These are acceptable reasons to have an online community, but when it comes to knowing one another more personally, questioning another’s behaviors, or benefiting from a person’s character and example blogs fall far short. This makes it hard to create a lasting community concerned for one another’s real life needs. People easily come and go – some drop one comment and never return, some stay for a while but never give their real names or hide behind a false identity. When commenters comment and don’t have websites, their comments are often spoken out of the darkness – without a context – without a story. This makes it difficult to have real stable friendship and community.

As you are all aware I thoroughly enjoy blogging, I enjoy even more the dialogue and learning that takes place here and I totally appreciate all the readers who visit. So don’t take this as a disgruntled-blogger post, because I am not. I’d like to think through the way we understand and operate in these online spaces – so that we make the best of them without expecting too much. This website is only an unbalanced view of the Christian life – from one voice (mine), and disembodied from that one voice’s real life. Transformation for all of us takes place first off the screen, in the day to day nitty gritty. No amount of words, postulating, and waxing on will bring in the kingdom it is the life lived for Jesus that is the partial answer to the prayer, “Your kingdom come, your will be done. On earth as it is in heaven.”

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Wess

...is the William R. Rogers Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC., PhD in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary, served as a "released minister" at Camas Friends Church, and father of three. He enjoys sketchnoting, sharing conversation over coffee with a friend, listening to vinyl and writing creative nonfiction.

11 thoughts on “Disadvantage of Blogs as Theological Discourse”

  1. Good reflections. I have been thinking about this in light of an ongoing conversation on UU blogs about “god-talk” in congregations. Some feelings have gotten hurt, people have felt objectified and dismissed–but some great discussions have come about, too.

    The advantage of the blog-level discourse is that perhaps these issues wouldn’t have been talked about, or that, had they been, it would have been within one local group. There wouldn’t have been the insight of other congregational experiences.

    Too, I recently met a lot of these people. This hasn’t impacted my commenting much–I tend to think about if I would say my comment out loud to the blogger, and in a crowded room–but it has given me a personal context for some of the statements. Things which may rub met he wrong way normally are taken with an understanding of the speaker’s background.

    At the end of the day, I think of the blogosphere as a place, mentally. It’s like a coffee shop where I get to read books and interact with the authors. And my own thinking and theology have benefited from it greatly–but when I met this particular group of bloggers, I had the wish that we all lived together locally. There is something missing from blogging, and we need to be aware of that, especially when we’re doing theology.

    (End of rant…I really just wanted to add an Amen! but got carried away.)

  2. Colleen great comment – I love that what you said

    “I tend to think about if I would say my comment out loud to the blogger, and in a crowded room.”

    I think one problem is when we say comments on blogs we wouldn’t say to someone face to face – your point puts this in good perspective.

    Also you’re right, blogs are the perfect place to hash out topics and conversation we might not be privy to otherwise. I love that such an eclectic group of people can converse together – I just hope that some kind of learning is taking place, and we aren’t just shouting aloud in a room full of other people shouting aloud.

  3. David – I think more of us Quakers should read Hauerwas he has a lot to say to our tradition and I think could help us out a bit.

    Do you have a favorite book of his or essay?

  4. Wess,
    You do truly identify some of the limitations of experiencing Christian community in a blog context. And certainly we cannot literally break bread with each other across the network (though this could eventually be arranged, I think, given the right motivation and circumstances), thus much indeed is missing in such a context.

    On the other hand, there are things that can be accomplished in blogs that could not elsewhere or otherwise be accomplished. I am thinking, for example, of Paul’s remark that the “Word went out to the whole world,” (in which he was using the future perfect tense as I understand things). At no previous time in history was this possible in the way that it is today. We now have the potential for the whole Christian church, each individual in every part of the world, to share in the work of the whole of God’s community on earth as it happens and unfolds. (Before anyone says, “But …,” stop and consider that many of our ‘bah, humbugs’ are really limitations on what we believe that God is able–even through us, perhaps especially through us–to do.)

