I’ve got a problem. But it’s not the sort of problem that you’re going to have much sympathy for. In fact, it’s not the sort of problem that you’re allowed to have much sympathy for. Because my problem is that i’m far too privileged – for my own good or for anyone else’s good. Which is why, in this day and age, anything I say or claim will be subject to greater suspicion than what practically anyone else on the planet will say or claim. If you don’t believe me, check this succinct quote out from Gene Veith: Read more
Well this is all a bit weird. But I’ve been contacted by the lovely people at Wikio to give me a sneak preview of the new November rankings for blogs on literature. And Q has entered the rankings at 14th. Which is a surprise to say the least. Certainly wasn’t aiming for this – but it’s encouraging to know that someone out there is occasionally dropping by.
He’s nothing if not forthright.
But Carl Trueman is a scarily close to the bone in this (largely justifiable) rant about the absurdities, conceits and self-promotions prevalent in the Christian blogosphere – not unrelated to the subject of a couple of days ago.
Wince away, fellow bloggers… (HT Julian H)
Yesterday, I was involved in a great day organised by Krish Kandiah at the Evangelical Alliance, called GodBlogs. Fantastic – and great fun to meet other bloggers face to face. Krish asked me to give an introductory overview to blogging so i simply tried to put blogging into some sort of historical perspective. One or two asked for my notes, so here is a potted summary of what i said.
HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE CHRISTIAN BLOGOSPHERE
The Urge to Blog: it’s older than you think
The Internet is just a baby. To think that at university, I actually wrote my essays by hand. Can you believe such deprivation? But let’s not forget: the desire to communicate is as old as we are. The only fundamental difference is the medium. Of course that medium affects the message to some extent – we mustn’t be naive about that. And the relative ease that the medium affords us will affect the amount of care that goes into what is said. Hopefully. Perhaps blogging is almost too easy. Before you know it, and before you’ve edited yourself properly – it’s out there.
But in the history of communication, each new medium has provided access to a wider audience for a wider range of communicators. Take printing. In the Middle Ages, books were hand-written, and therefore a luxury, (as was being able to read them). Along comes printing, and suddenly, middle classes with their new-found wealth could afford books and the time to learn to read them. More significantly, pamphlets and books could be widely distributed, disseminating knowledge far beyond the walls of the medieval monastery.
So before printing came to the west, you might have preached a sermon in your local church or university. It would be heard by a handful, and they might talk about it – all by word of mouth. But after printing, Martin Luther could be speaking in a lecture room in Wittenberg – and within weeks, his talk would be translated, printed and distributed – with the result that a few English Christians would find themselves in a pub in Cambridge discussing what he’d said. There is no doubt that printing was a major factor in the spread of the Reformation.
And the internet, and in particular blogging, is just another development in that chain. The only primary difference is that, instead of weeks for your message to extend beyond your locality, it now just takes seconds.
Every medium is of course flawed in some way, and every medium deprives some (so blogs are available only to those online). But what the internet and blogging have done is to democratise speaking and listening more than ever before. Christians are usually way behind the pack when it comes to new media – which is a real shame. Perhaps if we saw blogs in particular as simply a contemporary expression of older forms of communication, I suspect that many our suspicions would be eased. So here is a non-exhaustive and impressionistic list of categories. Of course, one of the beauties and curses of the internet is that nothing particular conforms to anything else – so there is huge overlap. But I guess that if bloggers are methodical and deliberate about their blogging (which many are not!), then they need to decide which of these (or other) categories best suits their style…
The Urge to Blog: it comes in all shapes and sizes
- The Op.-Ed.
An Op-Ed (or opinion editorial – we tend to call them leaders or columns in the UK) was an American journalistic invention, designed to allow senior journalists to voice their opinions, rather than simply report the news. Of course we’re all aware that unbiased reporting is very hard to find, but the great thing about the Op-Ed is that it has no pretence to impartiality. It presents a reflection or argument, designed to stimulate, provoke and challenge. And there are Christian blogs which do this, taking a stimulus from current affairs, national debates or Church events and bringing a Christian perspective to it (especially if that’s being overlooked by the media).
