Thinking Out Loud

April 1, 2020

Celebrating 10 Years of Christianity 201

Filed under: blogging, Christianity — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:23 am

It’s our daughter’s birthday.

Daughter blog that is.

Christianity 201 was started ten years ago today, and with only two early-days hiccups I am aware of, has posted every single day for ten years.

As I write something for later today, I wanted readers here to be part of the completion of this milestone, and also thank the writers from whom we’ve “borrowed” material over the years…

Last week one of our contributing writers reminded me of a paragraph on our “about” page, I had forgotten,

Why “201” –A lot of energy is expended in the Christian blogosphere debating and discussing things that are either divisive or fleeting. I wanted this particular voice in the blogosphere to be about things that were more lasting, and the possibility of God’s blessing on those who read this to be a realistic expectation.

That sums up why I started Christianity 201 on April 1, 2010, and it remains its purpose today.

The original articles weren’t formatted the same however. I didn’t demand of myself that each day include scripture — that came months later — but only that the focus be centered on Christ and His Church. So there were a lot of quotations. Here are some excerpts from some of the early posts:

On the first day of C201, April 1, 2010:

When we say we begin with God, we begin with our idea of God, and our idea of God is not God. Instead, we ought to begin with God’s idea of God, and God’s idea of God is Christ. – E. Stanley Jones.

On the uniqueness of Christ:

If Jesus had never lived we never would have been able to invent him. – Walter Wink

On staying the course spiritually:

Collapse in the Christian life is rarely caused by a blowout. It is usually the result of a slow leak. – unknown

On the cross:

I simply argue that the cross be raised again at the center of the marketplace, as well as on the steeple of the church. I am recovering the claim that Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles, but on a high cross between two thieves: on the town garbage heap; at a crossroad so cosmopolitan that they had to write His title in Hebrew, in Latin and in Greek…. At the kind of place where cynics talk smut, and thieves curse and soldiers gamble. Because that’s where He died. And that is what He died about. And that is where churchmen ought to be and what churchmen should be about. – George MacLeod

On Grace vs. Religion:

The thing about grace is that it makes religion totally redundant. – Bruxy Cavey

On treasuring scripture:

You Christians look after a document containing enough dynamite to blow all civilization to pieces, turn the world upside down, and bring peace to a battle-torn planet. But you treat it as though it is nothing more than a piece of good literature. – Ghandi

On the Holy Spirit:

The Ten Commandments… are impossible to fallen people, but not God whose nature they are. …It is the indwelling Spirit of God who, alone, can reproduce and express the moral character of God within us. – Charles Price

On intimacy with God:

There is a way to read the Bible that keeps God at an arm’s length. If you primarily read the Bible as a book of principles to follow and people to imitate then your relationship with God won’t be intimate, it will be contractual. – David Paul Door

A guide for those who preach:

1. How often is Jesus mentioned?
2. If Jesus is mentioned, is he the subject of the verbs? In the sermon is Jesus and his work proclaimed… or is someone else and their work proclaimed?
3. What are those verbs? Are they that Jesus came, lived, died, rescued, saved, and the like? Are they biblical terms? – R. Alan Cole

On the nature of sin:

We never see sin correctly unless we see it as against God. – Jerry Bridges

On evaluating ourselves:

I don’t want to underestimate my sinfulness because all that does is cheapen the grace of God! But more importantly, I don’t want to underestimate the grace of God. We need to be reminded over and over again that the grace of God is so much bigger than our biggest failure! – Mark Batterson

On not worrying about what others see:

Both Blaise Pascal and Jonathan Edwards were known to arrive home with a couple dozen hand written notes pinned to their jackets. Yes, they looked like dorks, but we remember them hundreds of years after their deaths and don’t even know the names of the cool people anymore. – Tim Keller

…The other thing that struck me about the early days of Christianity 201 was the use of music. Sometimes, in the early days, a post was simply an embedded video and a reflection on the lyrics. Ten years later, we have “the worship industry” and it’s far too easy for writers to be dismissive of the power a Christian song can have in the life of a believer, so few devotional writers include music. For an index of the songs we’ve used — updated last about a year ago — click this link.

I’ll probably add a few more words to this when it’s posted at C201 later today — it rolls out at 5:35 EST daily — but I wanted readers here at Thinking Out Loud to share the excitement.

March 29, 2020

A History of Thinking Out Loud (18-minute audio class lecture)

Filed under: blogging, Christianity, media, writing — Tags: — paulthinkingoutloud @ 11:30 am

I discovered this unlisted video this morning. If you’re finished attending virtual church (or churches) for the day, you’re welcome to listen. (There are a few slides.) I was asked to speak to journalism students at Canada Christian College, and it was winter and the weather was not cooperating, so I created this for them instead.

