August 19, 2019

Blogosphere Spirituality: An Assessment

ereI’m writing about spirituality these days. Yeah, I know how a lot of you feel about that word. So deal. We’re going to use it.

We’re also going to use another word some of you don’t like: formation. Now that we’re good and grumpy, let’s go for a ride.

I’ve been reflecting on the spiritual formation I’ve received as a result of my participation in the blogosphere. The Christian blogosphere.

What kind of Christian influences are coming into my life through the models of Christian faith I am exposed to in this medium? What is the shape of the spiritual formation I encounter here? Can I distance myself from it enough to make any kind of helpful observations?

I have to admit that the blogosphere is a unique experience to everyone. No one of us, no matter how many similar social networking or communication tools we use, encounters the exact same influences. I’m experiencing this medium from one place and through a unique combination of elements that I choose to read, view and participate in. Your mileage will vary.

But my experience isn’t radically different from most of you who will read this post. You, my readers here at IM and those I am connected to via other mediums, are the ones who will look at these reflections and judge their accuracy from where you are. I offer them not as flawless analysis or an indictment, but as my reflections and inventory of the world where I’ve invested a great deal of my mental and spiritual energies.

Two items before we move through my inventory of what I see in the spirituality of the Christian blogosphere.

First, there is much good to take note of. I experience a great of reflection on the Gospel in this medium. Much of that is good and valuable, though it has certain disconnections and abuses that concern me. I sense a wonderful commitment to the formative aspects of marriage and family life. I see a real appreciation of a variety of Christian causes, especially mercy ministries and missions. This, and more, are real positive spiritual influences for me.

Second, I spend much of my time in the real world, with students, co-workers and family. It is my hope that the blogosphere’s influence is outweighed by the influences I experience in the real world. But I have to be honest. Two years ago my wife pointed out to me the role that listening to Catholic apologetics was having in our marriage. She was right, and that wasn’t the end of it.

In short, there is much in the spirituality of the Christian blogosphere that concerns me. When I reflect on my own developing spirituality, on my relationship to God and others, these elements are an undeniable part of the person I have become.

As I said, your mileage may vary.

1. The Christian blogosphere is overwhelmingly male. It is not only male; it thrives on “maleness” in perspective and voice. For various reasons, some confessional, some not, many of us have a seriously limited exposure to the feminine mind, voice and experience of the Christian journey. In fact, our “maleness” is affirmed in the blogosphere in ways that are useful, and neutral and harmful.

At the BHT, our experience of incorporating and keeping female members could be used by anyone to demonstrate that there’s something seriously male-dominant about the Christian blogosphere. (Probably that women are too involved with actual human beings to spend this much time with computers.)

2. I see little evidence of personal evangelism, either on the medium or reported through the medium. Lots of talk of everything surrounding evangelism, but evidence that those who populate the blogosphere are involved with evangelism is sparse, to say the least.

3. The relationship of Christianity to the various vocations represented in the blogosphere is also rarely discussed. (There are very notable exceptions to this at certain blogs.) I can’t recall more than a handful of discussions that were specific to vocations, business ethics, evangelism in the workplace, vocational missions and so on. The world of work is frequently referenced, but not often related to the faith. Trivial reporting of work activities are common, but how are Christians doing vocation as a Kingdom work.

4. The evidence of ongoing personal spiritual practices in the life of blogosphere participants is also quite sporadic. It’s clear that for many in the blogosphere, the purchasing of consumer goods and the pilgrimage to conferences are a search for a kind of devotional life, but the practice of individual/group prayer, spiritual reading, lectionary reading of scripture and so on is occasional at best. This may be because devotional practices don’t translate to the blogosphere very easily or they are not an easy topic of conversation.

5. Much of the spirituality of the blogosphere amounts to identification with teachers, “teams,” ministries, churches and authors. This is a phenomenon that is easily observed and it takes up a remarkable amount of time and energy in the blogosphere. I believe it is one of the great “false” forms of discipleship, much like consumerism. By identifying with Driscoll or Piper, a person may feel they are the kind of disciple exemplified by that person. But this is clearly not true. How many of Piper’s followers share his approach to personal sanctification? How many of Driscoll’s followers are 100% with him on gender issues?

6. The spirituality of the blogosphere is primarily expressed in the church’s ministry of preaching. Other aspects of the life of specific faith communities are in the background. To an extent, this is correct by the evangelical model, but it has to be of concern that such a minority of voices in the blogosphere ever report anything from church life other than the theology of a sermon. But the blogsphere promotes a preacher-shaped spirituality, no doubt about it.

7. The deep influence of the culture war model of discipleship is everywhere. In fact, the pervasive presence of political rhetoric and opinion is a constant intrusion into the Christian blogosphere, at times obscuring all other discussions. As in several other things, the meaning seemes to be found mostly in identification, not in participation or practice. This shapes us toward the belief that politcal conviction is the fruit of spiritual growth. I would disagree.

8. There is a deep involvement by those in the blogosphere with media, and this is integrated into their spirituality. This is especially true regarding movies and television, which are the preferred narrative modes as opposed to reading fiction. Issues regarding the secondary and spiritual influences of media are rarely heard. Being “up to date” with the latest media events is mandatory. How does this fit into my spirituality? Are we underestimating its formative effects?

9. One sees very little that is of a really radical nature in the discipleship or community exemplified in the Christian blogosphere. Despite a lot of adjectives suggesting radicalism, the Christian spirituality of the blogosphere appears to be quite conventional, especially in regard to issues of comfort, finances, lifestyle, children, community, mission, etc.

