Sunday, June 14, 2009 | By: Zachary Bartels

Everybody's Talking About Hero Worship

I've noticed that, over the past month or so, just about every reformed blogger has been talking about the notion of Christian hero worship--whether it's making a saint and martyr out of that bikini pageant lady (the one who stood up to some pseudo-famous, unfortunate-looking gossip blogger) or putting John Piper, John Calvin, or John Bunyan up on a pedestal as inerrant exegetes who speak ex cathedra. There has been appropriate caution urged. The cream of the crop, in my opinion, was a piece comparing the unquestioning veneration of famous pastors to pornography.

But in all these articles, one thing's been glaringly absent: any acknowledgement that, in today's technological world, many of these bloggers themselves are the objects of hero worship. I had been blogging for quite some time when I finally began to realize just how popular some young, restless, reformed bloggers have become. While I was putting together the initial blog list for www.calvinati.com, I became familiar with dozens and dozens of blogs. And when I realized which ones were super-popular (and which ones had tiny or non-existent reader bases), I was incredibly suprised--both by the gap between the reader-rich and read-poor and by the sometimes questionable taste of the masses.

As with most niche demographics these days, the YRR movement has its Internet darlings. I would guess that each of the ten most popular boasts more readers in a year than any fifty scholarly biblical commentators who pour decades of their lives into producing insightful, accurate, helpful studies and commentaries. This both saddens me and reminds me of the unfortunate situation among emergent types, wherein the most vocal leaders with the most loyal minions claim no particular insight into the text, no special level of study, and no desire to rectify that.

You see, it dawned on me a few days ago that most of the uber-popular bloggers of the reformed persuasion do not have a seminary education. I'm not going to start listing people, but even among those you would assume have been to seminary, upon a little investigation it seems that most have not. Those bigtime blogs with multiple writers?--yeah, one or maybe two contributors studied systematic theology, Koine Greek, and exegetical method under qualified men and women.

Does it matter? Hmmm, that's a tough one to answer. Certainly, there is no Scriptural mandate that pastors need to get an MDiv (and make no mistake--most of these bloggers are effectively functioning as pastors to many of the hundreds who loyally come back day after day to receive the next post.) In fact, Spurgeon didn't even have a seminary degree (something about a pig's tail). And certainly, the Holy Spirit has often called people into ministries whether or not they've got the standard outward credentials (think Moses, Gideon, or the Virgin Mary).

But how do we discern what is valuable to the church among the almost infinite number of blogs and websites out there? Is it based on who has the soundest doctrine? The most insightful perspective? The most ready-packaged application? The largest cache of free online materials? The sharpest looking presentation? Most stylish graphics? Most lively debate in the comments section?

I'd never suggest that only the seminary educated and ordained are fit to blog about the faith. Such a thought would be pure folly--Heaven save us from ivory tower Christianity. I'm just asking: what makes someone a superstar in our tiny little sub-culture on the web? And based on these criteria, is the level of authority attributed to each man really warranted?

Your thoughts, please.

7 reader comments:

Seth McBee said...

I only read blogs that make me think more about the deeper meanings of the Scriptures. I want it to be done where the reading is interesting and the writer is willing to talk out his convictions...

If I want to learn sytematic theology...I don't go to blogs. If I want to learn about contemporary understandings of historic orthodoxy? That is where the blogging world can be great.

I like to interact with others who have different perspectives so that I can discuss with those I don't necessarily worship with corporately. But, if the blogger won't respond to his own posts...I won't read them.

I like discussion. If I want just their opinion with no discussion, I will just read their books and listen to their sermons...this is why I don't read a lot of the popular preachers out there on their blogs...

Anyways...not sure if I answered your questions in any way at all...sorry.

Mark said...

You have much the same dynamic going on with Christian pop artists and performers. The theology they spew ad nauseum in between songs is accepted without question by their adoring fans.

We make someone prove their credentials and rigorously check backgrounds before we allow someone into our pulpits ... but hey, if you can play a guitar and carry a tune, anything you say is fine by me!

Tell me about what inspired you to write the song ... share anecdotes about the band ... tell me how Jesus impacted your life if you can do it without preaching at me ... but perhaps we would all be served best if you just let your words and music stand on their own.

It's the classic advice to new writers: write about what you know. If you don't know it, leave it for someone else.

That's why you seldom see any theology on my blog, though I hold Christ and His church dear to my heart.

ZSB said...

> We make someone prove their credentials and rigorously check backgrounds before we allow someone into our pulpits ... but hey, if you can play a guitar and carry a tune, anything you say is fine by me!

Good point!

Jonathan Shelley said...

I just try to be thoughtful, honest, and discerning, even if I look foolish.

mikewittmer said...

That is an interesting point about the education level of bloggers. I wonder if the blogosphere, and the number of readers that follow them, might inadvertently contribute to the belief that theological education really isn't that important for Christian ministry.

ZSB said...

Dr. Wittmer,
I do think you're on to something there. The blogosphere in general seems to imply that it doesn't matter if you have studied something for years and years and are an expert on the subject--everyone has an equal "voice." And the voices that are heard the most are generally of skilled web page designers, rather than knowledgable or qualified experts in their fields.

happyscottsman said...

Mike,

Contribute to or reenforce the belief? I remember people being distrustful of the seminary-educated long before we were all on MyFacebookSpaceTweeter, or whatever it's called these days. I think the blogosphere is just the latest technological advance that allows the disenfranchised masses to express themselves in a way that combines celebrity (or at least notority) with a sense of pseudo-anonymity.

All that being said, I think Mark really hit the nail on the head in his comment. As long as you can entertain me, say whatever you want.