Because it’s unlisted, I can’t embed it here, but you’ll find it at this link.

March 27, 2020

Nothing Much to Add to What’s Being Said

Filed under: blogging, Christianity, current events — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:22 am

“A lot of people will be home,” I reasoned, “And a lot of them will be bored.” As I have often repeated, at the ten year mark I granted myself exemption from the drive to post daily here, but I figured this would be a good time to be creating content. Unfortunately, as I tried to put pen to paper — so to speak — I found it very difficult to engage any form of creativity. I’ve thought of re-purposing older articles, which I might do yet, but again, my spirit is simply too restless. 

It seems ‘tone-deaf’ to raise other issues. I know it’s been business as usual for some bloggers and Tweeters, but try as you might, it’s hard to ignore the elephant in the room. Hopefully the extremists and one-issue writers have found their concerns fading into the background at a time like this.

Christianity 201 reaches that 10-year mark next week. I think it’s going to be come a Monday to Friday type of devotional blog at that point, but instead of slowing down, I have written a rather large number of original articles over the past two weeks, instead of borrowing them as I normally do. I’ll say more about that on April 1st, our tenth birthday.

We’ve become locally focused. For the past two Saturday nights I’ve coordinated a community bulletin board letting our people here know who was having services, who was streaming services, and if so, where that content could be found online. The first week — when 2 or 3 churches were indeed still gathering — the service was found to be quite valuable, but last week people were settled into the new normal routine. I probably won’t bother this week.

I never realized the degree to which Sunday worship sets my personal rhythm. I wrote about this last week, but it’s truer now than it was then. We won’t be gathering this week, and as God’s people, it’s part of our DNA to gather.

We own a Christian bookstore which has been forced to close. We have an enormous rent payment due on April 1st, and the landlord has not replied to any request for rent relief. I don’t talk about the store much here because I have a separate publishing-industry blog, and furthermore, I don’t see it as the epicenter of who I am or what I do. But right now all those resources are just sitting there, literally gathering dust, and many of them would be most helpful to people at a time exactly like this. Unlike your local church — which is probably very thankful that so many of you set up pre-authorized giving — we have not one cent of revenue coming in and won’t until the day we reopen. Easter sales are lost. We were heading for a record-high month in what has started out as a strong year, but now that’s lost.

I am not bearing this time well. I find I have an undercurrent of restlessness. I spent a half-hour yesterday afternoon reading selections from an old NASB New Testament which was my father’s, but the calm it brought didn’t last. By evening, I was in full anxiety mode. I want the nightmare to end, but each item on the evening news, and each new post on Twitter seems to suggest this is going to go much longer than originally forecast. This is a particularly nasty virus.

This is how you stop a plague. I believe this works, I support the science. But it’s not easy. In the notes to an online worship set for the housebound, the band Rend Collective posted, “Social distance is good for our health and the health of others… But it’s not really good for our souls.”

I couldn’t agree more.

February 25, 2020

Celebrating 12 Years of Thinking Out Loud

Filed under: blogging, Christianity, writing — Tags: , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:35 am

Early sidebar piece (widget) circa 2012. Notice the quality of the graphics.

As children get older, they are less consumed with their annual birthday observance. By their late teens they are too cool to celebrate, unless the day includes the granting of a new car.

On a parallel track, the Christian world is less consumed with Christian blogs. “I never got into the blogs;” a friend shared last month, and his words speak for so many.

But about 15 years ago, attending a monthly — or every six weeks as it worked out — meeting of church planters and alternative church dreamers, the blogs were all the rage. ‘Did you read what ____________ posted on Monday?’ someone would ask.

It also became a conduit for information about books, a passion I was all too eager to engage.

My wife had a blog long before me, and then I started one in the then religion blogs corner of USAToday. It was a great way to meet other writers, too; and a few of the conversations continued over a longer time period.

Thinking Out Loud was the natural next step following a series of emails I was mailing out monthly. Truly I did this backwards: Most built a blog following and then started stressing subscriptions.

There was a fresh post every day for ten years. The Christian blogosphere was at its height for those first few years, but other platforms, particularly Twitter, dwarfed the remaining few on Blogspot or WordPress or SquareSpace. Today, I post less frequently, though I have friends who still make a point of having a daily post.

The Original Wednesday List Lynx

I think that having the Wednesday Link List carried at Christianity Today for 22 months was this blog’s greatest achievement. That, and launching its sister blog, Christianity 201.

