Sunday, April 12, 2009

Watchblogging Revisited

In a recent post titled Evil as Entertainment, Reformed blogger Tim Challies takes certain watchblogs to task for harping on evil so much that they neglect to point out what is good and true. He feels such blogs may be the equivalent of a "spiritualized form of YouTube", in that they present evil as a form of entertainment. Reading his piece, I found myself convicted that I have indeed sometimes read certain blog articles that way, perhaps finding a bit too much pleasure in the heresies reported. And I agreed with Challies' main point, that believers are to focus on the good and the true, and that we ought to examine our motives if we find ourselves consistently drawn to those who post about nothing but the evils other believers are doing.

But the chief weakness with the article is its non-specificity- Challies doesn't "name names" (probably because he's trying to be gracious and just point out principles to follow), but specific examples would have made it easier to know just what or whom he's critiquing. Also, I'm not entirely sure that Challies is not critiquing a strawman, for I've not personally encountered those watchblogs that only speak of error while never pointing to what is true. Moreover, saying that some watchblogs are posting such things for mere entertainment value is a rather serious charge, and by not being specific as to which blogs he's talking about, Challies' seems to imply that watchblogs by their very nature are guilty of this.

I do find more that is helpful in Phil Johnson's well-written critique of Challies' piece, titled "Turning a Blind Eye to Evil Is Evil, Too". Johnson writes,

"There's quite a lot to applaud in what Tim said, but I don't think he said everything about the subject that needed to be said. As a result, I thought his post was (quite uncharacteristically for Challies, of all people) lacking in balance".

Johnson goes on to make a number of good points, which have the effect of providing balance to the message of Challies' article.

1) Defending the faith is a necessary task for shepherds.
When someone on his blog comments that he thinks Phil "would rather spend his time building up believers and himself in the Word rather than calling people out for damnable heresies that are causing people to drift away from the true faith and send[ing] them to hell", Phil agrees with the assessment, but hastens to add that

"calling people out for damnable heresies that are causing people to drift away from the true faith" is a shepherd's duty, not an option— and it can be quite edifying if done well.

I heartily concur with Mr. Johnson's point here and it's one I've made frequently here on Jordan's View in previous posts (see below):

Christian Watchbloggers- Good or Bad?
Discerning What Is Truth (Part 2)
Discerning What Is Truth (Part 1)
The Age of Tolerance Calls for Bold Proclamation of Truth

But returning to Phil's article:

2) Blogs are an appropriate forum for calling out doctrinal error publicly.
When preaching a sermon, Johnson states his main concern is to "explain the meaning of specific texts of Scripture and exhort people to apply the truth to their lives in obedience to God." However, when writing a blog, Johnson employs both "humor and criticism" to make certain points. The issue of whether this is appropriate is often debated, but certainly Paul and even our Lord both used humor and even sarcasm in ministry.

Of course, godly satire is challenging for sinners like us to pull off. As people who struggle with sin, Christians must check their hearts (motives) while engaged in any kind of ministry. Steve Camp chimes in on the discussion with an excellent, biblically saturated article, Blogging, Watchblogging, and Ministry, which both challenged and convicted me with these helpful questions to ask oneself:
1. How does my post glorify God and exalt Christ? Or am I seeking to only expand my daily readership by addressing controversial issues just for controversy's sake? (1 Cor. 10:31)

2. How does it equip the body of Christ biblically to be better Bereans on any issue they face? (Acts 17:11)

3. How does it convict and challenge me in my own life before I turn its truths on another? IOW, what do I need to learn, model, obey and repent of first before calling others to do the same? (Psalm 119:10-17)

4. How does it bring truth and foster change to the one I am disagreeing with? (Eph. 4:13-16)

5. How does it edify and encourage - not just exhort? (Eph. 4:1-3; 26-32)

6. How does it communicate real biblical resolve? (Roms. 12:1-2)

7. How does it enable others to live more like Jesus as salt and light in their communities, ready to serve their church and world? (Matt. 5-7)

8. Am I filled with the Holy Spirit as I write and unfold God's Word, or am I only giving knee-jerk reactions to what is the hot potato of the moment? (Eph. 5:17-21)

9. And lastly, in what I have just written and confronted caused me to focus more clearly on the person of our Lord Jesus Christ and something He would find pleasure, delight and honor in? (Heb. 12:1-3)

Camp offers gracious critique of Challies' article, and at the same time complements Tim for his writing and blog ministry. Camp writes about Challies, "He is thoughtful, circumspect, kind and generous. He is obviously very well read, reformed, insightful, and we are all the better for his contribution on many issues he addresses in the blogosphere."

I would like to stop at this point and also commend Tim Challies for his consistent promotion of reformed teaching and his steadfast output of helpful, well-written articles. As a fellow blogger I appreciate (and envy, in a good way) Challies' prodigious flow of writing. I know that hard work and discipline is involved in this and is probably a big reason his blog has become a great resource to so many.

