Saturday, July 24, 2004

the sifting of the sands of idealism

the next generation of theologians will start as bloggers, according to Dan Hughes.

permit me a moment to ask why? and if they start as bloggers, where will they end?

By definition, theology is faith seeking understanding. It is not an elitism occupation but is the output of any and all. We are all theologians. Some of it is good, some of it is bad. So definitionally, the statement is accurate.

But if the statement is to input some magical status to theoblogians, I will need more convincing. As an inhabiter of both clasroom and blogoshere, the debate in the blogosphere is no deeper or more incisive than the debate in a theological classroom. In fact, often the debate in the blogosophere is less incisive. At least in the classroom there are things called assignments that encourage reading.

I love the idealism of the statement; “an explosion of nuanced thinking around the myriad details of existence … a million empowered perspectives … from the interconnected lives and words of the normal women and men of Santiago, Montreal, Mozambique and Bangalore … justice and mercy transforming the small spaces that hold the secrets of the worlds yet to come.”

Yet I note that when Maggi introduces to the blogosphere some inherited and introductory classroom theology , the bloggers swoon here and here.

And so they should.

Will the future learn from the nuanced thinking of the past, theological linking disciplined by critical review of class and peer and editor, thinking weighed with time, so that the dross of a hundred quick thoughts is filtered to leave some real insite around justice and mercy?

Or, will the blogosphere be a pooling of ignorance (no, of course I am not talking about your blog, so don’t get offended), in which, to rephrase Tim Bednar, bloggers become more arrogant than there pastors, and remain so emmeshed in the interlinked present that they gloss over any inherited wisdom?

Posted by steve at 03:02 PM


  1. theology is god talk by definition. so it is certainly at least a context for theology. but there is always something suspicious about a blogger claiming that bloggers will be the next great anything!

    Comment by jonnybaker — July 24, 2004 @ 7:16 pm

  2. Thinking similar thoughts (as you) over my way too. Not only how incisive the discussion is, but who is it excluding as well.

    Comment by Stephen — July 24, 2004 @ 10:52 pm

  3. that post at they blinked actually reads very much like revolutionary propoganda, and that’s alright with me, the church could use a revolution. but it seems to me that saying that the next generation of theologians with be bloggers is saying no more than maybe 20 years ago, “next generation of theologians with use computers to help them think and gather information” or 500 years ago, “theologians will not read from printed texts instead of handwritten ones”.

    maybe, “the next generation of theologians will attack each other online instead of thru obscure printed journal articles”

    i will stop though….

    Comment by Geoff Holsclaw — July 24, 2004 @ 11:26 pm

  4. good points steve.

    I think that so many people are jumping on the ‘blogging is the next big publishing thing’. And whilst I welcome that so many people now have a voice outside of their own physical context this does not neccesarily mean that these people will write spell-binding stuff in any sphere – whether this be theology or otherwise.

    The same thing could be said when a computer could be found in pretty much every house in the land and every one of them had a word proccesor on. this did not translate into a writing renassaince either.

    There will always be the need for well-read and trained people to blog (or whatever the next thing is). Of course there will be the usual person who hasn’t read much, who suddenly comes on the scene and writes profound stuff – but hey thats life – that always happened.

    man that was a loooong comment.

    Comment by gareth — July 25, 2004 @ 9:41 am

  5. Yeah, we should be wary of next big thing band-wagons. But that shouldn’t take away from the fact that blogging has profoundly changed the way some of us share information.

    I find it exciting that these new tools allow us to take part in “God talk” with people around the world. The blogosphere gives access to theological discussion to more people than the classroom. As you say – some of it will be good, some will be bad. But hopefully a lot of it will be made up from our shared experiences of the work of God around us.

    Comment by Ben — July 25, 2004 @ 10:37 pm

  6. I definitely think one of the serious dangers of the net (in any form blog or otherwise) is the relative ease with which it is possible to associate only with people who reinforce your own way of thinking.

    By choosing “customised” news feeds and using your favourites bar a lot it’s remarkable how many people you can find who agree with you. ;o)I’ve seen my “contrary thinking” edited on others blogs (no one in this wider community)

    Frightening, really, when you stop and think about it…

    Comment by Randall — July 26, 2004 @ 9:36 am

  7. I think it’s a bit unfair to describe Jonny and Steve as ‘swooning’! I think they were just enjoying seeing a bit of theological content in the blog world.

    Comment by maggi — July 26, 2004 @ 8:52 pm

  8. Maggi,
    “swoon” = hyperbole – exaggeration for dramatic effect.

    Can I suggest though that seeing your Trinitarian post as “a bit of theological content” might carry a sense of elitism, and tha this might be behind some of the comments by Tim and Dan, of a call for a much more interlinked future. If theology is faith seeking understanding, then a lot of blogs are “theological content.” The question then becomes; good theology or bad; ie continuity with Scripture and tradition, aware of culture, reason, experience.