But as I said a long time ago in another lifetime when I stepped down from writing a monthly column for Contemporary Christian Music Magazine, “It is a far better thing to make the news than to write the news. (Unfortunately today, as Wednesday Connect testifies on an almost weekly basis, too many are making the news for the wrong reasons; but that is another topic.)

Moving forward, Thinking Out Loud will still be here. It’s nice to be able to weigh in on Christianity and culture, but I no longer feel compelled to weigh in on every issue. Plus, Twitter provides an opportunity to keep in touch on an hour-by-hour basis if something breaks. If you’re not on it, sign up and follow a few key people, even if you never Tweet anything yourself.

The next most natural evolution in my online ministry life has been Reddit. I’m not very active, but it’s nice to know when you start to type something that you are answering a specific question asked by a specific person. I urge you all to drop by the subReddit “Christianity,” as I did for a full year before joining.

Thanks to all of you who read this for your continued support. As  Queen Elizabeth might say, “I hereby declare the 13th year of Thinking Out Loud officially open.”

How the blog appears on other planets.

December 31, 2019

Blogging Out Loud

Regular readers will realize that once I crossed the ten year mark here at Thinking Out Loud, I released myself from the burden of writing a new piece every day.

In just 3 months, Christianity 201, our sister blog, will reach the same milestone, and I have stated that I am going to do the same there; though this is problematic, as it’s presently a daily devotional blog.

The process of finding daily Bible study articles and then extracting them without violating stated copyrights continues to be a challenge. Mostly, I rely on writers we have used before, along with bloggers who are just starting out and happy to have their material shared.

Increasingly I’ve been writing a slightly greater percentage of the articles myself, which meant fewer pieces here. I know it’s been rather sparse, and it’s not that the creative ideas don’t come, but it’s a question of time, and also the mature realization that I don’t need to respond to every issue making the rounds (and the last half of this year brought plenty of them, didn’t it?)

My reading suffered this year for this and a number of other reasons. I’m realizing that while I enjoy keeping up with the books which achieve popularity, I’d like to go deeper myself. Three things on my wish-list right now are published by IVP (InterVarsity Press) who have repeatedly turned down review copy requests over the years. Mining their back-catalog, I’d love to turn the pages of Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes by Randolf Richards and Brandon O’Brien; Evangelical, Pentecostal, Sacramental: Why The Church Should Be All Three by Gordon Smith; and anything by John Walton. Again, all IVP, but publishers only send promotional copies for new releases, no matter how large the blog readership.

I still work two shifts a week at the bookstore. Recently someone asked us, “Who would be a good author for someone who likes N.T. Wright? Or Timothy Keller?” I discovered in my search that GoodReads offers an “authors similar to…” selection for key writers. If you want to go deeper in 2020, here’s a few with whom you can’t go wrong (somewhat edited for my customer’s response):

■ Similar to Wright:
Eugene H. Peterson
Dietrich Bonhoeffer
John H. Walton
Scot McKnight
James K.A. Smith
G.K. Chesterton
John R.W. Stott

■ Similar to Keller:
Lee Strobel
Richard J. Foster
A.W. Tozer
J.I. Packer

Maybe you can think of others.

I wish you fruitful and blessed reading in 2020!

 

November 8, 2019

Blogroll Update #11

Computer searchIt’s been almost a year since I did one of these. This is not the blogroll that appears here on the blog, but rather things I bookmark in my computer as I find them. If you read all of the various parts to this ongoing series of lists, it comes to several thousand. If you find something that’s a dead link let me know. Also, because the list is shorter this time, I’m including an updated list of the various sources I use to compose the weekly Wednesday list.

