Monday, November 9, 2015

The Blogging Chronicles: My Take on Where the Mature Women Bloggers Went

Recently Lisa Folmer Spence started an interesting bit of dialog with her article entitled Writing from the Middle Years. Aimee Byrd picked up on the theme, inquiring "Where are the Mature Women Writers?" Lisa is one of the gifted and faithful bloggers over at Out of the Ordinary and Aimee is one of a small band of bloggers over at The Mortification of Spin, a ministry of The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals.

In both Lisa's and Aimee's posts, Tim Challies is mentioned as a sort of bellwether marker for what's going on in the world of reformed blogging. Given the current trends in reformed blogging, I'd say that is a fair and accurate assumption. The other highly visible, and uber popular blogging presence is housed at The Gospel Coalition website. There are many others that probably deserve mention, but far beyond the others, Challies and TGC are the most widely known.

Yet, for many of us reformed bloggers, who've been out here in the blogosphere for a very long time, we know that the blogging landscape has changed immensely in the past 10 years or so.

An Overview of the Past

When I started blogging in late 2005, I did it mainly for my own personal thought processing and as a devotional endeavor. However, in 2006, I learned about some other women who were blogging and got connected with them via blog comments and discussion forums. From their blogs, I learned about about two popular blogging aggregators: League of Reformed Bloggers and the PCABlogs. The League of Reformed Bloggers was co-hosted by Tim Challies and David Wayne, the JollyBlogger. The PCABlogs blog roll was hosted by and managed by David Wayne, the JollyBlogger.  Both were set up originally by Adrian Warnock and the prerequisite to have one's blog added to the blog list was for the blogger to subscribe to the five sola's of the reformation, the appropriate confessions, standards, or creeds and to send their link to Mr. Wayne for approval. These aggregators pulled together blog posts from all across the spectrum of reformed writers and members in the PCA, including men and women alike.

Our posts would go up simultaneously, right along side the top bloggers of that time, such as Justin Taylor of Between Two Worlds (pre-Gospel Coalition, when Justin Taylor was arguably bigger than Challies.com), The Internet Monk (Michael Spencer), and others. The contributions varied from missional and evangelistic to more formal practice, and every thing in between.

Participation was encouraged by men and women alike. The feed served, more or less, as a self-correcting process, whereby one writer's blog post would often be countered by another writer's post on the same subject, but from a different angle or viewpoint. As one of the regular, almost daily participants to these aggregators, I interacted quite a bit with other men and women bloggers, and as a result, learned quite a bit along the way. And I had the opportunity to provide a unique voice and perspective that was valued in these blogging communities (including this testimony from 2007).

Nothing New Under the Sun

As I was reviewing the old posts from the JollyBlogger site this morning, a scan of the content confirmed one of the reasons why some long-time bloggers may have dropped out of the field in the last few years. Most of today's "hot topic" issues are the same as they were seven, eight, or ten years ago. So, most bloggers who've been writing for a while have seen, heard, and read all the angles more than once. It's no longer a "new thing" that we need to process to understand. As King Solomon has told us before, there is nothing new under the sun,

Here are a few examples of genres that the younger people are still chattering about today:
In 2008, David Wayne and others blogged about the issue of Women Deacons in the PCA. The General Assembly committee produced a full study and report on the issue which dealt with the scriptures and the Book of Church Order. Today, younger women bloggers are attempting to re-tackle the issue female deacons, but for the rest of us who've been there before, we feel that we've already studied all the angles and the issue has been fairly settled (in the PCA). 
As early as 2006, The Jollyblogger was addressing issues of Women in the Church head on, by engaging with both the complementarians at Together For The Gospel (pre-Gospel Coalition), and with the egalitarians alike:
Women's Roles in the Church In the comment section, you will read engagement from Ligon Duncan and Joel Hunter (not an uncommon thing, btw, back in the earlier bloggy days!!)  
The Jollyblogger held a solidly complementarian position, but recognized luminaries like Dr. Roger Nichole at RTS and others who did not buy into the idea that one's stance on complementarianism is a Gospel issue, per se. Furthermore, The Jollyblogger was cautious to warn men of how the remaining stain of our sinful human nature can often lead to oppression in some complementarian church cultures.
 This is just one example of how issues and topics recycle, and why some of us who've been blogging for a while can easily lose motivation, as most of things have been done before. A few other re-hashed themes I came across include:
Illinois Legislature to Pass Law, Adding Sexual Orientation to Protected Class (2005)
Beth Moore and Lifeway publishing - a conspiracy to take over your church? (2004!) 
The Mystery of Joel Osteen (2005) 
Media and Culture(2008).
On Politics and Society (2008 Election). 
Vladimir Putin Jokes and Tim Tebow Facts (2007)
The Curse of Individualism in the Church (2010) 
Sin as a Disposition (2009) 
 "Some Jolly Good Links" - David Wayne's predecessor to Challies' A La Carte  today  

