N.T. Wright on Blogging: A Christian Ethic

'It's easier to be an asshole to words than to people.'

'It's easier to be an asshole to words than to people.'

I’ve finally had the chance to start reading Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision, N.T. Wright‘s response to critics of The New Perspective on Paul with specific discussion of Piper’s The Future of Justification: A Response to N. T. Wright. I’m sure I will have comments about the book at a later time (I do definitely fall into Wright’s camp when it comes to placing Paul and his theology firmly rooted in 1st century exilic Judaism), but right now I wanted to share what he had to say in the book’s introduction about blogging. His comments are both insightful and important reminders to those of us who interact in the blogosphere and call ourselves Christians.

It really is high time we developed a Christian ethic of blogging. Bad temper is bad temper even in the apparent privacy of your own hard drive, and harsh and unjust words, when released into the wild, rampage around and do real damage. And as for the practice of saying mean and untrue things while hiding behind a pseudonym - well, if I get a letter like that it goes straight in the bin. But the cyberspace equivalents of road rage doesn’t happen by accident. People who type vicious, angry, slanderous and inaccurate accusations do so because they feel their worldview to be under attack. Yes, I have pastoral concern for such people. (And, for that matter, a pastoral concern for anyone who spends more than a few minutes a day taking part in blogsite discussion, especially when they all use code names: was it for this that the creator God made human beings?) But sometimes worldviews have to be shaken. They may become idolatrous and self-serving. And I fear that the has happened, and continues to happen, even in well-regulated, shiny Christian contexts - including, of course, my own.

I hope you aren’t offended by the mouse hover/caption to the xkcd comic, but I found it particularly appropriate for Wright’s comments. In any discussion we have with people we run the risk of our hubris taking over. Humility is crucial and necessary. We should always presume positive intent of those in discussion and we should always write and speak with positive intent. It’s a good rule of thumb.

  1. Bill Berger
    April 25th, 2010 at 16:36 | #1

    Thanks Matt. This was really right on. I think Wright is right! The cartoon is priceless.


    Bill (my real name)

  2. Jae
    April 27th, 2010 at 13:00 | #2

    I haven’t read either book (Piper or Wright’s) but many reviews I’ve read have made the point that both seem to talk past/over each other, almost as though they were preaching more to their respective choirs. That’s one reason why I haven’t been too eager to read either, not to mention the disheartening wasteland blogging i’ve seen on both sides of the debate.

    I’m also a bit annoyed at how much of an ID badge/club card the likes of Wright and Piper are both becoming. Lately and more often I hear talk amongst the “study little, opine much” college crowd that sounds disturbingly like “I’m of Wright” and “I’m of Piper”, which in debates about Paul seem to be the kind of jive that Paul is clearly against (for that i’d cite 1 & 2 Corinthians and everything else he’s written about how Christians should relate? :).

    And yet, my guess is that as the debate becomes more ‘mainstream’ you’ll find more folks loyal to one or the other while having no genuine understanding of what the opposing group, or for that matter, what Scripture is actually saying. Anyhow, for the sake of Christ and His gospel, really hoping that ’round 2′ between Piper and NT will be an ‘improved’ dialog. :)

    As well, I’m not sure exactly what you meant by this, but I don’t think that those who agree more with Piper are necessarily opposed to understanding “Paul and his theology firmly rooted in 1st century exilic Judaism”. It seems to me that the ‘justification’ debate (with Wright in particular) often comes down to how to properly relate such contextual/historical inferences (ie. 1st century judaism was not altogether legalistic) to what Paul actually wrote about being part of the people of God. That’s where this argument becomes complex, and to be honest, I’m hoping it’ll be much clearer what Wright is arguing for when his tome about Paul drops.

  3. April 27th, 2010 at 16:53 | #3

    That’s a great quote. I should probably take it more to heart when I’m writing reviews of books I didn’t enjoy. Something to think about…

  4. April 27th, 2010 at 22:48 | #4

    Thanks for not using your pseudonym Bill, but if you start swearing around here, feel free to use it. ;)

    It appears, at least as he introduces the book, that Wright is not necessarily aiming at saying why Piper is wrong, but why we need a complete view of the context that Paul is writing in, which he would claim Piper and others in the reformed tradition are missing. I am reading it mainly because I want to hear what he has to say about justification.

    I do tend to do that, the “I’m with Wright” kind of thing. But I suppose that is because usually I am. ;) I do think that is a little silly, however being able to engage with intelligent discussion should be helpful and edifying. I think these arguments can be, assuming we aren’t just picking a side for the sake of piking a side but actually delving into the subject matter, namely the Bible!

    “Paul and his theology firmly rooted in 1st century exilic Judaism.” I think the distinction here between Wright and Piper would be the use of “exilic Judaism”. Two of Wright’s claims relate to this context: the work of Jesus as Messiah of Israel and the use of covenant language. Both of those arguments relate to the Jewish milieu of Paul’s (and Jesus’) time. So I don’t feel this is necessarily about the non-legalistic nature of the culture, but more about covenant expectations. Wright also noted that he wanted to get this argument out because he wouldn’t be focusing on these specific things in the forthcoming edition of Christian Origins centered around Paul. I am sure it will be enlightening… if not long. ;)

    One thing I have been really appreciative of is that Wright has, at least so far, really been focused on the nature of justification and salvation. The problem that Wright has seen with some of the reformation tradition is the focus on me and my salvation. That I am justified because I have been saved. And while that is true, Wright wants to bring back a focus on God and His work in the universe of which we are just a bit character.

    God made humans for a purpose: not simply for themselves, not simply so that they could be in relationship with him, but so that through them, as his image-bearers, he could bring his wise, glad, fruitful order to the world.

    Thanks Cori. I think we have to find a balance between bring critical and being spiteful. What are things that we could say to someone in person vs. things we would only say online? If there is a discrepancy between those things, we might have problems.

  5. May 20th, 2010 at 08:32 | #5

    Thanks for this highlight. I have included part of your quote of Wright’s book on the Regent alumni collaborative blog platform (Under One Blog), and credited you. May I invite you to join this platform. Simply send me an email and I will invite you to be a collaborative blogger.


  1. May 20th, 2010 at 10:03 | #1