10. I see little evidence that the spirituality of the blogosphere has made Christians more informed about and congenial toward those with whom they disagree or differ. Instead, stereotypes and extreme examples are more easily created and brought into what are often “cut and paste” conversations. There is much to learn from those with whom we differ, but I rarely see any evidence that opposing sides are using the net to learn from one another. It is overwhelmingly about being reinforced in our own positions.

I am more convinced than ever that while any one of us can make the formative experience of the blogosphere far more positive than it is, most of us won’t ever do that. The possibilities for positive formation, mentoring, even devotional practice are amazing. But most of us are trivial people, and the blogosphere presents us with the opportunity to have a universe where we are powerful; where we can shape reality, fight battles, be the hero and the expert. It is an illusion creating medium, and many of us are quite enamored with that aspect of the technology.

I would hope there would be more helpful reflection of “blogosphere spirituality” in the comments. Let me suggest that if you haven’t read the comment moderation section of the F.A.Q., you do so, lest you be surprised at my moderation of a thread that is sure to be controversial.

Comments

  1. I cannot quibble with anything you have said.

    But- I will say that the Christian blogosphere has provided me with tremendous opportunity to “listen in” on the conversations that conservative or evangelical Christians are having, in ways that I cannot access in my face-to-face world. That has helped me overcome a lot of my stereotypes and fears around evangelical Christians. This is perhaps tangential to how the blogosphere effects the specific spirituality of those who participate in writing and reacting within it, but it has certainly shaped mine, in what I hope is a growth towards greater grace and humility!

  2. The Guy from Knoxville says

    Michael,

    I think one of the most dangerous aspects of the christian blogosphere is the tendancy of people to
    substitute it for personal participation in bible study, bible reading, prayer, evangelism etc. For some this is their “bible” – their “church” if you will and I have to be careful of that myself. Much of what I read here I agree with and it’s been an eye opening experience, I’ve learned alot here and, to some degree, it has helped change and shape some aspects of my thoughts on these things.
    However, if I don’t get away from it from time to time I find myself putting way, way too much stock in all that happens here – it can become a disconnect with reality if you don’t stay on top of things and keep it in perspective and in balance. This is not ment to replace God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, scripture, the church or our personal relationship with God and I think, in some cases, that’s what people try to do or allow to happen.

    The blogosphere is a tool, a resource or reference as well as a place to discuss and to agree and disagree but it should never be given the high place that many allow it to have in their lives.

  3. sue kephart says

    I guess I don’t fit the model. I don’t see much of any Spiritual Formation in the blogosphere. I do formation groups so I know what that looks like.

    I suppose what you get as comments depends on what you ask and the topics you cover.

    I started reading this blog to learn about Evangelicals. I think I’ve learned some things. Maybe shared somethings that differ. One confirmation is what a huge difference there is between those centered in the letters of Paul and those centered in the Gospels.

    I am just finishing a group with Lutherans and Roman Catholics. Put aside the theology differences which we don’t discuss we are very similar. Did the same group with Lutheran, Baptist and Methodist: big differences.

    I agree that it is not just your own tradition but what is added to the mix. I’m pretty mixed but couldn’t go with the fundamentalist evangelical centered in Paul’s letters. Too much sin and very little Grace for this Lutheran gal. Must, must have a cross in my Church.

  4. Hey, Michael, it’s your blog — moderate it as God leads you. (Not that you need me to say that; just trying to be supportive.)

    A lot of good points in the above, but the one that struck me the most is #2: “I see little evidence of personal evangelism, either on the medium or reported through the medium. Lots of talk of everything surrounding evangelism, but evidence that those who populate the blogosphere are involved with evangelism is sparse, to say the least.”

    Part of that may be that a percentage of the people doing blogs (and by “a percentage”, I mean, “me, for one”) are not very comfortable/competent in social interactions, and find it difficult to share their faith in any way but by writing. Not that we don’t try to do so face-to-face … but speaking for myself, having taken numerous courses on the subject and made lots of good-faith efforts over the years, I’ve brought my skill at personal evangelism all the way up to an F-triple-minus.

    I don’t think I’m the only one with this problem, though to paraphrase Wendy Bagwell, I may be the only one fool enough to talk about it. So I write about my faith, and pray that people will be drawn closer to the truth that way. It’s worth a shot. But I still agree that evangelism is an area where the blogosphere’s population as a whole could give more emphasis, and I thank you for hopefully prompting me more in that direction.

  5. …this topic has potential…….the Christian “section” of the blogosphere spotlights for me just how individualistic we are in defining the God of our understanding…it’s truly puzzeling how We who claim to know God personally can sketch such differing caricatures of Him from one another…..the christians of the blogosphere seem long on dogma but short on communion …to much bible book learning and not enough time in the Presence….i think if we can get down to the nitty gritty of it..blogging is really just an exercise in Ego…

  6. I like your reflections, iMonk. Very much.

    On #1, I don’t know whether or not the Christian blogosphere as a whole is predominantly male, but the part of it discussing theology/analyzing culture definitely is. I can’t help but sense that women’s voices are being suppressed because they aren’t saying what most of the (male) predominantly Reformed/Calvinist blogosphere wants to hear.

    It seems that women aren’t taken seriously unless they have certain credentials (degrees from the right schools, church positions, formal ministry experience, book authorship, journalism experience, etc.) But if they have those credentials, then they may not be the “right kind” of women, if you know what I mean, and likely aren’t busy raising a family. It’s a catch-22.

    Or perhaps it’s because agreeing with a woman’s view, esp. if it’s influenced one’s (male) thinking or changed one’s (male) mind, means being “led” by a woman, & we all know that’s a no-no.

