Christian blogging — a way forward, part 1

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Yesterday, I wrote about some of my frustrations with the evangelical blogosphere. In my next few posts, I want to point out the things that make some bad blogs, and then suggest some ways this could be fixed. These will be a series of personal impressions. I’m not trying to be “objective,” but simply to point out a handful of things that bother me most.

If you feel differently, or can think of ways I can nuance and refine what I’m suggesting, please let me know in the comments. Also, I’ll be giving some examples but won’t directly criticize particular blogs. That doesn’t seem smart.

Anyway, on with the show:

Don’t pretend to be something you’re not.

This is difficult for everyone, I think — especially me. It’s easy to start thinking you know a lot because you have an M.Div. (or are working toward one). But the sad reality is that too many evangelicals try to blog about things they don’t really understand. As an example, I can think of numerous people who opposed the “New Perspective on Paul” and wrote extensively about their opinions while obviously not understanding the issues in all their complexity. (And they are complex, so don’t ask me what I think.)*

The worst part about it is that when someone does this, they rob their blog of what could make it great. The beauty of the blogosphere is that anyone can make it if they find their niche. Anyone. You don’t even have to be a “good writer,” you just have to have something worthwhile to say in a way no one says it already. And everyone has something worthwhile to say.

This is what makes Tim Challies so successful, I think — his book reviews. There aren’t many evangelicals on the internet (if any) who read so much popular Christian literature and write so much about what they read than he does. That strikes me as a good model.

*Now, full disclosure: I’m pretty sure I’ve blogged about NPP before. In college! Shame on me.

Don’t let yourself become the “conservative/liberal/moderate” person.

I know this kind of goes against what I just said about finding your niche, but this has more to do with your ideological posturing than your content or style. Regardless of how good your niche is, if everything you write comes from this predetermined mindset that you’re going to be conservative, you’ll become “the conservative blogger about _____.” The same way, if you’re attitude toward everything is rile up your readers and push the envelope, or challenge the status quo, you’re becoming the “edgy blogger about ____.”

This works for some people. But to my mind it makes a bad blog, and a bad blog is one I won’t read. I don’t like reading blogs that either always affirm my opinion or always challenge it. Ideally, you want your conservatively-inclined reader to heartily support some things you say but then be challenged other times. Same thing for your liberally-inclined reader (and you should want that kind!). A good rule of thumb might be you don’t want any single reader to agree with everything you say. That won’t happen anyway of course, if you write enough, but your goal should be for your reader to always think, not always nod her head in agreement.

An excellent example of how to do it right is the biblical archaeology blog called BiblePlaces, run by Todd Bolen and Seth Rodriquez. The writers certainly seem to come from a conservative mold, but Bolen in particular doesn’t give people slack because they claim to support the biblical account. If the “evidence” comes from a poor reading of the biblical text or shoddy archaeological methodology, he doesn’t hesitate to point out the errors just because the person seems “conservative.”

The Gospel Coalition is pretty good at this in content but poor in broader approach. They write about art, literature, movies, secular music and all sorts of things the evangelical Reformed tend to overlook. That’s great. But, as an evangelical Reformed myself, I don’t think I’ve ever come away from a TGC piece thinking, “that was a little left of where I am.” Not as great.

More tomorrow. Meanwhile, again, this is my opinion. Tell me yours in the comments.

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I’m tired of the evangelical blogosphere

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I used to love reading Christian blogs, and not even that long ago. Back when Google Reader was still a thing, I had a pretty regular intake of this weird corner of the internet — both the “Young, Restless, Reformed”/Gospel Coalition sites and the more moderate ones like J.R.D. Kirk’s excellent “Storied Theology.”

When I had to move everything over to a new aggregator, I started to unsubscribe from blogs I almost never read anymore or don’t actually like. By the end, I’d dropped almost half of my evangelical blog section, but I kept all my sports blogs (e.g. mgoblog, Joe Posnanski, the incomparable Smart Football). Why?

A friend just emailed me a link to a Peter Enns’ post here: “On the Count of 3, ‘Let’s All Pre-Judge Rob Bell.” He links to a smattering of initial criticism from conservatives (Denny Burk, Carl Trueman among them) of a promo video for a new Rob Bell book, urging that we not write scathing reviews of books we haven’t read. Fair enough — Enns makes an important point and I have no problem with what he said.

Nor do I think, generally speaking, it’s always wrong to respond to promo material; it might not be the full book but it’s usually still making a claim about something, otherwise it’s lousy promo material. I reference the Enns post not to comment on its content, but to bemoan the deleterious nature of evangelical blogs this little exchange represents.

Sports bloggers tend to be (again, generally speaking) supportive of other sports blogs which consistently produce diverse, high-quality content about a given subject (like college football, for instance). Each writer has his or her own niche, and collectively they cover a subject no one person could ever have time to write about. The good blogs have excellent prose, penetrating analysis, and the individual personality of fanhood that brings us all to the internet in the first place. Minor differences are minor. Subjective taste is fairly well-defined. I like Michigan, you like Ohio State. Now let’s talk about why punting is stupid.

Meanwhile the evangelical blogosphere is too often a bunch of theological skirmishes, with half the group saying we should lay down our guns and get along (while still taking potshots) and the other half denying that they’re even fighting really.

I think this is why I suddenly have no interest in blog debates. That stuff used to be my jam, but now it’s just incredibly depressing.*

People like Rob Bell will do things. Then conservatives like Trueman and Burk will criticize them for doing these things by writing sometimes-rash blogs, and moderates like Enns will defend them by writing sometimes-rash blogs of their own. The conservatives will write that they just stand for truth but they’ll appear uptight and reactionary doing it, while moderates will write that the conservatives are too self-serious and divisive but will be just as frustratingly polemical.

That’s where we are. We can do better.

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* doubly so when you read the always-awful comment sections.