Tuesday, August 10, 2004

how does the online medium help us develop a new praxis of theology (was "do blogs democratise knowledge"?)

I'm renaming this meme 'cause I'm concerned it's too easy to be distracted by the very sexy phenomenon of blogging.

First to recap:

Dan Hughes got the ball rolling with his post that opened with:

the next generation of theologians will start as bloggers.

Steve Taylor expressed some skepticism.

Maggi Dawn made some important comments.

I underlined some of their concerns and suggested an additional nuance that I feared was being missed.

Dan followed up.

and Steve followed up.

and Maggi added a bit more.

Further, in response to my earlier post , in comments, maggi wrote:

some good points, stephen. But my worry with the inflated claims for blogging remains. I don't dispute that blogging is a useful form for theological discussion - theology can take place in any format at all. But the suggestion that blogging and other internet forms can or should (or have already) replaced conventional forms doesn't democratise anything - on the contrary, it narrows the field. The best theological blogs are ones that offer some reflection on what is being read and written and discussed elsewhere, the blog thus being one thread in a much bigger fabric. If we use the blog as a useful addition to other forms, it will be fruitful indeed. But if we neglect other forms in favour of the blog, we risk going down a very shallow stream indeed.

maggi, i like very much your comment about blogging being "one thread in a much bigger fabric".

i recently read ed cray's wonderful general of the army about george c marshall, US army chief of staff during WWII. after WWI the technology of airplanes advanced and by WWII there were those who felt that practically all US resources should be expended on building as many as possible. marshall, however, knew that while the airplane would change military tactics significantly, it would not be the one thing that would defeat the nazis.

similarly, with the blog specifically and our new and developing online world more generally, we most avoid the triumphalism of thinking "this will change everything" while at the same time taking full advantage of how this - to modify slightly your metaphor - new kind of fabric adds more strength and flexibility to the cloth. We must also be chary of collapsing new modalities of discussion down to the current level of depth achieved in blogging. We mustn't let the current cultural phenomenon of blogging dim our vision of what the online world offers. I respectfully suggest it's a hint of what can occur. The church has not yet optimized its full capacity.

What theologians have generally done well through generations has been to systematize knowledge (to the degree the Divine is subject to such) and to parse out theological formulations. What both the theological and eccesial community have not done nearly as well (from my admittedly Western seat) has been to formulate an effective praxis of theological disagreement. It is in this very area that I am most hopeful that our new online forums can help us: To enable the church's theologians to be exposed to a wide diversity of confessing thought without the abstraction that can occur through de-relationalized interaction. The online world provides both a wideness of information and the opportunity for such discussions to occur in the context of spiritual friendship. Humility can result; genuine listening may follow, and wisdom could prevail as a hosts of minds consider each topic from various angles.

This is what could happen; it's a mistake to think that blogging is the full flower of what's possible.

May God help us to disagree more Christianly - in all contexts - and so come closer to Christ's mind.


Anonymous said...

[b]"May God help us to disagree more Christianly - in all contexts - and so come closer to Christ's mind."[/b]

--risky! history has not been kind to this paradigm, not kind at all!

Anonymous said...

Ooops...sorry for double post. Might I add, I ran across this blog researching something. From an outside perspective, your blog sounds like a very closed group discussing rather "heady" stuff. This is not a slam, but is this a blog for the very few? After reading, I feel like I am back in college, studying from a textbook. Just someone's thought.

Will said...

Thanks for being such a unifying force in this discussion!

Anonymous said...

WOW! I guess that's an indirect answer to my question: Closed Group. I'll be on my way.

Carry on...

Stephen said...

Thanks "Carry On", I appreciate your sensitivity to being exclusive; I'll give that some thought. (And I believe Will was thanking me for my part in conversation with Steve, Dan, and Maggi - not being sarcastic ab your comment).

Anonymous said...

I assume you are the Stephen who started "emergesque"?

