I’m sitting in a room with just over a hundred bloggers for the Band of Bloggers, which is taking place just before the T4G Conference. The theme is “The Gospel Trust” and the panelists are Tim Challies, Phil Johnson, Thabiti Anyabwile, and Abraham Piper.
The four bloggers have very different flavors. All agree that the Gospel should shape our blogging.
How did the panelists begin blogging? They all started blogging differently: Challies fell into it; Johnson began blogging to respond to some criticisms of his work; Anyabwile started because his wife told him he talks too much; Piper started as part of the revamping of the Desiring God website.
(Piper’s new blog is interesting: every post is 22 words. He doesn’t read long blog posts, he says, so he wanted to write short posts for others.)
How does faith affect their blogging? What do they like to blog about? It’s who they are, and the gospel is what they treasure most. Their blogging is generally about what they’re thinking about that week. Challies loves books and saw a need for reviews from a theological perspective; Anyabwile loves the church; Piper blogs to relate the focus of their ministry – Christian hedonism – to other topics, and on his personal blog, to express his own interests.
How do we handle controversy? Controversy can drive up traffic but isn’t always constructive. Challies says that it’s a temptation for bloggers at all level of traffic. You always have to check your heart, he says, before hitting the post button.
Phil Johnson says, “I don’t know why everyone looked at me when you asked the question!” He isn’t afraid of controversy. There are controversy-mongers, but controversy isn’t our biggest problem. The problem isn’t controversy or not; it’s how to engage in controversy, and over what topics. The Team Pyro guys have a reputation for controversy, but don’t like it. Seeking controversy for its own sake is bad; but engaging the issues sometimes demands dealing candidly with issues. Christ didn’t shy away from controversy.
Anyabwile says there are hills worth dying on, such as the cross. That’s not controversy; that’s contending for the faith. Most people who read his blog largely agree with him, so if there is controversy it’s probably on secondary issues and probably not worth a battle. So far his most controversial post has been on tipping.
Piper reminds us that controversy isn’t bad, but it’s possible to engage in controversy well and badly.
How do we bring accountability to our blogging? Johnson is an elder, but wouldn’t want to read blogger’s posts before they publish. But we are accountable in all that we do. Challies agrees: we need people in our lives who can challenge us when they see us going wrong.
What is the value of blogging? Johnson says that many of the criticisms are valid. It does raise the cult of the amateur. Your personal blog can overlap with ministry and work roles. It is egalitarian. Anyabwile points out that it is better than the cult of the elite. He’s not afraid of amateurs thinking about the things of God.
Q&A from the Audience
How can we help people see blogs as tied to ministries and churches, as opposed to promoting individualism in our blogging? There are many ways of blogging: group blogs, ministry blogs, all different styles and topics. Challies that as individuals we can stay tied to our local churches in our blogs.
Christian Reformed blogging can form into its own ghetto. Is this a danger? Johnson says that it is a danger, but there are different ways to blog, and different topics and audiences. Anyabwile wants to know what the graffiti looks like in a Reformed Christian ghetto. It can become ingrown, but this isn’t all bad as long as we recognize the dangers. Piper suggests it’s good to have some other areas of focus on your blog: hobbies, etc.
Are there resources for learning how to blog? Piper suggests Seth Godin. Challies says that we should learn from the best blogs. Anyabwile suggests we go deep and let the Lord take care of the breadth. Piper agrees, but says there are practical issues to look after as well.
How do we handle the creation of a virtual community over which we really don’t have any role? Anyabwile keeps reminding himself that blogging isn’t necessary for his ministry. Johnson says that life has gravity; we can’t take blogging too seriously, even though it is a serious stewardship. He finds the time to blog by not watching TV. Challies reminds us not to try to take the place of the local church in our blogs. Our task is to point people back to their churches to deal with some questions.
How do we discipline our time while blogging? Challies keeps a specific time for blogging. We all have finite time and need to gauge the value of what we’re doing. Johnson saves his blogging for the end of the day and deals with his main priorities first, but he finds keeping track of his comments challenging. Anyabwile keeps a specific time for blogging, and turns his email program off when he needs to eliminate distractions. Piper doesn’t bucket his time, because we shouldn’t have a bog that doesn’t serve the rest of our life. Whatever we are doing should serve the rest of our life.
Piper suggests checking logs to see how long people are reading your posts. If they are spending a short time on a long post, they aren’t really reading it.