A Blessing to the Church

All in all, The Jolly Blogger was blessing to the Church and the aggregators served as a catalyst for robust dialog on a variety of issues. Mr. Wayne did not shy away from engaging with all manner of bloggers, and didn't succumb to propping up the "big name" people (like John MacArthur or Tim Keller) or turning guys like Justin Taylor (again, possibly the most popular blogger back in those days) into celebrities. The main emphasis was about how we engaged with one another. To that end these were some of the resources quoted and referenced frequently:
As a result of the focus and emphasis, the Jollyblogger and the blogging aggregators turned out to be a tremendous boost for the voice of women bloggers and really enabled us to network with one another. I remember some of the key women bloggers in those early years, like, ConsiderableGrace (Tara Barthel), SoloFeminity.com (Carolyn McCulley), PalmTreePundit (Anne), Recovering Legalist (Emily), and many, many others! Most of these women no longer blog, but I still enjoy one or two of them!

The Year that Rocked the Blogosphere - 2009

Within the backdrop of mega conferences and coalitions forming, Mr. David Wayne was diagnosed with cancer in 2009 and had to give up his ministry efforts of serving the reformed blogging community. The Jollyblogger, along with Michael Spencer (the Internet Monk) and Matt Chandler of the Village Church, contracted cancer in 2009. Few remember Spencer's predictions of "The Coming Evangelical Collapse" from early 2009, just prior to finding out he had cancer. You can read him here: Part 1 "Why is it Going to Happen?", Part 2 "What Will be Left When Evangelicalism Collapses?" and Part 3 " Is This a Good Thing?" Essentially, the break up of the aggregators coincided with major shifts in the blogosphere that actually mirror Spencer's predictions quite a bit.

Timing wise, Justin Taylor had linked up with folks at Together for the Gospel and The Gospel Coalition and transitioned his blog over to their website as their first official blogger. Tim Challies had moved front and center with his Free Stuff Fridays promotions, A La Carte linkage love, and Reading the Classics Together, which were staples by 2009.

The two key branches of change blogging wise were 1) an increase in tribalism, on the one hand, and 2) a move toward commercialization and consumer-oriented approach on the other.

Many bloggers, previously connected via the broad reaching aggregators set off to create blogging networks that focused on particular affinity areas, like missions and outreach, or promoting a more serious orthodoxy with a confessional focus. Some bloggers, seeing what Spencer saw about the coming changes within Evangelicalism, went off and cultivated a network of "discernment" focused websites. Eventually, most of the little people disappeared from the public conversation and the mammoth, highly-commercialized models superceded them. In 2009, The Gospel Coalition and Challies.com would come to mostly own the reformed sector of the interwebs from a content perspective.

Under this system of commercialism, newer bloggers largely see their work as a commodity. They are often inadvertently set up as a sort of 'Issue Avatar", where the work of one or two specific people emerges as representing the particular viewpoint or experience of a whole demographic.

Whether readers are still welcome to comment or not, the former community and atmosphere of participation has been largely discarded -- exchanged for click-throughs and shares. As a result of the consolidation of authors into mega-blogs, newer bloggers tend to be primarily be interested in seeking to grow a "platform" where their work can be seen by as many "consumers" as possible, and perhaps, even as a place where they can monetize their content. Cultivating community, dialog, and participation is no longer seen as a desirable outcome.


