More and more I am becoming disturbed by certain patterns of communication that some people choose to employ in their defense of their opinions. It seems that whenever a hot button issue comes up in the PCA, a few people seem to think that they are justified in putting on their rhetorical brass knuckles, and going out looking for trouble. Often they take it to the blogs, where—like fun-house mirrors—people can seem to be larger than they truly are. Because of this propensity, many people have started to simple distrust blog content as a way of formulating ideas in the church. This is a shame, since the internet is an amazing way of spreading and interacting with ideas.
But how should we leverage useful tools? What often happens is that as people post opinions online, others disagree and post counterpoints. Sometimes this is done in very healthy ways, such as the Denominational Renewal Conference. At other times this doesn’t happen, and conversations devolve into online slandering.
I’d like to ask three questions that can help us figure out how to debate online.
1. Should we engage privately before starting a street fight?
Believe it or not, there are methods of communicating on the web without publicly posting to a blog. Just because public critique doesn’t fall under Matthew 18, does it mean that we shouldn’t first approach the person with whom we disagree?
The answer to that question seems to depends on one’s desired outcome. If you are looking to tell people that you are upset – blog it! Blog it, and then link to it on facebook, and twitter, with the hope that your writing gets linked and quoted.
If your desired outcome is reconsideration, repentance, or restoration, it seems that other methods might be a better first step. Even when it is a matter of erroneous teaching, wouldn’t it be better for the original author to take back what he or she said rather than to become entrenched in a public debate? Maybe passages such as Galatians 6:1-2, Ephesians 4:2-3, and Philippians 2:1-7, ought to have more weight in our thinking about public criticism.
2. What paradigm should govern our interactions, especially if we are only interact with an author’s printed material?
Let me propose an answer in three parts. First, we must ask ourselves how are we truly connected to our opponents. We must ask are they Christians or aren’t they? (Now I’m not asking us to make a judgement but to say from their profession are they connected to Christ or are they against him?) Nick Batzig recently wrote a very good comparison of how Jesus treats these different groups. He points out that Jesus was much gentler with his own people.
Second, we ought to let real world relationships affect the way we fight. If we share real world connections with someone, shouldn’t we leverage those connected in order to see a peaceful end to a discussion?
Finally, we should be willing to call for clarification before we call for judgement. Before we say you are wrong, we should at least be willing to give people the , “Did you mean to say_____?” question. I can’t even count the number of times that I have been in a pastoral situation where seeking clarity has prevented me from rushing to unnecessary judgements.
3. Does Jesus need you to be his prophet?
I’m simply tired of men saying they are fighting the Lord’s battle with our enemy’s weapons. Too often pastors and other Church leaders forget that the content and character of their online communications need to follow the same Biblical patterns that their real world conversations ought to follow. We lament the loss of civility in our world, but we are the ones tearing it down. There must be a better way to disagree.
Erroneous teaching is not unimportant, but when any side is slandered and demonized the other, we are not doing the work God has called us to. There must be a way to move forward where we can seek out truth and obedience, while at the same time showing patience and generosity. Obviously, as I stated in my first point, this isn’t an issue that is going to be solved by writing or reading a blog post. Yet, It is my hope that the PCA begins to have conversations—private, public, online, and in our denominational meetings—about how we as pastors are going to love and serve one another in the coming years. Those are conversations I’d like to have and be a part of.