There has been some conversation in Christian circles about the Top 200 Blogs List released by Church Relevance. They used a variety of metrics, but Adrian Warnock was quick to point out they hadn’t accounted for Twitter followers. He compiled another Top 2oo, based purely on that, and which he has been kindly amending as he discovers other Christian bloggers of various persuasions. He followed up today with a further post in which he asks Christian bloggers to be aware of their motives in wanting to blog and to be on such lists.
Adrian is right to ask why we blog. Vanity can slip in all to easily. I recall one Christian friend who said he steered clear of blogging because he felt it was all ‘Me, me, me.’
But Christian communicators want to have an influence. The statistics, though, can only tell us so much. Does influence consist in reading? If so, I influence 2-3,000 people per week. But anyone can read, and only a tiny minority interact through the comments.
Yet much as I welcome the comments, and they are part of my raison d’être for blogging – I want to have a conversation – even that is a crude way of mentioning influence. Does not a messenger of the Gospel want to exercise influence in seeing changed lives? How do I measure that?
How much, then, are the metrics worth?
What do you think?
Lately, my American friends on Facebook have been rather exercised by the adventures of one Tim Tebow. “Who he?” thought I, but quickly realised he plays that staged impersonation of rugby that our friends west of the Pond call football. (No ‘American’ to prefix it for the same reason that their baseball has a World Series.)
Furthermore, young Mr Tebow is rather good at the sport, having engineered some remarkable comebacks for his team the Denver Broncos – although they came unstuck against the New England Patriots 45-10 and won’t make the Super Bowl as a result.
Not only that, my American friends are excited because he is a Christian. Born to Baptist missionaries in the Philippines, he has appeared in an advertisement for Focus on the Family, and is overt in owning his faith.
Given some of the hysteria generated by Tebow Time, perhaps it’s actually time to nail some of the Christian myths about famous believing sporting heroes.
If football players on opposing teams each pray to win does God choose who wins or does he just watch the game?
Prayer doesn’t make a Christian win, or even a better athlete. There is no spiritual gift of sporting ability, and Christians have the same mix of natural talents that the rest of the population has. The place of prayer for the sporting Christian is in the request to glorify God in the way they participate. Winning isn’t guaranteed, nor is performance.
Number two, and very dangerous, is the whole notion of celebrity. Tebow is in the public eye, and I hope his Christian supporters are praying for him. But there is nothing of intrinsically greater worth about the testimony of a famous Christian than that of you or me. It plays into the hands of all the unhealthy contemporary obsession with celebrity. And isn’t that a matter of idolatry, and broken idols at that? We build up these people in some kind of false worship, then watch their images smash.
What’s more, your non-Christian friends who like American Football may well watch Tim Tebow with interest. But they will be watching your life more closely and more regularly. Rather than trumpeting a famous Christian, we should be considering our own witness, however quiet and humble it is.
Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.
In a way, this ties into the idolatry issue. Were Shankly being serious, his words would be appalling. I like to think they were satirical. I love it when my team wins. I hate it when they lose. My son is worse. But what matters in the end?
Thankfully, Tebow has a sense of real priorities, and what his fame can and cannot achieve. The Boston Globe reported his reaction to yesterday’s defeat:
“It still wasn’t a bad day,” Tebow said after the game. “It still was a good day, because I got to spend some time before the game with Zack McLeod [a 20-year-old Cambridge native who suffered a traumatic brain injury playing football] and make him smile, and overall when you get to do that, it’s still a positive day. Sometimes that’s hard to see, but it depends what lens you’re looking through. I choose to look through those lenses, and I got to make a kid’s day, that’s more important than winning the game. So, I am proud of that.”
Tebow was asked if the glare of the spotlight this season ever became too much.
“There are pros and cons with everything,” Tebow said. “Sometimes, you don’t want it all. You just like to be able to go to dinner, hang out with friends, be a normal 24-year-old. So that makes it sometimes hard. But I wouldn’t change it for the world, because by having that, I have the platform to walk into a hospital to walk into the hospital and share with kids, I have the opportunity to hang out with Zack before a game, I have the opportunity to go build a hospital in the Philippines or to do a lot more important things than football.”
That sounds like a guy who has got his head screwed on. The rest of us need to do the same.
Via Internet Evangelism Day’s Facebook page: Internet World Stats have published details of Facebook usage statistics around the world. Not only that, these same statistics also mention general Internet usage in the nations of the world.