And the best op.-ed. blogs are those that bring a wealth of other knowledge and background to a subject. When I was at university it was said that one of the differences between someone who gets a high 2:1 and who gets a 1st, is that while the 2:1 person really knows their subject, the 1st is able to see links and make connections in the most unexpected way. One fascinating blog does this: a cross between theology and politics – it’s pretty outrageous sometimes, and definitely opinionated: Cranmer. This is an anonymous blogger (and there issues about that) who takes on the name of the great Reformation Archbishop of Canterbury – rather hubristic thing to do I guess! But this blog is nothing if not opinionated, which is the whole point.
- The Commonplace Book
The idea of a commonplace book is centuries-old, especially loved by poets and writers. It is a bit like a verbal version of an artist’s sketchbook. A writer would notice something or hear a pithy line or pick up an unusual argument and jot it down in his book. And sometimes, over the years, these have been published. A few years ago, I was given one by George Lyttleton, a schoolmaster and the father of late, great Jazz man and comedian Humphrey Lyttleton.
The great joy of commonplace books is their randomness – because life is random and you never know what lies around the corner. The Lyttleton one is full of delights and oddities – and ranges from the absurd (like quotes from actual letters written to the Pensions Office) to the erudite (like poems in classical Greek). And that’s how it should be. So a commonplace blog collects everything from the absurd to the quite interesting via the important, with random thoughts and perspectives thrown in. It is a place to collect all those thoughts you get in the shower – good ideas which deserve a hearing – but which don’t have any other more conventional place of expression. There are lots of blogs like that and it’s certainly one of the things I aspire to.
And Christian blogs do this especially when they pass on interesting quotes from books they’ve read or sermons they’ve heard. This is something for example that Adrian Warnock does (amongst many other things) in his blog.
- The Treasure Map
This is one of the most helpful types of blog for regular surfers, since we can feel paralysed by our online choice – and it is impossible to know where to look. Google is great – if you have some idea what to look for. But how do you know where to look for something that you don’t know is there?
So there are a number of blogs that do this (I’ve a number in my RSS reader precisely for this reason): Dave Bish often does on his Blue Fish Project, offering interesting downloads from some of his heroes. Another aspect of this is book & film reviews – and I certainly hope with my reviews to excite people to read things they wouldn’t otherwise touch. Gavin McGrath also often has great and stimulating reviews.
Another more topical version of this is the Faith Central blog that Libby Purves has at The Times – useful for links to various religious things going on in the news and around the world; although I do get a bit frustrated because there seems to be more stories about unfaith than faith! But perhaps that’s just my own hangup.
- The Fanzine
This is the sort of blog that is designed to keep the fan base happy: we all have our heroes – and its great when heroes try to keep in touch with their base. And it seems that ministries are no different. The problem is that there are some blogs out there that are either self-promotion exercises or hero-promotion exercises. Which is fine – especially if you want to find treasure from that particular source. It’s helpful to have it all bunched in one place. But I do sometimes wonder about the wisdom in simply posting about every sermon you ever preach – simply because most of us don’t have the time to download everything on offer. But there is certainly value in informing people of specific things of interest that you have done.
As regular readers know, I’m an obsessive U2 fan, much to the derision of my so-called friends. But one of my favourite fanzine blogs is U2 sermons. It was started to accompany a book of sermons using U2 songs – but has gone on for years since and is full of interesting stuff.
I guess under this heading you could also include the blogs to keep ministry supporters up to speed – especially helpful if you are on the mission field for example. And when we lived in Uganda we had a website which did this, and looking back, it would have been much easier with a blog. There are difficulties; and I do sometimes fear for those who use their blog as a full newsletter, especially when they put all kinds of news about their children and ministries. A blog is just that little bit too public.
- The Pastor’s Study
Abraham Piper, who is John Piper’s son, wrote this fascinating post about why pastor’s should blog. I’ve posted on it before – it’s full of fascinating insights and is a great challenge. And also makes me feel much more justified in being a blogging pastor – so that’s ok then.
But a pastor’s blog allows church members to share in some of the thought processes that go behind their ministry and preaching. That will hopefully enrich their understanding both of the Bible and their pastor, and it will make their pastors seem less remote and cut off. Again it is partly what I aspire to. One great new arrival into the blogosphere is an old friend of mine, Mike Kendall, a pastor in St Neots. He writes regularly on his blog For What It’s Worth engaging with what he’s preaching on and reading. A real encouragement!
