Blogs and the internet can be great resources for learning about and growing in the Christian walk. At the same time they can also be dangerous areas. How can one safely navigate the blogs in a way that one can manage time well and be accountable before God? This article answers the question.

Source: Faith in Focus, 2014. 3 pages.

Don't Get Blogged Down

In the interests of open disclosure, I must confess to being a bit of blog junkie. I can easily fritter away a lunch time on chasing down the next free book offer (that I will probably never read) or scour­ing the opinion pieces of six different people on whatever the ‘hot issue’ of the day is in the blogosphere. So it was timely for me to be asked to write the present article. I needed something to keep me from getting ‘blogged’ down in this brave new world of social media. Whether you are just starting out surfing the blogosphere, or whether you are an old timer, you need to be aware of the following if you are going to make the most of your experience.

Every man and his blog🔗

It’s seems that these days every man, woman and child feels they need to have a blog to vent, express, or share their daily insights with the world. We should not conclude from this that all these people have something wonderfully enriching and encouraging to contribute to the global Christian community. The first thing we’ve got to recognise about the blogosphere is that while it is won­derful that everyone can express their opinions, not all opinions are of equal worth. Some opinions are ill-informed, poorly thought through, and some are downright dangerous. The question you need to ask is ‘Am I reading something from a person who has some expertise on their subject matter and who actu­ally has something worthwhile to say’?

The fact that blog pages can be written by anyone and everyone is also one of the wonderful strengths of the blogosphere. To have a voice in previous ages, you needed to have a big ministry, or be a well-known theologian, or know someone in high places who could broker your book deal. But now, ordinary people have a voice through their own blogs. Ordi­nary believers struggling through unique circumstances are able to testify to God’s faithfulness and goodness in such situations. One of the most moving blog pages I have read is by Greg Lucas. He wrote of his experience as a father with a son who was non-verbal and severely autistic1. I distinctly remember reading one account where he spoke of steeling himself for the battle of bathing his 17 year-old son. It was always a heated battle, but on this occasion his son willingly got in the bath and began to relax. Greg wrote of the profound thankfulness to God for that precious moment. This ordinary believer influenced my theology of thankfulness in a more significant way than most of the theologians I had ever read. It is the personal aspect of the blogosphere that makes it so helpful to many.

The illusion of understanding🔗

One of the things that make blog pages relatively appealing is their brevity. You can read for twenty minutes, and in that time you will have been able to glean the thoughts of four (or more) different bloggers on any particular issue. You might conclude that with this breadth of reading of different bloggers from differ­ent theological traditions that now you have mastered your topic and will be the fount of all wisdom. This is, of course, a complete illusion. You can seldom get a solid understanding of any topic from such brief reading. Usually the blog opinion is only the tip of the iceberg on a multifaceted and complex issue. You would never claim to have really under­stood an issue because you have read the letters to the editor in the Saturday paper. Blogs are much the same.

Once we grasp that this is the genre that we are dealing with, then blogs can be used with profit. Blogs can be very good primers for getting you started on thinking about theological or ethical issues. They can whet your appetite for more, and as long as you go on with your digging and meditating and inves­tigating, you will be sure to profit. Last year I was reading some blog interactions on a debate about sanctification. Some were arguing that sanctification occurs by simply remembering your justifica­tion. Others were arguing that growth in godliness has a number of scriptural motivations. This led me to Holiness by JC Ryle and The Hole in Our Holiness, by Kevin De Young. These books may not have been part of my reading diet if not for the helpful prompting of the blogosphere.

Natural resources🔗

The blog page is a natural go-to site for resources. Resources for Christian living abound. There are resources for pre-marital counselling, Bible reading programmes (the blog is where I found my all-time favourite Bible reading programme, the ‘Kingdom Bible Reading Plan’ 2), free and cheap books to be downloaded (www.challies.com is a great site for pointing these out), podcasts galore, theological journals, and of course wonderful church magazines (Faith in Focus back issues can be read back to 2002!). Clearly, many useful resources can be obtained. You can even sit in on a Christian conference overseas for free. Of course, there is a need to be discerning in this area.

