The ERLC is excited to sponsor Band of Bloggers this year at the Together for the Gospel conference. The theme of the discussion is Platform Building and the Gospel. I had the chance to sit down with Timmy Brister, the organizer of the event and ask him a few questions:
You've been hosting this event for a few years now. What are the most positive developments you've seen in the Christian blogosphere since you began?
Having led an event for eight years, I've seen relationships develop with bloggers that have transcended simply blogging. Bloggers have become friends, and even in my case, bloggers have become co-laborers in gospel ministry. So I would argue first and foremost that bloggers realize that it is more than just the blogs but the people behind the blogs. Another positive development is the increasing number of bloggers who have since published books, having been seen by publishers through their blogs. Many of them are excellent writers, and blogging provided them exposure to their gift and provided future opportunities to write books that have been a great blessing to the evangelical community and beyond.
What are some of the troubling developments?
I'm not sure if this would be classified as “troubling”, but blogging has evolved over the years, especially from decentralization to centralization. Bloggers started out having their own, independent voice. When bloggers become “successful” it seems that they are either branded and grouped in a larger network/organization, or they are blogging for a specific ministry. Again, I'm not saying that trend is all bad, but it does have a way of filtering and shaping the voice of bloggers as they are now writing representatively to some degree as opposed to writing with a unique voice to the evangelical community. That tends to produce a tribalistic mini-narrative or echo chamber of sorts that could prevent us from listening and learning from others not in our tribe. Another concern over the years has been the dehumanization effect of blogging (and social media as well). Because we are looking at a screen and not a person, it is more tempting as people tend to have less restrain in saying things they would normally not say in person (or in the way it is said). Finally, it is troubling to me that the blogs that focus on negativity or controversy have the larger audience. That speaks both to the troubling nature of the blogger as well as the (rather large) community willing to pay attention to unprofitable and even sinful speech.
You are talking about platform and celebrity, two topics under much discussion in the evangelical world right now. How does a gifted leader discern between leveraging his gifts for the larger body of Christs' and a sort of crass attempt to create a platform at any costs?
I'm really glad we are attempting to tackle this issue in our upcoming gathering. It is one that requires careful thinking and healthy discussion. I think Matthew 5:16 really comes into play here. Jesus tells us that our light should shine before men, but the outcome is that they glorify our Father who is in heaven. How does that happen? How do you do what you do “before men” so that it is not interpreted being all about you? In one sense, that's a miracle of God that anyone would glorify God when our good works are seen. In another sense, there is a manner by which we can conduct ourselves that, while making offerings to the public and taking advantage of platforms available to us, we are not trying to create artificial light to draw excessive attention to ourselves. We should not shrink back from desiring to be useful or be ashamed of the gifts God has given us, but we should shrink back and be ashamed when our usefulness and gifts point to ourselves rather than to the Giver of those gifts. The hard part about that is we are guilty of that in very subtle and often unrecognizable ways, and that is why community is so helpful in bringing self-awareness and constructive accountability as we all want to exalt the name of Christ and not our own.
It also seems there is a kind of bloodlust to take down Christian celebrities. That, too, can be a form of pride and arrogance, can it not?
I think it can not only be a form of pride and arrogance, but it is more explicitly a lack of love for that person. Paul says that love does not rejoice in wrongdoing. While these celebrities are not our enemies, they are often treated as such. Proverbs 24:7 exhorts us “not to rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles.” If that is true for our enemies, how much more true is it for our fellow Christian brothers and sisters! When a Christian celebrity is embroiled in a controversy, I think it is important for all of us to examine our own hearts and ask why we feel the way we do. I am that “you who are spiritual” who “restore him in a spirit of gentleness” (Gal. 6:1) are too few in number. That ought not to be the case.
Is there a way to “earnestly contend for the faith” and yet do it in a charitable way?
I hope so. One of the best articles I've ever read on this subject is by Roger Nicole on “how to deal with those who differ from us.” I highly recommend it. Speaking the truth in love is a skill that requires humility and boldness, tenderness and conviction. We cannot have one without the other. Contending does not mean fighting or being argumentative, and unfortunately, contending for the faith has been smeared at times by those who are doing it wrong. But it is smeared all the time by those who are not doing it at all. It would serve us well to rehearse as a rhythm of remembering 1 Corinthians 13 in all our dealings with others, knowing at the end of the matter, faithful contending for the faith is not measured by arguments won but by displaying the character of Christ and pointing people to him.
Where do you think the Christian publishing and blogging is moving in the next few years?
The last few years have seen a massive spike in e-books and self-publishing. Additionally, books seem much shorter in length. I see both trends continuing for the foreseeable future. I have been buying and reading books for 15 years, and I must say that the past few years have produced an amazing number of excellent books, and the kinds of books being published today demonstrate a healthy trend addressing topics and issues at the heart of the Christian faith. Blogging is no longer new. If I'm not mistaken, more people kill blogs today than start them. However, blogs are still valuable and will continue to shape the voice of evangelicalism in the future. No one is reading tweets from a week ago or bookmarking them for future reference. On a daily basis, I have over 150 articles read daily from the past nine years that people fine simply through the search engine. That alone reminds me that the blogposts we write today has the potential to impact lives many years later.
What can attendees of Band of Bloggers expect at this event?
I hope to speak the love languages of every attendee–assuming they are speaking Chick-fil-a and books! Seriously, Band of Bloggers exists to provide a venue for bloggers, authors, and leaders to network together for fellowship and to discuss important matters related to the gospel of Jesus Christ and our work online in all of its forms. I enjoy giving books away, and this year we are doing more than ever with 7,000 books worth over $106,000 thanks to generous sponsors. In short, those who attend can expect to a get a full stomach, a full bag of books, and a enjoyable time of discussing how we can best honor Christ and his gospel through our presence online.