So my chief concern with Challies' post is the fact that, because it doesn't also point out the value of the watchblogger's task, some may try to use it to justify writing off completely those who engage in the kind of ministry/critique watchbloggers do. But as Phil Johnson and Steve Camp point out in their articles and even I have also tried to do here on my blog, the defense of sound doctrine, together with rebuke of erroneous teaching, is an absolutely vital aspect of Christian ministry (1 Tim 1:3, 8, Titus 1:9, 2 Peter 3:16-18). And good watchblogs are doing this, not as a replacement for pastoral teaching but in response to the marketplace of ideas. And perhaps this task has become more necessary than ever in an age when false ideologies and aberrant teachings proliferate so readily via the Internet, and so may turn to the INternet for information. As Challies suggests, some watchblogs and ministries need more balance as they perform this vital task, but again I have not encountered the kind of watchblogs Tim is writing about. For example, he says:

But if a pastor of a church in Kalamazoo preaches a sermon in which he says something scandalous, it has no effect on my life and, beyond its draw as entertainment, I can think of few good reasons for me to even know about it. Multiply this by hundreds of new stories a week (or even just tens of stories a week) and I end up with a huge amount of negative information that stays in my head and heart, but which has no bearing on my life.
But those blogs I personally follow which write about bad teachings (or even this blog) are not singling out the errors of obscure pastors, but rather, pointing out false teachings infiltrating the evangelical church at large by persons whose names are well-known. So again it would have been helpful to know precisely what/whom Challies was criticizing.

Again, returning to Phil Johnson's article:

3) The role of the critic is just as necessary as the role of the encourager.

Phil writes:
I think what Tim Challies is saying is that it's unhealthy to fix one's attention on error full time rather than spending most of our time dwelling on things that edify. If that's all he is saying, I say (as heartily as possible) AMEN! (Philippians 4:8). But if someone wants to seize that point in order to suggest that it's always better to be an encourager than a critic, my reply is: That very attitude is largely responsible for getting us into this mess in the first place.
And again:
I understand Challies' central concern. There is a vocal segment of the fundamentalist/evangelical community for whom an obsession with sensational exposés and nattering negativity has proved seriously unhealthy. It has given them a sour attitude, a perpetually angry tone, and a really bad reputation. I don't enjoy reading what they write, either, and I don't hang around their blogs.

But the mentality that dominates the evangelical culture today— and the far greater problem, in my judgment— is exactly the opposite. The overwhelming majority of today's evangelical sophisticates would clearly prefer it if no one ever criticized evangelical Golden Calves. Rampant error doesn't unsettle them in the least. They are quite happy to live with it and even actively make peace with it.

But let someone dare to voice an objection to a troubling doctrine in the latest best-seller making the rounds on campus—even a denial of the Trinity or some other soul-destroying soteriological or Christological novelty—and the very people who profess to hate criticism (and who work so hard to seem agreeable in their dealings with with the unorthodox) will heap the nastiest kinds of vituperation on the soul of the one who has dared to criticize unorthodoxy and thereby threaten the "unity" evangelicals think their timid silence has won them.

Exactly-- the real danger in evangelicalism these days is not the relatively few unbalanced heresy-hunters but rather the many for whom heresy seems to be a non-issue, and who, in the name of a unity that is misguided and unbiblical, ignore the biblical injunction of defending sound doctrine and rebuking false teaching.

[Defending the above rather strong statement would require another post, but those of you who regularly read such blogs as Pyromaniacs know what I'm referring to].

And we so badly need truth to be boldly proclaimed by strong leaders who are also godly men, men who have applied the truth first to themselves, as Steve Camp helpfully reminds us.

Of course, we are all at different points in our walk with God and each of us struggles with particular sins (1 John 1:9, Romans 7:14-25). Owning up to this ongoing battle with the flesh does not (necessarily) disqualify us from service, but we need ongoing accountability and confessing of our sins to one another (Proverbs 7:17, Hebrews 10:25, James 5:16). This of course necessitates humility and submission and relationships with others in the body of Christ (Ephesians 5:22, 1 Peter 5:5-6, Phil 2:1-8).

I am truly grateful for men like Tim Challies, Phil Johnson, Steve Camp and others who are blogging about great reformed truths passionately, consistently and intelligently, and more important, trying to live out these truths by the grace of God in their own lives. I am glad too that, as Scripture says, "iron sharpens iron" and that some key biblical truths were shared by others that helped to balance out the point of the article by Mr. Challies.

Happy Resurrection Sunday and may the truth of Jesus Christ and His resurrection fill us with all joy, power and boldness! Let us live and proclaim His truth.

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