Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Carl Trueman on the dangers of theology blogs

Carl Trueman of Westminster Theological Seminary had these cautionary words to say about the dangers of theology blogging. It is worth pointing out that they were said in a blog interview (here) and that Prof Trueman is a member of the Reformation 21 team (here), so the internet can't be all bad. But his wise words are worth considering:
"If a prideful desire to be a teacher, to be a somebody, is the fundamental problem, then one other aspect which is increasingly problematic is the whole phenomenon of the internet. Now anyone can put their views out for public consumption, without the usual processes of accountability, peer review, careful editing timely reflection etc. which is the norm in the scholarly world and has also been the tradition in the more theologically responsible parts of the Christian publishing industry. The internet has few quality controls and feeds narcissism. Again, I have a friend, a minister in a North American Presbyterian denomination who says that, as he reads many blogs, his overwhelming feeling is one of sadness as he sees men seriously undermining their future ministry through the venom they pour out on others. I think he is right.
Of course, all young theologians and aspiring church leaders say stupid and unpleasant things. I still blush about comments I made 15 or twenty years ago which now seem arrogant and offensive, and certainly unworthy of a Christian. But for those of us who are older, the sins of our youth are thankfully now long vanished from the public sphere; yet such sins committed today can live on indefinitely in cyberspace. I shudder for those who have not yet grasped this basic fact and who say some frightful things on the internet which will come back to haunt them the very first time a church googles their name as part of doing routine background checks on a potential ministerial candidate".
What can we do to avoid the worst features of theology blogging? Here are some suggestions:
1. Regard blogging as an aspect of your ministry. You are accountable to the Lord and the people you serve for what goes on your blog.
2. If you are a pastor, your church members will discover your blog. How can you expect them to treat you with respect if you show little respect for others in the blogosphere?
3. When being polemical, don't caricature the views of your theological opponents. If their views are erroneous, just state them fairly and show how they are unbiblical. That is the best approach.
4. Don't blog anonymously. Tell visitors who you are so they know where you are coming from. Once you have identified yourself, remember that you will meet people in 'real life' who have read your blog. What impression does your blog give of who and what you are?
5. Allow comments so that people can hold you to account for what you say.
6. Never be abusive. Some commenters may get under your skin, but always remember that you are a Christian blogger.
7. Lighten up a bit. Don't take yourself too seriously just becasue you get a few thousand hits a month. If you were any good at writing, you would be paid to do it properly.


Doug McMasters said...

You post runs parallel to some words from John Newton I read recently:

Newton's letter

Thank you for your thoughtful advice.

Doug McMasters

michael jensen said...

love it. Especially, I think Christians have almost NO business being anonymous.

Guy Davies said...


Thanks for the Newton link.


A believer would have to be working in a particularly sensitive missionary situation or something to justify blogging anonymity. (Spoof blogs that use knitted monkeys are OK, though).

Jonathan Hunt said...

Uh huh...

Guy Davies said...


What's that supposed to mean?

Family Blogs said...

Good post, Guy, and sound advice well worth bearing in mind. Words are a dangerous thing, and I know that I've certainly got my expressions and tone badly wrong at times.

I read on someone else's blog recently that they find engagement with non-Christians less abusive than with believers. Now what's wrong with that picture?

And, thanks a bunch by the way. Just when I'm getting over my theological monkey withdrawal - bang you mention him again!!

Do you think his last post on his (entirely separate blog) fits the criteria you set out at the bottom of this article?

I for one thought that Jonathan phrased his 'uh huh...' in a particularly charitable and gracious way.

Guy Davies said...


Re the Monkey's last post (so far). According to David Sky, the whole thing is meant to be a satirical send-up of the worst in theology blogging, including the infamously grumpy "Last Post".

If you read it again and think "irony", then you might get it.

Jonathan Hunt said...

I confess that the 'uh huh' was said in a way which might indicate that the speaker considered the owner of the monkey blog guilty of... well... a slight double standard...


Guy Davies said...


I think that careful readers may just have guessed the real identity of the monkey and that his blog wasn't meant to be taken entirely seriously. Besides, if you've got a problem with that naughty monkey, you'd better take it up with David Sky, if you can find him.

Ben Myers said...

Michael, you say that "Christians have almost NO business being anonymous" -- I don't see what the problem is here. According to Karl Rahner, the whole world is filled with "anonymous Christians"....

That Hideous Man said...

If your blogging is purely academic, theological and so forth - then of course anonymity is not useful. However, many bloggers blog not merely on these subjects but also about many other things, such as their children - and so maintain a degree of anonymity for obvious reaons.

I also read a blog recently in which a church leader was anonymously working through some very painful issues of church discipline - the discussion and support he got from other bloggers (who were not anonymous) seemed helpful - but his idenity was hidden, again for valid reasons.

Personally I use a pseudonymn, which my friends, family and church folks know is me - but which does not put family and personal info up on the web.

L said...

I share some of Trueman's concerns, but I think that your advice for avoiding problems in "theological blogging" is sound. Thanks for the post.