Blogs (new)
More Than Cake
Blog – Phylicia Masonheimer
Blog | Jennifer LeClaire Ministries International
Standing For God – In These Evil Times
Mark 12:30 – Worshiping with Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength
In the Fourth Nocturn
Ken’s Daily Bible Re
thinkingpastorally
SeanPaulMurphyVille
Out of the Depths
Jesustrek | Journey of a Lifetime by Tom Cox
BROKEN BELIEVERS
TXAB: The Christ Almighty Blog
The Apologista | Love, Life, and Logic with Lauren
BLOG – JimmyHinton.org
BLOG — Danielle Strickland
Faith and Leadership | Duke Divinity
Home Page | Vital Sermons
Brenton Collyer
Just A Thought
Home – Patterns of Evidence: The Moses Controversy
In Pleasant Places
Gospel Taboo
ExpressYourself4Him | A writer’s journey with God
Rock Badger Christianity – YouTube
Peacehacks
Simply Shannon!
Generosity Monk – Meditations
Warhorn Media – Welcome to the reformation.
Church Militant – Serving Catholics
the Way? – Following Jesus in the 21st century
Spiritual Regurgitations |Rev. Dr. Robin J. Dugall
Nathan Hamm
CultureWatch – Bill Muehlenberg
Jen Pollock Michel
Todd Wilhelm: Thou Art The Man
Hare Translation Journey –  Bible translators in Cameroon
Practical Faith
Christian News Sources
FaithWorld | Analysis & Opinion | Reuters.com
Christianity Today Gleanings
Christian News, The Christian Post
Christian News on Christian Today
Faith and Leadership
Disrn – Brief, smart, faithful
Christian news, church news, **** – FaithfulNews
Christian Newswire – Up to the Minute Christian News
Religion News Service | Religion News in Photos, Articles & Video
Religion Dispatches
Christian News Headlines
RealClearReligion
News | The Christian Institute
Trending News – Positive Encouraging K-LOVE
OneNewsNow.com – Your News Right Now
HuffPost Religion
GetReligion
RELEVANT Magazine
Spiritual Sounding Board
CBN News – Christian News 24-7 – CBN.com
On Faith:  The Washington Post
NRB :: LATEST NEWS
Persecution News of Churches Persecuted & Christian Sufferings
Forum 18 Latest News
WORLD Magazine | Today’s News, Christian Views
Religious News – SRN News
Christian News Network
News & Events
WND – Faith
Breaking Christian News
ASSIST News Service
Holy Post | National Post
Religion News Blog
Belief – CNN.com
News | LifeSiteNews.com
Premier Christianity
Mission Network News – Mission Network News
The Old Black Church
On Religion – The UK’s first magazine about faith and religion
God Reports
BuzzVine | The Christian Post
Converge MagazineConverge
Baptist News, Opinion, Resources, Inspiration | Baptist Standard
The Journal of Gospel Music –
Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project
Read the Spirit | Spiritual, Interfaith, Cross-Cultural Media
News | The Living Church
The Aquila Report —  Reformed and Presbyterian
Rush to Press, news from Christian publishing industry
Ecumenical News.com – Daily Christian, Ecumenical News Online
The Association of Religion Data Archives – U.S. and World Religion Statistics and Data – ARDA
TheBlaze – Breaking news and opinion
The College Fix
NEW ADVENT: Home
Now The End Begins: End Times Bible Prophecy
Gateway News — Christian News Portal, South Africa
ISSUU – Faith FEED
Parents As First Educators
Christian News on Christian Times
NEWSROOM – NRB.org
Religion Dispatches
Christian Daily
SBC Today | Southern Baptist News and Analysis
Christian News on Christian Today
Baptist Press
Jewish News & Israel News – JNS.org
ABC Religion & Ethics (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)
religion | The Africa Report
These Christian Times
Sports Spectrum – Christian Sports Magazine, Christian Athletes and Profiles, Faith-based Influences
Christian Examiner Newspapers | Christian News, Commentary, Events
Christian News, The Gospel Herald
News Archive – Mission Network News
News : BREATHEcast
Episcopal Cafe
365 Days Of Inspiring Media | Music and Entertainment Blogs with a Motivational and Moving Message For All Days Of The Year
BRnow.org – Baptist News – Biblical Recorder is the Official News Service and Baptist Press for the NC Baptist State Convention
All are welcome.
All Religion News and Press Releases from PR Newswire
Trunews. The Real News, Uncensored.
Christian Newswire – Up to the Minute Christian News
News & Ideas | Faith and Leadership
Christian Current Events – ChristForums
Good News, Inspiring, Positive Stories – Good News Network
Religion – Good News Network
ChurchPOP | Make holy all the things!
Christian Book Expo
Religion
Home Page – HAPPY SONSHIP
Religion | Commonweal Magazine
BCNN1: Black Christian News Network One
Catholic Stand – Living the Truth the Church Teaches : Catholic Stand
BREATHEcast
Christian Standard | Resourcing Christian Leaders
Home – EpicPew
Christian News on Christian Times
The Christian Mail | Christian News, Christian Mail for Christians Worldwide
Christian Newswire – Up to the Minute Christian News
The Christian Post,Christian News
Acts of Faith – The Washington Post
Worthy Christian Forums
Christian Forums
Company News | HarperCollins Christian Publishing
The Christian Sentinel – Where Faith Meets Investigative Reporting
Publishers Weekly Bestseller Lists
News : Hallels
PE News | News
Religion Books and Publishing News | Publishers Weekly
Church
Religious News – SRN News
Omni Articles | Quill and Quire
BRnow.org – Baptist News | Baptist Press Coverage by Biblical Recorder
Christian Daily
Religion | HuffPost
NEWSROOM – NRB.org
The Living Church – Serving the One Body of Christ
Christian News Archives – Christian Blog
Eternity News
Global Christian News – Christian News Across The World!
Articles Archives | ChurchPOP
World Religion News
Religion Dispatches – Rewire.News
Hallels
Latest News :: Catholic News Agency (CNA)
Breaking Christian News – Religion Headlines
Religion & Politics
Religion Archives – The Federalist
Church Watch Central
Eternity News
News – Global Christian News
Religion Release Distribution by EIN Presswire and EIN News
Religious Forums
Reformation Charlotte
Homepage – Religion News Service
Home – Anglican Ink © 2019
Subject: Religion | The College Fix
News – Word&Way
Christian Film News™
After the Altar Call –
Home – The Christian Index
Bitter Winter | Religious liberty and human rights in China
Home | Step FWD UK Christian Chart

