Monday, April 11, 2011

On Blog Traffic, Controversies, and Self-Promotion

My blog gets decent traffic, with a slowly growing readership of fascinating and faithful people. Yet sometimes I think I should work to attract more readers, especially when I compare myself to other Christian writers with hugely popular blogs.

Honestly, it would be really easy to do.  The secret? Take sides on controversies. I could write the series on the Rob Bell/John Piper skirmish, defending one of them and deriding the other. I could attack the progressive types or condemn the neo-Reformed camp. I could tell you all my positions on politics and hell and justification and predestination and scripture. I could respond to all my critics. I guarantee you that my blog traffic would triple or quadruple in just a couple of months. And that's not because I'm profound or terribly interesting; it's because controversies create traffic jams and it's incredibly hard not to look, no matter which side of the freeway you're on.

There are several reasons why I very rarely fire blasts into the battlegrounds of Christian controversies, and I will talk about them in increasingly important order. First, I almost always see the merit in both sides of the argument and value the contributions of both sides. John Piper was my favorite pastor and writer during college and early seminary. He introduced me to the theology and life of Jonathan Edwards, and he taught me that passion and intellect are not mutually exclusive. Rob Bell has been my favorite preacher for the past 3 years. He asks provocative questions that always leave me thinking, he makes me laugh, and he gives me an emotional sense of the transforming and healing presence of God. I don't agree with everything either one of them says, but I am grateful for both of them. I refuse to wear a Team Rob or Team John t-shirt. I'm going with Team Jesus, who loves both of them and is transforming both of them into his image.

Second, engaging in controversies rarely changes people's minds. Generally, the more polemical a debate, the more people become entrenched in their own positions. The overt purpose of a debate is to arrive at the truth, but more often than not the emotional commitments of people on both sides push them further back into their corners. Then, we're arguing for the sake of arguing, which accomplishes nothing.

Third, I'm convinced that controversies and debate within the larger Christian community often detract from the work of the Kingdom, instead of enhancing it. Doctrine and theology are incredibly important, and establishing our biblical and theological foundations is absolutely necessary. But I become concerned that engaging in controversies on the blogosphere and social media can become a deterrent to us actually living lives of obedient faith. The temptation is that we read blogs, consider what we read about the latest biblical controversies, share our opinions on comments or on Twitter or on our personal blogs, and then we consider our work of discipleship to be done for the day.  Orthodoxy, thinking the right things, is important, but orthopraxy, doing the right things, is more important. We can't have orthopraxy without orthodoxy, but unfortunately, we can have orthodoxy without orthopraxy.

I think we also need to ask whether airing our debates in such public places like the internet is an effective means of witness. What impression do we give people who aren't Christians by criticizing, even condemning one another on Twitter?  An easy example: the Rob Bell that many people excoriated on Twitter a few weeks ago wasn't actually the pastor of Mars Hill in Grand Rapids. Some Christians got his username wrong, and a non-Christian guy unwittingly become the object of much anger and condemnation.   

Last, and most importantly, participating in controversies is not good for my soul. I know that if I were to devote a lot of space to cultivating controversy on this blog, it would be for the sake of self-promotion. That's not to say that everyone who weighs in on these lightning rod issues has bad motivations. There are good and biblical and pastoral reasons for discussing these topics, and it's up to each one of us to examine our motives and hearts. While they usually involve important issues, the controversies can also feed the insatiable monster of Christian celebrity culture, and I know I need to avoid that temptation as much as I possibly can. Therein lies the tension for a Christian writer and pastor who wants to have his stuff read but also wants to surrender his power and privilege and become a servant. That's why I've always thought that many, if not most, of the best Christians out there are people we've never heard of and we will never hear of. That's because they're not spending much time declaring their opinions in public places and writing and reading a lot of blog posts and stirring up controversies; they're out doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with their God.