My first response to this is gratitude—gratitude to God for his faithfulness as I have responded to his call to write, but also gratitude to the many people who have read this blog, commented regularly, and supported me through prayer, giving and recommending the blog to others. One of the best and most unexpected gifts has been learning from the many people who have offered fascinating and intelligent reflection in comments, including those with whom I would agree and those with whom I would want respectfully to disagree. I am immensely grateful for the time and trouble you have taken to contribute to the discussion.
As I mentioned in my reflections on writing my 300th blog post early last year, I have learned a tremendous amount by blogging, not least because it has made me discipline my thoughts on a whole range of issues in a way that would not have happened otherwise. But I also hope and pray that the blog will have made a significant contribution to the theological thinking and practice of the wider church, as well as have created a space for respectful debate between people with different views. I post below a piece I wrote for Andrew Davison and the Church Times on the impact of blogging on theological discourse.
Looking ahead, I plan to continue blogging at the current rate for the foreseeable future, that is, two, three or four times a week. I will soon launch a new page outlining ways you can offer support, through prayer, comment and recommendation, and hope to change the way that readers can offer financial support.
I would also like to host a Festival of Theology early next year, inviting contributions from my most regular commentators and enabling online discussion partners to meet face to face. Watch this space for details!
I have several ideas for new subthemes in blog posts, and plan to include more book reviews in the coming year. But if you have any thoughts about what you would like to see discussed here, please comment below.
The two effects of the internet on theological discourse relate (as in other areas of academic study) to distribution and debate. Research has been transformed by the possibility of accessing resources electronically rather than physically—the barriers to research relate much less to physical access and location, so the task of research can be more flexible and focussed. But research has also been transformed by the possibility of debate on blogs and social media, so that new proposals can enjoy response, critique and engagement much more rapidly. Both of these are having a significant effect on theology and on the Church.
Both of these have been heightened by the impact of blogs and social media. (It is not possible to separate the two—technically, social media use is described as ‘micro-blogging’). In the early days of blogging, my impression is that it was greeted with much excitement and enthusiasm, not least because of the simple possibility of direct contact with other scholars whom otherwise you could only meet and exchange ideas with at the occasional conference. Blogs functioned as a mid-point between published work (in depth, monologue, no interaction) and conference encounter (briefer, dialogue, highly interactive) with a medium that could offer the detail of writing, but with the possibility of controlled interaction. Blogging was seen as highly collaborative, so fellow bloggers were partners in exploration, not rivals for blog traffic. A small number became a focus of interest; looking at his archive, I see that Mark Goodacre (at Duke University) posted around 450 times in one year—more than once a day!
Blogging has now become both more accessible (it is very easy for anyone to write their own blog) but also more competitive. Most blogs are well presented; what matters now is whether you get any traffic. And blogging has become a major vehicle for institutions and interest groups to disseminate their ideas. But for me, blogging has had some specific and remarkable benefits.
First, at a personal level, the discipline of putting my ideas into writing has been invaluable, though it has taken some time to learn. Ideas that were just hunches—whether academic or ministerial—can now be worked out, and be subject to reflection and feedback from others. It has made my thinking and speaking more robust and more fruitful in ways I hadn’t anticipated.
Secondly, different blogs do different things. Some simply post quotations, thoughts and links, which take little time and are mainly designed to drive up traffic. They function as useful information services, but often not much more. At the other end, some bloggers post occasional, long pieces, the equivalent of short academic articles. These are useful, as slightly lighter versions of articles from people you know and respect.
But my blog does something distinct: I produce fairly regular articles of medium length that aim to make a contribution to current debate, ideas or practice in theology and ministry. It is unusual because it is time consuming; I started the blog in a sabbatical from my teaching job, but could only invest time in it when I left a full-time academic role. But it does mean I am able to make a distinctive contribution, straddling the boundaries of academic discussion and ministry practice. For example, John Barclay’s new volume on Paul will surely have an impact (over the long term) on the Church’s reading of Paul. But in my blog I can take a key idea from the book and apply it to a current question of debate in the Church, and perhaps a quarter of the clergy of the Church of England will read it. Good theology needs connecting with the practice of ministry, and blogging is a key way this can happen.
Thirdly, an unexpected side-effect of the first two has been the creation of both a community and a space for dialogue. Zygmunt Bauman is not alone in his scepticism about social media.
Social media don’t teach us to dialogue because it is so easy to avoid controversy… But most people use social media not to unite, not to open their horizons wider, but on the contrary, to cut themselves a comfort zone where the only sounds they hear are the echoes of their own voice, where the only things they see are the reflections of their own face.
By setting a particular tone, by avoiding simple polarisations or easy criticism, and by carefully managing some of the boundaries of interaction, I think I have managed to create a space where people of genuinely different viewpoints do engage in constructive debate and learn from one another—often from people they would never have otherwise encountered.
Blogging takes time. But it has been a worthwhile investment, as a platform for research, a space for debate, and a means of ministry.
Follow me on Twitter @psephizo
Much of my work is done on a freelance basis. If you have valued this post, would you consider donating £1.20 a month to support the production of this blog?