The Paroikos Bible Blog exists as a resource to those interested in Biblical studies and Koine Greek. It is hoped that this blog will simultaneously provide food-for-thought to the reader while pointing him or her in the direction of valuable resources, both in print and on the internet, that will further help his or her studies in the Word.

Jan 11, 2014

Proper etiquette for posting comments on blogs

I suppose I can be grateful that I even have to discuss this topic. For a couple of years, the only comments I got were generally along the lines of “fun post/keep up the good work” (all of which I greatly appreciated, by the way). In 2013, however, I started getting spam, as well as some odder comment, including one attempt to direct the reader to a website that will write your doctoral dissertation for you!  (this latter comment was what finally made me decide to moderate all comments before allowing them to be posted) Indeed, there is very good reason why some very prominent bloggers and prolific writers (*cough* my doctoral advisor *cough* J) prefer not to post readers’ comments on their blogs, except for occasionally quoting a notable e-mail. For those allowing comments on their blog, however, some guidelines should be posted. (and let me direct the reader to excellent discussions by Roger Olson, Larry Hurtado, and Ben Witherington).  I would like to call my own views on the matter the “RePoB” principle (for “Relevant, Polite, and Brief”; okay, that’s pathetic, but it’s the best I could think of.  I'm hoping it sounds like "repub," as in, "republish." I’m open to suggestions for improvement, so put it in a comment.)

First of all, be relevant. This, of course, means no spam, but frankly the kind of people who post spam are not the kind of people who would actually read a blog in the first place, so I’m not too concerned about that. Furthermore, Google’s “Blogger” program actually does a decent job at catching spam comments even without the blog creator’s moderation. What this does speak to, however, is what happened to my blog a few months ago. I had written a comparison of four first-year Greek textbooks (the blog post itself is over a year old), and somebody posted a comment about how we should all forget about Greek because the original Greek manuscripts don’t exist, and how everybody should just cleave to the King James Bible. This comment had nothing to do with the purpose of my post (to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of 1st year Greek text books), and thus was promptly deleted. If somebody wishes to ride their hobby-horse of disrespecting one of the languages the Holy Spirit chose to write the Bible in, they’re welcome to do so on their own blog! So, the question one should ask is, “Does my comment actually concern itself with the spirit of the blog post?” How much time (if any) one should spend studying Greek may be a legitimate question, but it’s not very relevant to a comparison of four Greek textbooks (since the presupposition of that post is “yes, Greek is important!”) This would be akin to trumpeting the superiority of basketball on a blog dedicated to baseball fans (the technical term for this kind of internet behavior is “trolling”).

Secondly, be polite. This is actually the only one of my three points that I have not had an issue with on my blog. Everybody who has commented on my blog (including those who disagree with me) has exhibited a reasonable level of politeness. However, I have seen online discussions elsewhere (especially Facebook) where people quickly cross the line from “debate partner” to “jerk.”

To be clear, it’s okay (and even healthy) to disagree with others. In fact, theological dialogue is beneficial to the church as a whole, in my opinion. Yet proper theological dialogue sticks with the issue, not the character of the person one is talking to. There’s a whale of a difference between saying “I disagree with you, and here’s why” and “you’re an idiot” (or even the more indirect “that’s idiotic”). Good theological dialogue at the higher level (in contrast to the college dorm room) should not include your assessment of the other person’s character, intellect, or lifestyle (unless we are dealing with sin, in which case this ceases to be a dialogue and becomes a confrontation, which may be necessary). In other words, your “sparring partner” in this debate on “election/Bible versions/justification/whether or not dogs go to heaven/” may have just said something totally naïve, completely misinformed, or even downright stupid. If so, then the facts and the proper use of logic, as well as the occasional citation of Martin Luther in the original German, should all swing the argument in your favor. You do not need to point out their absurdity or wishy-washiness. If their statement truly is as dumb is you think, a response that focuses on the facts and utilizes critical thinking will surely swing the intelligent reader to your side. If not, then perhaps their statement was not as dumb as you might think.

At the root of the matter is the issue of humility. To attack somebody’s character in what is supposed to be theological dialogue [not the same thing as confronting somebody over heresy] elevates yourself above them as adequate to pass judgment upon their character and their intellect. Yet all of us say stupid things now and then, and most of us (including myself) are not quite as good at evaluating the intellectual merits of somebody’s argument as we think we are. [as an aside, and a shameless plug for Ph.D. work—in my college days, I could scoffingly dismiss an argument with the best of them! During my M.Div., I would at least listen to you before scoffingly dismissingly your argument. Doctoral work, I believe, taught me to absorb and evaluate somebody’s argument much more fairly than before. Hopefully I’m now much less likely to dismiss somebody’s argument as “absurd” without a fair evaluation and a balanced response]

This is a totally different issue from confronting heresy. If a member, deacon, or elder in your church denies the Trinity, or the literal resurrection, or any other essential doctrine (emphasis on “essential”), then you and others in the church have an obligation to confront this person and rebuke him or her. This is not the time for fair, cordial, academic dialogue! (for a relevant discussion on “essential” doctrine, see the fascinating article by Craig Blomberg, “The New Testament Definition of Heresy (Or When Do Jesus and the Apostles Really Get Mad?)” in JETS vol. 45:1, viewable online here.

An Exercise in Dialogue: “Jerk” response vs. “Academic” response
1.    “Only a moron would believe that!”  vs.  “I’m not sure you’re understanding that passage correctly. Here’s why I disagree: . . .”
2.    “If you actually had ministerial experience, you’d see how out-of-touch you are” vs. “Yet my own experience in ministry leads me to a different conclusion. For example, one time . . .”
3.    “That’s an incredibly naïve viewpoint” vs. “But does that really reflect reality? Consider, for example, . . .”
4.    “You understand Barth like a politician understands ethics!” vs. “But let’s look at what Barth really said. In page 56 of Church Dogmatics . . .”
5.    “The Nazis believed the same thing!” vs. sticking with the points under discussion. Godwin’s Rule states, “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.” Thanks to “WiseGeek” for the quote. We evangelicals generally prefer to replace “Nazi” with something else equally repugnant to our theology, like “Calvinist” or “Arminian” or “Dispensationalist” or “Reformed” or whatever]

Finally, be brief. If you disagree with me, I am definitely interested in reading why, especially if you can point me to an academic work that argues the same as you do. I am not, however, interested in reading a 5,000-word essay on how exactly I’m wrong. Frankly, there are a ton of books and articles out there on various topics in Biblical studies that I would much rather read. In other words, give me 300 words on why you disagree, clearly stated, and you have my attention. Anything longer than that and you’ve lost me (and the comment will probably not get posted).

This applies to comments that don’t necessarily disagree with me as well. For example, on a post comparing and contrasting four Greek textbooks, you may provide a 300 word discussion of a book that you think would be beneficial to the first-year student. Anything longer, though, and I would suggest you submit it as a review to a journal or, better yet, post it on your own blog.

So there’s my “RePoB” method of engaging in dialogue on a blog! [patent pending]. I think a lot of these principles could be applied to regular conversation as well (how many of us, for example want to be part of a discussion where only one person does the talking, looks down on everybody else, and scampers off on countless rabbit trails?) Of course, may the Lord grant that I consistently “practice what I preach” (not an easy task, let me assure you)!

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