The link to part one. (October, 2014…six years worth of links to that point)

The link to part two. (St. Patrick’s Day, 2015)

The link to part three. (May, 2015, also included my news sources to that point)

The link to part four. (August, 2015, included blog aggregators and people who do things similar to the Wednesday Link List or Wednesday Connect)

The link to part five. (August, 2016, a full year later)

The link to a mini update. (Just five weeks after part five the file was getting full again)

The link to part six. (January 2017)

The link to part seven (June 2017) 

The link to part eight (October 2017)

The link to part nine (May, 2018; included an updated list of Christian news sources)

The link to part ten (January, 2019)

April 6, 2019

Press ‘D’ for Depression

Filed under: blogging, Christianity, health, personal, weather, writing — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:00 am

The result of an image search for depression: This one seemed to sum it up best.

I haven’t been writing much here these last few weeks. The ideas come — sometimes I don’t write them down — and the computer beckons, but I either don’t write, or prioritize other writing, such as our devotional blog which continues to grow.

I’ve never been diagnosed with clinical depression. I’m still fairly certain that the textbook definition, which you can read about here, is not applicable. If those symptoms do apply however, be sure to seek help.

In my life depression has always been circumstantial. Change the circumstances, I’ve told myself (and God) and my outlook on life will change along with it.

As a result, I’ve tended to be judgmental or dismissive of those whose depression, not otherwise diagnosed as genetic, or chemical, or the result of family history, seems to be circumstantial like mine.

So you can imagine my response to Seasonal Affective Disorder, the acronym for which is, quite appropriately, SAD.

‘Spring is coming,’ I will say to myself and others, ‘Just a few more weeks and we’ll be basking in sunshine.’

But then this winter never ended. Spring never seemed to arrive. We changed to Daylight Saving Time but the environment missed the memo.

As I write this, on April 6th, a warmer day is forecast for my part of Ontario, but there are still clumps of ice by my front door (which is in shade) and at the end of my driveway. I can see some neighbors houses with some packed snow (caused by snow ploughing) which hasn’t fully melted.

There was no January thaw this year.

Our week in the Caribbean was literally over far too soon.

And no matter what scientists tell you, living in Canada as we do, we are convinced that 0°C is definitely much colder than 32°F.

Furthermore, we’re not compelled by family traditions or a hyper business-driven economy to be on the road when common sense dictates otherwise. Americans simply risk limb and life to get the family — or the packages — where they need to be. Canadians stay home where it’s safe and pour another bowl of chicken soup.

No wonder I feel sad. Correction: No wonder I feel SAD.

Then last week I got sick. Like many of our friends, we held our heads high saying, “I haven’t been sick all winter.” But then, as March was giving way to April, our bodies simply ran out of immunity before the weather ran out of cruelty. (“Forget this” was my immune system’s exact words.) After directing my physician yesterday to issue a more powerful degree of opioids [Note: This could foreshadow another column in about three months*] I finally got a few good hours of sleep last night.

Sleep is good. Sleep is needful. Sleep also wards of depression.

When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”

So yes, like the guy in the John 5 story, I wish to get well. I want a sunny day, chasing the clouds away. I want to be walking on sunshine. I want joy, I want fun, I want seasons in the sun. (See, the codeine isn’t affecting me at all.)

I want a week of this (about 93°F for you non-metric laggards; 0 mm of rainfall is very approximately 0 inches of rainfall):

If the drugs don’t work, I may be forced to try chocolate.


*The opioid crisis is real. So why doesn’t my computer’s spell-check know the word? How can so many systems in my computer be updating so often, but the machine’s basic dictionary not know a word defining an urgent medical crisis in the First World? Anyway, I didn’t want anyone to think I was treating this lightly. If you know someone still taking the pills, or cough syrup, or whatever; long after the illness has left, they have a problem and need to seek help.

