3 Reasons Christian Blogs Fail

Fail Christian blogs fail, not in attracting readers, but rather, to affect the world for the better. There is a vast difference between a theological blog and a blog whose author is incidentally a Christian. Nothing wrong with either position until one attempts to present themselves as the other. Here are three reasons that Christian blogs fail to connect with the uncountable readership of the interwebs.

 

1. Don’t Hold on to One Sided Arguments

There are many things that mainline Christians accept as settled fact. Google a handful of statements of faith, line them up next to one another and you will see what I mean. Outside of those things however, theology within the centuries old Christian faith ranges far and wide. Writers who fail to avail themselves of the depth and breadth of this theological history usually end up camping on one position without understanding why they are against the other positions that challenge their belief. Take Modalism for example. You read somewhere that it is wrong and your fellow theo-bloggers are not hesitant to throw the heresy flag when mentioning it but, do you know why they consider it a heresy? Simply saying something is wrong is not an argument. Before you go on the offensive or even just take a stand against a particular belief, educate yourself. Understand why the belief arose and why people believe(d) it. Study the proof texts offered in the context of the whole Bible, not just your theological framework. Be able to enter a discussion with something more than “because I said so.”

Oh, and Wikipedia is not to be considered a definitive source.

 

2. Don’t Be the Possessor of an Uninformed Theology

Discussing Christian theology and ecclesiology are immensely complex undertakings. It is an undertaking that requires study and meditation and no small amount of time seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit before you can be effective in your presentation. When you find yourself simply regurgitating the work of others (who have put in the blood, sweat, and tears to arrive at their conclusions) you are doing little more than diminishing the possible impact your post might have. If each of your posts contains the reference “so and so” says “this or that” as the basis for your theological position, I may as well simply go directly to the original thinker’s/author’s website and read the words directly. Any authority that you hope to embed in your writing comes from the reader’s trust in your knowledge. If, when a comment challenges your theological position, you cannot demonstrate an understanding of the challenger’s position you will lose the trust of not only that reader, but others who survey the whole conversation from a distance.

Oh, and John Piper, John Wesley, and James White are not always right.

 

3. Don’t be Self Serving

If your entire reason for blogging to promote yourself, do it in a different format. We have all seen blogs that have a thin veneer of Christianity that peels away to find every post being an exposition of how wonderful/altruistic/sacrificial the blogger himself is. Readers will soon discover that the faith is simply a jacket worn to give the blogger a reason to talk about themselves. Ask yourself how this affects the kingdom. Is it glorified or expanded or masked and diminished by the monumental ego that attempts to supersede it? This is not to say that personal entries, off topic asides, and the pride of sharing some accomplishment are out of place. Each is a part of the life we lead while still a part of this world. The ratio that the reader sees between personal and thematic posts will put on full display what is most important in the eyes of the blogger.

 

There are probably many more topics that could make this list but these are my top three. Then again, I could be wrong.

The Googleization of Argument

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Google, in both its noun and verb form has brought a less rigorous form to the state of discussion. In academic and general conversation, the ability to search Google based on a keyword pertinent to your studies or a thread you are participating grants you the ability to expand your knowledge on that topic. The creation of the hyperlink opens up whole new worlds with regard to pointing readers to your source or support for a point you’re making. The trouble comes in the uncritical use of this facility.

In the largely self-edited environment of the interweb it is incumbent upon you to search further than the page that you want to reference to determine the underlying character of the site before naming it a reliable source of credible support for your point. For example, if I say that we cannot know something about the nature of the world, adding the link that I did leads you to a web site that supports my statement. Obviously, the majority will find the beliefs espoused here to be quite contrary to reality.

Another class of web sites that is often linked to are those in the advocacy category. The site you are reading could be considered an advocate for the truth of Christ. The troublesome links are those that take a completely one sided position on some topic, so much so that they are not to be considered as a single source point of information. The advocacy position should either be revealed or an argument from another source that balances the first should be offered. In a recent discussion a link was offered that was to be considered representative of all Jewish thought on a subject. Unfortunately, just a few moments of searching revealed the extremely narrow theological and philosophical viewpoint of the writers making the opinion worthless in the larger scope of the discussion. Unless the original poster meant to use this opinion to bolster his argument deceitfully, the viewpoint should have been considered and revealed.

If we’re going to discuss anything of importance, it’s crucial that we maintain a standard of credibility. Consider both sides rather than simply rattling off your talking points. Be balanced in the sources you cite. Be nice.

