Monday, September 5, 2011 | By: Zachary Bartels

Why the Internet Is Awesome

The Internet has opened up communication in a billion amazing ways. People who long ago drifted apart are now back in touch. Via social media, people who grew up with you are now chatting with your college profs and your boss, whilst gathered around ironic pictures of you in drag. Worlds are colliding! to quote Castanza.

But that's okay. I like it when worlds collide. However, the Internet is actually a pretty clumsy, crappy place to have a group conversation. For example, imagine that two pastors, two seminary professors, a copywriter, a social worker, an artist, and a windmill salesman (right?) are all in someone's living room during a social event. How would conversation play out? A bunch of little discussions would probably break out around the party, right?

Well, not on the Internet. We've got everyone in the room and now everyone's involved in one conversation. Only in true Seinfeld fashion, George and Elaine are talking about one thing, Kramer is chiming in with non sequiturs, and George is looking at his hairline in the mirror, voicing his panicked concern that it is receding unevenly. And, in this conversation, people keep walking out and walking back in. Some of them are still listening when they step out, while others don't bother to catch up with what they miss and just jump right back in without missing a beat. Oh, and the subject isn't allowed to change. If the first thing someone brought up was the recent dive in the stock market, then that's what we're going with. All night. We might experience some digressions, but someone will bring it back around. Does this sound like a fun conversation? Only if you're watching it from the outside.

Case in point: I recently threw up on my wall a little quote from an article by Kevin DeYoung. Now, I loved the article; I thought it was brilliant. I was just throwing the quote up as my facebook status because I thought it was worded a little goofy and might provide a micro-second of entertainment. Like most people, I throw decontextualized, disembodied quotes on my facebook wall regularly (I usually get about five comments).

Then a couple people responded. A pretty interesting conversation started up, which was less and less about the quote. This confused (maybe even upset) some people. Only on the Internet. In real life, if you and I are talking about baseball, then it leads into the recent heat wave, and before long we're talking about our least favorite brand of pastry, no one is confounded. We roll with it. But not on the Internet.

Just for funsies, read through the below exchange (which actually encompassed more than 100 comments), imagining it taking place with a group of people at a dinner party with the very cast I described above. Let your imagination fill in when people enter and exit, what they're wearing, and what items they may be holding (spoiler alert: someone is holding a banjo). And see if the social media is doing anything to facilitate real communication.

I want you to notice how the subject upon which we quickly land is called the "touchstone issue of our faith" by a decades-long seminary professor. This conversation coulda been a contender, if it had some focus. It could have been exilerating and satisfying in real life. But the Internet likes to ruin such things. Also notice how many times the word "disconnect" is used, which is funny considering A.) the notion of a disconnect was the beginning of the "touchstone issue" discussion, before it got disconnected, and B.) this whole thread is full of epic disconnect.

Disclaimer: I've abbreviated names because I asked no one's permission, and abridged the heck out of everyone's bloated posts (my own included) so you can get the gist of things without getting all TL;DR on me.

"Yes, I do think Mormons, Arminians, Egalitarians, and Dispensationalists are wrong—not equally wrong by any means, but on certain matters wrong nonetheless."—Kevin DeYoung. (So there's that...)

TiffCo: This quote gets to the heart of my disconnect with certain aspects of organized faith.

RevZach: How's that?

DrGreek: TiffCo's observation is good. God has given us a perfect bible and imperfect interpreters and commentaries. The real question is whether God will judge us more on our doctrinal statement or how we arrived there and how we hold it.

RevScrib: I'm lost.I have absolutely no idea whether KDY, DrGreek, or RevZach agree with me here, let alone with each other.

Josh: Since these four views do no agree about God, at least three of them must be wrong.

RevZach: Not really; it's easy to be an Arminian, egalitarian dispensatinalist, since these refer to three different categories and aren't mutually exclusive.

DrGreek: You've touched on the "touchstone" issue of our faith ... how do we know and what is the Bible's relationship to knowing? [Makes shameless plug for book he edited]

B-Atch: Like RevScrib, I'm confused. It feels like people are sailing ships past each other.

RevZach: That's cause you and RevScrib are BOUNDED-SET. Ha!

B-Atch: Again, over my head....

