“Do you think it is wrong for Rob Bell to question traditional views of heaven and hell? Answer: I don’t care. Do you think it is wrong for traditionalist writers to label Rob Bell a universalist? Answer: I don’t care.
Do you think it is wrong for every Christian with an iPhone to tweet their answers to the above questions from restaurant bathrooms and then go home and blog about it? Answer: Now there’s an interesting question.
Of course, we care about the doctrines of heaven and hell. As Bell reminds when I heard him interviewed on Good Morning America what we think about heaven and hell informs what we believe about God and how we understand what it means to respond to the suffering around us, here and now. Informs how we live out heaven and hell right now. And it informs what to think about injustice here and now. And that I agree with.
Oh, a controversy was stirred and it will sell a bunch of books and Rob Bell will survive to preach another Sunday. But I don’t really care. In How social media changed theological debate, the author John Dyer goes on to say something MORE IMPORTANT. In fact the more I think about it, it is critical to this conversation.
But my response is different than Dyer’s.
“Throughout the history of public theological debate, there was one constant—those debates only took place between a few select people—Moses, Plato, Augustine, Aquinas, and so on—who gained respect through a lifetime of scholarship….In pre-2004 Christianity (that is, Christianity before Facebook was invented), only a small group of Christian leaders and teachers had access to the printing press—but today everyone has WordPress. In pre-2004 Christianity it was difficult to become a published author, but today everyone is surrounded by dozens of “Publish” buttons.”
He is gravely concerned with the quality of the debate. The quality of the conversation, teaching and writing on-line because with the advent of WordPress any ol’ person can express themselves. And I would never argue against a need for quality conversation or scholarship! But that doesn’t answer a more important question of who is writing and teaching?
The culture is changing rapidly. Books are becoming less relevant, though I for one will always buy and read books printed on paper. Even so, yesterday I found myself longing for a Kindle because there was a book I wanted to read immediately! The church needs to catch up to the immediacy of our culture and how it communicates.
Many pastors still do not Tweet or have a Facebook account. Mine does not and I am sure it is not just because it is too hot — unpredictable — with much opportunity for people to misinterpret. It’s also time consuming. And mentally degrading to clarity of thought. If you are working all week to compose your thoughts on a particular topic for a sermon, it can’t be helpful to constantly be distracted by multiple media. And yet, hipster pastors are online frequently and do these things. As do many of the younger pastors in my church. I am sure they spend much more time and energy than they would like thinking about what’s wise to say or not say.
The fact is one thing hasn’t changed, even as the culture does, our need to use restraint, to respond with maturity and self-control . These are things that one would wish Piper and others had, even when tweeting. Our words still matter! Our heart, mind and soul — even more so than in the pre-Facebook age — is out there for the world to scour over!
Here’s what is most important to me about this conversation.
This new social media gives power to people of color and women — to those that have traditionally had less access to theological education, opportunities for preaching, teaching, and writing and getting published. (Even the homeless.)
So while I applaud Dyer’s thoughts about who should speak, teach and write in the specific situation, one must remember that not everyone is a white, male with all access to publishers, to power and to influence. Yes, everyone needs to exercise restraint when it comes to social media. But the new social frontier gives a voice to those of us who have traditionally been kept out of the conversation, the board room, seminaries, and these voices and viewpoints need to be heard in these critical times.
Why is it that each book suggested at church for extra reading in the last year was written by a white man? Or that almost every song sung on Christian radio, and thus in churches, has a man singing or writing it? Or that all the elders at my church are men? And the teaching team is all men? Why are conferences full of Godly Christian men, with perhaps one female or person of color, MAYBE? Why?
So, my response to John Dyer is “You may knock blogs because the level of thinking isn’t on the level of Moses and Plato, Augustine, Aquinas, and so on … well, have patience!
- Until the brick and mortar institutions change for women and people of color, we need places like the internet in order to be heard.
- Until you or I can name a Latino or Latina or African-American or female theologian or two, as quickly as you can think of NT Wright or J.I. Packer or John Piper we need the internet in order to be heard.
- Until my pastor can name an up and coming female pastor or theologian, as readily as whatever man is on the tip of his lips, we still need this medium to bring change
- I believe until it is just as commonplace to hear the perspective of a woman or a person of color in your life we need the internet in order to bring change. It is messy, and imperfect, but it gives access.
Here’s what I said yesterday.
In Defense of Women. This was interesting and not just because he mentioned me. It relates to not having women’s voices as a part of “the conversation.