Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Books are Better than Blogs

Books are Better than Blogs (and that includes this one!)

Lately, I've reversed my trend which had become primarily consuming theological blogs and online magazine articles on a day to day basis, as opposed to my previous favored pass time, which was book reading. In doing so, I've learned a few lessons. One rather obvious and the other perhaps not so much.

The rather obvious lesson, of course, is that books are a far superior medium for communicating and fully developing the range of thinking on complex and weighty subjects, unlike blogs where it is exceedingly difficult to avoid over-simplification and much easier to lack nuance.

The perhaps less obvious lesson that has me re-valuing my book reading efforts has to do with how I think about and view the authors themselves. First I will explain what I mean and give a few examples of how that has worked its way out for me, and then briefly I'll consider my reason why it this is important.

Beginning with authors whom I've become acquainted with first through the blogosphere, I will offer two examples. One is Owen Strachan and the other is Denny Burk. My introduction with both of these authors is linked to their internet blogs on the topic of Biblical manhood and Biblical womanhood. Articles by Mr. Strachan that discussed the small percentage of men who stay at home with their children and muppets on the show Sesame Street depicted playing with dolls had me shaking my head and lamenting the future prospects of the CBMW. Likewise, on Mr. Burk's blog I had encountered some un-nuanced defenses of some ambiguous and controversial issues in the media that seemed overly strident. To me, the growing influence of these types of rising voices within the YRR movement on manhood and womanhood had seemed concerning.

Since I'm not a one-dimensional believer, however, I have remained open to watching, reading and learning on these topics, as well as being okay with the fact that I don't have to agree with everyone on everything to still learn from their expertise. Therefore, I gladly and gratefully purchased recent books published by both Strachan and Burk. 

In "The Meaning of Sex", I actually grew tremendously by seeing Mr. Burk's true passion for the straightforward presentation of what the scriptures actually say, boldly, simply, with careful precision, without any apologies, and without any fluffy story-telling. I could see that this is the type of writing that doesn't exactly go over well in the blogosphere generally, where the audience is from all walks of faith (or non-faith) and where caveats and nuance are otherwise usually spelled out clearly in order to prevent a flaming comment section. Now, I can honestly say that while I didn't actually learn anything particularly new theologically from Mr. Burk's book, I thought his approach to the topic of sex and marriage was spot-on Biblical and greatly beneficial.  If I read his blog today, I will have a different appreciation of his message and purpose, seeing him as a sort of sentinel, rather than a shepherd. Bottom line: reading the book in priority over the blog changes my expectations and perception of the author's content.

Similarly, Mr. Strachan's newest book, "Risky Gospel", was an eye-opener for two primary reasons. First, he addressed a chronic issue in the church today, that applies especially to millennials, but also to others like myself.  The issue of underlying fear holds many of us believers back from doing great things for the Lord by faith.  The way he unfolds his case is extremely helpful and relevant. The second and very unexpected benefit of reading this book, was how my perception and feeling for the author was radically changed. In this book, Mr. Strachan gives very personal and intimate examples from his own life that connected all of this teaching points in very dramatic and heartfelt ways, showing his great care for the audience for whom he wrote the book. It was quite convicting to me to learn how much love came through in the chapters of this book, since I had never once considered the author's motivation when reading his blog posts. Again, short, widely-disseminated articles on the internet can be read with the greatest distrusted when we are not acquainted with an author's background or intended audience. 

So, above I have offered just two examples of why I believe reading books is more fruitful ultimately than focusing mainly on blogs, from the direction of first encountering blog articles, and then working up to more formally published books. Perhaps there is a way to improve the quality of blogging by considering how the best elements of books could be incorporated... but that's not really my focus here.

In addition, I have a final illustration from the other direction. After having been acquainted with Carl Trueman's wonderfully written and researched books for some time, I began reading his blog posts on the Reformation21site. When I first read Mr. Trueman's blogging, I did something like a spiritual fist pump, because he was acknowledging some of the unfortunate changes happening in our churches these days to make them "hip" and "relevant". Like most people, my reaction was like watching Simon Cowell in the early days of "American Idol". I was glad and grateful for the guy who brought reality back into the reality show. The truly talented singers on this show exemplified a sort of Glory: the beauty and talent of up and coming vocalists. However, when everyone was told that they did well, it undermined the worthiness of "the best". Like Simon Cowell, in the reformed world, Mr. Trueman's candor and courage to speak up and call out silliness and wrongheadedness made many of us rejoice because we had felt that others had been weak in that area, and finally we had a truth teller.

Soon after, however, the criticism and correction started to point toward some of our "favorite idols". And the conviction went two-ways: 1-because perhaps we had elevated that particular "idol" to a level of non-reproach and couldn't tolerate any negativity AND/OR 2-because we felt the weight of the criticism and negativity that we had been participating in toward others and realized it was not proper or edifying. In fact, for many of us, it had been quite prideful and self-justifying, as we didn't have to look at any of our shortcomings so long as there were public figures at whom to gawk. Of complaining and criticism there can be no end (until Christ returns). No one, no matter how talented, can sing or serve perfectly day after day, night after night. We can always find something wrong with the other person. Always. Even the critic is not immune from blindspots, so for me, and for the benefit of my soul and my communion with the Body of Christ, I have stepped away from the critics and "discernment blogs". I'll stick with one of Mr. Trueman's good books that puts forth the positive, reformed view, but there's really not a great need for me to seek out examples of what's going wrong out there. That might be someone else's role, but I'm better off staying away from it. I can enjoy Mr. Trueman's blogs by leaving that aspect to him and focusing on the parts where I can grow and learn. 

In summary, I have found it more profitable to spend my time with great books rather than web-surfing through the wide-world of reformed blogs. I do check in on certain of my preferred blogs, but I also make a conscious effort to emphasized the deeper and meatier things. Even better than all of this: in 2014, I plan to do another YouVerse (iPhone) read of the Bible. That should be the most profitable of all, I pray. 

Merry Christmas! Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room!

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