    I think some women get fed up, or feel unwelcome, so they don’t stick around. They move on to blogging about other more enjoyable topics like their kids or homeschool curricula or whatever. But in my observation they’re not any less insightful even in those areas, nor are they less involved with their computers, because computers for them (including me) are a way to be relational and connect with people outside of their immediate environment.

  7. I began a blog to talk about what God was doing in the world and to promote the Kingdom. When I started in 2006 there were a bunch of ‘missionary’ blogs. Most of the best of those are gone now- or almost never updated. I don’t post often enough to keep a ‘readership’ and the only one left with a unique voice and a following is Guy Muse’s M Blog. I think this is really sad. It seems that blogs can not be successful unless they are political in some way or drop the big names. I agree with your analysis of the situation and I am sorry for what it says about us.

  8. That’s an interesting list, Michael. Since it seems to be constructed to invite response, I’ll bite.

    1. This one surprised me and prompted me to go check my RSS reader. I don’t just follow faith-related blogs, so excluding celiac, techie, uncategorizable, and just the blogs of friends, about half of the Christian blogs I read are written by women. I don’t screen by gender. I just subscribe to those who particularly interest me. However, since half the population is female, it does make sense that the breakdown would be more even rather than exclusively male. If it’s your experience that many guys mostly read the Christian blogs of other guys, why do you think that’s the case?

    2. Hmmm. I’m not sure I even understand what most Christians mean by “personal evangelism”. I was not evangelized in the sense they seem to me. Or rather I did encounter it many times and it was remarkably ineffective. Sometimes irritating and sometimes amusing and sometimes both. I doubt the actions that some people took that did end up “evangelizing” me were things they even considered evangelism. I have friends who are not Christian. As it’s appropriate and fits the situation, we discuss spiritual matters. Truthfully I listen as much or more than I talk. But I do share such thoughts and insights as I have. I have no particular goal to somehow convince them to become Christian. I don’t want to exercise that sort of power over them or attempt to manipulate. Among other things, that’s not what friends do to each other. I’m not nearly as observant of people around me who have needs as my wife is. That’s my fault and failing. But to the extent I do, I try to respond. But again, that doesn’t usually seem to be what people mean by “personal evangelism”. I’m certainly not trying to get something from someone if I try to help them. And I certainly don’t want to take advantage of their need to manipulate them. So I’m at a bit of a loss on this one.

    3. Hmmm. Our vocation is to be Christian, to live that out in our daily lives, including our work. I can’t speak for all lines of work, but in the ones I know, that’s mostly demonstrated in the way I treat situations and people. There are times I could take advantage of people and there are times I could take approaches to work that I shouldn’t. In those instances I don’t. Instead I try to be aware of those times when I can help people in the accomplishment of work or even in general. Beyond that, I’m not really sure what you mean.

    4. I’m learning. The SBC doesn’t really teach much of anything and does next to nothing corporately. Their almost singular discipline of a ‘quiet time’ was largely a wasted effort for me. I’m not sure what sort of person actually benefits from that discipline as structure, but I’m not one of them. So it’s been a long stumbling process for me. I’m beginning to establish the rhythms of prayer. Fasting has become a discipline of particular interest to me recently, but I wouldn’t say I’m doing anything. Learning to give was tough for me. Probably still is. I don’t think this one much translates to blogging. It’s more something you do that something you write about. You probably write about it when you’re trying to figure out what to do or how to do it.

    5. Not much into that at all. Never have been. In any sphere of life. So can’t really comment.

    6. Only a few actual online “sermons” to which I tend to listen. Or did I miss the point of this one?

    7. Culture war. Ugh. Any side of it. I sometimes get drawn into it, but try to drop right back as soon as I notice. Mostly I ignore it.

    8. Hmmm. Not sure. I’m rarely up to date and I do read a lot, including fiction. Do like good stage, film, and TV. But sometimes purely for entertainment. Or am I missing the point again?

    9. Yah. Definitely guilty. I’ve reached the most conventional place I’ve ever been in my whole life. sometimes I hear echoes of the Talking Heads or the Pet Shop Boys in my head. But here I am. That seems to be where I am in life.

    10. Hmmm. I try not to get into those sorts of arguments and I strive not to be mean. Doesn’t mean I always succeed. But I’m not drawn to that sort of thing.

    Again, it’s an interesting list. Even if I’m not sure I understood every point you were making.

  9. Wordgazer says

    There are actually quite a few female voices in the Christian blogosphere– especially the voices of Christian egalitarian women. It seems to me to be quite rare for men to seriously seek out or engage these women in dialogue on their own blogs– and I don’t mean just trying to correct them for being in error.

  10. iMonk, my mileage does vary, somewhat. I see the tendency, because the internet gives us greater speed at which ideas end up where they do, for positions to be reached quicker and with more conviction. Why spending all that time reading MacArthur’s latest book when you can go to his website? But…

    For me, the internet has given me greater access to other views and theologies than I never would have encountered otherwise. This has translated into real life by treating those people differently who I would have anathematized or trivialized in a previous part of my life (counter to point 10). Actual friendships have formed with people “out there” that have helped shape my kingdom view. I have met some personally, and my face to face interaction with them has affected the shape of my family’s life in a good way.

    Now, much of what you enumerated, I agree with. Here are some comments on your points:

    1. male blogoshpere. Yes, but so is the pulpit, theology book authorship and hashing out religious beliefs on the church steps. I like the chicks in my (and my wife’s) favorites menu, and have a greater exposure to the feminine mind as a result.

    9. One sees very little that is of a really radical nature in the discipleship or community exemplified in the Christian blogosphere. Yes, but tapping into that when it does occur can help us out if we let it.

    The possibilities for positive formation, mentoring, even devotional practice are amazing. Yes. I’ve surrounded myself with people in the blogosphere who want to see their lives changed and who want to see the lives of others changed. But fleshing this out is and will always be the great challenge. There’s no toolbar to download for it. But I’m dedicated to making a go of it.

