In May 2006 I visited a certain well-read Christian blog for the first time. The content of the day's post was a review of a controversial Christian book. I had been pointed to the post by another blogger who claimed the comment trail following the review was unloving and unfair. I, along with several hundred others, flew to the controversy. As I read through the comments, many revealed not only an aversion to the book but severe and specific criticism of the author's character.
As I scanned the comments — many seemingly dashed out in anger — I found myself wondering if these bloggers didn't have something better to do with their time than tear apart a fellow follower of Jesus.
Unfortunately this kind of graceless conversation among Christians is all too common in the blogosphere. "The secular world is not impressed with the Christian world of blogging," says Justin Taylor, proprietor of the blog "Between Two Worlds."*
Justin, whose blog receives up to 1,800 visits per day, believes that many Christ-followers are abandoning the basics when it comes to their online conversations. "Jesus said they will know us by our fruit and by our love, and a lot of blogs are failing in that."
Since the advent of the first web logs in the mid 90s, blogging has exploded. The Blog Herald accounted for more than 70 million blogs worldwide by mid-2006. And Christian leaders and laypeople alike are joining the trend at a rapid rate.
Not only are blogs prolific, but the blogosphere is growing in power. Bloggers are credited with exposing Dan Rather after he presented forged documents regarding President Bush's military service on the show "60 Minutes." After bloggers presented evidence, CBS ultimately apologized for inadequate reporting.
Christian bloggers wield this same power. But what we do with it impacts not only the kingdoms of this world but also God's Kingdom. This presents a new dilemma: How are believers to hold forth biblical truth in a digital age?
"In one sense the Bible has not a single word to say about blogging," Justin points out. "But another way to look at it is that every page of the Bible has something to say about blogging."
One verse Justin believes a Christian blogger should take to heart is Ephesians 4:15 (NIV): "Speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ."
While some bloggers may shy away from speaking the truth in favor of not offending anyone, Justin has more frequently observed the opposite. "Many bloggers are so concerned about getting truth out there, it doesn't seem to matter who they offend or how badly it hurts."
Carolyn McCulley, who ministers to single women through her blog, "Solo Femininity,"* agrees.
"Christian blogging is often characterized by gracelessness," she says. "As we write we should not be above the commands of Proverbs 31 to open our mouths with kindness and love, instruction and the law of wisdom on our tongues."
The Christian blogger bears greater responsibility than his secular counterpart because we answer to a higher authority. "The Lord Jesus Christ is looking over our shoulders as we type," Carolyn says. "And we are one day going to be accountable to Him for every word."
In light of this, believers should take great care when navigating the blogosphere, avoiding such pitfalls as carelessness, gossip and dissension. Christian bloggers should adopt a responsible view of blogging that incorporates the following basic disciplines.
Maturity. "A lot of people assume that just because they can blog they should blog," Justin says. "There are probably a lot of people out there who shouldn't be blogging."
Justin suggests bloggers consider their level of spiritual maturity before discussing matters of doctrine on a blog. "The Bible has a lot to say about teachers and their increased level of accountability to God," he says. "The more you blog — and the more people read your blog — the more responsibility you have."
If a person is questioning whether or not he should blog, he may want to blog under the authority of someone who is more spiritually mature. He could, for example, submit entries that give biblical instruction to a godly mentor before posting them (more under "Accountability" below).
Self-Control. Proverbs 10:19 warns, "When words are many, sin is not absent." This is never more true than in the blogosphere — an information medium that allows instantaneous dissemination of thoughts. "In a digital world, we have to work very hard to refuse the pressure of the immediate," Carolyn says. "Just because you can hit publish, doesn't mean you should."
Avoiding the pressure to post is counterintuitive for many bloggers. We are driven to be the first to comment on an issue and don't want to be left behind in an online discussion. Still, deliberation and restraint are crucial to maintaining a consistent witness.
When blogging about emotionally charged issues, Carolyn suggests allowing a cool-off period to evaluate whether you're writing out of anger, impatience or self-righteousness. "If you're questioning your motives, there's nothing so important that you can't wait 24 hours to post it."
Good advice, considering words posted online are not easily withdrawn. "Those words never ever go away," Carolyn says. "Once you put them up, they're there."
Accountability. Several months ago Justin ran across an article online that he found intriguing and wanted to blog about. "I also knew it could be easily misunderstood and a little too provocative," he says.
He sent the article to two of his pastors and half a dozen friends and told them he was considering posting it but wanted their counsel. "Enough of them responded that they wouldn't post it, that I ended up not doing it," he says. "There's wisdom in a multitude of counselors."
Carolyn also seeks counsel on her most sensitive blog postings. "I ask people, 'Am I being gracious? Am I being encouraging? Am I being accurate, for that matter?'"
Humility. James' advice to be quick to listen and slow to speak often goes unheeded in the blogosphere. Opinions fly with little regard for uncovering the heart of the matter. This is especially noticeable when blogging about those with whom we disagree.
Carolyn, who asks permission before writing about anyone on her blog, says it's helpful to consider God's perspective. "We're speaking about people God created and redeemed, and our lack of charity in conversation just reveals our own arrogance — as though we can see the whole picture of someone's life."
Instead, Christians ought to offer judgments with generous amounts of grace and humility.
Justin and Carolyn agree that when undertaken responsibly, blogging can be a tremendous ministry. And the beauty of blogging is that anyone can do it. Justin holds up Tim Challies' blog* as an example of this.
"Tim has become one of the most famous Christian bloggers," Justin says. He writes 150 book reviews a year. He has posted something every day for 900 days running.
"Tim hasn't gone to seminary. He doesn't have a Ph.D. He isn't connected to some famous Christian ministry. And yet he's a faithful Christian brother who has a sharp mind and is a good writer.
"Without the blogosphere," Justin goes on, "people like Tim would just be reading books in their offices. And yet people keep going back to his blog day after day because they find it helpful and informative and edifying. We need more people like Tim out there: people who are godly and have good minds and can speak the truth winsomely."
If you are already a blogger or aspire to be one, you've discovered fertile soil. Like Justin, Carolyn and Tim, you've been given the opportunity to spark conversations that draw people to Christ and inspire them to pursue Him more passionately.
* For reference only. Referral to external Web sites should not be construed as blanket endorsement by Focus on the Family of the complete content of those sites or of any sites linked therein.