Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Reflections on GodBlogCon 2005

Escaping by jet plane the downpour of rain that was drenching New York City, the clear, sunny skies in La Mirada, California were like a revelation of new possibilities, and a perfect setting for the first-ever Christian bloggers conference, GodBlogCon 2005. Hosted and organized by the Torrey Honors Institute of Biola University, the conference took place on October 14 through October 16, 2005. I was fortunate enough to be able to participate in this historic event. Matt Anderson and his volunteer team of students did an excellent job of organizing the logistics and flow of the event, and were gracious and helpful hosts.

There were 135 bloggers in attendance, and the 3 days of activities included a lecture by Biola philosophy Professor John Mark Reynolds, two multi-panel plenaries, an evening panel discussion moderated by national talk-show host and author Hugh Hewitt, and a number of "breakout sessions" on various blogging topics.

Lovely extras
There were also added, unexpected bonuses: a chance to sit in on a live broadcast of Hugh Hewitt doing his radio show as he interviewed "God-bloggers" and interviewed several people by telephone, including Cameron Crowe about his new film Elizabethtown. There was a free screening of the film on Friday night. I'm not one to turn down a free screening, but unfortunately I had to skip it because I was too tired and needed my sleep. On the last day, we also watched a preview of the upcoming film Narnia, which included interesting background on how it was made. I also got several free books!

I thought Professor Reynold's Friday evening presentation was probably the most substantive talk of the weekend. Mr. Reynolds is an excellent speaker with a quick, dry sense of humor, though at the moment I'm not able to recall examples. His presentation focused chiefly on attractive possibilities the medium of blogging presents. Contrasting the limitations and the benefits of "live" vs. preserved discourse, Mr. Reynolds made a case for blogging as a new media that has exciting potential because it incorporates the benefits of both live (theater, music performances, lectures) and preserved discourse (books, music CD's film). Like a book, a blog post is recorded for posterity, subject to examination and response [Indeed, Reynolds warned that Internet communications pose the danger of haunting us into the future, by virtue of the fact that they enter the permanent public record]. Yet the interactive, immediate, communal nature of the blogosphere turns blogs into "living books" that constitute a dynamic conversation. Original insights are extended and amplified through the comments and responses of the blogging community.

Mr. Reynolds said that Christians have a stake in both preserved and live performance, because while we live according to the preserved "Book" (the unchanging, nevertheless living and active Word of God --my words, not his), our lives as Christians are also lived in the interaction of community, which "cannot be captured, only experienced". "Christian orthodoxy cannot survive without the life of the Spirit", he said. Thus, blogging offers an additional avenue for building community that helps us move beyond holding mere propositional truth, to living out those truths together.

The breakout sessions I attended included "God and Pop Culture" with Barbara Nicolosi and Mark Joseph, "Using Your Blog to Make Money" by Stacy Harp, and "Turn Your Blogging Into A Writing Career" by James Scott Bell. All of these sessions offered decent advice and also pointed me in the direction of further resources. However I certainly have to do much more research, brainstorming and praying to figure out what role blogging can play in my future vocation, and whether I can expect it to generate anything like a substantial amount of revenue.

The plenary discussions offered words of sagely wisdom from some prominent Christian bloggers, including Joe Carter of Evangelical Outpost, David Wayne of Jollyblogger, Andrew Jackson of Smart Christian. Friday evening's panel discussion, moderated by Hugh Hewitt, included the aforementioned John Mark Reynolds, as well as Tod Bolsinger, and Mark D. Roberts. It was noted that women were not well-represented at this particular conference; I think that Amy K. Hall, aka "Face", over at the A-Team blog, offers an excellent analysis on this phenomenon.

Pursuing blogging as a spiritual discipline was a topic of the first plenary, moderated by John Schroeder. I find this idea very helpful. Like many, I have found that putting into words the insights and revelations I am receiving in my walk with God helps me both to sharpen them, and gain perspective on their meaning. And hopefully, as I share them with others, my thoughts also stimulate and bless others in their own spiritual journey. I have written before on how blogging challenges me to achieve greater integrity-- to live up to the Christian ideals I write about. The panel suggested that "spiritual formation of character" is a vital part of the spiritual discipline of blogging, and that this formation takes place in the context of Christian community, which of course includes fellow bloggers. The maturity we gain, as well as the connections we make, leads to expanded ability to influence positively for Christ.