  11. Earlier this evening I was musing about how Christians, including myself, often fail to use the blogosphere to its best advantage.

    One of the nifty things about the blogosophere is that it isn’t created in in “real time”. A blogger/commenter can step away from his/her prose. S/he can re-think, re-pray, and re-write before hitting that “submit” button.

    But how often do we do this?

    Instead, we end up typing things that we would never say to someone’s face because that face is not before us. We can distance ourselves from the humanity of the other by reducing them to their “offending” text, even as we carelessly offend them with our own.

    This is not good.

    If a tool that offers believers the opportunity to pause, to rethink, to reflect, and to offer clarity and reconciliation is instead being used to sow discord, there is a problem.

    And the problem is not with the tool.

    My own view is that true spiritual formation will facilitate the production of spiritual fruit (y’know. . .kindness, gentleness, and self-control, etc) and that will be evidenced in how we use the blogosphere.

    I don’t know that I have any particular “cures” for this problem, but I might suggest the application of some discipline(s) in how we write online. For example, we could implement a “cooling-of” period of 60 minutes before hitting the submit button. We could also refuse to type something that we would never say in person.

    It could be a start, anyway.

  12. A few observations:

    (1) On the internet, no matter how weird you are, you can find a group of like-minded people. Wikipedia and Beliefnet.com have great sprawling charts of religions, denominations, and subgroupings, each of which has their own internet presence (as well as schisms and controversies). This has made it easier not only to find one another, but also to dig up dirt on our enemies (who tend to be from the same or similar groups). More than that, it has led to a sort of Copernican revolution (or should that be a postmodern one?) in which pluralism is considered natural and inevitable, and truth-claims are received as a kind of patter.

    (2) The internet is a lot like the subconscious mind, in that we have a lot fewer inhibitions while on it. Whether it’s cursing at strangers, or looking at porn, the internet brings to the surfaces tendencies which would otherwise remain buried. Which is no doubt very therapeutic, but I keep thinking of Swedenborg’s observation that in the afterlife, those intended for heaven or hell will segregate themselves–the latter will simply not find heaven attractive or interesting. On the other hand, this openness has brought to prominence points of view which might otherwise have been less available, such as atheism, gay advocacy, and minority religions (even Satanism).

    (3) The internet mimics community, but it is not a community in any meaningful sense. (I think the same is true of many churches, which encourage their customers to put on a great show of friendship, even when they don’t actually know one another.) The more time we devote to it…well, I don’t mean to suggest that bowling or Freemasonry would necessarily be time better spent, but the (anti-)social effect is significant.

    (4) The internet is addictive, in ways which are are just beginning to understand. Perhaps we will look back at television and video games the same way–as similar to drugs.

  13. Relating to number (3) above, another worrisome sign is the prevalence of “moderation.” Yes, I know why it happens (see number 2), but the more our normal conversation takes place under restrictive conditions, the less free speech we actually have. It’s as if the world were steadily being turned into shopping malls, with their own (self-serving) internal rules.

  14. Interesting thoughts. I have a somewhat unique perspective, being new to the field (by little blog is barely a month off the ground and lucky to scrape a dozen viewers a day :)) and from being quite a bit younger than many of the blogs I have seen (I’m 20).

    One thing I have noticed (and has turned me off to certain blogs) is how much pure politics (not related much to the actual Gospel or theology) and modern events is being discussed. I guess my vision of a Christian (a “spiritual,” if you will) blog being more directly about theology — yes, bring in history as needed, and modern-day history as is required, but in the end I want to know the Bible better by weighing opinions of scholars on it instead of just hearing about scholars and political leaders.

    Of course, even within the realm of theology there are many ways to go about it. One way that I respect is simple exegetical work. It’s common, perhaps, but its good. My own blog, at least for now, has been more philosophically focused; for example, instead of a direct exegetical approach, I recently wrote a post about how ethics is lost in Christianity without the Gospel; you can see it here if you’re interested, I could use something thoughts:

    http://christspeak.com/2009/07/11/christianity-more-than-ethics/

    It’s almost rare to find a direct verse quote in my posts, but everything I talk about is straightly biblical. The concepts from the scripture are there, but it’s more at tackling ethical issues that extend beyond the (very important) foundation of biblical theology.

    To some extent, there is a place for historical theology as well. You won’t find much on how the interpretation of Daniel shifted through the Middle Ages, because I honestly wouldn’t know. But it might be important to know to understand how we grasp it now.

    I suppose the main thing I liked from your list was #7, going back to what I said earlier about political writing.

    I’m wondering exactly what you were referring to with #9; are you saying that it is a lack of a godly lifestyle because of an over-luxurious life or more of a matter of how they write on their blogs (i.e., without the hard conviction of many of the prophets and the epistles)? Or something else all together?

    Anyhow, perhaps this will start off a discussion all its own 🙂

  15. One point number one, I disagree. All friendly-like, of course. 🙂

    I think it might be more accurate to say that the blogosphere you read is primarily male. Because there are many (many) Christian female bloggers who write profoundly about their relationship with God and His world.

    Many of them aren’t allowed to have a voice that can compete with the male voice (for example, if you are looking for blogs of pastors and preachers, or if you assume that male leaders are “more spiritual,” then you will find primarily men, not because of gifting but because that’s the way our world works—women are generally not welcomed as spiritual leaders, and if one says she is, it’s usually percieved as a negative trait (whereas a guy can say, “I’m a pastor,” and we all automatically are impressed). Weird, but it’s just the truth.

