This post has no agenda other than to answer a question asked of me from time to time: Why don’t I write more controversial blogposts? After all, it’s an easy way to get blog traffic. People always slow down and look at traffic accidents and fights in the blogosphere.

First, let me be clear that the way I write is my preference; it is not an indictment on how others write. Indeed, I am not trying to make this post controversial by implying that other bloggers have it wrong.

Second, I have on rare occasions written a post of a more controversial nature. I don’t avoid the potential of conflict altogether. There is indeed a time to have a prophetic voice. I just don’t desire to provide a regular serving of the negative and controversial.

Third, I believe healthy debate is good, particularly when we discuss such important matters as the Bible, theology, and the local church. Unfortunately, many of those healthy debates degenerate into name-calling and ad hominem attacks. It’s easy to be brash behind the comfort and security of a keyboard.

I have five primary motives for avoiding negative and controversial blogging as a rule. These five are in no particular order.

  1. A controversial post often creates sides, dividing people who probably agree on most issues. Again, healthy debate is good. It is difficult, however, to keep our emotions in check when someone takes a position counter to ours. Thus an otherwise unified group can be become fragmented rather quickly.
  2. As a Christian I see one of my primary roles to be the building up the body of Christ. “So then, we must pursue what promotes peace and what builds one another” (Romans 14:19). “No foul language is to come from your mouth, but only what is good for building someone in need, so that it gives grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29). “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up as you are already doing” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).
  3. Divided Christians are a poor witness for the watching world. I understand clearly that many who are not Christians read blogs by Christians. Some of the blog conversations are anything but a positive testimony for the gospel.
  4. Negative and controversial blogposts can lead to more negative and controversial blogs. I spoke with a blogger who stopped writing negative posts. He saw his readership decline precipitously, so much so that he was tempted to revert back to controversial blogging. If you feast on writing controversial posts, you must keep the negativity going to keep the readership; otherwise it’s famine.
  5. Negative blogging drains me emotionally and spiritually. I desire to put my energies into other areas. For me, life is too short to spend so much of my energy that I fail to give time to prayer, the Word, my church, and my family.

I hope I don’t stir up debate with this post. Remember, this perspective is mine and about me personally. It would be ironic if a blogpost about avoiding controversy stirred up controversy.

What is your perspective? What do you think of my perspective?

 

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Comments

  1. Hank Ventress says

    Thom -
    You nailed it. I come to your blog for two reasons: content and your irenic spirit. May your tribe increase. We really need more like you.

  2. says

    Thom –
    If by “negative” you mean “unnecessarily critical,” then of course who can deny what you are saying? There are certainly an army of people who, frankly, never have a kind word about anything, and they are not doing what they think they are doing when it comes to truth, discernment, love, peace, patience, etc.
    But if by “negative” you mean disagreeing with someone who is, all told, “on our side,” then I think you’re missing the boat — especially when it comes to issues like what it means to build up, and the basis of controversy, and the meaning of actually delivering the truth in love. For example, how does one disagree with you about this post and not be accused of “tearing you down,” or “dividing Christians”? Dissent and even disagreement is not inherently sinful: the means by which we resolve these issues will speak more clearly to our sanctification than the fact that we feel we must speak to them.
    There are a lot of people who simply don’t want to be seen as a bad guy. They don’t want to be the person who is willing to note that in a list of 25 key issues where he would agree with someone else on 22 in the list that the other 3 matter substantially. The problem with this approach is that if we then revise the list of key issues to 22 without any exchange of principles, we have by default dumbed down our principles — and will, over time, reduce ourselves from 25 to 22 to 18 to 14 to 10 to 5 to no principles because we don’t want to be disagreeable.
    Good men can disagree honestly about core issues. They can also do it with love and respect. The key is to follow Christ into the argument, and then follow him out — staying behind him the whole way.

  3. Joshua says

    Great post. Keep the edification going Bro. Rainer. I agree that the keyboard empowers too many folks to be negative and doesn’t lead to healthy spiritual discussion but instead to infighting.

  4. says

    Every Christ followers main goal is to lift up Christ and show the world his love and mercy. The world will be drawn to us way more through love than it will be by stirring up controversy.

  5. Zack says

    A hearty kudos! I honestly wish more bloggers would adopt this stance, especially within the SBC. Sometimes it gets exhausting reading the same ol’ battles over and over again.

  6. Thom Rainer says

    Frank -
    If I missed the boat, it won’t be the first time! To extend the metaphor, I sometimes don’t even get close enough to the water to see the boat.
    You are articulate as always. Your response is on target and a good reminder of the other perspective of critical blogs. The tone of a critical blog and its interaction is largely left to the writer of the blog. And there are some bloggers who indeed respond in a Christlike manner with love and respect.
    My blog today is more of a personal issue rather than an attempt to be some type of corrective to the blogosphere. In other words I’m dealing with the log in my eye and not the splinter in others.