RevZach: DrGreek, The book sounds great.

Josh: This whole thing was an advertisement for a book? Do we all get a stipend?

DrRick: Since there are no inspired commentaries, can we add Calvinism to KDY's list?

DrGreek: You are the folks I would love to have in a class to discuss these issues... you are honest about being confused. Keep wrestling with these issues.

RevZach: RICK! How dare you, sir?! BTW, I think we lost TiffCo in the fog.

TiffCo: No, I'm still here. My understanding of God feels like it is beyond language and intellect, much like the analogy of the four blindfolded people feeling different parts of the elephant.

RevZach: I agree that we (the Christian Church, historically) too often act as though we have a near-exhaustive understanding of an infinite God. However, since we believe that Jesus Christ is God in the flesh, in order to be consistent, we must see God as knowable, rather than beyond language and intellect.

RevZach: i.e. when describing a knowable person, one *can* actually be wrong (for example, if someone described me as "thin").

TiffCo: I think we agree more than we disagree, and I appreciate when people's spirit and intellect are in communication.

B-Atch: My real confusion here is: why did RevZach bring up this quote in the first place? DrGreek, I agree with your comments. God will judge your fruit by how much he revealed to each person within the gospel of Christ. Rick, wouldn't adding Calvinism to KDY's list mean that he finds that wrong as well? I'm trying to clear everything up in one comment, since I still feel like everyone's talking past each other.

RevZach: I'm confused as to why you're confused. As far as "clearing everything up in one comment," that's kind of ironic, given the topic.

B-Atch: RevZach, sorry...I spent 40 minutes preparing my last comment, and was out of the loop. It all makes sense now.

DrGreek: I think the question is: how do we think about all the "voices claiming truth" from the same Bible, without falling victim to persuasive people or subjectivism? Since we have diversity of views within the believing community and God has not decreed a way to avoid it, he must have a purpose for it and we need to engage each other with more humility. We need to teach the "how" of handling the Scripture, not just the "what" of systematics.

RevScrib: TiffCo is right about the blind men/elephant analogy. God doesn't hold us accountable for knowledge not available to us. But when the elephant starts talking and telling the blind men about himself, they are accountable for that knowledge.

B-Atch: DrGreek, it sounds like we are on the same page, as you try to guide us through how we make sense of all of the competing doctrines within the various fields in systematics.

Turk: So is DrGreek saying that the Mormon "wrong" is different from the Arminian "wrong?" Is he saying that our faith is a blind faith, invested in a voice we might not really hear and probably don't understand, but trust anyway?

DrGreek: Turk, none of your response applies to what I said. I'm speaking of why one view might be superior to another, rather than assertions of right or wrong. Your question misses the issue of categories; Mormon is not in the same category as Arminian/Calvinist. Mormonism is outside the Christian canon; Arminians are within.I might find the Arminian view inadequate, but am very careful if I call it "wrong."

DrGreek: I would completely reject the idea of blind faith. Faith is not about not-knowing but knowing with conviction.Faith is not blind but full of light.

DrGreek: As to the question of how we know (epistemology), we have to evaluate the nature of our knowing when it comes to theological differences within orthodox Christianity. I know a lot of things that I can't prove, but can assert from a Christian worldview. When we just focus on which camp is "right," we risk missing the Truth due to poorly defined categories.

RevZach: And Turk thought he could just parachute in, drop a whole bunch of snarky questions, and escape through the storm drain.

MissusRevZach: Seriously, did KDY really equate egalitarianism with Mormonism?

RevZach: Knowing KDY, I'm sure that when he said "not equally wrong," he actually meant "not wrong in the same way," but even if he misspoke, I'm glad he did, as it gave birth to this huge theological exchange.

Turk: I thought it was over, and I'd just have to keep my Cat-5 blow to myself, but now I shall prepare a thorough response!

DrGreek: My greatest disappointment about this conversation is that no one has commented about my banjo.

MissusRevZach: Perhaps KDY didn't mean to equate them, but I would think that someone who speaks and writes as often as he does would think about the connotations of putting those things in the same sentence.

B-Atch: Speaking of which, I got to hang out with KDY today. That was fun.

