To blog or not to blog, that is the question . . .

by on January 30, 2009

Recently, my family and I made a trip down to Texas to see my extended family. My grandfather is nearing death. Every time we see him could very well be the last. There’s so much I want to ask him. What’s his greatest fear in all this? How is this bringing him closer to Christ? Is it bringing him closer to Christ? I want him to give me advice and tell me stories that can survive another couple of generations after him. But he’s the product of another generation – a generation from the South – characterized by the stoic male ideal. Thus, nothing could be more awkward in my family than to ask him any of those questions.

Times have changed. Our Oprah generation differs from the generations before it in its expression of personal experience and emotion. We long to connect, long to communicate, long to express. As the world becomes faster, and intimacy takes more effort, any new attempt to foster some sense of closeness suddenly becomes an integral part of our lives. Email, instant messaging, myspace, and facebook have all become necessary parts of our social fabric because of this. So has blogging. Everyone has a blog. One’s only hope to actually be read is that social Darwinism is starting to have its visible effects and the “weak are dying off”. As it becomes ever more popular, our social dynamics will change in every area of life. What will we do when three or four presidential elections from now, we’re able to read the public college blogs of the various nominees from their pasts? We can see them at their best and worst, their most brilliant and most dull, we can see their crowning achievements and most dysfunctional relationships. We can know them – in a sense.

We want to be known like that, especially while in an environment where so much personal and intellectual development is occurring, like seminary. I’m an avid blogger. I have eleven blogs last time I counted. They vary in types, content, and frequency of update, but nevertheless, those are my live active blogs. I faced a conundrum going into seminary: should I blog? At the time, most all my blogs had been up for three or four years and had an established flow. Especially on my personal blog. I would generally write long multi-part theological treatises, and they would usually be responses to someone or something else. I would write these things and occasionally someone would read it and would actually be helped and edified through it. But upon entering seminary, I had a new readership – seminarians. The couple of posts I put up were picked apart, scrutinized to the theological minutiae, and read merely on a surface informational level with no hope of real personal change or impact. I faced a conundrum. I was going through so many changes in my perspectives on so many things. I was in a dynamic time of my life and wanted to express it and get it out! But how? What was the best way to write so as to be truly beneficial to myself, lay readers, and seminarians? I took a break from blogging for a brief time and really wrestled through it until I came to some conclusions.

So is it good or bad to blog while in seminary?

The answer: Yes.

As I sought advice on how one should blog in this time of life, all I kept encountering were pastors, professors, and older bloggers all saying the same thing: do NOT blog while you’re in seminary. I was disheartened at first until I realized why they were saying this. It’s because we in seminary are in such flux in our views and articulations of those views, we are liable not to end our seminary experience in the same place we are now. As I say all the time: Theological truth is a big sword, and when you put it into the hands of boys they start swinging it around thinking they know how to handle it. We don’t. Not yet. That comes with time and ministry. We will not end our seminary time in exactly the same place we began – we’re not supposed to – so don’t write posts you will regret three, four, or ten years from now. It will confuse people that have known you and are now worried about all the changes and crises it seems you’re going through and it will concern many of your people in the future as they start perusing their pastor’s old posts. So don’t hurt and confuse other people while you’re still working through your own views and articulations.

I know that may be frustrating, but here’s the good news: Blog! Feel free to do it! But, do it wisely. Even if you don’t now, I would encourage you to go make a blog and begin writing. Let people in on your experience at seminary (like we at GtS do!). It can be infinitely valuable to yourself and others when done thoughtfully. Here a few principles that I’ve learned and implemented in reshaping my own blogging philosophy so as not to stumble into some of the errors stated above:

  1. Keep it short: economy of language is typically the seminarian’s greatest weakness. Keeping your verbiage to a minimum keeps you purposeful and thoughtful in both what you say and how you say it. Long posts are also the quickest turn-off to potential readers.
  2. Keep it more personal: write more about your own personal life, church, family, and experiences rather than theological wrestlings and struggles.
  3. Keep it prayerful and meditative: keeping your blog posts focused on your active and passionate relationship with Christ is the best use of your passionate articulations. It both encourages others and helps you learn the ultimately doxological nature of all orthodoxy.
  4. Don’t react: too often we want to write to counteract or engage someone we may have just heard or read. Often these posts make you look angry, hypersensitive, and graceless.
  5. Point away from yourself: Justin Taylor’s blog was the inspiration for this one. He posts anywhere from 6 to 8 times a day. He does it by linking people to other resources. Links to news stories, YouTube videos, plenty of quotes, and little blurbs of news from the world of evangelicalism keep people coming to his site as a clearinghouse of useful information. By the way, embedding videos you find encouraging is a life saver for the person who wants to keep his blog active but doesn’t have time to write his own post. Add a little paragraph of commentary, add the code for the video and your done! Also, quotes from your seminary reading are incredible resources for others to engage in what you’re learning.
  6. Foster a pastoral heart in yourself: doing this will keep others in the forefront of your mind rather than just how to communicate yourself. How will others hear this? Who might be reading this? What effect do I want this to have? Will this lead others closer to or further away from Christ? Is this helpful and worth communicating at all?
  7. Pray (you knew I had to include seven points): in the end, your blog is a form of ministry and no ministry should be done without the express dependence on Christ we hope to foster in seminary.

Doing these things will not only lead to a more edifying blog, but it will create a more enjoyable blogging experience for yourself and will probably increase readership as your posts will be concise, resource-driven, and actually helpful. I know it has for me. Happy blogging!

About

Frequenting the coffee shops of Philadelphia while employed in social work and finishing up a Masters of Divinity from the Newbigin House of Studies at Western Theological Seminary. He serves Liberti Church as a deacon and seminary intern. Paul blogs at the long way home and tweets as @PaulBurkhart_.

Comments

Being in seminary and blogging, I can say that you are laying out seven great points to caution the seminarian-blogger.

One other I would add: Do not blog during class! Focus at the task at hand at any given time. Make sure the main thing remains so.

Hey, I am writing this in a classroom, but I have 7 minutes to lecture and the professor is just setting up and has some background worship music playing, so I guess it is cool.

Paul, I was very interested to read your post when only a couple weeks ago I read this, which largely seems to contradict your opinion. That being said, I’m much more inclined to agree with your perspective.

A few thoughts in response to the specific points: I disagree to an extent with #1 for two reasons. First, it’s a cultural problem that people have short attention spans. I might be tempted to argue that keeping blog posts short for that reason is an unnecessary concession. Building knowledge or growing in wisdom can be incomplete if all you feed yourself is bits and pieces of material. Second, and what carries much more weight with my argument, is that while long posts can drift off on tangents and lose focus, short posts run the risk of making incomplete arguments or statements. As in all things, I think there is a healthy balance.

I’m interested that you advocate a more personal blog. The impression I have gotten in my five years of blogging is that people prefer more impersonal. I want to keep my blog personal to an extent so that people know I am a real person and that the things I write are a reflection of active thinking and experiences.

Number four is an excellent point. Words are powerful, and can be a terrible weapon in the hands of the undiscerning. I have fallen for this temptation before, and have made very deliberate efforts to think through and edit posts that are more a reaction or response before I post them. I often write out my main points, save it, and come back to it a few days later to add to it or edit it. I find myself able to be far more gracious after I’ve given myself a few days to work through my response.

I might be the odd man out, but one of the reasons I actually unsubscribed to JT’s blog was because I thought he posted far too much too often. I check back now and then, but on the whole, I prefer blogs that contain original reflections from the author. The occasional outgoing link or video is fine, but if I want to receive links to other interesting posts, articles, or videos, I prefer using Twitter and Facebook.

Good post. Some of the blog host sites out there just say type, publish and you’re good to go, but it’s not that easy. It takes wisdom and careful reflection. Your blog is out there for the world to see, it can be a harmful thing if you’re not careful. Thanks for the advice you offer here.

Just a quick note on blogging in seminary (from a future seminarian): One seminary I looked at required all students to journal regularly (preferrably at least daily) on the way their life is encountering theology. Could be a response to a reading, could be a discussion with a friend, could be television, … well, you get the picture. The idea was that by starting to do this early in seminary will prepare a person to be able to pull moments and relate them to God when required as a pastor, be it for preparing a sermon or counseling a church member.

Seemed to me that if you put the journal on the web, it is a blog. And as poorly organized as I can be, having a website host for me actually is beneficial.