Thinking Out Loud

October 26, 2009

A Guide to Christian Bloggers

So how was church yesterday?    If you’re like the majority of Evangelicals in North America (and increasingly, the UK) it probably went down something like this:

  • you were casually dressed
  • there was an opportunity to have coffee either before or after the service, or in some cases, during the service
  • either at the outset, or part-way through the service your kids were dismissed to enjoy their own worship “experience” in a kid-friendly “environment”
  • you sang a number of modern worship choruses, perhaps with a hymn or two added for flavor
  • your pastor — equally casually dressed — preached a message from a topical series he is working through with key points and texts projected on a large screen at the front
  • after the service you had a couple of brief conversations with people from your small group who you will see later in the week at someone’s home

Such is Christian worship in 2009.

EZGtoons - Erin Gillespie 11409But now you’re sitting at your computer and you’re surfing for some good Christian blogs to read, but finding yourself in a kind of spiritual twilight zone.     The people you’re reading — in many cases anyway — don’t look or talk like the people you meet on Sunday mornings. You ask yourself, “Why can’t I find a blog by someone online who looks like me?”  So you keep searching.

Why is this?

It’s largely because the Christian internet is dominated by a number of people who have a particular axe to grind.    Once you’ve been doing this for awhile, you’ll recognize them — “By their links ye shall know them” — but until then, here’s a primer on what you’re finding on your computer screen…

Militant Calvinist Soldiers

There’s nothing objectively wrong with being Calvinist.   Most people are either Calvinist or Arminian in terms of their core doctrines, so you’re going to end up as more one or the other eventually.   The problem is that these people are consuming vast amounts of bandwidth engaging all kinds of deep debates which, while they might prove valuable in terms of Bible study on obscure points of doctrine, no one can remember how they got started.

The other problem is that they tend to use the word “Calvinism” or “Calvinist” ten times more often than they use words like “Christian” or “Jesus.”    Or worse, they use words like “Monergism.”   Believe me, if you think you’re coming down with a case of Monergism, you might want to get it checked.

Personally, I want my ticket to Eternity to be based on Christ’s finished work on the cross for my sin, and not that I stood for a particular organization, denomination or doctrine; or that I could recite all the proof-texts for a particular viewpoint.

King James Onlyites

Somewhere along the line, the joy of their salvation got sucked out and replaced with a mission:  That all Bibles everywhere on earth be eliminated save for their one copy of the King James Version in black leather.   With a red ribbon marker.   And a zipper.

Which, is fine if that’s what you like.   Goodness knows one part of my Zondervan Bible software is still set up to do keyword searches in good ol’ KJV, though it displays the results in something more readable.    But Onlyites aren’t allowed to have preferences.   They have to spiritualize everything, and if they can’t find enough external evidence supporting the supremacy of one particular translation, then they make stuff up.

Never get in an argument with these people because there is nothing — absolutely nothing — you can say that will sway them.   Yea, verily, their mind hath been firmly fix-ed, neither shall anyone dissuade them.  Thus spake I.

The Law and The Gospel Litigists

The fact is, we’re all sinners in God’s eyes.   We’ve all missed the mark in various ways at various times.   Our attempts at righteousness are as far from “pure white” as the paint rags I used during our last kitchen reno.   So yes, nobody is going to get on God’s heaven registration list just by trying to live a good life and be a good person.

On the other hand, this approach, as true as it is,  while it works well if you’re doing somewhat random “witnessing” to strangers, is about as far from lifestyle evangelism as you want to be; especially with friends, neighbors, relatives, co-workers, fellow-students, etc., that you want to see cross the line of faith over the long-term.   Plus, at least you’ve earned the right to be heard, instead of spouting volcanic eruptions of guilt and condemnation.

So while it’s true that there aren’t many roads to God, there are many ways to introduce someone to Jesus.   L&G people tend to get upset if you’re not doing it their way, or winning as many people as they are, or feel called to do street ministry.

Discernmentalists

Years ago, a rather cool guy named Walter Martin figured out that with all the cults and “isms” out there, it would be good for someone to track the beliefs of different writers and organizations whose beliefs bear a strong external similarity to Christianity, but also hold to other ideas that are somewhat off the wall.   He started what is often called a discernment ministry.

With some of the excesses sometimes found in the Charismatic movement, that investigation started hitting closer to home.   Which may be justified.   Especially when you have a research staff documenting everything so that your end product isn’t just a load of innuendo and veiled accusations.

Today however, it seems like there is a Walter Martin wannabe around every corner.   And they don’t trust anyone under 40.   Which means they can — and probably will — show up at your church on Sunday morning and nitpick over the use of words and phrases and pronounce you apostate, cultic or — even worse — Emergent.     (Note:  Emergents who quote Charles Spurgeon and Jonathan Edwards totally confuse them.)   And you don’t want to know their views on music.