    Comment by steve — July 27, 2004 @ 10:58 am

  9. what, I’m elitist now?

    Comment by maggi — July 27, 2004 @ 8:31 pm

  10. Theology is a discipline
    requires discipline!

    Blogging is a way of getting stuff out there.
    A way of sharing and interacting,
    but not a space for theological formation.

    The next breed of theologians may well blog,
    let’s hope they do.
    But they won’t all start as bloggers.

    They will start as thinkers and students and reflectors.

    The best ones will have an ability to originate as well as to synthesise.

    They will come as learners, and grow into teachers who are still learners.

    Comment by lynne — July 27, 2004 @ 8:33 pm

  11. i hope there’s a twinkle in your comment maggi, i was referring to your comment, not to you.
    I was pondering the implications of the comment that your post was “theological content in the blog world”; and so asking if the contrary was being implied – that other blogs in the “blog world” were not theological.

    Comment by steve — July 27, 2004 @ 10:43 pm

  12. well obviously it depends what you mean by theological. If you mean, broadly speaking, conversation with anyone, anytime, anyplace, then yes, practically everything in this blogvillage is theology. But if you mean the professional discipline that I (and you, no?) am trained in, then much of what is in this blog world may have a theological thread to it, but in fact comes from a variety of other stables – sociology, economics, education theory, marketing, literary theory, devotional writing, etc. etc. It interests me that there is very little actual theology in all these discussions. I don’t consider it the statmenet of elitism to suggest that I know more theology than most – it’s just a fact of life. It’s no more elitist than someone else owning up that they know a damn sight more about software, sociology or physics than I do. Theology is my professional specialism. My comment would only be elitist if you believe that theology is priveleged above all other professional fields.

    PS, twinkle twinkle.

    Comment by maggi — July 28, 2004 @ 3:23 am

  13. maggi, thanx for the twinkle. I wrote a comment that became a post at

    Comment by steve — July 28, 2004 @ 4:42 pm

  14. Looks like I’ve caught the tail end of this conversation. At the risk of a pretentious name drop, I asked Tom Wright if he’d consider starting a blog. He had! In fact, his diocesan tech machine is looking at putting it in place now. So what will this mean for Tom’s theology and the way he communicates it? I suspect it will look very different. Tom (or rather N.T. in this case) goes for cumulative arguments and therefore lots of words. This, if someone’s research that I came across recently is correct, won’t work on a blog. I think it said that the average time post is looked at for is 37 secs and that’s a heavy hitter’s blog (which I think we can safely bet Tom’s would/will be). So rather than humping through a bunch of ITP material to get there, it will need to be either 4-5 pithy paragraphs or bulleted points. This then surely means that thesis is pitched without method or process. Something that anyone who has studied theology or an arts subject knows, will not go down well in the academy. What will be the long term effect of this on the discipline. I actually kind of hope that Tom doesn’t start a blog now, because we still need some people colluding with the empire (publishing houses;-)
    BTW, after being a big fan of Zizioulas, Volf etc on the Trinity, I’m slowly moving away. But, because this is a blog, I’m not going to say why.
    Thanks Steve and Maggi – good chat.

    Comment by Si Johnston — July 28, 2004 @ 8:59 pm

  15. apologies for the many many typos and bad grammar in that last post – another byproduct of blogging, do you go for speed and therefore pay scant attention to how you write, or do you continue to remain a grammar fascist but waste hours being precious? A question somewhat aligned to the theology debate?

    Comment by Si Johnston — July 28, 2004 @ 9:03 pm

  16. Yes, bloggers can be arrogant and so can theologians!

    Comment by Tim Bednar — July 29, 2004 @ 4:22 am

  17. i always get to these parties too late.
    i loved dan’s post because it is so outrageous, and at the same time sympathise with maggi’s hesitation. but the purity of theology and it’s strict and disciplined approaches to academic knowledge may or may not have relevance in a postmodern age when praxis and quilting together your own religion matter more. for better or for worse. the threads that hold our faith together through the ages will come from a myriad of sources and untangling them may serve more as a point of curiousity than as a grounded place from which to stand.
    so the word theology takes a beating and gets reconstructed to mean something else entirely. a la the usage in dan hughes’s post.

    Comment by jen lemen — July 29, 2004 @ 12:20 pm

  18. Virtual Theology

    There have been various threads of discussion recently in the blogosphere about the depth of blogging and its role as a medium for doing theology. (See Maggi (1) & (2), Steve (1) & (2), Dan and me (1) & (2)….

    Comment by Greenflame — August 13, 2004 @ 10:44 pm

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