    That, and also because another way our world works is this: titles grant automatic respect, therefore a good many male pastors/leader bloggers are granted automatic respect, deserved or not. Many women, deep thinkers with profound insights, aren’t given that automatic platform.

    Another important point is that many women, and this is so important, speak about their experiences with God and their theological musings from a woman’s vantage point. This doesn’t tend to be popular with men, especially those who’ve been trained to think that theology belongs in a man’s world with a man’s vantage point, or who think that the man’s vantage point is The Vantage Point.

    But I digress. 🙂 All this to say that my experience with the Christian blogosphere, a place I’ve been active since 2003 (?) has been almost entirely a female one. I have been sharpened, blessed, and challenged by the women I have met there, reading posts that kick the butt of most of the sermons I’ve had the misfortune of having had to sit through. *wry grin inserted here*

    So they are out there. I think the problem isn’t a lack of women. It’s more a matter of why the women aren’t noticed or taken seriously. And, well, that’s a problem that the male disciples of Christ struggled with as well.

    In other words, I think that point number one is a demonstration of the problem that point number one tries to point out.

    Humbly,
    Molly from Alaska

  16. David Reimer says

    This comment might fall foul of the moderation policy on grounds of length and relevance, but I’ll give it a shot anyway….

    Regarding ##5-6 (but extensible to the whole list, probably): my hunch is that the “blogosphere” is a slice of life, that has long been such in other forms of community (mediated by other means than electronic), and will continue to be so.

    My evidence for this comes from an observation made by Mary Cosh in her grand book, Edinburgh: The Golden Age (Edinburgh: John Donald, 2003), quote on p. 30 —

    [quote]
    The focal point of the Presbyterian church service was of course the sermon. It is hard today to appreciate the enthusiasm with which society in general flocked to listen eagerly to sermons that might easily last two hours, often twice in a day, and the adulation, almost hero worship, lavished on the preachers of the time. Congregations hung on their every word, and good preachers were discussed with as much earnestness as fine actors, their doctrines dissected, their delivery critically analysed and their every foible and idiosyncrasy — facial detail, hair, expression, changing emotions — implacably noted. Religious writings are full of meticulous accounts of the incumbents of every church, sometimes in merciless terms.
    [/quote]

    She was writing of the 18th C. Is it so different from today? Will it be so different tomorrow?

    That isn’t to argue for capitulation; it is rather to concur with the post that vigilance, energy, and intention regarding these things are needed now as much as ever.

  17. #10–Thank you for Liturgical Gangsta’s (and for providing a voice for some of your commenters). Your blog is one of the few I’ve read that is more often a discussion rather than a monologue. Don’t fold your tent just yet.

  18. This should be an interesting discussion. I see myself in some of your points but not in others. And I think the photo on the Karen Armstrong thread is probably the one you ought to use on this one.

    P.S. – I don’t know anybody who agrees 100% with anybody.

  19. FWIW my the devotional aspect of my spiritual life and formation have been directly impacted by this blog. My daily-ish light bible study is done from the ESVSB, which I only heard about because of iMonk’s review. My current preferred technique for prayer is based on one of iMonk’s suggestions for the 1-decade AC Rosaries. Of course, I only was turned on to those rasaries via this site. My Lenten practice of reading the Church Fathers came from here. I got turned onto the BCP Lectionary through this site.

    And that doesn’t even include the writings here getting me to consider issues of ecclesiology, the Lord’s Supper, Evangelical consumerism, science, etc. that I didn’t quite take for granted before, but definitely wasn’t actively thinking about before.

  20. Michael,

    I agree with you. When I first started blogging in 2003 (I posted my 1000th post last night, BTW), I was concerned about many of the issues you raise and have tried to counter them in my own writing at Cerulean Sanctum.

    I believe that part of the problem is that many bloggers want to be seen as regular joes. For this reason, the willingness to challenge the status quo and ask tough questions about the business world and the way we do Christianity in the West languishes for fear of being labeled the square peg in the round hole. There is a level of conformity that I believe is designed to affirm the blogger as part of the blogging community of Christians, but which rarely speaks with a truly prophetic voice for fear of retribution. We long to appear as approved experts, not as voices crying in the wilderness.

    This is a terrible loss.

    Even above that, I think that the Godblogosphere suffers from a very real disease common in church people: the inability to self-examine. No doubt that we can look at others and find fault, but we rarely ask tough questions of ourselves for fear of being exposed as frauds or failures. We suffer greatly from finding specks in others’ eyes while failing to see the log in our own.

    The situation is better in 2009 than in 2003, but not by much. The main difference is that there are simply more blogs. But if anything, the signal-to-noise ratio keeps dropping.

    In many ways, Evangelicalism does not wish to be challenged, which is why so few Evangelicals bloggers ever take up that mantle. We are all poorer for that lack.

  21. I admit, I winced when I saw the word “spirituality”. Mainly because it drives me up the wall when I hear people saying “I’m spiritual, not religious” which boils down to why they never darken the door of a church, or have decided to cherry-pick the bits they like from Buddhism, Orthodoxy, Hinduism, Wicca, Islam, and Uncle Tom Cobley and all.

    The flip side of that, though, is “I’m religious, not spiritual” and that’s not any better, is it?

  22. I have often struggled with the whole female blog thing. Just the other day I was saying to a friend that I am hard pressed to come across a woman blogger that challenges me or pushes the boundaries on my thinking.
    For me personally, I feel as though because I am simply a wife/mom (i know i’m so much more than that by the way) I don’t really carry the credentials that get both men and women alike to want to hear my voice. Part of that is my own hurdle that I need to continue to work on but I do believe the Christian culture is definitely male dominated and it does not seem to be changing too rapidly. I keep hearing men say they want it to change but I am not really seeing it happen. Why is that?
    Also I was thinking about the bloggers I read (who are mostly pastors – thinking i might want some more balance on that one!) and it was very important for me to go to their church website, and/or to meet them at a recent conference and hear their stories, in order to really understand where they were fully coming from. The blog world is only one aspect of a bloggers life – I think to assume that every aspect of their faith is going to make it onto their blog may be stretching it.

