Dr. Michael Russell at Eternal Perspectives has a post called Rebuilding the Dividing Wall where he specifically addresses the issue of denominational and other doctrinally oriented blogrolls. He was kind enough to send me an e-mail to let me know of this post, and as I read his post, I could see that it was particularly addressed as a response to some things I have done on the blog, so I appreciate his grace in coming to me personally about it.
I started to leave a comment to reply but the comment was simply too long so I decided to make a post of it instead.
Before I share my response let me hit a few highlights of what he said. I'm going to highlight the most critical points of his post, but I want to affirm that his post is not all critical. He says some very gracious things in there about those he disagrees with. But, his criticisms are what I want to deal with. Here are some samples:
It was inevitable, I suppose, that we Godbloggers would begin to seek out others who thought and reasoned as we do, forming our own subculture in blogdom even as Christians have done in real physical space since the inception of the church. It is part of our nature - our Adamic nature, it would seem. We (myself very much included) always seem to be gathering when God wants us scattering, excluding when He wants us including.
Not all such formations are undesirable, of course. When various blogs band together for the purpose of making it easier to find resources, news, and commentary on issues such as abortion, apologetics, or cults, a valuable service is provided to the Christian community. Think of them as "para-blog" organizations. Similarly, limiting aggregators to evangelical bloggers serves the purpose of maintaining unity in the essentials of our faith.
When the clustering is to promote a particular denomination or doctrinal position, however, such division needs to be carefully considered. There are often sad and unwanted consequences not usually felt by those inside the cluster.
Groups that cluster resemble body builders that focus all their energies on building up their biceps while their calves remain underdeveloped. Christians tend to be like those guys in the gym who spend all their time doing a particular exercise - bench press, curls, lat pulls, squats - and ignore the other, equally-important muscles. They also tend to hang around their favorite machines or free weights, becoming experts in that particular discipline.
Those Christians on the outside looking in - who dont belong to a major denomination or whose denomination has yet to discover blogging - are left feeling like bastard children in the family of God. We belong, yes, but we are not privileged to associate with this particular sub-blog or that class of bloggers. We don't have the right pedigree, so we don't appear on the exclusive lists.
More importantly, it can be a sad witness to the world that Christians cannot help but be divisive and exclusive. As a whole, evangelicals are already guilty of developing their own jargon (which delineates who is "one of us" and who isn't) and doctrinal Shibboleths to distinguish ourselves from liberal and/or non-Protestant segments of Christendom.
And, having said all of that, he concludes by acknowledging that there are some valid reasons for having these kinds of blogrolls and aggregators:
Does this mean that I oppose blog fellowship for Reformed or Dispensational or Lutheran believers? That we cannot talk to kindred spirits or relax in the company of like-minded people? Have a network of fellow Christians from the same tradition?
Not at all. It means that, when we develop lists or groups that exclude other members of the Body of Christ, we need to stop and ask ourselves why we are doing it. If it does not promote unity, if it does not demonstrate love, if it does not glorify God - if it is unnecessarily exclusive, then perhaps it is a wall we should not build
All in all, I commend him for saying what is on his mind without pulling punches, while still extending olive branches to those who disagree with him. This is how debate should go - in an effort to be nice we sometimes don't say what's on our mind. Yet, in an effort to say what's on our mind, we often don't extend the olive branch to our opponents.
Michael raises issues of potential danger in this post and I affirm all of them and will keep them in mind. I want to say a few words about my own blogging and linking practices that I hope won't come off as defensive, but illustrative of my philosophy of linking.
First of all, I have pretty much imitated Evangelical Outpost when it comes to linking, where he has several blogrolls and then he has a section of his "real" favorites, on the right side of the blog. Similarly, I've got four different blogrolls on my own site - two generic evangelical blogrolls, and the two that I personally manage - the League of Reformed Bloggers and PCABlogs. So, I hope its obvious that, though I am definitely pushing my own home team Reformed/PCA tradition, I've got the same amount of broadly evangelical links as I do the narrower ones. I've also joined Mark Roberts list of blogging pastors of which I am the only current PCA guy that I know of and I will be posting the blogroll to that if one ever gets created.
Also, I have my "favorite" favorites on the right side in categories like "Culture," "Theology," "Politics," "Piety," "Relationships," and other things. I think you will see that there is a pretty fair number of folks in those links that don't share my views at all.
Again, let me offer a pre-emptive apology if that seems at all defensive, I just think I am fairly representative of lots of folks. We gravitate and care for those in our own tradition and those who share our views, but I think you will see that most of us do our best to interact across broad lines.
But I would like to take this discussion a step further if I may and discuss another division that is growing in the body of Christ. It's the same division that is growing in the wider culture - the division between the technological haves and have-nots. Society today is not only by economic and other types of status, but by those who know how to use emerging technologies and those who don't.
Bloggers are on the cutting edge (or is it bleeding edge?) of new technologies and communication media. As Diane Roberts from Crossroads commented on a post of mine the other day, 95% of the people she knows in church don't have a clue what a blog is. We aren't developing our own sub-culture, the subculture is already here. We even have our own vocabulary as can be seen when you ask the average person what a blog is.
My own desire in starting the PCABlogroll and encouraging others to start their own denominational blogrolls was not to cause division, but to help the blogging community reach down into the "real world" communities where we live. If I want my own denomination to start paying attention to blogs I have a much better chance of getting them to stand up and take notice if I can show them that there a bunch of us out there.
So, again, I'll speak for myself, my intention in advocating denominational blogrolls is to give bloggers a means of reaching out into their own denominations while they are reaching out across the blogosphere. I think very highly of the folks I have interacted with in the blogosphere (including Michael) and I think that if this idea of denominational blogrolls takes off it won't lead to further division, it will just lead to more bloggers. And more bloggers will have more bloggers from other traditions to interact with, the blogosphere is so big that it, in and of itself will force us out of our own little huddles.