First Person Life

2006-03-18

Chats, and Blogs, and Wikis -- Oh, My!

The recent issues surrounding East leaning pastors has put me back in mind to consider Lutheran Blogging, the use of technology and how these things intersect with our Christian witness to the world and fellow believers.

One of the reasons I took up blogging was not simply to have a forum to express my ideas, but rather to have a forum in which my ideas would be critiqued, evaluated, and if necessary corrected. I know that there are others in the blog-o-sphere (especially those of us who are seminary students) who have taken up the "art" for this reason - with mixed results.

I think the online world holds numerous posibilities for this type of communication. However, it seems we have fallen into a number of pitfalls.

First, the immediacy of the web and the Internet sometimes gets us in trouble. I think we all know better than to try to make a strong theological or exegetical point based on Luther's Table Talk, because most of this was off the cuff discussion. We prefer to look at his more intentionally considered works. This is because these works have additional thought and editing that his Table Talk lectures do not.

In cyberspace, it's easy to read something that was written in a "Table Talk" type moment and end up discussing it as if it were some intentional thesis. Then egos get involved and attitudes flare. Sometimes the anonymity of the keyboard gives rise to "running off at the fingers" when a more temperate and controlled spirit is necessary. It's one of the dangers of the medium that, when combined with our human nature, often causes trouble.

Second, the "meritocracy" paradigm that has led to some great things in the world of computing isn't an easy thing to establish and maintain. A recent Economist article on Open Source development points this out.

A "meritocracy" depends on the community at large being able to determine who is meritorious and who is not. Unfortunately, there are few, if any, tools available to make such classifications in the blogosphere. Consequently, we use our own subjective opinions rather than any objective standard. Many of us tend to listen to those who scratch our itching ears, then pile on the bandwagons of those who are most like-minded. All of this futher fragments that which many of us pray will become unified. This too is dangerous. Anyone who's played "LEMMINGS" knows the ultimate result.

Third, the Internet is a public medium. Our behavior (good and bad) is in plain view for everyone to see -- and I do mean everyone. This includes the weak in faith and those who would attack the church for being full of "hypocrites." Say what you want, this is a reality of the medium. Often our "sqabbles" are important, but the manner in which we carry them out hurt our witness to Christ.

I'm intrigued with Pastor Peterson's idea for a wiki and I'll probably watch that somewhat closely to see how things go there.

I'm coming more and more to the conclusion that some sort of a "tiered" approach ought to be considered. The first level is already well established. The use of blogs or similar mediums which would be best. This tier would be the day-to-day "polemics" and "commentary." This tier shouldn't be taken "too seriously" (that's not to say that there aren't some EXCELLENT bloggers out there who are worthy of serious consideration - but let's face it, most blogs [including mine] are more like the editorial page of your local newspaper -- not the place you go for in depth news and information).

The next tier might be something like a wiki. Basically, something more of an information repository. Perhaps issue based. Topics might include things like comparative symbolics, quotes from church fathers and historic figures on various topics, etc. Keep it to the facts and avoid commentary as much as possible. A couple of editors would probably be necessary and some specific community guidelines regarding content.

The third tier would be some sort of peer-reviewed site with tighter controls. The controls would be more about process than content. Basically, something to keep each other from saying something stupid -- or something easily taken out of context. What I'm envisioning is something like a peer-reviewed electronic theological journal for Confessional Lutheranism. This is something I've been considering for some time, but I'm not sure what type of interest level there is.

The greater immediacy of an online forum coupled with some sort of editorial policies and controls, I think would help avoid some of the pitfalls of blogging. I think the trick would be to design the editorial policy and controls such that it's a forum to vet ideas and clarify argumentation and not necessarily have an editorial agenda.

The only exception to this would be that Scriptures and the Confessions are held inviolate. While a contributor would not necessarily need to hold a "quia" subscription, any article must conform to the teachings contained in it.

To make a "go" of it, would require functional editors as well as reviewers and contributors. So what are others' thoughts? I'm very interested in such a project, but is anyone else out there interested in it? What other things can you think of to increase the "signal to noise" ratio of the Lutheran blog-o-sphere and improve true dialogue and thoughtful discussion of the truly important issues facing Lutheranism and our Synod? Or should we all continue to "shoot from the hip," and not be too concerned about the "collateral damage" we do in the process?

What are your thoughts?

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