There are all kinds of internet people.
There’s, admittedly, myself. I am an internet person. I enjoy my time on the internet writing, interacting with people on Facebook and the like. There are other Christian internet people, too. They also like interacting with people on social media. Then, there are unbelieving internet people. Atheists, agnostics, Muslims, Spiritualists, etc. They, too, like interacting with other people on social media.
All of these groups have one thing in common. Most people within each are not afraid to disagree with other fellow internet persons––myself included.
It’s easy to disagree with people who live hundreds, or even thousands of miles away. In one respect, the internet has handicapped our ability to be courageous, bold, and yes, respectful. We are apt to disagree online because there is little to no actual FaceTime between person A and person B. That disagreement can even end up in a train wreck of disrespect, simply because of distance and the lack of personality that comes with text-only discussion.
This short blog series serves to point out faults within myself and others––inevitable faults which come with the mixture of sinful people and the internet.
How do Christians do the internet wrong?
We Christians are perhaps some of the worst. The whole “Love your neighbor” thing goes out the window so long as others are represented in pixels rather than flesh and blood. That’s perhaps the first fault. We lack serious Christian charity and, in a sense, bear bad witness to the gospel, which ought to be adorned rather than abused.
Another thing we Christians are bad at (or good at, depending on your point of view), is trying to teach really bad theology. Many, if not most, Christians on the internet teach other people (sometimes without even thinking about it) outside the context of the church, and this often leads to, well… really weird things.
What do I mean?
Christians online often make statements which are not statements that would be approved by any orthodox local congregation. This creates a very confused environment online. I suppose one could say that online Christianity represents what evangelicalism probably looks like to the rest of the world. Internet Christians make the church look like she has no idea what she really believes.
Unfortunately, this is because professing Christians often write without thinking (I’ve done this) and say things that are theologically off base (I’ve done this too). This is perhaps the worst mistake Christians make online.
We confuse the lost. That’s not a good thing.
The reason it’s not a good thing is because lost people will look for any excuse to indict the church on charges of hypocrisy and lack of unity. Unbelievers want to charge God with dishonesty because they perceive a lack of unity among brothers and sisters in Christ. It is okay to not be uniform in secondary and tertiary issues, but when the essentials becomes marred online we straight up make fools of ourselves.
For example, we can’t keep going around mischaracterizing the doctrine of God and, specifically, the doctrine of the Trinity. This stuff is as basic as basic gets for the Christian system of belief. In other words, there are some doctrines, such as the aforementioned two, that are settled.
Also, why in the world do we think there is this great need to chart a middle ground between any two conflicting positions?
Sometimes, it’s ok for there to be two opposing positions concerning any one subject. This is what disputation is for! Today, there is this overcommitment to finding a via media between one historical position and another positions (ahistorical or not). I readily charge New Covenant Theology with this overcommitment, and while the covenantal debate rages outside the blogosphere and social media, it certainly takes a pixel form as well. There is simply no need to synthesize Dispensationalism with a particular historical form of Covenant Theology. The desire to chart a middle way, even when there’s no need or warrant for that middle way, is bearing a bad witness to the Christian faith in general.
Internet Christians also need to stop permitting innovation.
Innovation is often seen as a good thing within internet Christian circles because it allegedly screams Semper Reformanda (always reforming). But this is only to confuse foundational development with gimmickry. Theological development doesn’t happen in a vacuum; theological development happens upon the foundation of fundamental principles which have already been observed by the church. This is why confessional and credal Christianity is so important.
If you want to demean the practice of having a common confession, perhaps the internet is not the right outlet for you. You’re not qualified to talk about divinity (Eph. 4:14).
Lastly, another fault of internet Christians is their inability to admit when they are wrong, and it is here that I personally say––sorry.
I have been extremely guilty of this, so much so that I do not feel I should write anymore on this last fault. All I can say is, we ought to be honest with ourselves and especially with our other online brethren, and even with our unbelieving opponents.
Not admitting defeat is a sign of dishonesty, and the Christian life is not characterized by dishonesty per the ninth commandment (Ex.20; Deut. 5).
All of that said, I hope we, as fellow internet Christians, can improve our behavior online. This will lead us to be a powerful force for the gospel of Jesus Christ. We can continue our debates and disagreements. In fact, the church without debate in this world is like a crippled lion. It may have much to roar about, but in the end, it can’t defend itself. These debates, however, ought to be carried out with the utmost benevolence, linguistic quality, and accurate theological content––to the glory of our almighty God.