March 3, 2019

The Internet, The Church, and Accelerated Social Change

close-to-home-on-blogging1This is part two (see yesterday) of a two-part article.

In the setup in part one, we indicated that the influence of rock music in general and The Beatles in particular caused some sweeping changes, particularly in the U.S., in terms of fashion, drugs, war resistance and the sexual liberation. Some of this may have been inevitable, and there were certainly other influences at play, but the 1960s were essentially two decades worth of change sandwiched into one.

So what about another media (for lack of a better word) which influenced the Church?

The effect of the internet on Christianity or Evangelicalism varies depending on which aspect of the technology you’re discussing.

Email simply replaced snail-mail. Communications happened instantly, and at a fraction of the cost, but it’s hard to argue that this changed anything within church culture.

Church websites simply replaced the marquee at the front of the church building, allowing churches to opt instead for larger changeable letters adorned with pithy sayings. No need to post the pastor’s name or the service times, since all that was now on the website.

Video on demand or live-streaming of weekend services simply replaced buying time on local TV outlets, or for the blessed few, on a network of stations.

No, none of these things changed anything in and of themselves.

The real change happened on social media. Online bulletin boards, chat rooms, etc. made it possible for dialog to happen and made it easy for people to enter the conversation regardless of where they lived or their level of education.

But the biggest change occurred with the type of thing you’re reading now: Weblogs, or as they are better known, blogs.

While I can’t cite specific years as I did in part one of the article, here are some effects that I would say took place from about 2003 to 2009.

Blog ChildBlogs and BooksIt wasn’t Christian publishers who came up with using social media to promote new releases, rather the conversations simply started happening over the latest title or the newest author. For reasons I’ll get back to in the final point, the period was a golden age for non-fiction books and publishers were tripping over themselves to place new voices under contract.

I specify non-fiction because the publisher relationship with social media today tends to be more focused on mommy bloggers critiquing and giving away spoilers in the latest Amish or romantic or historical fiction title. Some of these make it through three books a week and publishers are quite willing to supply even relatively small blogs with freebies.

But that wasn’t always the way. The original discussions were all about doctrinal, or Christian Living titles. Maybe a devotional. Eventually, the one Christian children’s book that ever got serious blog review, The Jesus Storybook Bible.

The Growth of Calvinism – This really isn’t anything new, neither should it come as a surprise. Any advance of media technology, or any general cultural shift in communications has been seized on by the Reformed community. Just look at one of the first megachurches (Crystal Cathedral, Reformed Church in America), one of the first TV ministries (Day of Discovery, Christian Reformed), the organizations which dominate our present publishing community (Zondervan, Baker, Eerdman’s, etc., all Reformed); look at these and you see that Reformers have always been there in any available media. (My running joke: Why are there no Salvation Army bloggers? Because while everybody else is writing about it, the Salvation Army is out on the streets doing it.)

But while the internet promoted Calvinism, in some ways the form of the doctrine that was promoted was also changed by it. There exists a type of militant Calvinism today that has polarized the broad Christian community. Reformed parents couldn’t give their children the comic book The Action Bible until the publisher provided a sanctified edition with text from the English Standard Version, the Reformed community’s new Bible of choice.

blogThe Internet Celebrity – The blog Stuff Christians Like launched Jon Acuff overnight. The blog with the weird name, Without Wax, introduced the world to Nashville pastor Pete Wilson. The Naked Pastor developed a cult following, especially when some of the characters in the illustrations turned out to be actually naked. John Shore, Bill Kinnon, Tim Challies, Skye Jethani, Zach Nielson, and others like them were must reading for their constituencies. The Pyromaniacs aka Team Pyro proved that graphics matter, with their first-rate images appearing throughout their articles and attracting new followers.

But in a 2016 Happy Rant Podcast, Barnabas Piper and Ted Kluck noted that many of the Reformed blogging superstars have churches that are not as significantly large as their digital footprint might indicate. They enjoy a fame disproportionate to their church attendance. Furthermore some pastors, like Willow’s Bill Hybels, didn’t blog at all.

There’s also the few — of which this blog is one — that managed to attract a following without the author being a pastor or a published author. Voices that might not have been heard if this form of social media had not existed.

Homogenization – Despite the plethora of Christian blogs out there, there was a sense we were all reading from the same page. Re-blogging material was more common and more accepted in the early days, and the water cooler topics in church offices — especially among younger leaders — tended to mirror the topics being discussed on the blogs.

Emergent / Emerging – While the terms are now in disuse, there is much evidence that whatever the Christian blogosphere did for Calvinism, it did even more so for the various strains of the Emergent Church, including the Ancient/Future mini-movement that I feel was Emergent’s best byproduct; along with kick-starting the whole missional conversation.