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Four Knows for Talkin’ Theology

Writing blog entries about theology seems so easy on the surface. Identify a particular point or doctrine that you want to share, defend, or critique and lay out your thoughts. The thesis can be drawn from Scripture, a systematic, or the writings of another theologian followed by an explanation of the position that the writer wishes to stake. The words that underscore that position can be the author’s own or quotes/texts pulled from other sources and cited. All of this is well and good, but theology is not the same as discussing baseball, it has life altering implications.

image Because theology concerns God, we who choose to write on the topic have a responsibility that goes far beyond the ethic of the normal social contract. Theology impacts lives even when it is unstated and has become a cultural norm. Before we defend, critique, or even propose a specific theological construct or an entire framework, we must consider the impact of our position in light of its impact on God’s people. We are not operating in a vacuum where these beliefs and behaviors affect no one, a fact that we need to carefully consider before pushing the first words out into the cybersphere.

While I’m certain that I have exhibited a disregard for each of these at some point in my time as a theologian (and we’re all theologians), here are four rules that I try to apply to anything I do in this sphere, whether it is writing here or for publication, in preaching, and in the way I live out the theology. You might find them helpful as well or may have some additions that we can all utilize.

Know Your Theology Beyond Proof Texts

God did not limit his revelation to specific texts in the Scriptures. The first rule in theology is to consider every doctrine or position in light of the entirety of God’s revelation. Though you may disagree with his theology, Wesley utilized what has been labeled his Quadrilateral as a way of studying and organizing his understanding. This included the use of the complete Scripture (OT & NT), Tradition in the form of church history and the Spirit’s movement, Reason in the form of rational thinking and sensible interpretation, and Experience in examining a Christian’s personal and communal journey in Christ. Proof texting often fails to consider the ever widening circles of context and more often than not, another text can be found to show the point in a different light.

Know Any Theology That You Are Going to Label as Incorrect

I am less and less surprised at the number of critiques that I encounter in which the author rails against a certain theology or doctrine by using caricatures or incorrect representations of the belief (this happens with political discussion as well.) Before taking a critical position, we must have a relatively thorough and accurate knowledge of the development, the scriptures, and the persons involved in the doctrine we critique. If we rely on the opinions of others or a surface deep understanding of the doctrine, knowing only that it differs from our own, we do not serve God well in simply creating dissent among the body. Worse yet, we promulgate a shallow belief system that risks getting adopted by others. As an example, survey the number of times that Mormonism is declared heretical by an author who does not know the history of belief system or how many times Arminian belief is associated with Pelagius.

Know the Practical Application of Your Theology

All theology is practical. Every aspect of God has some effect on His relationship with His people. We are incorrect to treat theology as separate from life. The doctrines and beliefs that we hold are meant to affect our lives in practical ways, shaping the way in which we interact with the world, other people, and God himself. Arguing the different views of Atonement is one thing but how often do we think about the practical impact of believing the Penal substitution view against the Ransom, Moral Influence, Example, or Governmental positions? Each of these beliefs has a different impact on the worldview of the believer and how he or she interacts with God and the world.

Know God

This would seem to go without saying but it is so easy to find ourselves devoting enormous energy to knowing about God and less and less time knowing God. I can express my thoughts about my wife and child very well because I know them intimately. I have a deep relationship with each of them and have lived in close proximity for many, many years. Writing about your family would be much different because I can know only what you let me know or I can observe for myself. The same applies to those who choose to write about God; we must know Him intimately. We must be in tight relationship with Him and His Spirit. Not only will the Spirit guide our work but will also help us in withdrawing from battles that our worldly reactive side would choose to engage.

God bless each and every one of you who furthers the work of the kingdom in your writing and thinking. If I’ve missed or misstated something, I’ll look forward to reading your suggestions.

Moderated Comments – Why?

I’ve considered the use of moderated comments on a blog for a long time. I suppose in some cases they are appropriate to filter out inappropriate material but in other cases, the blog authors have used them because they lack the ability to back up their opinions when challenged. I won’t drive any traffic to specific theoblogger sites but, in general, I’ve seen them posting nothing but attacks [written by someone else] on Arminian theology. Comments challenging the position are a waste of time since they go into the black hole of “awaiting moderation” and then disappear completely a day or two later. The appearance is that the author is unable to support his or her position but still wants the secret joy of an assault on something that they believe to be wrong.

I’m reminded of what Paul says in relation to raising oneself above the rest of the Body:

“For by the grace given men I say to everyone of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgement, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.”  Romans 12:3

Blog Categories in Word 2007

Many blog hosts support categories, including WordPress where this blog is hosted. Though many argue that in a Web 2.0 world, tags have superseded categories for classifying posts, that’s an argument for another day. Including a Categories entry for your sidebar gives your readers quick access to your collected wisdom on a topic. The question at hand then is, what kind of support does Word offer for the blogger?

Inserting a Category

When you have set up your blog connection, the categories that you have already defined in WordPress will be recognized and made available to your post. On the Ribbon, your first group is the Blog group in which the Insert Category button lives. Clicking on this button will insert a drop-down box at the top of your post.