I'm glad if the comment by Will was not sarcastic--I wasn't trying to intrude on your turf. I have been reading this blog for sometime now and decided to say something. It’s not like I just got off the plane, had a layover, and decided to check out the shops before moving on.
This is not an easy blog to “get”—maybe that’s why I kept coming back. I stumbled upon it initially and then tried to pick up some of the dialogue.
My comment about the “textbook” feel was precipitated by the desire to bring things back down to earth. Difficult concepts can be communicated for the masses. Dallas Willard does a fine job at this. Maybe he is seeking this type of audience and you are not, which is fine.
Is it possible that stretching so far from Scripture and exegesis, and relying on rational discourse, can lead one further astray than the road desired to travel?
Just my thought.
Thank you.

Stephen said...

hi "carry on",

thanks for teasing your original comment out a bit more. i actually have been giving it a lot of thought since first reading it this PM. still processing it. i am definitely writing for christian leaders, but one could argue that willard is too. one reason i use what might be considered alternative language is to help folks think out of their normal box. but that doesn't do much good if folks can't get in the one i'm drawing! :) i will continue to think ab your post and thank you very much.

Anonymous said...

Hi Stephen
You know, as I reflect on my series of comments (I was reading them tonight), I’ve realized my own selfishness. I am on a spiritually frozen canoe, feeling trapped right now and I think I became frustrated with not understanding your language here. I wanted to “get it” sooner. Your blog is directed to leaders immersed in your dialogue and that is fine. In fact, it is necessary. I acted out of pride. I see that now!

Stephen said...

Hi "Carry On",

While I don't want to be quick to cast aside what I still think was a legitimate and helpful critique, I appreciate the character your candor shows. Your honest and forthrightness show you may not be as stuck as you think! Sound to me like you're moving down the river! :) Please feel free to ask questions here or email me directly @ sshields@faithmaps.org. I would love to continue the dialog. Another great place to ask questions to a host of fellow travelers (including me), if you wish, is in the faithmaps discussion group. Just go to http://www.faithmaps.org and click on "Discuss". Thanks again!

John Alec Schmitt said...

I love that theology is being "done" via blogs. One comment on the democratising of theology via blogs and the next generation of theologians being bloggers. While "process" is a virtue and a worthy pursuit, I am Western enough and biblical enough, that a goal is still much in mind. While democratising is a good thing, and systematic theology has long been the domain of academics only, it is also true that the object/goal of theology has long been A)To advance the cause of Christ and the church B) To specify the terms of grace C) To understand the "intent" of the revelation in scripture and therefore to understand God better. D) To demonstrate the "experience" of Christ "within" via the Spirit and the scripture and invite people onto the path as a universal human need and potentiality.
That is not something done by momemtary opinion, theology has a history, that history is part of the dialog and cannot be ignored without risk of such a splintering of views that there is no center anymore. Yes, a center risks a controlling bureaucracy and being centerless in cyberspace can appear to insure equality, but to what end? If it is to advance community, we have to risk, as the church has always done, have to risk enough proximity of thought to have a dialog about "something" not just whatever.
I think the most valuable thing blogging may have to offer the church is novelty. A fresh wind of the Spirit is needed and a loss of centralized authority is not altogether a bad thing, provided it isn't replaced by chaos.
After all the centerpiece of scripture is the story of redemption. Redeeming twisted humans from chaos, whose ultimate effect is death.
And death has always been the ultimate way authority has of controlling individuals. Christianity continues to be a threat to all forms of dictatorship, even that on the web, precisely because the Resurrection defies the power of illegitimate political states(those imposed, nto chosen) and denies the power of death.
Praxis as a Christian tool must always begin with what liberates a human being from what has them enslaved? In one community that may be teaching the illiterate to read and when they read scripture, they discover a lack of endorsement for exploitation, and in fact, a God who takes sides with the oppressed.
In another community it may be the emptiness and isolation of the disconnected life. Does cyberspace truly connect?
If theology can be blogged it must address the same fundamental issues that gave rise to theology in the first place. As a seminary professor of mine once told me after what I thought was a particularly brilliant sermon, "You did a great job of answering a question nobody's asking."
The questions haven't changed, just their context. To be theological requires knowing the context and history of previous generations. After all, moving toward an oral culture of story tellers away from fixed print mediums is to make everything local. I guess that makes the internet truly a village, just a very large and very annonymous one.
John Alec Schmitt

Stephen said...

thanks for your comments john!

Emily said...

Cool objectivism online