Wednesday, April 20, 2011

No Comment 2 of 2:

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?


  1. I'm still iffy on the jars idea.

    I think we think of issues that one might consider a 3 or 4 become a 1 or 2 because people look at them in light of the Scriptures. If you're Al Mohler and you see believing in a literal 6 day creation that happened 6000 years ago as essential for the authority of Scripture which he sees as necessary to believe the divinity of Jesus and bang. A jar 3 becomes a jar 1. I completely disagree with him so to me it's a jar 3 or 4 issue.

    Most of us make the same connections back to jar 1 with any issue that we feel passionately about, which makes me question if we're able to really make the case for jars at all.

    As for comments, I HATE news article comments. I simply refuse to read them. But being pretty active in the blogging community, I've seen some exceptional discussions happen in comment sections. Really, a lot of times there are posts that are seriously enhanced by the comment section. And I've seen more than one blogger go back and and do follow up posts about a particular subject based on comments. So I'm confident in the ability for comments to engage dialogue.

  2. Well, there have been prof’s at the seminary I’ve attended who have been young-earth or old-earth believers – both of them having the personal conviction that one really has to adhere to the same view if they are a “Christian”. But both were humble enough to admit this was their personal conviction and neither would have ever believed the other wasn’t saved. In other words, if that truly is Al Mohler’s viewpoint (which I wouldn’t know for certain), I would suggest he may not be humble in his conviction here…and I would certainly hope he wouldn’t think somebody isn’t “saved” because they don’t believe in a literal 6 day creation, as there are literally tons of biblical scholars out there who don’t adhere to a literal day creation…but I digress.

    I think your second paragraph is the key statement. “Most of us make the same connections back to jar 1 with any issue that we feel passionately about.” This is the point I’m trying to make. We “feel” passionately about certain subjects. Many of those subjects the scripture is either silent on, or it doesn’t address as often (or as clearly) as other subjects. Take the subject of alcohol, for example. One member of a congregation has had a family member, friend, or pastor in the past who struggled with alcohol. Due to this, they have a very strong conviction that alcohol in and of itself is sinful, because they’ve seen the evil impact it may have. Another member of a congregation just came from a church where they were told if they wanted to be “members” of this church they must sign a covenant stating they would never drink alcohol. They occasionally drink wine with dinner, so they don’t sign, and in the end, leave that church. The truth is that alcohol in and of itself is amoral. Scripture clearly states the dangers of drunkenness, but never states that having a drink is “sin”. But both have a deep conviction...and both want to make it a Jar 1 -2 issue. Again, humility must come in, here. Both should respect the conviction of the other (Romans 14), not judge the other person for their view – especially since Scripture doesn’t say, “Drinking = sin!”, and focus more attention on the things that matter. (If somebody truly believes that the subject of alcohol is much more important than another person’s eternal salvation…then we’ve at least got a starting point for dialogue with the individual.)

    Honestly, when I think of examples like this, I think much of it boils down to scriptural authority. This was discussed in the original post. Scripture either has authority, or it doesn’t. Oftentimes during a message or counseling session I spell out what the bible says…and the person across the table will say, “Well, I don’t agree with that.” They’re not disagreeing with me, they’re disagreeing with Scripture. They can look at the text, read it, pray about it, and still say, “I just don’t believe that.” That’s a starting point for dialogue. There certainly are passages where they question, “What exactly does this term or phrase here, mean?” But the majority of the time, a passage can be found that’s very black and white, and they just don’t agree with it. This is a starting point for dialogue, as it becomes clear that scripture has no authority in their life. (And to be completely honest, giving scripture full authority in life is very hard…I’ve got a future blog post about this very subject.)