Sermon Scribes

These people never actually blog anything original but simply cut and paste vast amounts of sermon texts, often completely omitting to include anything resembling paragraph breaks.

Like the Hindu temple priests who believe there’s something in the incense that rises up to God,  these Ctrl-C, Ctrl-V bloggers believe that there’s something of value in posting these vast and usually impossible-to-follow sermons online, that apparently can only be perceived by God Himself and other Sermon Scribe bloggers.

Personally, I’ll take a podcast over text.   You get the inflection of the speaker who, if they are tech-savvy enough to post a podcast, usually has a communication style that’s less 1910 and more 2010.   Plus you get the audio equivalent of paragraph breaks:  Deep breaths.

Ecclesiastical Elite

There are some good leadership blogs out there.   I even link to some of them in my blogroll.  But if you’re a new Christian, you need to know these aren’t for you so much as they’re for pastors to communicate with other pastors.

Frankly, pastors have different issues than the rest of us.   They live in a world that is vocationally as far removed from you are as the east is from the west.  They work odd hours.  They drink a lot of coffee.  They read books that even the staff at your local Christian bookstore don’t know how to find.

I have great respect for these men, and 99.44% of them are men.   But their blogs should exist on some kind of private blogging network that only other pastors can access.   One of my favorites is actually not on my blogroll for just that reason.    I started thinking about how frustrated and confused I would be if he were my pastor.    It’s good stuff, it’s just not good for everyone.

Conference Crowd

Some people think the big money to be made off Christianity these days is in running conferences and seminars.    I disagree.   The big money is actually in the airline business and the hotel business.   And those lanyard name tag things.

This crowd devotes at least 66.7% of the blog postings in anticipation of a forthcoming conference and another 66.7% coming down from the conference high.   The remaining 66.7% is spent live blogging from the conference itself.   (Hey, it’s arithmatic license, okay?)

There is an saying among modern Evangelicals:  “Send a man to a conference and you’ve recharged his spiritual batteries for a day.  Teach him how to organize and run his own conference and you’ve kept him run off his feet for life.”

Narcissistic Marketers

With this category, we’ll end this this theme, and since you’ve all been patient enough to get this far, you can read more about this in my latest book, which, while you’re ordering it online, you can actually pre-order my next book which is coming out next month.

Plus, we just got in a skid of my first book, and if you’re interested in buying these in case lots (only 72 copies to a case) to give away to all your friends, we can ship them to you free freight if you order them by Friday.   Christmas is coming, and you don’t want to be without a gift to give that unenlightened pagan who lives next door.

Also below you’ll find a link to my latest video promoting all four of my books, plus a PayPal donation button if you really enjoy the great insights I post here daily.   On the sidebar, you’ll also find a link to a story about me in the New York Times and a picture of me receiving CBA Book-of-the-year in the category “Christian non-fiction miscellaneous;” as well as all the details of our “Holy Land of the West” 14-day tour of Wheaton, Illinois (with optional day trips to Barrington, Elgin and a two-day side trip to Minneapolis, Minnesota.)  Did I mention my book?

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13 Comments »

  1. i don’t want my blog to be like any of those categories there, nor do i want to visit those types of blogs.
    i do like this blog though so i guess that also tells you that i don’t think this blog is like any of those categories either.

    Comment by shallowfrozenwater — October 26, 2009 @ 9:45 am

  2. Well done, Paul! May I never fall into any of those categories!

    But you forgot to mention how we can receive your free, anointed prayer cloth?

    Comment by kaybee — October 26, 2009 @ 1:29 pm

  3. Very discerning summary of online Christian (or supposedly Christian) content.

    Re: “How was church today?” (and this applies to some of your other points, too): So often our evaluation of worship is based on how it made us feel or what we “got out of it.” People think that they and their pet issues ought be addressed (or more likely affirmed) in order for worship to have been meaningful. In a series I’m preaching in Revelation, it has once again become clear to me (especially from Rev 4-5) that worship truly happens when God is honoured and glorified. Even if we “get nothing out of it,” it is still worth it if God was praised and declared Lord of our lives once again.

    On a lighter note, re: King James Onlyites: I’ve been overhead saying, “Hey, if the old King Jimmy was good enough of the apostle Paul, it’s good enough for me!” =)

    Comment by SjG — October 26, 2009 @ 3:12 pm

    • …and I’m not saying that North American church, circa 2009, is necessarily the very best way to do things. I agree that we often choose worship “environments” that make us “feel good” or because we “got something out of it.” I am just making a very simple point that people coming from entirely different strands of Christianity are disproportionately represented online.