Additionally, these changes in the reformed blogging community since 2009 greatly improved the opportunity for many men bloggers and men authors. However, the changes have had an overall negative impact on women bloggers and authors. The majority of my former bloggy women friends no longer blog.

My Personal Reflection


For me, I mostly feel that because of the current context, anything I blog is just whispering into the wind. At other times, it is just a matter of not getting worked up anymore over a topic that has been discussed to death already. So many things that younger writers see as something novel has already been settled by previous generations in council, committees, or creeds. Unless it personally concerns me, I don't feel the need to spend time on it anymore. Maybe I should? And finally, as I get older, I just don't feel as driven to take sides on every little thing that crosses the computer screen. Besides, the things that are troublesome are more like overarching themes, such as the tribalism and commercialism that I mentioned earlier or the few recent issues I've engaged like the nature of sin and redemption in Christ.

I certainly don't speak for mature women overall, as I would hope to read and learn from more mature women than myself!! However, there is a touch of conviction in writing this that perhaps I have more to share than I even know.

And this may be the biggest thing standing in the way -- convincing the older women that they actually do have the wisdom and experience that we need! 

In which case, maybe what we need most is a generation of Ruth's... (keep reading)....




7 comments:

Lisa Hellier said...

Thank you for the history lesson on reformed blogging. I did not know much of that information at all and your chronology explains a great deal of why the blogging world exists as it does now. On the mature women's voices, I am still looking for them. And I agree, my mid-40's means I pick very carefully which hills to battle upon let alone to die upon. However, the mature voices I miss are those that would discuss the issues of this life season: caregiver of parents, prodigal teens/young adults, counsel to teens/young adults regarding dating/courtship/engagement, marriage issues after 20 years, mentoring of younger moms, and so on. Clearly, I've left issues out, but hopefully that gives an idea on content that is missing from the female portion of the blogosphere. Again, thank you for your input. Perhaps between Lisa, Amy, and yourself, some will hear and begin writing again. Would love to read that!

martha68 said...

i'm smiling as i read this. i saw the article a few days ago asking about mature women bloggers too and wanted to answer, "actually, we're here."

i guess it depends what you are looking for. if you are looking for a polished writer. yo won't want my blog. i'm not polished. i didn't write much before 2007 when i saw the need for older women on the blogosphere. until that time, i had never read a blog! honestly, i was too busy raising children, working in my local church (where my husband was pastor) working as a nurse part time while we got our 3 daughters through college and yada, yada!

by the time i read my first blog, our children were grown, he had retired once, was an interim pastor in IL and i was just about over a 4 year stint of illness. over the years of our marriage, we served in churches and 7 years in Jamaica where he taught in a Bible college that trained students from all over the Caribbean.

but back to 2007 and how i got into blogging. as i read these blogs, i was struck by the advice being given by so many of these "mommy" bloggers that was not always wise and realized they needed the voice of someone who had lived through the full cycle of raising a child or three.

they didn't have the perspective that comes when you realize that some things just aren't all that important in the overall scheme of life...like having a really clean house. it is a nice idea. order is a great idea. but there are days when it just won't happen!

so this girl (and no matter our age, that is what we all feel like inside!) gradually learned how to blog. i am no computer whiz...at all! i learned what i needed to on the computer for work but little of it translated to writing a blog. step by tiny step, i learned what i needed to in order to write.

at the time, i didn't know what twitter was, or Facebook and many of the other social media didn't even exist! i had a cell phone, but nothing fancy.

i am not the family theologian...i discuss with him how theology applies to many life issues but i will never be writing any straight theological posts! it is so NOT my gift!

if you are looking for a writer who writes theology, it isn't me. but i do write about how the grace of GOD affects life...particularly in terms of aging, relationships, church, change and mentoring. i tend to base what i write on reformed theology but i'm not a theological writer.

i am an older woman looking at life from the perspective of someone who has lived almost 70 years in a variety of places. I have served in the church and seen the backsides of people both figuratively and literally. i have seen the grace of GOD at work both in my life and the lives of others. it is truly amazing!

i love the church. despite the many flaws, it is an amazing source for us, of the grace of GOD for stunning growth...if we would submit to it.

there. i've said my piece for now. i'm one of the mature women bloggers out there...at GrittyGrace.com i don't write in soundbites. i'm not the most technically savvy. it's not always the prettiest place. but i'm here:) come join me.

