My maiden voyage in blogging as Big Bible’s new theological editor was met with some lively comments in response—wonderful!
I’ve taken on the task of crafting a series of posts devoted to the theology of blogging. That simply means that these posts are hosting a conversation about how Christians are to think about and practice blog-writing and blog-reading from within a framework of theological logic and biblical integrity. I usually do not respond to comments in an entire post, but the push-back and questions helped me think more clearly, I think, and those thoughts deserve some more space for follow-up discussion.
Basically, I am writing here about how Christian writers and readers should engage with the blog as a media genre.
In Blogology, Part 1, we considered blogging as public discourse, and for those of us writing from an explicitly Christian point of view with aims of discussing God and the Bible, blogging is public theological discourse (see esp. Dt 6:4-9). As such, the Bible supplies certain guidelines for how we use the genre of the blog.
I wrote in that previous post, that “blogging is a contemporary mode of an ancient biblical practice.” Now, to be clear, blogging itself is not an ancient biblical practice. Blogging is non-Biblical, in other words. The ancient biblical practice I was referring to is that of public theological discourse.
But non-Biblical does not necessarily mean un-Biblical!
The Bible itself seems to canonize, if you will, the practice of believers taking new media genres and employing them for this ancient task of theological discourse.
A Brief Story of the Bible’s own Media Use
What we know of as Scripture originated in oral societies in which commands and stories were regularly recited in public and private spheres (“when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise”—Dt. 6:7). The first written medium for Scripture, as far as the Bible tells us, is a pair of stone slabs.
Bu down in Egypt, folks had figured out how to smash papyrus with a resin here and there in order to make paper (from “papyrus”) scrolls. Letter-writing could be quite expensive, but the Roman Empire’s infrastructure permitted the sort of travel that kept the post coming. The writers of the Bible plied their communicative crafts over a lengthy span of history that saw sweeping technological developments in media arts. Aside from the powerful media technology of idol-crafting, the Bible’s faithful who help write the Bible adopted new media forms for the same task of public theological discourse.
And sometimes their use of media genres adjust the genre so much that they created new ones. Paul’s epistles are similar to other ancient letters, but he makes a number of notable changes from standard format at times (like getting after the Galatians straightaway without much formal chit-chat!). More appreciably, the Gospel writers took the Greco-Roman “bios” (historiographical biography) and expanded the genre so it could fit the divine figure of Jesus.
“Genre-Flexibility” and the Blog
Genres and media forms certainly shape the material they bear. But that does not mean that the technological means should trump the theological ends—integrity of motives and integrity of content sustains regardless of genre when it comes to the ancient biblical practice of theological discourse.
Now, none of us are trying to write “scripture” when we blog. But the brief story recounted above of the Bible’s own shifts in media usage enables us to embrace new genres with some degree of confidence… but not without a devotion to being careful with our public speech.
One commenter made a very interesting point that demands consideration:
If Christians are going to engage effectively with new media, we need to find a spirituality that can embrace soundbites and controversy. Sure, there are risks in doing that. But I maintain that those risks are no more serious than the far more popular error of turning blogging into some sort of monastic pursuit and then whining about why more people don’t read our blogs.
The wisdom here is that a particular media genre dictates a certain media practices. I am writing a book right now, plus a doctoral thesis. I go about these tasks differently than I do here or at the personal theoblog I maintain. I suppose I would encourage genre-flexibility among Christians. Yeah, I like that: genre-flexibility. By this mean that we should be able to engage and employ a wide range of media forms… but we should do so with a theologically governed ethic that honors this ancient task of theological discourse.