I’m not sure if it was Tony Jones or not, but recently a writer from that era wrote a piece saying that Emergent was, in effect, now past its sell-by date. I have to agree, which makes it more interesting when some watchdog blog starts slamming the now non-existent movement. Which brings us to…

bloggingdogs-thumbDiscernment / Watchdog Ministries – The blogosphere in general, if nothing else, is all about being offended, so the discernment bloggers, the watchdog bloggers, those champions for truth and right doctrine (as long as it’s their truth and right doctrine) are a natural fit for social media.

The problem is that the average Christian, doing a Google search, has no idea when he or she has come upon one of these, and may not catch the watchdog’s own biases. The blogosphere, like the entire internet, has few filters.

Furthermore, there are so many targets for these writers, so many ways to instill fear, so many common enemies, that it’s easy to go on the attack and forget that those attacked are real people with real lives and real families. I think it’s harder to hate a person after you’ve shaken his hand, but I may be wrong.

Did Christian internet bullies contribute to the suicide of a pastor’s teenage son? We asked that question here a few years ago. We’ll never know the answer, but some are willing to speculate.

Connections – I met British Columbia blogger Rick Apperson somewhere in the comments section of my short lived Religion blog at USAToday. I met American pastor Clark Bunch through blogs and would consider him an online friend. Dare I say that I’ve made dozens and dozens of contacts through blogging, some of which I consider the most significant in my life, even though we’ve never met face to face.

I’ve also discovered an affinity toward people with whom I think alike and with whom I think quite differently. And I am so grateful for having spent nearly two years doing a column (albeit a news feed) for Christianity Today. I still keep in touch — mostly through Twitter — with author Drew Dyck.

Eccesiology – One of the main benefits of the early years of Christian bloggers was the rapid increase in the number of people who started planting churches. Called “the extreme sport of ministry,” church plants turned up in various shapes and sizes, with lay people who had never had a previous interest in Ecclesiology — and who had certainly never been asked — were writing and turning out blog posts and print books on the subject of doing church and creating a different kind of church (a phrase that if Googled, probably results in millions of hits.)

Growth of BloggingI listed this last, even though it could have been first, because it sums up a lot of what was taking place in a very short time: There was an explosion of ideas. Conversations were flying fast and furious about church governance, leadership models and worship styles. That the average parishioner cared so much about what was taking place drove all us into a deeper consideration of what it means to be Christ’s church.

The discussions and ideas were reflected in books and especially in a parallel explosion of conferences. People loved their church and loved the church. No idea wasn’t worth consideration. No speaker or writer wasn’t worth hearing.

It was the best of times.

March 2, 2019

A Pre-Internet Example of Accelerated Social Change

Filed under: blogging, Christianity, music, technology, writing — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:22 am

Tomorrow, I want to look at one or two particular effects on the church that have been brought about by the internet, or perhaps one specific aspect of it. But today, as a prequel, I want to go back in time about 50 years.

We all are aware that the internet greatly accelerated social change in the countries that had access to it. The way we shop, the way we interact, the manner in which we obtain information, how we handle our financial affairs, etc.; all these have been greatly affected.

Printing PressThe standard comparison is that we are living in a time very similar to what happened when the moveable type printing press was introduced. Mass publication of printed materials was suddenly an option, and even more so when the presses were attached to steam power.

There was however, a small ripple of accelerated social change that took place in the 1960s and the medium of choice was the music of the day which we now know as rock. If you visited in a record store in the early part of the decade, the standard categories were:

  • popular
  • folk
  • classical
  • spoken word
  • country
  • marching band
  • big band / jazz
  • sacred;

but by the end of the decade, well over half the record store’s real estate was taken up with rock. “Drums and guitars;” wasn’t so much a description of the sound as a constant complaint on the lips of those who didn’t like it.

Let it BeYou can’t write about this without mentioning The Beatles. They certainly exploded quickly on the scene and were an icon of the rock music age. Their songs are forever identified with the musical style that defined the ’60s

But how much of this would have happened anyway? If you listen to the bands that were around in the pre-Beatles age, you certainly see the trajectory where music was heading. The group’s name is, after all, a play on words on the emerging “beat music” which was being played in clubs in both Europe and North America.

But in the wake of The Beatles, social change happened, and it happened fast:

1966 — Men for the first time in recent history started sporting long hair. It wasn’t necessarily the hair style of previous centuries, either. There was also a radical shift in fashion taking place introducing new colors, shapes, fabrics and combinations.