  23. Great theme, and points well made I-Monk.

    There is both a great upside, and subtle dangers with this medium. I’m currently reading “Girl Meets God” because of Winner’s connection to Julia Duin of “Quitting Church”, and I wouldn’t know of either if it weren’t for this blog. The same could be said for a dozen other authors, thinkers, and books. This is my “bulletin board” of choice.

    Being anonymous, mostly, brings out the worst in us at times, and the point made about saying things on-line that we’d never say in person is often the case. Taking periodic breaks from posting has helped me avoid the illusion that I “just have to share…”. Really, I do NOT.

    All the temptations listed must exist 100x for the Monk due to the fame and celebrity effect. I’ll try to make that a cause for prayer.

    Don’t let the bad outweigh the good Mr.Monk: it’s still a fine work you, and others, are bringing to the Kingdom.

    Greg R

  24. As to #2: we kid ourselves, sometimes, about how “personal” we can be thru the airwaves. IMO, the blogosphere is actually hostile to personal evangelism because of its impersonal make-up, HP commercials notwithstanding. So not only is not much “personal” evangelism happening, even that which we thot was “relational” and “reaching someone for Christ” quite often is not.

    Most people still need a “GOD with skin on HIM”.

    Another side thot: a LOT of what’s called ‘evangelism” is actuall arguing and power plays, but the same could be said for in person stuff as well. Again, the anonymous element brings out our insecurities and deficiencies, and as someone here has already said, we don’t tend to self-examine….mix well.

  25. Argumentation- under various names- is one of the idols of the Christian blogosphere. Discernment is another.

  26. sue kephart says

    Martha,
    Religion is what you hang your spirituality on. Being “spiritual” is being Jesus’s disciple. It requires spiritual discilpines: prayer, study, worship, service and so on.

  27. sue kephart says

    I need to correct myself and say all humans are spiritual beings. As Christians we live that out by being Jesus’s disciple. If someone is a Zen Buddhist they would live out their spirituality by practicing Zen.

  28. I will front end load my bias by stating that as a female blogger, your point hit home from me. I would agree with Bonnie that the resurgence of the Reformed/Calvinist movement has likely influenced the scarcity of women’s voices throughout the blogosphere.

    Perhaps it is true, as someone else suggested, that women are not challenging the status quo like other predominate male bloggers do. Maybe our blogs, mine included, are just a bunch of white noise to some. But I would rather have a little female static then nothing at all.

    As the beautiful, yet broken body of Christ, I feel like we miss so much only having men around the table. Especially in the online world. where so many are learning and engaging through blogs and other social media.

    While I respect and affirm the role of a man in the community of Christ, I just can’t help but wonder what the church will look like years down the road, with only one half of the body represented. I am hopeful that in years to come, more people will respect, affirm and heed the words of women in the blogosphere, in authorship and also in the church, not just for their gender, but for the value they bring, the wisdom they bare, and the perspective only they uniquely have.

  29. I’m an excruciatingly over-educated academic woman
    who realized about a year ago that my spiritual education was really spotty, even after attending evangelical churches for 30 years. My only theology came from sermons and Max Lucado- type small group discussions.

    I started reading blogs at the same time I started reading books, so I’m going to try to separate out my spiritual development from what is purely blog-related.

    1. Blogs introduce me to terms I had no exposure to otherwise (emergent, missional, Calvinist, justification, transubstantiation, liturgy). This leads to additional non-blog research and reading on my part. Which, oddly, gives me a bigger appreciation for some things like communion, the gospel, and justification after sanctification.

    2. Blogs give me examples of people who practice spiritual disciplines (Ann Voskamp, Anne Jackson, C. Wess Daniels)

    3. Blogs help me see examples of living as a disciple of Jesus more deeply (C.J. Bergmen, Michael Spencer, Christine Moers).

    Blogs don’t get me PRACTICING the disciplines, however. That I’m stuck doing offline.

  30. Concerning #1 in Michael’s post (male dominance of the Christian blogosphere)and Wordgazer’s comment on egalitarian women in the Christian blogosphere:

    It seems to me that these observations are probably true of the Evangelical blogosphere.

    However, I am amazed at the number of blogs by Catholic women who challenge me, as a male, as an Evangelical, and as a Christian.

    I am not interested in the egalitarian/complementarian discussion and find that most blogs dealing with the subject are extreme and belligerent one way or the other; I have friends on both sides of this divide.

    But Catholic women, some of them homeschoolers, some not, generally write of their experiences with Christ, discerning God’s will, dealing with hardship and suffering, etc, in a way which I find both a challenge and very applicable to my life.

    Most male Catholic bloggers, on the other hand, are as much into “team sports” as the Evangelical ones.

  31. Enjoyed this post and it’s helped me to see that this part of the Christian life (reading blogs) needs to end.

    Readers of blogs are looking for something . . . What that something is obviously varies with the reader but I guess it usually boils down to community. Writers seem to be looking for affirmation.

    But the conversations in the comments are not real conversations. Certainly there are insights and the occasional references to books and articles that then lead to new stuff that proves beneficial to the reader. But the virtual “community” that a blog creates is a mirage. The internet give-and-take ought to be something that is replicated with real people in real contexts in the here and now, not a substitute for that. I’m sure many would say that it’s not (I would say that myself) but the truth is that time spent here could be better spent elsewhere.