Of particular interest to me are the United Kingdom stats, which can be found on the European Union page. As of June last year, 82.5% of the population had Internet access. As of August last year, 44.6% were Facebook users.
OK, so some will have opened accounts and either not used them or only used them sporadically, but how much more convincing do churches need that an Internet and social media presence and strategy is no longer optional, it is central? It isn’t enough to say that these statistics don’t reflect the much lower usage among members of an elderly congregation, even when that is true, because such thinking openly betrays the lack of missionary thinking. Is the Internet just a glorified internal communication tool for the church, or is it somewhere to interact with the world in the name of Christ and with the love of God?
Both my churches here have Facebook pages that I set up. At present we don’t use them a lot, and I have to remember to put updates on them. Mostly there is the automated feed of my blog posts through them, but we could think of more, I’m sure. Similarly, Knaphill has a website. Addlestone used to, and is in the process of designing a new one.
The church needs to recognise that people are living a large amount of their lives online today. I don’t simply mean the minority who live almost exclusively online to the detriment of face-to-face relationships: I mean that millions live online in extension to the rest of their lives.
So thank God for initiatives like CODEC and others, such as the forthcoming Open Source evening at the Pentecost Festival (which, sadly, I can’t attend). We need to take what comes out of these ventures and translate them into mission in the local church.
All of this may be obvious to readers of this blog. You come here, either because you visit the site, you get the email updates, you follow it in a feed reader or via my Twitter stream or on Facebook through my account, the blog page, or one of the two churches above. But others need convincing, and this is something we need to communicate passionately and eloquently in our churches – not so that our online usage is a mere digital church notice sheet, but so that we genuinely and conversationally interact with a massive section of the population that we say we want to reach.
One or two of my church leaders recently wanted to think about streaming a video feed of church services online. It isn’t going to prove practical since there are too many hurdles, such as child protection, data protection, the number of personnel to do it effectively and possibly the cost, too. However, nothing could delight me more than that they are thinking imaginatively and not letting the old “We haven’t done it before” slogan prevent them coming up with ideas. What a great bunch of people they are to work with, especially in this culture.
Before reading on, may I invite you to watch this video teaser for Rob Bell’s new book, Love Wins?
Now tell me how that proves Bell is a universalist? He may be, or he may not. This is far too ambiguous. This video raises the questions. It doesn’t give Bell’s answers. To be precise:
Unambiguously stating that Gandhi is in Hell does raise concerns. If you are an exclusivist (only those who have personal faith in Christ will be saved) you might well say that. But if you believe the biblical evidence leads in another direction, you will be bothered by this. That doesn’t simply apply to universalism (all will be saved, regardless of faith in Christ); it also applies to inclusivism (God will deal justly and mercifully with those who never get the chance to respond to Christ). And there is plenty of evidence for inclusivism in the Bible: take Melchizedek the priest of Salem in Genesis, for example. Take Job, possibly. And besides, Bell at very least may only be raising the questions our culture asks and which need answering.
Likewise, Bell’s portrayal of the Gospel as preached by some that a loving Jesus rescues us from an angry God. What kind of Trinity is that, where Christ is love but the Father isn’t? That certainly should be up for debate.
And as for the slogan ‘Love Wins’? Well, if Christians don’t believe that in some form or another, we’re in big trouble. There is something deeply troubling about a brand of Christianity that is more certain about who is going to Hell than who is going to Heaven – after all, Calvinism has always had a problem with knowing how you are one of the elect.
Oh, and by the way, the publisher’s blurb is correct: eternal life does start now. Read John’s Gospel, especially chapter 17 verse 3: ‘eternal life is knowing you’ (emphasis mine).
As I say, it is possible that Bell might be a universalist. But there is nothing in these two minutes and fifty eight seconds to establish that with any certainty. Therefore it is pretty unworthy for the new Calvinist militants to go after him like this. I say this as one who takes doctrine very seriously – this shouldn’t be the way a Christian theme ends up in the top ten trending topics on Twitter, as this did on Saturday.
I guess someone who commented on Christianity Today’s blog about the controversy got it about right:
Kudos to HarperOne’s marketing team. Job well done. I’d imagine this kind of buzz before the book’s release can only improve sales.
So the UK General Election will be on 6th May, as expected. In terms of Christian responses, Churches Together In Britain and Ireland has a dedicated site. The Evangelical Alliance and CARE have set up My Manifesto on Facebook and Twitter. Among my blogging friends, Paul Martin has written an eloquent post in which he calls for a preferential option for the poor. Peter Kirk discusses the Westminster Declaration, issued on Sunday by thirty largely well known Christian leaders, mostly (but not exclusively) from an evangelical background.