- The Scholar’s Tutorial
This gives access to the usually more remote experts. It is great when those who have a profound grasp of a subject, provide access to their understanding to those wider than their immediate circle (such as a seminary). I have a few in my RSS reader – but don’t read them very much because they are often too involved or exhaustive for a cursory glance. But every now and then these will grab me and I’ll want to read more. [Incidentally – and i know i break these rules too often – a good blog post should be more like an After Eight than a 3 course meal; a 3 course meal takes time but is a real treat when you do it; too many After Eights and you feel the effects, but just one or two and you’ve tasted perfection!] So under this category you have David Field, lecturer at Oak Hill or Al Mohler and Ben Witherington in the States.
So that’s my little list. There are undoubtedly many more – and perhaps you can think of some for yourself. Please do add them in comments. From the discussions at the GodBlogs day yesterday, these 3 were suggested:
- Reportage: eg from conferences and events (such as Lambeth or the ELF)
- Agony Aunt/Uncle: providing a forum for people to ask questions and find support
- Network Resource Sharing: designed for people with particular common interests etc
I get asked this every now and then. And I suppose the answer is perhaps yes, usually. But I (of course) feel it has some value, even if few others do – because it certainly helps me get my thoughts clearer on things. I’m asked how I find the time – but actually, a lot of it has become just a part of my process of preparation and engagement (however feebly). And so i don’t feel the need to justify it… that much. But then a friend, Adam, linked me to this article, written by John Piper’s son Abraham. And he pretty much summed it all up with a very spiritual spin on things: so now i feel completely justified in doing it! Plus it gives me another excuse to link this classic Private Eye cartoon from last Feb – and it certainly describes to most ministers/pastors I know, whether they have a blog or not.
To sum up, here are the reasons (but read the whole thing to get the idea):
- … to write
- … to teach
- … to recommend
- … to interact
- … to develop an eye for what is meaningful
- … to be known
So there you go – I’ve got my self-justification off my chest – I can now get back to preparation for the weekend!
can’t for the life of me remember where i dug this up (apologies…) – but as i’m preaching in church this morning, thought it might be quite aposite
I can’t, for the life of me, remember where I got this from (I think it might be from the New York Times – if so apologies). But it was too good to be true. I will definitely regret this, but please let me know if I’ve gone on too long and it’s time for me to return to the kennel, (which, by the way, is the best word to remember for how to pronounce my surname – Meynell rhymes with Kennel!).
- This is serious – Turkish Protestant churches sent death threats – directly affects a number of churches that I’ve regularly spent time with in Turkey. PRAY.
- My former All Souls colleague Jo Jackson has written a couple of great posts about weakness: 1. Willingly Weak and 2. Wonderfully Weak
- Phil Whittall (aka the Simple Pastor) has a great post on ‘We are alone in the universe‘
- Did God Betray You? Really helpful piece about suffering and faith.
- We’re all sadists now: Carl Trueman on provocative but insightful form
- Tim Neufeld on cracking form about U2’s current tour: Ancient Psalms for a State-of-the-Art Tour
So where does it all lead? Well, that’s precisely the problem. It can often feel like the road down has only one conclusion. Or perhaps terminus is the better description. Which is a terrifying thought. Not to mention taboo… Read more
Poets and artists have had it. Leaders and teachers have had it. Normal and extraordinary people have had it. For all I know, even educated fleas have had it.
All kinds of stats get flung around about the black dog (1 in 4 so they say??) but who knows? What matters is not the exact numbers but how commonplace it is – and yet how extraordinarily varied. Read more
Have been thinking of different things I can do on the blog, and one of them is to offer occasional juxtapositions of creativity that warm the heart, stretch the mind, quench the soul. So here is the first: a bringing together of two masters (to whom I’ve returned more than once on Q). Read more
- Ding Dong the witch is dead: if you’ve missed this, it is a must read – a harrowing account of a pastor who is a survivor of horrendous child abuse
- Turkish Armenians with previously hidden Christian heritage are returning to Christianity from Islam
- Phil Whittall has a very good piece on the issue of transhumanism (after the discussion between Peter Thiel and NT Wright)
Well, you work on one book for 5 years, and another one for 5 months, and whaddaya know – they appear on the same day! Well in the UK at least. Tim, the noble overlord of the Good Book Co had asked me to contribute to their little series, Questions Christians Ask a while back. But because a big annual conference in London had the issue of human nature as its main theme, the plan was to work on getting this out in time. Read more