      PS: I don’t think the “apostle Paul” line is strong enough; they should say, “If the KJV was good enough for the prophet Jonah…”

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — October 26, 2009 @ 6:47 pm

  4. What category is the Big Fish and his Pilgrim Scribblings in, Paul?

    Enjoyed your post,my friend. But then, I always do. Keep writing!

    I’ll meet you for coffee between 10:15 and 10:30 at Auburn. O K ?

    Comment by David Fisher — October 26, 2009 @ 4:08 pm

    • Pilgrim Scribblings is in the “Keeping it Real” category! (I actually mentioned the idea of Auburn a few days ago as a future Sunday outing, but as you can see from Rick’s comment, we’d be torn as to where to go first!)

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — October 26, 2009 @ 6:50 pm

  5. 1-) We hung around drinking coffee, chatting and noshing on the snacks that magically appear every Sunday (The Spice Cake with cream cheese icing was wonderful)

    2-) We got started with a kind welcome from J. who asked us if we had any announcements. There were some birthdays and an anniversary.

    3-) J. prayed.

    4-) Since Psalm 121 begins with the words “I lift up my eyes…” there was a slide show that featured rooftops from around town. We tried to guess what buildings they were from. (I guessed wrong for our own church.)

    5-) We read psalm 121. We liked it so much we read it again.

    6-) I talked about how the psalm didn’t make sense to me at first. Talked about spiritual journeys. Had a free range discussion about our spiritual journeys. A lot of people shared their stories – some touching, some funny and sweet.

    7-) I scrapped the rest of the sermon, because I couldn’t say anything better than it had already been said.

    8-) I read a blessing. We talked and snacked some more.Then we put away the tables and chairs together and washed the dishes.

    9-) I didn’t blog about it.

    10-) This is one of the few blogs I still read. (And not just because it has cartoons)

    Comment by Rick Webster — October 26, 2009 @ 5:51 pm

    • I’d love to come back for a return visit sometime, especially now that you’re involved, Rick. (Lots of pull-factors to visit Peterborough on a Sunday… see David’s comment…)

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — October 26, 2009 @ 6:49 pm

  6. I had mixed feelings as I read the description of the majority of Christian churches in 2009. A part of me looked at that list with wistful rememberings. I grew up charasmatic and I loved it. But a bigger part of me remembered fondly the service this past week in my own church (I now attend Christian Reform) The choir processed, the pastor was in black robe and vestments, scripture was read many times (and most was responsively), the hymns were weighty in message but mostly very old, the lights were dimmed during the sermon and it was hushed and still and reverent. I find beauty in both kinds of services.

    As far as the blog list, I was quite relieved to get to the end and realize that I could not be classified as any of those you cited!

    I will come back tomorrow and look at your side bar and books. I am still writing toward the goal of a book but haven’t yet taken the plunge of finally sending off a manuscript.

    Comment by Cynthia — October 26, 2009 @ 9:50 pm

  7. I enjoyed seeing what is through some more pairs of eyes. I also enjoyed a good laugh with the last one. Thank for a good start to my morning.
    Because of your last version, this time I will simply put my name, it can be googled.
    Philip A. Kledzik

    Comment by Philip Kledzik — October 27, 2009 @ 7:14 am

  8. Seems as if you’ve done a good job of judging and pidgeon-holing everyone … who judges and pidgeon-holes everyone — and by doing so you have fallen into the same pit as you claim they have.

    Comment by Jim Barr — October 27, 2009 @ 9:37 am

    • Well, well, Jim. Everybody else enjoyed it and saw the piece for what it was. The blogosphere can be a bit overwhelming for people who haven’t encountered these fringe groups before, who, as I said, are disproportionately represented online. I don’t think however that classification of these “types” is saying anything different than saying, “A is an Anglican blogger, B is a Baptist blogger and C is a Charismatic blogger.”

      The “types” identified here do however fall into the, “I’ve got my mind made up” category that no one should try to spend a lot of energy trying to argue with. That just burns up more bandwidth and adds to both frustration and blood pressure.

      Mainstream Evangelicals have run into these “types” many times, and I think there’s nothing wrong with taking a blog post to state the obvious. And not every Christian blog has to be dead serious 100% of the time. (Or did I step on some toes?)

      The difference between the blog post here and what you encounter online is that I had a lot of fun writing it; while what you see within the blogs of these “types” is instead a great big load of anger.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — October 27, 2009 @ 4:29 pm

  9. [...] the Christian blogosphere is not balanced denominationally — I’ve written about this before — certain publishers’ products tend to [...]

    Pingback by Top 40 Christian Books « Thinking Out Loud — January 11, 2011 @ 11:14 am


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