TiffCo: Again, I feel God's presence so strongly, so consistently, that there can be no doubt about what I feel. Beyond that, I know NOTHING. How could I possibly have an opinion about what anybody else claims to know?

RevZach: TiffCo, would you also ask, "How can I have an opinion about what anybody else claims to know," if the claim were 2 + 2 = 4? (not that I'm saying that simple mathematical facts and Christianity are equally self-evident.) If someone says 2 + 2 = 5, can I call them wrong?

TiffCo: I'm picking up what you're layin' down. Honestly, maybe 2+2 sometimes does equal 5. I've never seen it happen, but what I haven't seen would fill two warehouses.

Turk: 2+2=Jesus, dummy.

RevZach: Okay, but you do essentially operate with the assumption that 2+2=4. In fact, every day you bet your life that you know certain things. If you didn't feel a disconnect from math class because they were dogmatic about right answers, why does it apply to the world of faith (remembering that mathematics is, at least potentially, infinite)?

Turk: You are too concerned about immediate gratification, DrGreek. Savor the anticipation.

RevZach:Turk, go ahead and build some suspense. I'm sure the Rev. Dr. Greek, M.Div, ThM, ThD won't be able to sleep tonight, worried sick that four decades of teaching seminary has left him ill-prepared to deal with a PyroManiac...

Turk: Like all the alphabet soupies before him ...

RevZach: "I'm invincible!!!" - The Black Knight

Turk: Your ironic comment misses a lot, as did your take on KDY's statement.

RevZach: I knew I should have spent a decade studying under you instead of all those "alphabet soupies..."

TiffCo: After much thought, I've determined that the disconnect originates with exclusivity of Chrstiainity, as found in John 14:6. (I actually wish this weren't so.)

RevZach: Tiff, I fully acknowledge that that's a tough pill to swallow.

Turk: Oh please -- I have dismantled all of higher education with the phrase "alphabet soupies?" Not any more than you have dismantled orthodox ecclesiology by sarcastically citing another pastor.

Turk: I don't understand how you can read KDY's essay, especially point #5 and think he lacks multiple categories and nuances.

RevZach: I've said at least twice during this conversation that I'm sure KDY did in fact mean "not wrong in the same sense" when he said "not equally wrong." But our discussion has moved rather far away from that little matter by now.

MissusRevZach: TiffCo, I agree that that is a hard passage, although I have found that Biblical exclusivity is actually far more inclusive and all-embracing than most religions. And if there were no exclusive truth claim in Christianity there would be no point in believing any of it at all.

Turk: Moved on? DrGreek's comments began and ended with sentences that contained KDY's last name. TiffCo's beef with exclusivity and DrGreek's comments can't be addressed if we don't agree that both were responding to KDY.

RevZach: So, wait. That was your cat-5 hurricane? And I thought Irene was over-hyped...

B-Atch: This thing is still going on? Holy crap! It was like '64 when I last chimed in. I wish I had some awesome snarky comment to add...

RevZach: Sure, DrGreek made reference to the KDY quote, but those were just a springboard. We're not talking about the biblicism that his article addressed, but the idea of whether and how spiritual truth is truly "knowable" (i.e. in a way that permits us to call others "wrong?")

Turk:If the conversation started out being about KDY's post, and then somehow it became about me, I missed it.

RevZach: Frank, I promise no one's talking about you. You are excused.

Turk: I'm perplexed; the RevZach I know responds with substance, not second-rate condescension.

RevZach: That's it; everyone get out of my house.

Update: Between when I copied/pasted all this into blogger (and started formatting/abridging it) and when I pasted the link into facebook, Turk had offered a kind and sincere apology (accepted and here reciprocated—sorry for the over-the-top snark, Turkish D). But this just adds further weight to my premise. I know Turk for real, not just on the Interwebs, and we've never ended a conversation with a mutual apology. I'm guessing that less than 1% of my "real life" conversations end with me needing to apologize for tone, off-the-cuff comment that went a little below the belt, etc. But on the Internet, I'd say a good 4 or 5% of longish conversations end with me apologizing that I misunderstood someone, trying to explain that they misunderstood me, or trying to backpedal where I'd gone too overboard. I wonder if Skype and the like will eventually become more integrated with social media, blogs, etc., removing these barriers, as we re-gain control over tone, nonverbals, etc.