    And I always have the feeling that there is an incipient narcissism flowing around the writers (and readers) of blogs. It feels less comfortable to me as time goes on. I don’t think blogs really serve as evangelistic tools although that appears to be the ostensible reason many Christians start them.

    Not to say that blogs can’t be helpful, but the cost/benefit analysis isn’t that complicated and leads to the pretty obvious conclusion that Bible study, prayer and loving real people should be preferred to chatting with faceless people for hours a day.

    Not to suggest that iMonk’s blog isn’t valuable. Just that bloggers blog and readers read for many reasons, and most of them don’t justify the time it takes to do either. iMonk’s list bears witness to that.

  32. ..I think we should be sending computers for blogging into the 3rd world..like sudan..darfur and ethiopia so that they can join us in this relevant emerging conversation…

  33. Adrienne: VERY good post..if I could recap the thot in my words, it would be: the blogosphere is like an invitation to spiritual formation. We meet friends, ideas, authors, websites, books, and testimonies that can point us to the right direction.

    Then it’s time to log off and get to work…after just one more post… 🙂

  34. SeattleGirl says

    First time commenting here. Can I just emphatically echo all of Molly’s comment? Especially:

    “many women…speak about their experiences with God and their theological musings from a woman’s vantage point. This doesn’t tend to be popular with men, especially those who’ve been trained to think that theology belongs in a man’s world with a man’s vantage point, or who think that the man’s vantage point is The Vantage Point”

    In my experience, there is a pretty distinct difference between the blogging styles of men and women. In general, woman tend to write very personally about their relationship with God, their own spiritual journey and how all of that plays into their day to day lives. I think that while Christian women have been trained out of necessity from a very young age to understand and benefit from male Christian voices (pastors and other Christian leaders), Christian men for the most part, have never had to live in a world where it was necessary to learn how to understand, appreciate and benefit from female Christian voices. Kind of like how a Christian woman will apply something Jesus said to Peter to her own life, but most men will brush past Jesus’ instructions to Martha, viewing them as women’s verses.

    Also, female bloggers seem to have less interest in blogging wars, drawing big numbers and becoming prominent bloggers. This may not be true for all, but I used to blog, and many of my male readers seemed to have a hard time understanding why I had no interest in increasing my web presence and audience size. I actually quit blogging because I was tired of feeling like I had to turn spiritual experiences into comment-attracting posts. Incredibly insightful female bloggers are out there, you probably will just have to search harder for them. They probably won’t get wide readership or spots on prominent bloggers’ blogrolls, but that’s often a good sign 🙂

  35. You make some good observations Michael as usual (btw, I know you are busy with the book proposal and everything else you have going on but I emailed you a ? about a month ago and never heard back from you).

    If I may speak for myself, I have found my “take away” (if I can be allowed to sound so selfish) from the blogosphere very helpful in terms of my personal “formation” if you will (and I read several blogs regularly including IM and some that certainly disagree with our common faith).

    I have been following Jesus since Jan. 1987, so I managed to grow or develop as a Christian without it for many years just like others have for a couple centuries now. That being said, the last couple years the blogosphere has been a welcome addition for me (and yes–even a distraction at times if I am frank) that I can say has challenged and inspired me in the grand total when speaking of my walk with Christ.

    I do think at times we pay much too much attention to the differences you mention (team sports, male/female roles, etc…) and too little attention to what unties us (i.e. Jesus!). As for the Driscoll, Piper and whoever else’s name we tend to identify with I am with Paul (1 Cor. 1:10-17).

    With the internet being such a tool for evil–it’s refreshing to see it used for the gospel. I will remain hopeful about the continued prospects that God in his grace will use the medium for in my own life and the lives of others.

  36. Wolf Paul,

    I agree with you completely about many male bloggers, no matter what branch of Christianity they represent. (and many times I want to reach through the wires to do some damage.)

    As far as female bloggers, I haven’t found any that keep my interest for long periods of time. Possibly, because they are mothers and wives, and I am neither. (I also tend to relate better to men.)

    Spiritual formation: points you frequently toward (and away from) tools that may work for you. But it takes time and flesh to make them work.

    I am extremely grateful that I have been able to connect with those having similar struggles.

    I think that it is extremely tragic that many of us, including myself, have not been able to connect in similar ways in the flesh.

    Perhaps, this is a very tiny taste of heaven, connecting with those who walk a similar path, yet separated by space, and history.

  37. Learning about other peoples beliefs and their spiritual journeys is one big reason I’m still connected to the Christian blogosphere. For example, through iMonk and others I now have a greater respect for liturgical tradition. Same thing for egalitarian issues, spiritual formation in other traditions, the emergent movement, and so much more. There’s no way I could have come to the same place without so many other voices to listen to.

    That’s not to say its all sweetness and light or that everything is beneficial. There are a lot of nasty people out there who I’d like to just punch in the nose. For my own sanity, I’ve learned to just click on by those sites – for the most part. 🙂

  38. What SeattleGirl said:

    Also, female bloggers seem to have less interest in blogging wars, drawing big numbers and becoming prominent bloggers. This may not be true for all, but I used to blog, and many of my male readers seemed to have a hard time understanding why I had no interest in increasing my web presence and audience size. I actually quit blogging because I was tired of feeling like I had to turn spiritual experiences into comment-attracting posts. Incredibly insightful female bloggers are out there, you probably will just have to search harder for them. They probably won’t get wide readership or spots on prominent bloggers’ blogrolls, but that’s often a good sign .

    Yep…though I have occasionally lobbed a few grenades now and then in the blogging wars, but only in a passing urge.

