Monday, January 31, 2005

Apologetics and the Blogosphere

Jeff over at a great blog, Dawn Treader, has posed some interesting questions about the use and usefulness of apologetic work through blogging. He is welcoming comments, and I wanted to write out a couple of thoughts in response. He poses a set of questions to get the conversation started:

1) What potential does blogging bring to apologetics?

2) What drawbacks and limitations are there to apologetics blogging?

3) What is the most significant challenge to apologetics blogging?

4) Is apologetics blogging really just another form of "preaching to the choir"? If yes, why do it? If no, do you think has an impact based on your own experience?

Number 1. One of the advantages blogging has is easy and almost instantaneous interaction. The Apologetics Aggregator and the online collaboration of Vox Apologia are some of the latest vehicles for interaction. Aggregators in general provide an opportunity for interaction, but the smaller more focused aggregators provide a great opportunity for more in-depth interaction. I think one potential benefit blogging brings to apologetics is the necessary activity of iron sharpening iron.

It also creates a kind of searchable database for apologetic information. Certain topics don’t “float my boat” and as a result I don’t spend a great deal of time reading and writing on those subjects, but there are certainly those out there in the blogosphere who do. I have been able to find information and links to information on things I would not by books about, and I have found excerpts of books and authors which have inspired me to research them further and possibly even purchase.

Number 2. The primary drawback that I see is the same drawback that all virtual technologies have in common-lack of face-to-face interaction. There is, in my opinion, no real substitute for personal interaction. In the virtual netherland of the internet it is easy for some to substitute forum boards, email, and comments for real contact, and I don’t think that is beneficial for the Christian cause. Christ came in the flesh, and our outreach to people should be in the same manner. Clearly there are advantages that the blogosphere has; I will “talk” with people through my blog that I would never interact with limited to just my physical proximity. But a face, a smile, a tear-these are the intangibles which communicate the love and grace of Christ as much as anything I might say or write.

Number 3. Off the top of my head I can come up with two serious challenges. First, a lack of personal interaction tends to make people less charitable and benevolent than they would otherwise be. The worst interactions I have had with Christian acquaintances and friends have invariably been via e-mail. It is amazing what people feel free to say when they don’t see you as opposed to what they are willing to say when you are sitting across a table with them. This phenomena is another result of the drawback in Number 2. When we don’t see the sincerity in our interlocutor’s eyes, or the gestures of frustration, disagreement, or acquiescence, we don’t know when to stop or when to go. From time to time, Christians who are supposed to reflect the grace and longsuffering of their Messiah are far more vitriolic and offensive than they need to be.

Second is what is now being called the ghetto-effect. We end up preaching to the choir without really engaging with others (or each other-more on that below) in a helpful manner. As far as I can tell, there is more and more thought being put into the purpose and audiences of Christian blogs and whether they are achieving either. This issue on Dawn Treader is a part of that reflection.

Number 4. Now that I have complained a bit about preaching to the choir, I want to encourage it-at least encourage it be done in a thoughtful and deliberate manner. Simply as a result of how God has chosen to use me thus far, I have had far more “success” using apologetic arguments in Christian circles than outside them. Preaching to the choir is not, in itself, a bad thing. It is what you preach to the choir that can make or break the experience.

Plenty of Christians have unresolved issues in their faith, and I have discovered that they are willing and eager many times to air those issues in a safe and helpful environment. If they know that their pastor or Christian friend is willing to deal with questions and issues honestly and without condemnation, their floodgates might just open.

Even if an individual is not experiencing any kind of real existential crisis, apologetic work among believers helps them love their God with all their minds and establish a solid base for their belief system. All of us will eventually come into contact with anti-Christian sentiment be it though a class, the media, or other friends, and if we have at least a modest foundation of solid Christian thinking, then we are less likely to be blown around by every wind of doctrine.

1 comment:

Joshua_Duncan said...

I'm glad you touched on the importance of apologetics to the Christian community. Realizing that the Christianity is rationally defensible can be of great devotional significance. One of the members of our apologetics team had an intense crisis that was exacerbated by an unsympathetic pastor. Fortunately she was able to find some answers and she has been living her Christian life in a deeper way than she ever had.