  3. As for blogging comments (obviously, this is a long “comments section” dialogue), I have observed that while they can go well, they still can be detrimental. Email/text dialogue can – and often does – get communicated incorrectly. Somebody reads an email/letter/etc. and reads it in a much different tone than the author originally intended. Instead of replying, they just get angry and move on. In the end, a 5-minute face-to-face dialogue could have salvaged a lot of heartache, but one or both parties were too stubborn to discuss it further. The relationship becomes partially or completely severed, all because of a complete misunderstanding. And this happens far too often…

  4. I agree with Alise about the jars analogy being iffy. On the surface, the jars idea seems nice and neat and tidy. Our society is one that likes neat and tidy. But life is anything but neat and tidy. So what ends up happening with the jars mentality is that it allows everyone to ignore the elephant(s) in the room and it also allows things to rot and fester. Nothing is resolved and a false tranquility is maintained.

    Now within the mainstream church (as an institution) model, the jars mentality works really well for the leadership, as it creates an illusion that everything is resolved and nothing is threatening the hierarchy structure. But for those who are in the pews, the view can be drastically different. The long history of church schisms and splits and the plethora of new churches that pop up are proof that treating certain issues as less important is detrimental to maintaining harmony within a single body of believers.

    The jars mentality is much like the building mentality in that both create a static position that then must be defended and maintained. Both create a certain sense of safety, but do so by limiting the freedom of the individual and the freedom of the spirit to direct as needed.

    When I read the words of Jesus, I do not read about safety and security. I do read about the dangers of being a believer and relying heavily… no, whole-heartedly, on God and the spirit. So I would argue that if there is any place that the jars mentality should not exist, it should be within a fellowship of believers. Within a fellowship, people should be equal, submitting one to another and not to a hierarchy. If there is a dispute, it should not be jarred up, but discussed.

    All of this is to answer your question about why people comment so much on blogs and news articles. Sure you’re going to have your trolls and narcissistic people. And you are going to have those who try to influence others or use it as a place for debate. And on and on goes the descriptions of commenters. But I think more than anything it allows people to feel like they have a voice.

    - mike

  5. @subversivechurch:

    I'm not sure you read the post very well. I think it was pretty clear that subjects should be discussed, and not "jarred up" as you put it. Anyway, the Jars don't create an illusion that everything is OK. Instead, the illustration is used in order for everybody to understand that there may be differing interpretations of some passages, but not others. Those passages in which Lutherans, Methodists, Baptists, etc. all say, "This means _____" and they all agree, those are the Jar 1/2 issues. I don't see how this is a control mechanism or an illusion. When there may be discussions, the end should still be, "Let's agree to disagree on this subject but press-on together for what's more important...the gospel message of Jesus the Messiah/King.

    Of course those who have those understandings also believe in giving scripture authority in our lives (i.e. they believe the Bible to be "God's Word"). Assuming one doesn't have this understanding, I wouldn't imagine them to agree to the illustration.

  6. No, I read the post just fine, I'm just saying that for some, certain issues are able to be neatly packed away, while for others, certain issues are not so neatly tucked away with an "agree to disagree."

    Because the concept of "agree to disagree" isn't a permanent resolution to a disagreement, eventually the issue will need to be addressed. This is why I call the jar analogy an illusion of resolution. Also, the jar illustration is not a control mechanism for every church, but it is for some.

    It might be better to read my comment with the understanding that I was responding more to the questions posed at the end of the post than on the post itself. Consider it a view that doesn't agree with the jar illustration if that helps.

    - mike

  7. Well, experience tells me that people of every Christian background or denomination adhere to the Jars (whether they know it or not). I can talk with them about any issue - which you say will need to be addressed - and ask them what's more important, getting to the bottom of that issue (or agreeing on it) or reaching others with the gospel and discipling them (or loving God and loving others). Every time I've had this conversation with somebody, whether they be Catholic, Lutheran, Baptist, Episcopalian, Methodist, Seventh Day Adventist, etc., every single time they've said, "definitely the latter." So while "agreeing to disagree" may not be the end result, both parties have always agreed there are other issues/doctrines that take precedence. If ever there was a conversation that didn't turn out this way, the other wasn't a professing believer and/or didn't adhere to scripture as God's word.

    Therefore, the "resolution" is focusing on what's most important.