    I have enough conflict to deal with in my personal life to get too wrapped up in cyber-wars….though cyber-wars do tend to interest me in the same way watching train wrecks can interest someone.

  39. First time poster to your site. I have been a part of the take no prisoners alive idea of blogging in the past. I was abrasive and put people off with my misguided passion.

    Things have changed. I maintain a blog that targets a specific part of the church as I do what I can to offer hope and a safe place to come read and possibly post.

    Women visit and post frequently and I link to women’s blogs as they have much to share that helps me quite a bit. I have much to learn.

    I am a lay person and and am not very good at computers in presenting a site as I envision it.

    Many people stand against what I am doing as what I discuss (mental illness) is something that the church has failed miserably at in reaching the hurting who fill her pews each week.

    I have come across many excellent blogs that have been a source of blessings to me. I have also been blessed to meet face to face many that I interact with. What a joy that is.

    This blog is quite popular and well known as so many people refer to what goes on here. I pray God continues to bless you as you seek to follow Him.

    Oh yeah, I have no idea what formation is!!

  40. Ken Stoll wrote:

    and too little attention to what unties us (i.e. Jesus!)

    intentional or unintentional ??? you decide 🙂

  41. Allan,

    Spiritual formation is a fancy term for becoming more Christ like. It tends to be both personal and personalized. “No one size fits all” mentality.

    It can sometimes be more easily seen in the Catholic Church because we have a history of spiritual directors (people who guide us on our journey) and various groups which show different styles. A person drawn to radical poverty, since as the Francisians and those called to preach and teach like the Dominican are different and seek different goals. Yet, all to be like Our Lord.

  42. sue kephart says

    On the womens’ issue. I think the RCC has a long tradition of very strong female Religious (Nuns and Sisters) that is missing in most of Protestanism.

  43. I’m just waiting for the evangelical world to realize that FOOD blogs are the real source of inspiration for spiritual formation. 😉 Feeding the people I love (both the ones I know and the ones I’ve just met) is easily one of the most spiritual activities in my life.

  44. Anna, Thank you. I have overly exposed to “discernment” ministries whose job seems solely to tear the Body of Christ apart. Is there someone who hasn’t been exposed??!!

    I’m sure spiritual formation is a buzz word in many circles. I was taught the RCC was pretty much demonic. I was told what movies or music I could listen to. I was told what stores to boycott.

    I finally got sick of it. There comes a point in our lives where our supreme desire is to become intimate with Jesus and chuck the peripheral stuff.

    I believe blogs can be a tool God uses to see His will done in our lives. At the same time they can be counter productive as they are placed on pedestals they don’t belong. Thank you for taking the time to explain formation to me. God bless!

  45. I’m no blogger but I think this sight is cool because it’s like a talk show Jesus style, it’s fun to read Imonk, he’s interesting and relatively fair, and comes up with the most juicy discussions. I don’t think spiritual formation is happening to much except maybe in the areas of tolerance and patience and perhaps a broader picture than we would otherwise have. Everything has it’s place, I do think this provides a felt need amongst the mob, I get to have a voice and join the big conversation of Jesus, that’s cool.

  46. Well, if He can speak through Balaam’s ass, He can certainly use the blogosphere.

    But a problem–if not THE problem–with any form of mass communication/entertainment, blogs included, is that they lend the illusion of “knowing.” So, whether it’s feeling as though we “know” our favorite TV idol, movie star, or Christian teacher/author/blogger, it’s no more of a true relational knowing than reading the bio of, say, Abe Lincoln and feeling like I “know” him.

    If, as Tip O’neill said, “all politics is local”, so too “all spirituality is local.” We have been exposed to unprecedented and potentially wonderful technology that allows us to monitor national & world events real time. But knowing is always personal, relational, and local.

    And it’s in knowing that “iron sharpens iron” and we get chipped into His image.

    I appreciate your site, iMonk.

  47. Blogs are sometimes useful in getting the perspective of several people on issues that affect our ability to love God and neighbor.

    However, they can quickly and easily become a substitute for loving God and neighbor. If the discussions don’t translate into relationships and actions, they can become a place to hide from God, ourselves and people, and can become a big waste of time, similar to discussing how many angels can fit on the head of a pin.

    Go to the grocery store and buy something. Get in the line of the grumpiest checker. Smile. Compliment her. Take some cookies to a grumpy neighbor. Do something nice for someone who doesn’t deserve it. Pick up the used hypodermic needles, condoms and empty liquor bottles in the worst part of town. Be Jesus to these people and discover something that you will never discover on any blog.

    Don’t like Catholics, Presbyterians, gays, Democrats or whomever? Instead of blogging about it, invite them over for dinner and listen while they tell you about themselves. Then write a blog and tell us what you learned and why we should do what you did.

  48. Well, I’ve seen some Christians trying to do “personal evangelism” on the Internet, and it’s usually painful to watch – so in a way I’m glad that hasn’t permeated the “Christian blog-o-sphere.” (Given the culture-war mentality that appears among a lot of online believers and the non-contextual nature of the ‘net, that might be for the best.

    Besides, I’ve got neighbors whom I actually know to whom I’m trying to be an image of Jesus and his Gospel.

    On the other hand, what I can say is that so much of the Christian wing of the blog-o-sphere just plain depresses me – actually, more than the posts it’s a wide swath of comments on posts.

  49. I can’t seem to open my mouth on the Internet without making an ass out of myself (and not Balaam’s, I’m afraid).

    Honestly, my “Probability of Regretting Posting” is around 90% or so, which likely says a lot about me. “From out of the heart comes evil”.

  50. Oh Tammy, stop that! You are asking me to deny myself, pick up my cross and follow Jesus and all I want to do is lie on my bed, eat Fritos and read Christian blogs!