1967 — Psychedelic drugs in particular and drug use in general swept colleges and high schools. “Tune in, turn on, drop out;” was a motto that recognized the link between tuning in the music (on radio, the primary source for music awareness) and turning on (with both hard drugs and soft drugs).

1968 — Rock music became a unifying factor in the opposition to the U.S. war in Vietnam. Protests spread throughout the U.S. “War! What is it good for?” (albeit from 1970, the year Wikipedia notes anti-war songs peaked in volume) is hauled out of the archives to this very day when America’s military finds itself involved overseas.

1969 — The sexual revolution. The Woodstock Festival and others like it introduced a sexual liberation such as had never been seen in the U.S and a movie documentary would take that revolution to cities and towns; and people who were unable to attend in person.

A good study of all that happened in those four y ears would be the 1968  musical Hair, summing up all the various things listed here (drugs, nudity, pacifism and of course hair itself) in a single production.

My point is that in terms of societal change, the 1960s were basically two decades for the price of one. In other words, change that might have come about over a 20-year period happened in seven years (if you track the Beatles back to 1963) instead.

beatles-cover-lifeWhy did this happen? Music!

Again, all this serves as introduction to an article coming later this week. I want to argue that the same thing has happened to the church, not because of music but because of the internet. By this I don’t mean church websites or live streaming of services, any more than The Beatles’ influence is limited to the playback conversion from vinyl to eight-track tapes. Rather, I want to make the case that a number of things happened in the same quick succession as we saw in the larger culture in the four years from 1966 to 1969.

I may not have the years so exact, but I think you’ll see that also similar to those years, the accelerated ecclesiastic change in the church brought about by the internet has come to a screeching halt.

Weigh in! If you have a comment that you would like to see form a part of the next article, feel free to email or leave it here.

December 4, 2018

Mark Clark on the State of Online Discourse Among Christians

Mark Clark is the pastor of Village Church in Vancouver, Canada and is the author of The Problem of God, which we reviewed here in September, 2017. Yesterday evening he posted a thread on Twitter that probably few of you would happen to see.

Increasingly, Twitter is becoming a long-form medium, but experience teaches me that many may not bother to click through to see an entire series of posts. So, as we did with a Skye Jethani thread around the same time last year, I’m going to take the liberty of sharing it here. (A few things are softly edited because there’s no character limit.)

December 3, 2018

Christian: Reformed or Charismatic, left or right, get out of your own echo-chamber. Your naive, dogmatic, tribal and simplistic ideological ideas are painful to read over and over again. Straw men arguments are not respected. Dig deeper. Let’s work together around ACTUAL data.

No, pragmatics aren’t the enemy! No, good doctrine isn’t the enemy. No, passionate preaching is not empty. No, doctrinal preaching isn’t always boring.

No, that successful pastor in the States with the big house and big smile probably isn’t Satan’s servant. No, the local small church pastor of 200 isn’t less qualified for ministry. No, your non-educated self isn’t more organic or Spirit-filled than “educated” pastors.

No, that church’s view on women, or governance, or preaching or whatever isn’t the enemy; Satan, sin and death is. No, video preaching isn’t wrong. No, faithfulness to expository preaching isn’t wrong. No, fighting for experiential Christianity isn’t wrong.

No, big churches using methods you don’t aren’t WRONG. No, small churches aren’t better or more godly. No, God doesn’t love big churches more.

No, unhitching from the Old Testament isn’t a good strategy. No, ones who suggest it from a missional heart aren’t necessarily heretical or false prophets.

No, ‘those’ churches aren’t always weak and flashy. No, ‘those’ churches aren’t always boring and irrelevant.

No, celebrity pastors don’t always sell out and do it for themselves. No, small church pastors aren’t always humble and selfless.

No, your self appointed group is not the standard holding Modern Christianity ‘accountable’. No, the solution is not to dissolve all accountability.

With that, Mark suddenly breaks the thread. But there are a few more postscripts which follow individually:

No, systemic racism is not over or a made up myth. It’s real. No, the ‘white man’, or men in general, are not to blame for all our problems.

No, our government leaders aren’t Messiahs. No, they aren’t completely evil and incompetent.

No, atheists aren’t always smart. No, Christians aren’t always smart.

I hope that, like me, you were able to see some people or institutions — or most importantly, some part of ourselves — in what Mark wrote. All our online activity, from scholarly insight to common ranting, won’t in itself change the world or advance the Kingdom.

I’ll concede that as it stands, what’s above is a short essay in desperate need of a closing statement or paragraph. (Update: In a note to me on Twitter, Mark explained that his phone’s battery ran out! That got me wondering if Martin Luther would have gone past #95 if he had more paper.)

So where do we go from here?

That’s up to me and you.

 

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