I’ve been putting this post off for a while. Mostly due to time (I just finished finals for the current semester). But also because I wanted to ensure that I had my own personal thoughts finalized before presenting them for the whole world to see.
In my first post I made note of the judgmental (sometimes hateful) words that are shown all throughout the user comments written in the “comments” section of news media articles online. To be honest, I’ve disobeyed my own words in my “note to self” and have read some additional comments over the past few days. I wish I hadn’t, as the behaviors in the self-made examples I posted continue to be seen. Seeing words of hatred spewed toward the U.S. President, or each other causes me great concern.
With this being said, the question now is, “Is there ever a time when commenting is appropriate?” A great question. And I think the answer is undoubtedly yes, but “choosing our battles” has to be first and foremost, as far too often what one may choose to post doesn’t go through a filter first. A disagreement comes to mind, and instead of thinking it through, a reply is made. Pretty soon a debate can begin about something that really isn’t of much importance. So one has to think, “Is this really worth putting out there or not?” Many times, comments are not worth putting out there. Or they’re put out there to purposefully change the subject at hand instead of providing actual feedback or dialogue.
Not only should we choose our battles, but we should think through the absolute importance of the subject at hand. “Christians” will many times post comments about subjects that are not (or should not be) of greatest importance within the Christian life. To illustrate this, I generally turn to an analogy of 4 Jars. (Note: I’ll likely refer to the Jars analogy a great deal in future posts, so it’s certainly worth understanding my perspective on this).
Generally speaking, subjects that should be of greatest concern to a follower of Jesus fall into Jars 1 & 2. These are sometimes referred to by others as “close-fisted” subjects. They are the topics that one doesn’t change their theology or understanding of. Examples may include:
Jar 1: What’s essential to be a follower a Jesus? - Faith in Jesus as resurrected Savior, etc.
Jar 2: A Set of beliefs of a church or group of churches that are essential to the Christian faith – Scripture as having full authority, the doctrine of the Trinity, Jesus as God, etc. Some may include doctrines such as Eternal Security, or a biblical definition of marriage here as well. (It should be noted that a biblical definition of marriage – one man, one woman – does not mean one should not advocate domestic partnerships or other “rights” of all individuals.)
After these two Jars, are two more which are doctrines and personal beliefs, of which there may be disagreement.
Jar 3: A set of beliefs of a church that can be disagreed on – Various theological positions on the rapture, speaking in tongues (earthly language vs. angelic language), etc.
Jar 4: Personal beliefs or convictions: Alcohol is one often brought up in an area like this.
There could also be a Jar 5. These are subjects which are far too often promoted to Jar 1. This includes subjects like Politics. I’ve heard countless people tell me, “One cannot be a democrat (or republican) and be a Christian.” I find this so very frustrating! The same logic would say, one cannot be a murderer and be a Christian, or a prostitute, or whatever. But scripture is full of examples to the contrary. Once one is a follower of Jesus, they are part of the Kingdom of God. That is the first priority. Not Western Politics, but representing the King. Let’s leave these subjects where they belong…
Sadly, far too often people will comment and even have huge amounts of disunity on Jar 3 / 4 subjects. These are the areas many people spend the bulk of their study and attention and discussion, leaving the crucial aspects of the Christian faith lying on the side. I find this a bit disheartening, and believe that if followers of Jesus would spend more time in the word (not just talking about what the word says about consuming alcohol), we would all see the subjects that are of much greater importance to the faith.
Now, if this rule of thumb is followed well, it will significantly decrease the number of comments made, and will (at the very least) have one think a little differently about a Jar 3 / 4 subject before posting comments to news articles online. Nevertheless, when one sees a book, blog, article, etc. that disagrees with something that would fall into a Jar 1 /2 or “close-fisted” belief, then that’s when [I believe] a well thought-out comment is worth providing.
For example, as many of you are probably aware, there’s a new book out titled, “Love Wins”. Why is there so much commenting or blog articles about “Love Wins”? For one, when a book comes out by a Christian/Orthodox author (as Bell claims to be) which discusses the subject of eternity, that’s a subject that may be worth commenting. There is a firm (perhaps “fundamental”) belief that one has on this subject. If one has their understanding on eternity based from the Scriptures, and it differs from somebody else’s understanding, then there should be dialogue about it.
What troubles me is that there isn’t a whole lot of actual dialogue. Instead, there’s a great deal of he-said/she-said… Don’t get me wrong, I have read and seen some great reviews and blogs on the subject where the author fully commends Bell for some of his perspective but disagrees with some of his conclusions and offers scriptural passages and references to back it up. To these writers, I commend you. I have also seen snarky reviews where there was absolutely nothing good to say about the book at all. I find this strange, as Bell has always inclined me to think of things in a different perspective. While I certainly don’t always agree with him, he has always given me food for thought.
Unfortunately, it seems to be a very two-sided issue. One either agrees with Bell, or they don’t. There is no dialogue. It’s very much a “pick your side” kind of conversation. This is frustrating to the core.
Personally, I’m in the middle. I believe that Bell makes some good points throughout the book. Nevertheless, one of the major arguments in the book focuses on a biblical text (in Greek) and discusses how it should be translated and how it’s been incorrectly translated throughout the centuries. There’s only one problem with this: Rob Bell changed the Greek text. He changed the phrase using similar verbiage, but nevertheless, words that have a slightly different contextual meaning.
Why is there so much commenting on the book? Because this is a Jar 1 /2 issue. The scripture has authority, which means we don’t have authority of the scripture. If one changes the text, they’re claiming their own authority over God’s Word. This isn’t a “no comment” kind of situation. If somebody is a follower of Jesus, I think a published rewording of a biblical text is something anybody should feel free to call out. One should not reword a biblical text to purposefully give it a slightly different contextual meaning than scholars have given it for centuries. As Dave Ramsey has said, “If something is 98% true, it’s still a lie.”
Don’t get me wrong, there are insights within “Love Wins” that are valuable. Quite valuable. But changing the biblical text causes me great concern. This is something that should be discussed. If Bell isn’t willing to discuss why he changed the text, I can see why some would seriously question his theology in other Jar 1 / 2 areas. However, I don’t think one should judge Bell (that’s God’s job) or rid themselves of all Rob Bell literature believing that he will never provide valuable insights. He always has and always will be a gifted teacher. And as with any teacher, some lessons will be of little value, but others will be of great value. Hold onto the ones worth holding onto, and move on from all others.
To those in one “camp”, I understand your concern about Bell changing the text. But were there no other benefits to reading the book? Did you not gain any insights or biblical perspectives that will help you mature in your relationship with Jesus? To those in the other “camp”, please understand that showing concern for changing the biblical text is a noteworthy concern. And this type of concern can be made in love. It is not hate speech for somebody to suggest that an author may have made an exegetical error by changing the text. Speaking biblical truth shouldn’t be frowned upon. To both camps, I’m sure if you’ll actually discuss the subject instead of just continuing to use the same talking points, you may discover that you agree on more than you may realize. And if that’s the case, let’s stop wasting our time and get back to focusing on Jar 1 / 2 issues, and reaching others in the name of Jesus.
What are your thoughts on commenting (on news media, blogs, etc.): Do you believe people comment far too often? Are their comments made to have dialogue? Other thoughts on Jars 1-4?