Sunday, March 24, 2013

Journal Entry: A Theology of Evangelizing Discussion Forums

The following is a letter I sent out to some fellow Christians at my university who have gotten to know me subsequent to my becoming infamous because of the character assassination employed against me because of standing up for my beliefs against the jeers of my "peers" at my university.

It's essentially a theology of how best to evangelize on discussion forums. Feel free to take this "game plan" and apply it as you see it being useful.


[context: I had just copied a conversation with a belligerent person to show how depraved his behavior had become] 

Why did I post this here? Not primarily to complain, but I admit I’m hoping to generate some understanding empathy on the part of the reader. I’m posting this here so that you can see what it is that I’m referring to when I make reference to the [university] forum. This is a “typical” heated fight. These sorts of things, while not as long and drawn-out every time (though sometimes much more so!), are standard fare, and happen on a recurring basis. Because there are so many “critics” on the forum, there is no shortage of supply of belligerent arguers to enter into a thread and begin making the discussion miserable for most of the rest of us. Some of these people thrive on instigating this kind of stuff. And I recognize that there were a few places above, where my words could have been less emotional and I could have avoided letting myself get drawn into the fight. It’s hard. 

You’re often stuck between choosing whether to be gentle or whether to engage in challenge riposte. And this was something I came to recognize early on (years ago, when I started being on the forum)—that you can’t go it alone. You can, but you can’t fulfill all the roles when you’re just one person. To be specific, you can’t be the whole body of Christ when you are only one part. You need, ideally, one person to exposit Scripture, one person to handle apologia to deal with those who question the exegesis of Scripture, one person to engage in challenge riposte with those who refuse to be rational when faced with apologia, one person preach judgment and accuse those who have rejected challenge riposte of being intentionally self-deceived and dangerous false teachers, one person to avoid the back-and-forth and pipe in here and there and constantly draw everything back to the Gospel; one person to be the Lover—the one who couches everything in terms of God’s love and mercy toward us—this takes the wind out of the sails of those who would come belligerently accusing the preachers of Scripture to be sowing hatred and worshiping an angry, mean or evil God. You can add more people on to this, such as a dedicated politician, one who will perpetually present Biblically-based political positions, for example. 

But as you can see, in order to accomplish all the things that need to be accomplished, at once, including 1) preaching the Gospel, 2) teaching Scripture, 3) defending the Faith, 4) rebuking scoffers, 5) preaching judgment and repentance, an 6) preaching Love, Mercy and Grace,  you can’t successfully accomplish this with one person. I would try presenting Biblical positions, this would lead to scoffers and mockers coming out of the woodworks. Presenting apologetics distracted me from the teaching of Scripture, and then when the apologetical answers were utterly rejected, I retreated to calling out the perpetual mockers and referencing the vast history of their rebelliousness as reason (which is nonetheless valid to do) to not bother explaining Scripture to them since they would reject it anyway (throwing what is holy to dogs, is what it is). Then it just devolves into bickering from that point on. 

If you get sucked in, you’ve successfully been distracted away from preaching the Gospel. And in all this, it’s hard to explain to people in any credible way how everything you’ve said is a result of God’s Love for us. In internet forums, where your words are permanent, it’s hard to be harsh toward the scoffers and fools, and then turn and try to be gentle toward the meek, or people who seem otherwise receptive to what you have to say. Two reasons: 1, they can get discouraged by how they’ve seen you talk toward the scoffers (not that you did anything wrong in rebuking them), and 2, the mockers can attempt to interrupt your conversation, since it’s public, and try to disengage both of you from talking to each other. They’ll try to distract you again as explained above, and they’ll try to convince the other person not to listen to you because you’re hateful, ignorant, wrong, etc etc etc. These are unique problems to internet forums (and to famous Christian figures, with whom the dynamic is similar, with an “all-eyes-on” sort of situation). I’ve tried to give a bit of an explanation of how I think it works. To summarize:

                        My theoretical “ideal” Christ-force Gospel-League Saint-Squadron:

1.         The Gospel Preacher. Their job is to preach the Gospel clearly in every thread they can, and to intervene & derail bickering subthreads by turning everything back to the Gospel.
2.         The Bible Teacher. Their job is as simple as can be defined. Speak only the words of Scripture. Give Biblical justifications for everything. This will confound the scoffers.
3.         The Apologist. Their job is to intervene when the Bible Teacher is attacked, and “take the fire” by engaging the critic and proving him wrong and showing him the truth.
4.         The Riposte Challenger. Their job is to intervene when the Apologist has run his course with a recalcitrant sinner, and to play “no more Mr. Nice Guy”
5.         The Judgment Preacher. Their job is to handle the refuse of the Riposte Challenger and to assist the Gospel Preacher by emphasizing God’s righteous judgment on sin.
6.         The Love Preacher. Their job is to intervene when meek unbelievers express distress at the Judgment/Gospel preachers, and explain God’s Mercy, Love and Grace to them.
7.         The Politician. Their job is to provide Biblical applications for everything in human experience that isn’t a creedal position.
8.         The Logician. Their job is to, while coming from a Christian worldview, not explicitly use Biblical references, but reason with people on a “common sense” level, and when they’ve gotten them to a certain level of understanding, to redirect them to the Gospel Preacher, Bible Teacher or Apologist for further instruction. (Dialectical Approach?)
9.         The Sympathizer. There can be many different kinds of these, but their job is to connect with people who have undergone similar experiences, to “be all things to all people.”
10.       The Scientist. Their job is to assist the Apologist by producing ‘random’ factoids and articles that provide evidence to confirm Biblical Christian positions, to confound scoffers.
11.       The Voice of the Martyrs. Their job is to assist the Politician and educate the audience as to the reality of persecution against Christians.
12.       The Eschatologist. Their job is to provide coverage of current events relevant to the Lord’s Return, including Israel, the Beast, the Great Apostasy, etc etc and assist the Politician.
13.       The Fundamentalist. Their job is to assist the Bible Teacher and Gospel Preacher by showing how the Bible is one unit, and if the foundational doctrines fall, the rest will also.

Notice how none of these positions concern a distinct “Evangelist” position or “Prayer Leader” position. This is because Evangelism is the call of ALL believers, and is what all of the above Saints should be preoccupied with, working together to yield a better harvest. And Prayer is the preoccupation of every Christian. Here is a quote from Spurgeon I believe I’ve referenced before: “You are no Christian if you do not pray. A prayerless soul is a Christless soul. You have no inheritance among the people of God if you have never struggled with that Covenant Angel and come off the conqueror. Prayer is the indispensable mark of the true child of God.” And so, ALL of the above should be praying and evangelizing. 

The separate roles I have invented here are not set in stone, they are simply ideas for how to perform better as the Body of Christ by being united in purpose, but distinguished in service according to ability and the direction of the Holy Spirit. This is, I believe, a part of why I have met with trouble in attempting to preach on-line. In part it’s because of my own sinfulness and failure to be the best, because simply, without God, and without the Holy Spirit infusing my every action with His power, I am worthless and my efforts are futile and even counterproductive and destructive. And in part it’s because the Gospel simply causes evil to bubble to the surface. Demonic opposition may be involved, although it may just as well, in some or many cases, be the sinfulness of man’s heart alone, which even without the temptation of demons is inclined to rebel against God, and to hate His Word and His Children. I think that one of the reasons we are told to be in fellowship—to attend Church--is for this reason. It is to give us accountability, yes, but it’s also to enable us to recharge, and to bear our burdens collectively, making it easier for each to bear individually. One of the foremost goals of a church, being composed of believers, is the preaching of the Gospel, and so, being in a church setting naturally provides you with the potential to select a “merry band of Bereans” to join forces with and to go out and to move as one Body, being more effective as a unified whole than as one part alone.

~ Rak Chazak

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