Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The Spiritual Dangers of Blogging

This is an insightful comment from a leading administrator at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. It would have been even more useful, though, to think about the larger cultural-spiritual ramifications of the "blogosphere" and what this new medium does to spiritual leadership and authority.

What appears to be happening is similar to the sea-change that happened in the mid-eighteenth century. Before the appearance of George Whitefield and his use of print media and itinerant ministry, spiritual leadership was tied to the cultural patterns of place, kinship, education, and wealth. With Whitefield (and other itinerants), cultural authority shifted to those who could maximize the new media; the result was the overturning of authority. [There are a number of books that talk about this: among the best are Harry Stout's The Divine Dramatist and Timothy Hall's Contested Boundaries]

A similar thing is happening now. The internet and blogosphere are reshaping cultural authority in ways that are discomfiting to those in traditional places of leadership (especially, religious leadership--hence, pastors, seminary and denominational administrators, etc.). While this medium has tremendous possibilities for interaction with others on a global scale, it also can be used to promote prejudice, gossip, salaciousness, slander and other spiritual maladies.

The answer, it seems to me, is not only to name the potential vices, as Dr. Moore has done well, but to model the possibilities that these new viritual communities can bring about. In addition, if theological reflectiton is going to be done in this fashion in the future, then religious and denominational leaders also need to think through the ramifications of doing viritual theology. After all, the internet can be a powerful tool for "real-time" interaction and reflection; but it can also bring out the remaining sinfulness or foolness in all of us.

I think it is also necessary to reconsider what "spiritual authority" looks like in this brave new world. Traditional ways of exercising influence--seminary leadership, books and radio, denominational involvement, church leadership through Word and Sacrament--all will continue to be important. But there needs to be a recognition that, in the future, influence will be exercised for good and for ill in other ways. Thinking through what that means and looks like will be a major issue for 30-somthing leaders in traditional institutions for the future.

1 comment:

Neil E. Das said...

Dr. Lucas, I too have wondered about the question of the blogosphere and authority. At the time I began my thinking there was only the Internet to contend with. The blogosphere, though, makes the issue even more important as it is so much easier to self-publish than it was even 5 years ago.

In addition to interpersonal harm and sinfulness, discussions of the truth and doctrine can now be infinitely nuanced (and hence present much nuanced error as well). It is as if the latent postmodernism of our culture has been given a voice.

In this sense, to ignore the blogosphere and the Internet would be simply to choose not to listen to interact with these voices. To interact, though, sometimes seems to me like a bewildering and disheartening endeavor.

Therefore, it is encouraging to see people like you who have ecclesiastical and institutional authority participate in this medium. If nothing else, it can help in fostering authenticity, for which the younger culture so longs.