Monday, March 14, 2011

The social media backlash against the unlearned

An exceptionally arrogant article graces the webpage of Christianity Today, Not Many of You Should Presume to Be Bloggers. Penned by one John Dyer, who is the "web development director at Dallas Theological Seminary", Mr Dyer takes the Rob Bel controversy as occasion to rein in the unwashed masses using social media to express their thoughts when such pontificating is best left to the intellectual elites, as it was back in the days he longs for....

Throughout the history of public theological debate, there was one constant—those debates only took place between a few select people—Moses, Plato, Augustine, Aquinas, and so on—who gained respect through a lifetime of scholarship.

But the invention of social media, like blogs, Twitter, and Facebook, created a radical departure in communication. In pre-2004 Christianity (that is, Christianity before Facebook was invented), only a small group of Christian leaders and teachers had access to the printing press—but today everyone has WordPress. In pre-2004 Christianity it was difficult to become a published author, but today everyone is surrounded by dozens of "Publish" buttons.

This apparently is a bad thing. After his trip down memory lane, Mr. Dyer presents his conclusion:

Again, I don't mean to imply that our views on heaven and hell (or whatever the next great Christian controversy is) are not important. And I'm not taking sides with any teacher or doctrinal position in this particular case. What I am doing is taking a side against all of us regular average Joe and Jane Christians who have given into the value system of modern technology which tells us that if we don't publish we don't exist.

I say, let the teachers teach and let them be judged more strictly.

As for the rest of the priesthood of believers, let's believe what we believe and then, as James advised, "show it by [our] good life," sharing our beliefs with those embodied souls in our immediate vicinity—just like Christians before 2004 used to do.

Shut yer collective pieholes!

I naively thought the church had moved past this sort of thinking, the notion that the elite and intellectual among us have a voice that we should heed because of the diplomas on their wall, the initials after their name and the endorsements on the back of their books. In fact it seems to me that an awful lot of the most aberrant theological mischief has come from the pens of the theological elites among us, not the unwashed masses.

I blog and I don't apologize for it. It is a public forum where I am open to correction and rebuke as well as affirmation and encouragement. I neither desire nor require the approval of the lords of the church to express my thoughts. I will affirm that we need to be cautious and responsible in what we post, a charge I apply firmly to myself, but the solution is not to muzzle the masses in favor of the elites.

Mr. Dyer's subtitle is: How social media changed theological debate. Let me tell you how I see theological debate changing. Today the entire Body is involved, for better or for worse, in the great debates. Gone are the days of monopoly in theology, just like the days of liberal hegemony in the public media are over. That is a good thing. When the masses mutely follow Leader A or Pastor B or Famous Speaker At Theology Conferences C, we are weaker for it. I have often found that some of the worst traditions are accepted without question because the person espousing them is famous. We have to take the good with the bad with social media because that genie is out of the bottle but the role of Christians is to be discerning and not to be silent.


Anonymous said...

What is the heathen Plato doing on a list of people "qualified" to discuss theology? Had he ever even seen any part of the Bible?

Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?
- 1 Corinthians 1:20

Arthur Sido said...


That is a great point. I guess the really smart people, even heathens, are more qualified to teach than the mere layperson.