  7. says

    Dr. Rainer, I agree. Early on in my writing career I was a politics junkie and used my personal blog to express my thoughts on current events and what was happening in the news. But the debate that sometimes occurred never ultimately brought solution or agreement – especially in a virtual world. At least if you’re sitting down across the table from someone, you can have a civil conversation. As you said, it’s too easy for someone in just a few seconds to toss mean and ugly comments through the tapping of the keys.
    My wakeup call was a moment when I was moving more and more into ministry and someone who had just signed up as a volunteer with my ministry took offense to something I posted on my personal FB page that was politics-related. She and I had different political convictions and while I separated ministry from my political views, she made it very clear she did not. She saw them as one and the same and because she disagreed with my politics, she also had a negative reaction to my ministry. I had to ask myself a hard question: what mattered more – sharing Christ with others, or sharing my political views and letting those views perhaps be a block to sharing Christ with some people? From that day forward, I no longer blogged about political matters, or linked to political things on social media (every once in a while, I slip and start to, but 9 times out of 10 I delete them because I ask myself the question, is it worth it?).
    When it’s all said and done, someone’s eternity weighs far, far more than debate over government policy. Now, where morality and biblical convictions apply, that’s a different issue altogether I think. In those areas, while I think we have to pick our battles, we should at least be willing to step into the fray when we feel God is calling us to it. But again, is a blog post the best place for that? Not necessarily.

  8. Thom Rainer says

    Sara -
    Well stated! You appear to have written a few things before :) .
    Indeed sometimes the blogosphere is a difficult venue to communicate fully and clearly.
    I encourage my readers to go to your ministry site, SaraHorn.com. What you are doing for our military and military spouses needs to be known!
    Blessings.

  9. says

    Thom,
    This post helped me keep things in perspective. I do agree with Hank that healthy debate is important. It’s how we sharpen one another. I also think that some may have more of a prophetic calling to stand up for the truth, especially in this world of relativism. That, in itself, is sorely needed.
    But the point I took away from your post is, no matter what we say in our blog, say it with love and edification, and don’t tear people down. Point well said.

  10. says

    I agree that we should not seek to stir up controversy for the sake of generating traffic. Too often in a controversy, the other side is misunderstood or represented as a straw man, easily knocked down.
    That being said, I think that we need healthy critique of what we are presenting to a lost world. Yet, that critique should be done thoughtfully and in love.
    What I see happen too often in posts and comments is digital recreation of WWI trench warfare. Each side in the argument is firmly camped in his own trench and lobs grenades at the “enemy.”
    What we need instead is effort taken to understand before offering critique. I learned this lesson the hard way recently with a post I wrote concerning atheism.
    Thanks for writing this post.

  11. Chris Wright says

    Thom,
    I was recently berated by a fellow Pastor because I refused to get into more controversial issues on social media. I attempted to respond much in the same way as your blog, but you have completely outlined my feelings better than I did. I agree with you on all accounts, especially about wanting to put my energy into more productive endeavors. Thank you, I enjoy reading your blog.

  12. Randy Duvall says

    I appreciate this advise,I’m planning to include a blog on my future web site cooltracts.com. I have found that nobody is won over during an heated discussion. Most of the time each person is pushed into a further commitment to what they believe. It’s Pride takes over for both and nobody is better for it. I do believe that on a one to one basis where you have already earn the respect of the other person you can cover more controversial subject.

  13. Thom Rainer says

    Mark -
    ” . . . that critique should be done thoughtfully and in love.”
    That says it all friend.
    Chris -
    I am sorry you were hit with negativity for not being negative. That’s a bit ironic. Focus your energies on those things that really matter. Thanks.
    Randy -
    One-to-one, in person communication is always best if possible. Thanks for your kind words.

  14. Roberta Jones says

    Your list resembles my self-chosen boundaries on Facebook. I write posts about the environment, and God’s natural world. Thanks for the reminder to continue in a soft, careful direction!

  15. says

    Thom,
    Thank you for your insightful thoughts. I agree with you.
    I experienced the wave of increased readership when I created a negative post entitled “Should I Quit?”
    I had some specific purposes for writing the post. I was trying to call attention to the affect that negative “I quit” kind of talk has on the people around us. It was a real problem in our congregation at the time. By putting me at the center of the statement, I was hoping to get people to see themselves and their actions through a different perspective. It worked.
    At the same time, however, many other readers from outside our local congregation read the post as well. It had all kinds of negative effects with them. I’m not sure that the added trouble in the overall body was worth the “shock value” and positive effect in our local congregation.
    Our actions and words truly have repercussions. Negative words breed negative words.
    Thank you again for your thoughts today.
    Pete

  16. says

    DR Rainer
    That is something I have always appreciated about you…i.e. you are not known as being a divisive and negative person. You provided a lot of ministerial training for me via your books (i have read most all of them). That training has been reinforced by your godly conduct in the blogasphere. In addition, because controversy and negativity are so out of character for you, if you DO ever decide to get negative about something you would have my undivided attention!

