NT Wright, in his new book Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision, remarks that it is high time for a Christian ethic of blogging to be developed. This no doubt comes in reaction to the proliferation of misinformation (and sometimes misanthropy) found on blogs commenting on his views. He is not alone in finding much of online Christianity falling short of Christian character, and one pugnacious commentator has taken up the cause of lampooning the whole experience with great verbal dexterity.
Carl Trueman is a professor of church history at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia, and he doesn’t suffer (online) fools lightly. Many of his missives have been in response to the rather low level of discourse found in the blogosphere, and for the most part they exhibit common sense and a witty pen. His latest post takes a long hard look at the shameless self-promotion most bloggers engage in, and it has been hailed as an excellent reminder to posters to check their pride at the door.
But there is something that isn’t right about it.
Trueman starts with an anecdote about a blog that was forwarded to him by email (it is very important that we know this, because we need to know that a person of his importance doesn’t read blogs). The unnamed writer’s bio claims that he is “a widely-recognized authority” and a “witty” speaker. Trueman finds this to be an egregious case of self-promotion that understandably is highly unbecoming of anyone seeking to be humble and, worse, calling others to account for not being humble. With a rash of rhetorical flourishes Trueman skewers the poor chap who is too “arrogant and smug” for his own good. He is the type of man “who laughs at his own jokes and, quite probably, claps himself at the end of his own speeches.” What kind of mad person could this be?
In seeking an answer to that question I decided to plug the offending words into Google and see what came up. There it was in blue and white: Scot McKnight (no rhyme intended). This did not seem like anything McKnight would write about himself as I have followed his blog for a number of years now. It seemed probable that such a bio was written by a promoter that posted it on Beliefnet, the website that hosts McKnight as a blogger. All that was needed was a verification from the primary source, and that was easily obtained confirming my suspicion: a promotional writer wrote McKnight’s bio, not McKnight himself (the same text is found on Zondervan , Q, Mars Hill, Willow Creek, and Trinity Western.)
This should perturb anyone who read Trueman’s post and felt admonished by his jeremiad against, “Sheer virtual Onanism.” The irony of course is that Trueman’s call to a higher standard of blogging and online interaction is marked by methods that are utterly subpar. A simple journalistic ethic, which is foundational to building a better blogging ethic, would not have made such a leap to a conclusion about McKnight’s character based on such questionable evidence. There is a point to be made about how the church is affected by the worlds of blogs, facebook, and twitter colliding with marketing techniques and PR firms, but sadly this sloppy reporting detracted from it.
Misinformation spreads because little is done to verify whether the information is credible. This happens quite a bit in the blogosphere, and I myself have made my fair share of contributions, but the “shoot first, ask questions later” mentality of blogging has to stop. Looking over Trueman’s post I am not sure whether to laugh or cry at the verbal conflagration he unleashes on such a poorly constructed straw man.
To be sure, he made an attempt at being circumspect and did not name names in his article, but in this day of the age where anyone can almost certainly find what it is you are secretly referencing though a Google search, it makes one wonder if Trueman understands the power of the Word Wide Web at all. The unfortunate fact in all this, however, is not that Trueman got the author of McKnight’s bio wrong; it is that he completely undermined the otherwise timely word he had for us all to hear.