    (On a slightly unrelated topic: I would like to add that it is a welcome and refreshing sight when someone who preaches the Word of God shows clear evidence of an openness to legitimate criticism and a willingness to rethink something and change it. The removal of a photo, but not the comments which led to that change, are telling.)

    By the way, I have another ‘somewhat’ to say (which I am also weary to contain), but it would be better to say it in the thread to which it responds, so I’ll refrain from just ‘jumping into the middle’ here.

    I agree that one advantage of blogs is that everyone gets to read the entirety of another’s contribution to the conversation when the contributors might never have been given the chance for any such exchange if the conversation had taken place with everyone in the same room.

    Thus there will be–and have been–conversations in blogs that could not happen elsewhere. I think, too, that it would be difficult to argue that nothing has thereby been gained. Nor is it necessarily important that the potential benefit of the omni-present tense of a written discourse be immediately recognized. After all, it wasn’t until Jesus disappeared from sight that the meaning of His conversation with the disciples on their way to Emmaus became clear.

    Yes, there is always the difficult question: If a conversation is moderated, to what extent does this turn it into a monologue or the simple recitation of an approved (read: safe and non-controversial) formula? And the counterpoint: If it isn’t moderated, to what extent does it simply turn into a brawl? For answers to these questions, we must turn to a/the moderator. Some of the most effective communicators reveal themselves not by what they say, necessarily, but by whom they choose to listen to or to address.

    There are, of course, those occasions when Jesus taught us by pointedly not responding to someone. But He also said that He would never turn away any that came to Him, and advised us to “Give to whoever asks of you.” So I think we need to be careful and search for why He chose not to respond on these occasions, and what He was telling the larger audience by so doing.

    I know that it doesn’t take very much for me to be reminded that I am not yet perfect; not the least reason for which is that however much I may agree to the above command in principle, “whoever” inevitably becomes “the first three or four” in actual practice.

    This is another dimension to the online conversation. A truly dilligent and conscientious commentator might have little time for anything else if he or she were as careful with words as the apostles were. It is far too easy to say ‘enough’ when the other person’s needs have not yet been met. Worse yet, it is far too easy to click ‘submit’ before the content has been fully weighed. (Some blogs permit editing a post after submitting it. I’ve lost track of the number of times such a feature has been useful.)

    John

  5. John,

    What do you mean by these comments:

    “The removal of a photo, but not the comments which led to that change, are telling.”

    “By the way, I have another ’somewhat’ to say (which I am also weary to contain), but it would be better to say it in the thread to which it responds, so I’ll refrain from just ‘jumping into the middle’ here.”

  6. John thanks for the comment, I like the idea of allowing commenters to go back and edit their comments. I will look into a plugin for such a feature.

    Also I like what you had to say about Jesus

    “But He also said that He would never turn away any that came to Him, and advised us to “Give to whoever asks of you.??? So I think we need to be careful and search for why He chose not to respond on these occasions, and what He was telling the larger audience by so doing.”

    We see in Jesus that all are welcome to respond and share and yet sometimes he refused to answer the questions that were being addressed to him.

    This is one main reason why I have always let comments go through on my site. I have those guidelines put in place to keep things far and constructive but I am also hesitant to use them because I recognize everyone room to say something.

    Finally – good point about the immediate importance not needing to be recognized – this is something I hadn’t consider but rings true as I watch how people get to my site.

    I can look and see what searches people performed that brought them here, often times very old posts get picked up by google or yahoo. How interesting that conversations we have long ago are still “live” in relationship to search engines and those conversations hopefully become useful for someone else years later.

  7. Kevin,
    I am referring to the recent thread about the ‘postcards on the H2’ in the former case, and the thread about the Lord’s prayer in the latter, about which I have not yet spoken, but feel the need to.
    John

  8. Hey bro, I just wanted to say thank you for your post on this matter. We never really know who’s watching, or reading for that matter. I just sited C.W. Daniels on my buddies blog for how to comment on a blog. Jus thought you should know.

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