  17. Thom Rainer says

    Roberta -
    Good word.
    Pete -
    Thanks for sharing your story. I have those type of reminders myself.

  18. Thom Rainer says

    Scott -
    Your words are incredibly encouraging. I just want you to know that, through just a few lines, you have truly ministered to me. Thank you.

  19. says

    Dr. Rainer,
    I appreciate your words and consider them wise ones. As Christ-followers it is important that we practice love and respect for others — even those with whom we personally and strongly disagree. I can’t quite imagine Jesus writing a blog post purely for the satisfaction of stirring up controversy. That is completely counter to His character.
    That said, there were certainly times when Jesus spoke words — truthful words — that were not well-received by those around Him. Many of them no doubt would have pegged him as controversial and negative. That’s still true today, isn’t it?
    I think that there are times when the Holy Spirit prompts us to share thoughts, ideas, and views that might not be well-received. But I contend that it is not so much the message itself as the TONE of the message that causes the most offense. Some of my own posts in blogs and social media could be viewed as controversial. However, I never write or post such things purely for the purpose of upsetting others. God has gifted me with the ability to absorb a good amount of heat and still respond with kindness and respect. Perhaps it is through such interaction that unbelievers will detect that there is a difference in those who called themselves Christ’s disciples. One thing is for sure: If we belong to the King, then we are ambassadors for His Kingdom. And people are always watching how well we represent Him.
    Thanks for your openness and kind spirit. I enjoy your posts very much.

  20. James Jackson says

    Thanks, Dr. Rainer. As a LifeWay employee, this post makes me very grateful you’re at the wheel. Please continue to lead with integrity. Don’t shy from the prophetic voice IF, and only if, it builds up the Bride.

  21. says

    I’m with you, Thom. Coincidentally, I posted a blog today called “Why you shouldn’t ever argue.” My point was that we should purge our meetings and daily interactions of emotional conflict, but encourage healthy debate on important issues. The verse I keyed on is Pr 29:22 – “An angry man stirs up dissension, and a hot-tempered one commits many sins.” – (NIV)
    Another one I like is “To start a conflict is to release a flood; stop the dispute before it breaks out” (Prov. 17:14).

  22. says

    As an example of healthy, gracious, good-witness, edifying-the-body public Christian controversy, I’d like to highlight the interaction between Kevin DeYoung and Jefferson Bethke over Jefferson’s viral Youtube video, “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus”.
    1.) “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1IAhDGYlpqY)
    2.) Kevin’s critique, “Does Jesus Hate Religion? Kinda, Sorta, Not Really” (http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/2012/01/13/does-jesus-hate-religion-kinda-sorta-not-really/)
    3.) Excerpts from their subsequent email exchange (http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/2012/01/14/following-up-on-the-jesusreligion-video/)
    I felt real joy when I witnessed it, because they exemplified humility & graciousness, without sacrificing dealing with the substance of the important ideas they discussed. Kevin raised his concerns about the way that Jefferson spoke, but without throwing Jefferson under the bus, or making unreasonable worst-case-scenario assumptions about Jefferson’s intent, or dismissing the good & valid things that Jefferson was trying to say. (And many critiques of Jefferson’s video did fail on those points.) Jefferson listened. And neither of them spoke from personal pique, arrogance, or defensiveness. (Bonus: Kevin’s public critique didn’t give Jefferson any *reason* to wish that Kevin had talked to him privately, first.)
    The body of Christ was served & edified by that example of how to do Christian controversy right. The more we lack good examples of Spirit-filled controversy, the more we’ll be shaped by the bad examples, and the worse our witness will be. Real love & real community does require working through issues–avoiding the pitfalls of controversy without avoiding the critique & controversy itself.
    Dr Rainer: I hope you’ll discover opportunities to let your awareness of the pitfalls in controversy help you to show less mature Christians how to do it right.

  23. says

    This is a constant struggle for me. I edit one of the more active blogs (SBC Voices) and as I watch the stats, there is no question that controversy drives traffic.
    I feel that we need to address these topics, but the key is to do that in the right way.
    It is a constant struggle.
    And the bad thing is, that even if you write a balanced piece, the comment stream can turn ugly quickly.
    I appreciated this article – it addresses issues I struggle with all the time.

  24. says

    I figure I write about what I want to write about, and I write when I feel like writing. I figure that’s a pretty good reason for writing, and I suppose it also tells a lot about the writer.
    Something tells me this post tells me a lot about you, too. So, like, GOOD! You ought to be President of something.
    Oh. That’s right…. :)

  25. Deacon Lou Sandberg says

    Sometimes I don’t agree with someone I love. That doesn’t mean I stop loving. It doesn’t mean I stop behaving lovingly. While I agree with you for the most part, I want very much for you to tell me when you believe I’m wrong about something important. Please don’t stop correcting me when you believe I’m wrong. Please correct me with love. Let us pray.

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