Tim Challies said...

Thanks for writing this. It was fun to read it and to think back to the early days of Christian blogging. It has been a long time since I've thought of The League of Reformed Bloggers. And I think you share some helpful insights here.

I do think your telling of blogging history misses one hugely important milestone--the entry of social media. In the early days of blogging, blogging was social media. Things like The League of Reformed Bloggers were attempts to draw together like-minded people. There were quite a few other lists or groups that had a similar purpose. Once Twitter and, even more so, Facebook exploded onto the scene, they took over a lot of the functions of blogs and the blog aggregators. People migrated away from blogs to Facebook and it was women who led the way.

I do hope someone writes the definitive history of Christian blogging. It would be very interesting to read, I think...

Deb W . said...

Thank you, Lisa, Martha, and Tim for stopping by and taking time to comment!
Just so you know, I have greatly enjoyed and benefited from the young women writers in our denomination who've just started getting into this. I love reading their blogs and websites. That includes yours, Lisa!! Great site.

And Martha, I didn't even know about your blog until yesterday. What a treasure! When I was on your page yesterday, I read several of the posts and thought - yes! This woman has wisdom and experience to share. Looking forward to more of it in the coming days.

And Mr. Challies: You are so right! There were quite a few other lists and groups similar purposes, but these were the two that I found most beneficial. The new forms of social media, like Facebook and Twitter, have divided our attention in the recent years. I know I started using them a whole lot more to connect with people locally and personally. Still, they didn't quite fill the gap that blogging filled. Neither FB status updates or 140 character tweets did what blogging did in terms of fully working out topics and thoughts. Writing helps me process and I do miss it quite a bit. In addition, the Facebook groups that try to bring people together from the reformed persuasion these days are sorely lacking. I'll leave it there.

That said, I'm with you 100% in hoping for a more definitive history of Christian blogging -that would be awesome! I was trying to give one slice of the picture here from a lay woman's perspective, so I know I'm missing large chunks of details.

And if we wanted to get *really* definitive, I'd have to go back to the old, old days of Newsgroups and the Usenet. I wonder how many people will remember those days?? That's where I learned about Calvinism, The Westminster Confession of Faith, and Reformed Theology.

Deb W . said...

For what it's worth, I have completed a follow-up article: Titus 2 in Reverse: Ruth and Naomi

http://solofide.blogspot.com/2015/11/titus-2-women-in-reverse-naomi-and-ruth.html

Shane Anderson said...

Deb--great article and insights into the history of blogging. One thing I would maybe add is that we've seen a number of ministers who used to blog a lot, stop. I think doctrinal controversies and the rancor in NAPARC that internet debates have created, have made many ministers reconsider the benefit of blogging. As my pastor says, it's often just fighting and gossip. At the same time, the "resource" sites: monergism, third mill, reformed books online, etc. have continued to grow and be used. More irenic and evangelical friendly sites: TGC, Challies, Desiring God, Ligoneir, Calvinist International, Reformed Forum, etc. are continuing on strong.

martha68 said...

wow deb, i loved reading all this history! so interesting. i read some of those blogs shorty b/f all the cancer diagnoses. i don't see my place as dialoging with other reformed writers nearly as much as encouraging women...and a few men, to know who they are in Christ from a reformed perspective...but i don't call it that:) sometimes the terms are scary or put-offish. the truth isn't. so i just speak the truth. occasionally i bring up the terms.

the truth gets to the heart faster than the terms anyway. and that is what i want to speak to. parenting taught me that the heart is what i want to reach anyway. i'm amazed how many people don't know so many basic truths from Scripture...just never got through. even though they were in church forever.