 

 

When you click on the drop-down, you can select one of your categories. Publishing your post will pass this data to WordPress and your entry will be appropriately classified. Want to include a post in more than one category? Click on the Insert Category button again and select another category.

 

Adding a New Category

The Category drop down box tempts you with the invitation to ‘type a new one’ to add a category to your WordPress list. Don’t be fooled. This function does not appear to work and each test that I did succeeded in pushing my post into the uncategorized category. The only workaround I have found right now is to go to the blog control center and add the category there. Update your entry and publish it. We’ll watch for a fix for this in the future.

A Word 2007 Shortcut for Blogging

One of things that make the blogging life easier is having simple, click-to-open access to your tools. Choosing Word 2007 as your client might not seem to be worth the effort on first glance. Right out of the box, creating a new post is a three step process.

  1. You’ll start Word which creates a default empty document.
  2. Then you’ll click the Office Button
  3. and then select Blog Post from the menu.

 

 

 

 

 

Seems like way too much work for me. Perhaps we ought to make a shortcut to simplify the whole process.

Creating a Word Blogging Shortcut

Word documents are based on templates that contain the formatting information for each type of document that you create and the blog post is no exception. Word supports command line switches so, with a little creative shortcutting we can override the Normal.dotx template with the Blog.dotx template and start the word processor in blog posting mode. Once you’ve located everything the process is a piece of cake. Watch.

  • The first thing you need to do is gather some information. You’ll need to identify the locations of the two files you are going to use, Winword.exe and Blog.dotx. Their default locations are:
    • Winword.exe F C:\Program Files\Microsoft Office\Office12\WINWORD.EXE
    • Blog.dotx F C:\Program Files\Microsoft Office\Templates\1033\Blog.dotx
  • Right click on the desktop and select New-Shortcut from the context menu. You’ll troubles will be rewarded with this:

 

 

  • You are going to use two of Word’s switches:
    • /q – starts Word without the splash screen
    • /t – starts Word with a specified template
  • In the data field, type the following line being sure to make any changes needed to accommodate your folder structure. The double quotes are necessary because of the spaces in the path. Also be sure to note that there is no space between the /t switch and the template name. Inserting a space there will open the template for editing and you don’t want to do that. At least not right now.
    • “C:\Program Files\Microsoft Office\Office12\WINWORD.EXE” /q /t”C:\Program Files\Microsoft Office\Templates\1033\Blog.dotx”

 

 

  • Click Next and you’ll be asked to name the shortcut. You’re a blogger, be creative.
  • Tada!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That should keep you occupied for today. Next, we’ll start checking out some of the features that Word brings to the game.

Blogging with Word 2007

Writers have a wide variety of choices when considering what tool to use in composing their blog posts. The internal editor of the blog software (e.g. WordPress, Blogger, etc.) is the simplest choice and it probably does the job for the majority of posts. When the writer wants to get a little more complex in their layout capabilities or have access to other editing tools, an external client is usually chosen. The editor must recognize the API of the writer’s blog host, but aside from that, most do a pretty good job in pretty much the same way. I’ve been using Windows LiveWriter for some time now and I am pleased with the results. It supports plug-ins, some nice image formatting, good text formatting tools, drafts with only one or two annoying proclivities (when it uploads an image to WordPress, it sends the image twice). Why consider Word as a blog client then? Two reasons; I like simplicity and if I can narrow my software installation down by using a multitasker then I’m happier and second, Microsoft has recognized the blogosphere big time and they have included new blogging features in Word and I want to see how well it will work.

Creating a New Post

Today we’ll examine Word’s capabilities by creating the post that you’re now reading. The blogging tools are enabled when you select New, and Blog. The template is set up with a title bar and a nice clean work area below. The new Ribbon interface that replaces the old menu and toolbar interface provides you with context specific tools as Word takes notice of what you are working on. For example, when the image was inserted, a new ribbon becomes visible with the image positioning and editing tools. When the focus shifts from the image, the ribbon vanishes keeping the interface clear. It takes some getting used to but in the end, it is going to prove to be a step forward in interface design.

Publishing
Your Entry

Setting up your blog host is a simple process as long as your host is a recognized provider (as shown in the choices at right) or it uses a known API. The step by step setup will ask all of the expected questions to create a publishing connection and you’re ready to go. Any categories that you have defined will be downloaded from your site and can be inserted into your post before publishing it. When the entry is ready, click on the Publish button and your post is sent to your blog for the world to admire.

We’ll look at the tool in greater detail in the days to come as I try more of the features but for now I’m satisfied but not overwhelmed. Are there any immediate features missing? As far as I can tell there is no way to insert tags but I may be simply missing the feature. Time will tell.