Although the community created within the blogosphere is no substitute for face-to-face community, it is nevertheless a real community; we can meet people we otherwise would never have met, and there is opportunity to build friendship, deepen connections, expand the circle of community we're part of. "The church is other Christians", as Joe Carter said.

"Blogging should be really seen as a resource", said David Wayne, the blogging pastor of Jollyblogger. We should be intentionally integrating the web and blogs into our disciplemaking and formation of Christian character. There should be practical means of helping people discover blogs, as well as other great resources on the Internet, and to begin using them.

Blogging attracts different types of people, including those that may not be drawn to church. Thus it extends the accessibility and influence of the church.

My Thoughts and Notes on Plenary 2

Christians ought to be on the cutting edge of the information revolution of blogging, rather than mere followers. The gospel is our framework for interpreting what is happening in our culture and is to be applied to all areas of life. Higher culture needs to be impacted, because it in turn impacts pop culture. Overall, culture is in a state of continuous flux.

How do we distinguish ourselves as Christian bloggers?

The church needs to become a real community, in order to have greater impact. But Christians aren't primarily a political force--– they must be Christians first, whose primary commitment is to God and building His kingdom. Through study and careful thinking that understands and can respond to counter-arguments, Christians must develop arguments that apply to all different areas of life. Conversion is often a process, so we don'’t have to measure the success of each post by whether or not it shares the gospel.

Evangelism is not necessarily limited to a presentation of the gospel as "Four Spiritual Laws". We must make the principles and values of the gospel bear upon the whole of culture as we write our blogs. Each of us has a different "niche" in this endeavor and must follow our particular calling and temperament to discover that niche and play our part.

The blogging community will have more power in reaching culture if it can demonstrate that it is becoming a more unified force,– but this pursuit of "power" shouldn't be achieved by worldly methods. It is not primarily a political pursuit of power, but a pursuit of a greater, more unified voice, for the purpose of giving God the glory.

The gospel has public policy and social action implications, and so we try to influence government and culture and politics through intelligent, creative sharing of biblical truth and worldview.

Business models for blogging will emerge, and Christians should be proactive in developing this model. We ought to be praying for one another, especially the bloggers that we personally read. We ought to encourage blogs that are just starting. Christian bloggers ought to be willing to be accountable to one another, willing to listen and respond to criticism. We should expect and prepare for persecution, and respond in grace. Be accessible.

American Christians especially should use the blogosphere to become better informed and less ignorant about global concerns.

Making Connections

An important theme that seemed to run throughout all the various presentations was the need of building Christian community through blogging. Many bloggers in attendance had interacted for a long time via their blogs, but had never met face-to-face. The best part of the conference for me was meeting all of these intelligent, articulate, cultured people who, as blogging Christans, are impacting this world for Christ. I came away with the impression that this group of bloggers was also a group of thinkers, people who have deeply thought about the implications of their faith.

I was pleased too by the friendliness and accessibility of the group, even the "big name" bloggers. Hugh Hewitt walked up to me and made my acquaintance. La Shawn Barber wore a friendly smile and had an easy laugh. In conversation, John Mark Reynolds revealed quite the odd sense of humor; he was no stiff academic.

I met Mark Daniels, whose blog I had previously interacted with and who happened to be staying at the same hotel as me. I found him a real encouraging and interesting fellow, not to mention a man of excellent taste in music (he's a quite knowledgeable McCartney fan). I also got to spend time with Charlie LeHardy, who has an excellent blog called Another Think. Like Mark, Charlie was a good listener and a great guy. He was also very gracious in giving me a lift back to my hotel after a group of us had lunch. Also had a good conversation with Roger and Amy of A-Team blog, during which, as usual, I blabbed away.

At a final impromptu lunch gathering, I enjoyed fellowship with a great group of fellow bloggers, including Amy Hall and Roger Overton of A-Team blog, Charlie LeHardy, DJ Chuang, Lores Rizkalla, Stacy Harp and her husband, Randall Harp(a fellow musician), Christy Lynn Wilson , and Aaron Pina .

For more thoughts and summary of GodBlogCon05, visit the GodBlogCon blog. There you'll find insights from other bloggers, some of whom were "live-blogging" during the event.

It was a great event, and I'm already looking forward to GodBlogCon 2, scheduled for August 2006.

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