Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Serious Blogging? Part One - Limitations

Because it is a relatively new thing, many people are talking about the usefulness and limitations of blogging. Mark Dever did a little post on The Unbearable Lightness of Blogs back in January. Carl Trueman over at Reformation 21 did a great little piece on blogs and the unfortunate egalitarianism they encourage, among other things (I can’t find that column now, the site’s giving me trouble. I think it was posted in January. If anyone else finds it, can you let me know? Thanks). I think everyone that blogs has done some navel-gazing about the usefulness of the forum for meaningful communication.

If you ask tech-savvy people what blogs are about, you’ll probably get the answer back that they are personal journals that people put up on the ‘net. Why? Because they can. If this was all blogs were about, then I never would have tuned in, or started writing one. Most of the blogs that I read are not personal journals, at least not primarily.

One of the funny things about my little blog world is how small the circle really is.  I look at maybe 20 blogs – only a few every day. On most of those blogs I see a lot of the same people commenting (some sites – like Purgatorio – receive a wider audience, though).

That brings me to the first limitation that I see: Good Christian blogging is not likely to be a powerful evangelistic tool. Atheists have their own blogs, as do agnostics, Wiccans, NASCAR fans … you get the idea. Evangelicalism has been accused of creating a ghetto, isolated from the world “out there.” Christian blogging can make that ghetto smaller (I don’t read blogs by seeker-sensitive types, Arminians, or emergent church people on the one hand, nor do I read blogs by fundamentalists, reconstructionists or other ultra-conservatives on the other hand). A friend in our church reminds me from time to time about the wisdom in reading books by people I don’t agree with. That’s good counsel. I celebrate the people out there in the blogosphere that think like I do – there’s something affirming about that  – but there is a downside to all this “home-teaming,” if you know what I mean. If I think that I am going to set the world on fire with my “sound doctrine posts,” I’m kidding myself. I will do more good face-to-face with folks here in Edson.

On the other hand, God can use anything He pleases. If one person takes a closer look at Christ’s claims because of our little blogging ghetto, fantastic. Some bloggers – like Frank and Neil, if you want some examples – have provoked some interesting response from unbelievers. More power to them!

Another limitation of blogs is the illusory factor they can create. Like online dating, the person at the other end of the keyboard might not live up to his or her self-promotion. In the blogging world, we can say at the very least that the blogger you are reading is not part of your “community,” no matter how faithfully you read his or her blog (okay, if the blogger goes to your church, or is your pastor, this point may not hold water. People in my church keep me honest with my blogging because they know the real me!). Your community is your community, and the center of that is your local church.

Most of the bloggers I read and certainly the bloggers I met at T4G understand this limitation. Two fellows who are examples of excellence in blogging spoke to this at the Band of Bloggers. Both Tim Challies and Justin Taylor downplayed the “community” aspect of blogs and saw them instead as sources of information, like books or periodicals. I can imagine Christian bloggers out there neglecting their “real people” responsibilities because they have an “online community.” This is not good.

Another pitfall in the blogosphere is the anonymity factor. Some people hide behind their alias or anonymous status that the ‘net provides and take potshots at others. This is not fair fighting. Rudeness, gossip and misrepresentation are rampant in email, in blogs and blog comments. Tim Challies has done an excellent post on this recently – I commend it to you.  

There is a transience to the medium of blogging. We can put stuff up that is timeless (like great hymns) but our definition of what is “dated” may contribute to chronological snobbery. If it’s new, it must be better. Most thoughtful readers should be aware of this, but it is a potential pitfall. There is something unsettling about the ethereal nature of blog posts. Some of the better ones I’ve copied and saved as Word files so I will be able to read them again (until my hard drive crashes). Which posts? I’m not telling, because maybe I wasn’t supposed to copy these!

Ah yes, copyright violations, or even violations of people’s privacy and / or information – another pitfall for the blogger. Things are easy to pick off the internet, but we need to be courteous – and legal – as believers and good citizens.

There are other disconcerting aspects to this new technology, but I’m going to quit. I am going to do a Part II on the potential benefits of blogging – maybe tomorrow!  In the meantime, if any of you are interested in this topic, go and get the Band of Bloggers audio. You can find it here. It is currently in six ten-minute pieces, but it is all there.

1 comment:

BugBlaster said...

Good post Terry. There is a lot of hubris in blogs (all of them, the atheists, the nascars as well).

The bloggers I like the best are the ones that speak their mind and make me think, but do not take themselves overly seriously in this medium, because as you said, it's an ethereal unaccountable world.

If nothing personal or lighthearted ever shows up on a blog, I will likely not read it as much.

Oh, I also like it when I know their real names.

Signed Bugblaster (as you know, my real name is on my blog, I just don't want to see twenty thousand hits if I google my name!)