The other word of caution is that as Christians we need to be disciplined with the management of our time. With so many blogs and resources at our finger­tips we can be unwise and fritter away countless hours when our time could be better spent elsewhere (Eph 5:15-16). One solution if you are ill-disciplined in this regard is to install a programme that blocks particular web pages at certain times of the day 3. Another remedy is to adjust the way you approach blog pages. Learn to approach them in the way that a male approaches shopping 4. When a male goes to the shops to purchase a new pair of jeans, he is not there to try on every possible pair in the shopping centre. He is not going to get distracted by the sale on at the home-ware store next door. He is not going to broaden his search to include the purchase of a new beanie and a pair of gloves. No, he gets the jeans, preferably the first pair that fits, and then he gets out of there as quickly as possible. It’s a good way to approach blog pages. Know what you are looking for in terms of the subjects you are interested in. You don’t have to read every article of your favourite blogger, you don’t have to follow every link, you don’t have to wade into every debate. Know what you are searching for, and when you have found it, read it and digest it, and then get out of there!

Big brother is not watching🔗

Bloggers do not simply share resources and keep us up to date on current issues around the globe. Bloggers provide us with teaching and instruction. Bloggers teach us about the trinity, they make pronouncements about the biblical position on homosexuality, they urge us to adopt a particular view on the use of spiritual gifts. What happens when they are wrong? Is there a retraction? Is there a discipline trial? No, nothing happens because big brother is not watching. There is no-one keeping them account­able for their instruction. In effect, you can say virtually anything you want in a blog page, and there are absolutely no consequences.

Contrast this with any form of teach­ing in a local church. If I were to deviate from our confessional position one Sunday as I preached, you can be sure that my elders would remind me of my ordination vows and hold me to them. If I were to present some of my musical preferences as binding commandments for the church, my elders would remind me not to go beyond what is written. If I were to speak rudely and condescend­ingly to my Bible study group, my elders would have a firm word for me about loving my brothers and sisters. I am very much accountable for any teaching min­istry I am part of in the local church. Perhaps we shouldn’t be reading any blog page that doesn’t have the follow­ing disclaimer ‘this blog page is overseen by the elders of xx church.’

I follow Paul, I follow Apollos...🔗

Whether we like it or not, we live in the age of the celebrity. This includes, dare I say it, the celebrity pastor 5

(although I’m pretty sure this is not a problem in the RCNZ). There are pastors overseas who are tremendously influential via blogs and sermons in our own circles. Some of our members even become little ‘Kellerites’6or ‘Piperites’,7reading every blog and opinion with religious devotion. Whilst some of these celebrities have wonderful insights and things to teach, we should be very wary of following the opinions of one person. Just because your favourite celebrity pastor said it, doesn’t necessar­ily make it authoritative for the church in all times and all places.

One of the impacts of following your favourite celebrity is that, inadvertently, the ministry of the local church can be sidelined. Those elders who are called by God to speak into your life, and guard you from false teaching, and equip you for works of service become a faint whisper, while the celebrity blogger becomes the megaphone you always listen to. This is not healthy. Those who are called to shepherd you and give an account for your soul, are those elders the Lord has appointed in your local church. Isn’t it those you know best, and who know you best, you should allow to have the greatest influence upon you? I’m not convinced that the rise of the blogosphere encourages this to a significant degree. If a blog page has a high view of the place and rightful influence of the local church, I am much more inclined to visit regularly. I hope you are too.

Blog pages can be very exciting places to learn and grow and discover. Someone captured this well when they said: “Blog­ging is to writing what extreme sports are to athletics: more free-form, more accident-prone, less formal, more alive. It is, in many ways, writing out loud” 8This free form nature of the blog is its great strength and the thing that capti­vates. But is also its greatest weakness. We need to be mindful of both if we are not to get blogged down.

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