God-talk on Facebook

Some thoughts by one recent Facebook returnee …

Facebook has without question become one of the key places where the world hangs out. (e.g. a recent newspaper article reports that a third of the Australian population now has a Facebook account). So whatever misgivings one may have about Facebook (and I certainly have some), my personal conclusion is that Christians generally, and leaders especially, should be here for the Kingdom’s sake.

But questions remain, and here is but one of them. From a Kingdom point of view, what is the most helpful approach to open discussions (such as occur frequently on one of my friends’ wall) between members of the Christian community, where folks who may not call themselves Christians are listening in and sometimes participating? Is this the right or best place to discuss especially matters of serious contention between believers? (NB: I’m asking this openly, with no assumed ‘right’ answer!)

It’s not that there needs to be a problem with spiritual seekers seeing that Christians have disagreements. And indeed, thinking in terms of Paul’s engagement with the Athenians (Acts 17, second half), there’s something potentially very exciting about taking the Gospel and it’s ramifications into the public ‘marketplace’ of ideas.

But one question that arises is the risk of misunderstanding in this very detached medium, where it’s no simple matter to convey all the nuances of meaning. e.g. To a listener who doesn’t know the wider context or the range of what’s assumed among Christians, a positive comment based on an orthodox understanding of the Bible could well read as hopelessly bigoted or arrogant.

Or to look at it another way, if we’d at least think twice before passionately debating it in a café, should we debate it on Facebook?

My purpose is definitely not to draw lines in the sand. But I hope this may generate some thoughtful reflection.


God-talk on Facebook — 2 Comments

  1. Well, as one who likes and enjoys passionate debate… I think it is OK to do this RESPECTFULLY on open “walls” on FaceBook.

    Non-Christians and “becomers” are already all too aware of dissension in the ranks of those who call themselves Christians. To pretend that we all think alike is on a par with pretending that the Emperor has a lovely suit of clothes when he is in fact starkers. Honesty is the best policy.

    It is also, IMHO, a positive thing to see Christians respectfully “arguing” their points of view, as he/she (the becomer/new Christian etc) will be exposed to a greater number of (perhaps equally valid) opinions AND he will (hopefully) observe that it is possible to discuss passionately, yet with love and without bloodshed – ‘virtual’ or real!

  2. Hi Chris! And welcome to my blog 🙂 (Red carpet due, as I so rarely get visitors).

    And thanks for the comments, most of which I agree with. Fundamentally I’m in favour of having such public discussions – including disagreements between Christians, and I think Acts 17 gives us a partial foundation for doing that.

    But I do think there’s some discernment needed also, and that’s my main point. (Or maybe it’s more a question than a point?) Here are a few reasons for saying that …

    1. Subtext – Christians, like all human sub-cultures, have a set of bedrock worldview beliefs that most or many of us simply take for granted when we speak with eachother. – e.g. authority of Scripture, if you’re an evangelical. So much Christian discussion has a context which is pretty important to right understanding of what’s said – e.g. current controversy over sexuality. A non-Christian / seeker may well misunderstand a person’s line of thinking, or even an entire discussion thread, if they don’t have an awareness of that subtext that the speakers are all assuming.

    2. Communication – How much would it matter if such misunderstanding occurred? Well I think the answer is simply “It varies according to the subject and according to what is heard”. In some cases it may be all just part of the learning process. In others it may throw the hearer sufficiently off course to discourage their continued spiritual search. It’s one thing for someone to be turned off Christianity or the Church by the offence of the Gospel; it’s another thing if the turn-off results from, say, a poorly timed conversation.

    In other words it’s all about effective communication, and we’ll be wise if we conduct our conversations (online and other) aware of the risks of misunderstanding.

    3. Non-verbal communication – Most people sooner or later discover the pitfalls of discussions via text alone. The biggest is the total lack of non-verbal signals in the interaction (tone of voice, eye contact, facial expression, hand gestures, etc.) Especially if we’re discussing a touchy subject, observing a person’s non-verbals whilst taking in the content can make the difference between hugging them or hitting them! e.g. I’ve witnessed pastors literally destroy their ministry with an ill-judged e-mail. With an online medium like Facebook the non-verbals are completely absent. So another source of miscommunication. Applies whether the hearer is a Christian or not, of course. But more may be at stake if a non-Christian is listening.

    Some conversations could be entirely appropriate in person or even over the phone, but dangerously unwise by text alone. Other text conversations could be quite appropriate provided the discussants are alert to the dangers.

    In a nutshell – it’s all about effective communication, and as stewards of God’s wisdom, it behoves us to judge the context carefully in each case.

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