When Joshua Micah Marshall was a junior editor at The American Prospect, he had become accustomed to the routine of give and take which any news organization experiences with the rush of deadlines and time demands of good reporting. The immediate aftermath of the 2000 presidential election, however, produced in him a distinct uneasiness that, from his perspective, was tantamount to a call to arms regarding the candidacy of then Vice President Al Gore. Familiar with the basics of Web site design, he set up a simple Web site template and began to write. His first thoughts on the matter appeared on Nov. 13, 2000.
Marshall named the Web site Talking Points Memo (TPM as it is commonly known) and continued to write about many incidents and ideas. His readership grew with such speed that within a few years, Marshall’s blog would, in the words of Scott Rosenberg, “help drive a Senate majority leader from his position, derail the central item on a president’s legislative agenda and force the resignation of the United States attorney general.” Marshall learned how to mobilize his audience in such a way that politicians feared his posts, as they were certain to invite unwanted media attention. Today, TPM has expanded to include other writers besides Marshall, but it remains strong amid the ongoing expansion of other blogs (often partisan in scope and tone) which now perform more actual news reporting than many mainstream media outlets.
Evangelical life has not been immune from the power and influence of blogs. Kent Shaffer who writes for the Web site, churchrelevance.com, recently researched and listed the top 100 Church blogs. The results prompted many to realize the impact of certain blogs on thousands of pastors and church leaders. John Piper’s ministry (senior pastor of Bethlehem Church in Minneapolis) ranked number one during the month of July, receiving more than 100,000 unique hits. Almost 30,000 people receive Justin Taylor’s (associate publisher at Crossway books) daily feeds. Southern Seminary President Albert Mohler’s blog ranked number 15 overall, and Lifeway Research President, Ed Stetzer, registered at number 23. The impact of these blogs alone to drive the daily thought and conversation of many evangelicals is enormous. It is therefore both scientific and safe to say that evangelical blogs electronically connect Christians across the nation and the world in ways not possible just five years ago.
Some Southern Baptists have been credited with using the blog to elect Convention presidents, shape entire movements, embarrass various leaders and even employ the medium as a tactic to win a rhetorical war. While the extent to which blogging has or has not accomplished some or all of these feats remains in question, what is clear to many is that Southern Baptist communication is no longer restricted to the official media outlets of the denomination. With this new reality comes an entire new set of issues.
While blogging can be helpful and sustain a conversation among people who might not otherwise communicate one with another, it has also been used to reveal an ugly underside which can result in great harm. Joshua Marshall uses the blog to advance a certain political agenda from a perspective that is often skewed to such a degree that facts (though never overtly misrepresented) are presented in a manner which clearly seeks to persuade readers that the object of his ire is less than truthful and clearly guilty of some dreadful malfeasance. Christians can often do the same.
The real irony of the matter results in a deep suspicion that refuses to believe that the motivations of others can be sincere and writing an attempt to clarify rather than confuse. The notion that someone is nothing more than spin all the way down contributes to a blogging malady that seldom edifies the reader. From this foundation exposure of sin becomes the only way to elicit traffic.
The challenge for the Christian blogger is to both expose and edify in a manner that obeys Jesus’ process of log and speck (Matt. 7:5). Far too often blogging can be both anonymous and autonomous, tricking the writer into thinking that what they write and how they respond represents true community and reality. The real test for great writing is not its spontaneity or immediacy. Rather it is the ability to write in a manner consistent with Christian doctrine and communicated in a manner that seeks to be salt and light in the midst of a very dark world. With this as the goal, there is hope that blogging might truly be used to the glory of God.
“You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” Matt. 7:5