I believe that we are to defend the faith. I believe that we are to contend for the faith. One of my great loves in theology is the discipline of apologetics. But sometimes our zealousness for our faith can have the opposite effect and actually undermine our witness. We can shame God.

For the next two blogs I am going to be talking about how to engage people in theological issues. This will have particular relevance to how we interact online, especially in blogs.

Before the internet, maybe things were a little more tame. I don’t know. Maybe people expressed themselves with more caution, more gentleness, more respect. This is not so today. Not by a long shot. If I was a non-Christian and witnessed how Christians often treat each other in the blogosphere, I would have a natural reaction of disgust.

Today your voice can be heard by an unheard of number of people . . . anyone’s voice can. Set your light on a hill. Not only do we have a bigger hill to let the Gospel shine brightly, but through blogs, forums, emails, and many other forms of quasi-anonymous venues, we also have the chance to let our sinfulness shine brightly.

The other day I drove up to a stop sign. Another car, just to my left, was pulling up as well. It was one of those times where I was not sure who got there first. Since I was to the right of them, I went ahead and turned. As I went past their car to my left, I could plainly see the two young college boys were not too happy with my presumptuous decision. They were shouting and pointing and looking at me as if I had just crossed the line which kept their self-control at bay. I am not a lip reader, but I could tell that they were calling me names that would have given them time-out in Hell.

I thought about this and wondered whether they would have reacted the same way if we were not in our cars. What if we were just walking and I happened to cut in front of them. I am sure that the reaction would have been much different. Much more cordial and tame.

Why? What an odd people we are. Put up a safety barrier of a car and we will act in a way that dehumanizes one another. We will say things about another person created in the image of God that would never be said in most other contexts. Why not? We will never actually meet this person. It is not as if this person, were we to see them in line at McDonald’s, would come up to us and say “Hey, I am the guy that cut you off at the stop sign. Now what is it you were saying?” Then we would be in trouble.

This is the same context that the internet provides. People say whatever they have on their mind relying on the virtual barrier of cyberspace to protect them.

We must exercise caution. The barrier of the internet does not provide us with a black megaphone named “Judge Dredd.”

Here are some principles that I aspire to live by while interacting online, especially in this blog:

1. Never say anything to someone online that you would not say in face to face. (2 Cor. 10:10-11)

2. Don’t take things too personally. Understand that many people are insecure and will interact with violent resolve to shield their insecurity. (Prov. 16:18)

3. Don’t take things too personally, but realize that some of the things we may need to hear. (Prov. 27:6)

4. Don’t respond immediately. Give yourself some time. Rash reactions are like drops of blood. Once the shark smells it, he will attack for the kill. (Prov. 12:18)

5. Interact with great humility. Go out of your way to recognize the right things that are said before you respond to the attacks. (Prov. 15:1)

6. Recognize that while you are separated from the other person by cyber-space, there is no space that can separate you from God. (Ps. 139:7-9; Matt. 12:36)

7. Remember that virtual interactions have real people on the other end. These people are created in God’s image. Whether believers or not, they are like God. Who are we to curse someone created in the image of God? (Jam. 3:8-9)

8. Shower your response with biblical truth, but don’t shove the Bible down people’s throats. This can come across and arrogant and sloppy. Be tactful and sensitive to the context of the situation. Often, people do not avoid the Bible, they just avoid you with a Bible in your hands. (Eph. 4:29)

9. Don’t be a people pleaser. You will never satisfy everyone all the time. Speak what needs to be said without fear of reprisal from some particular group that you are trying to please. This is particularly hard for me. Sometimes when I write, I write to the donors of Reclaiming the Mind Ministries. Sometimes I shape it for the legacy of Dallas Theological Seminary. Sometimes there are particular people (other bloggers) that I am fond of that I don’t want to hurt or disappoint. There is a fine line between being sensitive to an audience and compromise to an agenda. (Gal. 1:10)

10. If you are going to take people to task, rarely do this in a public forum. Contact them personally and try to resolve the situation. Don’t use people as a public punching bag. (Matt. 18:15)

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    5 replies to "Theological Conversation to the Glory Shame of God"

    • […] need. Please consider a small (or large!) tax-deductable donation. Thanks for visiting!In the last blog in this series, I talked about how to engage in theological conversation or controversy, especially […]

    • C. Barton

      Regarding number 8: Divine Truth, the Word of God, is food for the soul. We all have a lot of recipies for serving it. Sometimes, when I’m reeeeally hungry, I just grab a lot of it raw.
      But if I have the privilege of serving it to someone else, I would want it to be the most tasteful and appetizing presentation possible, and not just to show off my cooking skills, either.
      Our apologetics are like shining a light for someone to see in the dark: if all we do is shine it in their eyes, they get blinded by our aggression.

    • Joshua

      Michael I think you should make a T-shirt with #8 on it, ” Often, people do not avoid the Bible, they just avoid you with a Bible in your hands”, I would buy it.

    • bethyada

      A couple of thoughts on this topic.

      I think people read agreement with them as less aggressive and disagreement as more aggressive. Even if one writes kindly—and this is noticed—one’s opponent will tend to read your comments in a negative light or more readily assume an aggressive stance than those agreeing, even if the agreement is somewhat coarse.

      Another thing is that some of my responses are for the benefit of others reading. There are times when I don’t have the inclination to respond to those I perceive as writing foolishly. If there is no other response I may do for the sake of others who may find the foolish comments at least partially convincing. If that is the case, and showing up the foolishness is the best way in which to do this, can that not be the right way to respond? Surely some of the harsh responses by Jesus, Paul and the Prophets were to cut down the status of wicked men in the eyes of others.

    • brad dickey

      Unfortunately, I’m the type of guy that will say it to your face, online, behind your back, not behind your back if it needs to be said. 🙂 So, I’m working as the “challenged” one here.

      I only wanted to drop one idea for you. I hit the two seminars a few weeks back. What I think is GROSSLY overlooked is that not everyone is gifted to do apologetics. However, an emphasis is put on it and some sincerely try to do the job and really mess it up leaving some easy fodder for the pathostheistic groups.

      Then you have the narcissistic types, who wear the Xian facade, smile, speak softly, and passive aggressive when they are put on the defensive. These people hide behind “having answers” as a means to control. They shouldn’t be encouraged. However, most of the time, the pastor or ministers see their zeal, fervor, willingness, and are happy and use them.

      I wish, instead of theological conferences there were round table discussions where the people had to debate the topics among themselves. That working with the problems, seems to make the information stick better.

      I’m an admitted Xian agnostic heretic. That means, I admit you can’t KNOW for sure there is a messianic godly trinity until you die. And I hold some views the SBC would sling the word Heresy at me really fast. That’s just full disclosure.

      TY for your ministry.

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