The Pope, I’m sure you’ve heard, wants Catholic Priests to use the internet.
The announcement was ripe for mockery, but after reading it, it’s interesting to note that the Pope’s emphasis throughout is on extending pastoral care to their flocks, not on “reaching the lost.”
That’s a significant point of emphasis, and one different from what Christian new media advocates envisioned and talked about several years ago. The internet, we were told, was going to open up new avenues for communicating the Gospel. It was going to increase the opportunities Christians had to interact with the rest of the world.
But it hasn’t happened. At least not that I’m aware of.
I may be overly cynical here, so I’ll pose it as a question: which Christian blog that is not a blog written by Christians about politics has a sizable portion of its readers–say, 10-15%–that are not Christians? My guess is that when Joe jumped to Senior Editor at Evangelical Outpost, that number dropped from 1 to 0.
Here’s my basic hypothesis. Christian blogs fit into one of three categories: Christians exhorting other Christians to live Christianly, Christians talking about politics, and Christians exhorting other Christians to stop talking about politics and start reaching the lost instead.
Of course, those blogs are great. I read them, enjoy them, and am often edified by them. People like Desiring God, Resurgence, and other big Christian websites produce great content that is very influential for the Kingdom. Even Mere-O has drifted toward becoming one of them (exhorting Christians to live Christianly) over the past few years. Don’t hear me saying that Christian blogs have to be oriented toward talking to non-Christians. They don’t.
But if I was a non-Christian judging the shape and dynamic of our churches by our behavior online–a reasonable thing to do, I think–I’d probably leave a tour of Christian blogs thinking that we spend most of our time talking about how to reach people, rather than reaching people.
In other words, I don’t know of a major Christian blog that has crossover appeal.
And that makes me sad, like the opportunities promised to us have passed us by. We don’t live in an ‘agora’ where ideas are exchange freely. We live in the ghetto of an echo chamber, and the only way out is through the political trap-door, which will make at least half the Christians think you’re selling out the Gospel.
I could be wrong, of course. I’d be thrilled to be wrong. So if there’s a blog I’m missing that has a significant non-Christian audience, I’d like to know about it.
And if you’re not a Christian and you read Mere-O, I’d love to hear your perspective. Which blogs do you read, and why? And before you comment, you should know that I’m thankful for all the non-Christians that have read our stuff and interacted with us throughout the past five years. We’ve always worked hard to win your respect, even if we don’t ultimately win your agreement.
[…] Preaching to the Converted? Interesting piece on Christians blogs and its audience in Mere Orthodoxy. […]
I think I could argue that Sojourners is a Christian site/blog that does have crossover appeal. Some might argue that it’s not Christian, but I think that reveals extra-creedal orthodoxy on their part more than an honest critique of Sojourners. Emergent Village could have been that but they spent too much time discussing what emergent actually was while defending positions…and now their run is coming to an end, IMO.
You might be right about Sojourners. That’s an interesting thought. I typically think of them as more politically oriented, but I think you’re probably right about their draw.
I’ve been following Experimental Theology (http://experimentaltheology.blogspot.com/) for a little while now. While I think there is a heavy Christian following, the author (a psychology instructor) tends to take a more analytical approach to his posts, which I think allows non-believers to get an insight into how faith applies to various scenarios and conditions without being “preached at” per se.
Give it a peek sometime, really interesting stuff.
You wrote, “The internet, we were told, was going to open up new avenues for communicating the Gospel. It was going to increase the opportunities Christians had to interact with the rest of the world. But it hasn’t happened. At least not that I’m aware of.”
We at Network211 launched our evangelism site http://www.journeyanswers.com last year and already have almost 1,000,000 souls logged on to listen to the Gospel message.
Matt, there are tons of people coming to Christ over the internet. I’ll send you a list of sites if you want them. Internet evangelism is alive and well.
Thanks for the heads up on that blog. Looks fascinating.
I thought this post might strike a chord with you. Feel free to email me. I’d love to see what you’re up to.
Matt: Because you are trying to write an evangelical theology of embodiment, here is a question to explore: What kind of pastoral care can be extended to the flock through new media when, according to Read Mercer Schuchardt (Assistant Professor of Communication, Wheaton College), “New media disemobody us. They tend to remove us from our own bodies, and thus our own bodies’ rules, restraints, and requirements. This has an effect on health, obesity, fidelity, intellect, and existential satisfaction. For humans, this is bad enough; for Christians who believe in the Incarnation, or the Word made flesh, this disincarnating effect is the precise opposite of what we should strive for in the world.”
For me, there is no blog out there that can provide the care of a pastor who invites me into his office or home to pray, to put his arm around me, to look me in the eyes, and to hear my story. There is no blog out there that can mediate the face of God like an I-Thou encounter. That’s why Jewish philosopher Martin Buber insisted, “All real living is meeting.” Blogs are virtual meetings – not incarnational meetings.
Actually, I would guess that at least 50%, maybe more, of my readers, are nonChristians. I write what I would call a “Christian” blog, in that I am a Christian and not reluctant to mention and expound on my faith and Christian worldview. However, I write about books. So I have a subject about which I am articulate and passionate, and people who are interested in books, whether they are Christians or not, come to read. I think this is true of many, many blogs written by Christians on the internet, and this is the way the salt gets into the world.
Matt, I found your observation that “We live in the ghetto of an echo chamber, and the only way out is through the political trap-door, which will make at least half the Christians think you’re selling out the Gospel” true and interesting.
I regularly send out a personal newsletter to my constituency and find that there are 2 things that will draw the most response. Number one is politics; and number two is to include the word “prayer” somewhere in the subject line. The later I believe is because pastors are looking for prayer items to funnel to missions and prayer groups. Social agenda items seem to ignite the most response, particularly from gay activists. Next in order are the cultic and quasi-cultic groups, who most often response in the most virulent and vituperative way; which, to me only indicates the lack of a solid argument in the first place.
So, yes, by in large, I am afraid that we do not project a very convincing Christian testimony over the internet. However, out of the almost 1 million responses we have had at the Network211 JourneyAnswers site: http://www.journeyanswers.com (which is directed towards a targeted audience) the negative responses have been minimal (probably less that 1-2%). That suggest, in my opinion, that hurting people, appealed to in a loving way will respond in positively.
Taken as a whole, I feel that the internet, including blogs, are generally reflective of who we really are on the most elementary level.
I realized I missed this. I know the problem of embodiment is huge here, but I think there is actually a lot that pastors can do with new media to shepherd their flocks. Tod Bolsinger and (before he moved) Mark Roberts are both good examples of pastors who have used new media to increase the connection between them and their congregations.
And what’s more, let’s remember that the trajectory of the web right now is toward more embodiment, not less. Location-based services are growing fast.
That’s really interesting, and helpful point. I feel duly chastened by it and have little else to say other than, yup. You’re right.
That’s interesting feedback about your newsletter, and about journeyanswers. Thanks for sharing your insight…
He writes on occasion about politics, but philosophy is the bigger focus: Victor Reppert is a good example of a guy whose readership is probably at least 10-15% not Christian, judging by comments. It’s a philosophical blog but he’s definitely a Christian