The latter stands for so many things both Peter and I believe in, yet there are concerns. It is pro-life, it favours options for the poor and unjustly treated and it upholds the sanctity of marriage. Yet the areas where it calls for Christian conscience to be protected are purely in the areas of what one might call ‘personal morality’ – the sexuality and sanctity of life areas. Peter thinks this is stilted, and I have sympathies with him in that view.
For example, if you hold a conservative view on sexuality, then none of the three major British political parties supports you any more. Labour has pioneered controversial legislation in this area. David Cameron for the Conservatives told Attitude magazine that the Archbishop of Canterbury should sort his church out on the issue. The Liberal Democrats have favoured gay rights for a long time, and in the recent controversy over the Christian owners of a B& B who would not accept a booking from a gay couple. the LD spokesperson Chris Huhne described anyone who believed gay relationships were wrong as a ‘bigot’. If political preferences are drawn on this issue, there is no safe port. We are a minority, and this is what happens. We need to campaign for our views, but have to be careful about a Christendom-flavoured stridency on the issue, and that is what worries me about the tone of the Westminster Declaration: it sounds like militant demands.
(I recognise, of course, there are several friends who read this blog who do not see sexuality this way. I do not propose to argue the rights and wrongs of different views here, I simply state that I have never been convinced by the arguments of those who wish to show a different conclusion from the biblical texts. Sometimes I wish I could – it would make life easier in today’s society – but I’m not.)
However, the Christian vote should surely never be on a single issue, but on a range. Christians of varying persuasions are often good at majoring on just one or two issues, not the big picture. Who will do the best good for the country, without us believing any messianic pretensions the parties may purport to offer? That’s a thorny question indeed.
Not only that, Christians bring the issue of character alongside technical competence and policies. Paul Martin calls us to examine the character of the local candidates – he doesn’t want simply those who will be cheerleaders for the national leaders. I sympathise with that, and especially at a time when integrity has to be a big question in our national politics. We can still do that in a General Election where there is only one candidate for each party in a constituency. It is less possible in elections where we have to vote for a number of candidates, since Tony Blair enacted legislation reducing that purely to a party contest. In those contexts he took the integrity vote away from the voters.
In short, it is getting harder and harder as each election comes and goes to know where I, as a floating voter, might place my cross. I have Christian friends who belong to each of the major parties, but I don’t find it easy to identify with one political creed, although I know it is important if you are going to get involved to do so. Furthermore, like most of the electorate I don’t have a technical understanding of economics, and so all those arguments that are presently raging are ones I feel I cannot call. I want to vote, not least because I have little right to complain about outcomes if I opt out, but that isn’t an inspiring and positive reason. I am conscious, though, of those who sacrificed that we might have this freedom. I am not taking it lightly, but I can understand those who wonder whether it will make a difference. Did The Who get it right in 1971 with ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ – meet the new boss, same as the old boss?
Truly, discernment and prayer are necessary in large quantities right now.
I’ve been aware through mailshots and emails for a few months that the Christian missionary charity Focus has been putting together a new resource called ‘God: New Evidence’. With contributions from scientist-theologians such as John Polkinghorne and David Wilkinson, there are videos you can embed in your own blog or site free of charge, which are also available on a DVD for £14.99 (currently UK PAL only – NTSC following later). You can view them on the site or on YouTube by searching for the user ‘godnewevidence’ (omit the quotation marks). Here by way of a taster is the first one:
You can also become a Facebook fan or follow the project on Twitter. Bible translator and former biologist Eddie Arthur commends it here, as does Anglican priest Doug Chaplin here (with the reservation that he thinks cosmology might be more sympathetic to faith than evolutionary biology).
This is an encouraging and worthwhile resource. We should be careful not to claim too much for it in response to Dawkins hysteria. Just because Dawkins and his friends claim science can disprove God, we shouldn’t rush to assume scientific research can prove every aspect of Christian doctrine. (Not that I’m suggesting Focus think this, I’m more thinking about how people might try to use the material.)
What can we claim? Passages such as Romans 1 make it clear that an appreciation of the world carries with it a basic revelation of God – but no more. The Focus material is therefore an excellent argument for the existence of God, and forms a foundation which the Holy Spirit can use in further revealing the Good News of the Kingdom in Jesus’ incarnation, death and resurrection. In short, rational evidence gives us not complete proof but enough evidence for trust in God. The latter requires the work of the Spirit in a person’s life.