16 reader comments:

Erin said...

Hilarious when you envision this all going on in one room. Especially B-Atch's randomness. And actually, yours is a very astute observation of the communication problems inherent in social networking sites.

Frank Turk said...

And I posted an apology which, apparently, doesn't make the cut.

More to perplex me.

ZSB said...

See the addendm at the bottom.

Frank Turk said...

You just want me to buy on the 20th.


ZSB said...

That was my master plan from word one.

Brad "The E List "YRR" Superstar" said...

Let's face it, for half the conversation I sound out of it, then I totally redeem myself in two posts. That's right, I'm awesom...(God sticks thorn in Brads side) OUCH! Yup, I admit I am pretty random.

chamblee54 said...

Frank Turk apologized? Is this the same scent I have met?

ZSB said...

I've seen Turk apologize at least half a dozen times (keep in mind that I read his blogs at least three times a week). Have you really met him? That kind of surprises me...

chamblee54 said...

I have never met him in the flesh. I also cannot recall an apology from him. I only read his commentary at pyrodebris. It seems like enjoys a good squabble, and will use all sorts of nasty rhetorical gimmicks in these struggles.
And what does this say about Jesus?

Frank Turk said...

I'm sorry I ever met Chamblee.

Does that count?

chamblee54 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
ZSB said...

Chamblee, I like the photos (although, as usual, they seem unlrelated to the post), am ambivalent about the video,dig the rainbow-text effect, and LOVE the words contained in the text... but what on earth does it have to do with this post or this meta?

Oh, wait, I get it—you're further showcasing how the Internet often fosters random non-sequitur-style communication.

chamblee54 said...

1- I did not read the complete dialog. I seldom have the patience for long discussions like this. When I saw the comment "G-d has given us a perfect bible", I realized that this was built on a shaky foundation. I simply do not agree with that concept.
2- The story that I used is The prodigal son. It is about not giving up on people. It is about not labeling someone a troll, and ignoring everything they say. I see that as highly relevant to the dialog between Mr. Turk and myself.
3- I linked to a video in the story. It is a monolog about the value of parables. It is about taking a text and thinking about the many different meanings that it can have. This is different from calling this text the "word of G-d", and saying that it has a literal meaning. The story of the prodigal son can have many meanings.
4- The Prodigal Son was a parable. It was a made up story, used to teach a lesson. When you call a text a literal piece of work, you contradict the nature of parables. The Prodigal Son story may have happened, or may not have. This is beside the point to the overall story.
5- The video is a song by Tom Waits. While not a direct cause and effect companion to the story, there is a connection. Whatever happens to little boys who never comb their hair?

ZSB said...

Chamblee54 said...
“. [The Prodigal Son] is about not giving up on people. It is about not labeling someone a troll, and ignoring everything they say. ”

Um, no. No, a thousand times no! That is not what the Lord's parable of the lost son is about. Look at the context. It's about salvation. It's about something you won't hear because you're tripped up by the words "God has given us a perfect Bible." Reject it, laugh at it, spit on it, but don't turn it into a benign little collection of nice-isms that you can live with, because, while it doesn't harm God's Word, it makes you look silly to do so.

chamblee54 said...

My point exactly. A parable is like a poem ... it should have a different meaning every time you hear it.
When you take an allegory, and call it a literal work, you are not always going to have the "correct" interpretation.
This story was written by someone. It was written many years after Jesus had his ministry. It was translated at least twice. It was copied by hand, probably more than once. It was compiled into a book by the council of nicea. This is not a copy/paste of a word document written by Jesus.
But, when someone disagrees with your view, and you have a hissy fit, then it makes YOU look silly.

ZSB said...

Okay, I've dealth with the tired, ill-founded claim of "twice-translated" words of Jesus, allegedly far-removed from his ministry here.

And parables aren't allegory. Fairly common rookie mistake.

And this comment thread is actually about the subject of the blogpost. Like all of my blog comment threads, it's not about your beef (and borderline obsession) with Frank Turk.

Comment thread is now un-hijacked. i.e. all comments unrelated to the post (paticularly by those who admit to not having read it) will be deleted post-haste.

That is all.