Theologians and ethicists will point out that sins can be grouped into a couple of types: sins of commission and sins of omission. In the first, the sin is active–I did something wrong that I shouldn’t have (ie. punched somebody in the face). In the second, I failed to do something that I should have (ie. I failed to speak up on behalf of a slandered friend.) Of course, usually you can frame any action in a passive or active form and mess with the whole idea, but, we’ll leave that to the side for a moment.
Why go into this? Well, because sins of omission are of the most common types that bloggers and online authors are accused of committing:
“You didn’t address…”
“What you left out…”
“Why didn’t you say…?”
“Your problem is that you don’t talk about…”
It’s easy to find these or a half-dozen other variants in the comment section of any semi-controversial or persuasive article; I know I’ve had more than a few along those lines and left some myself. Often-times they’re quite on point. Authors will forget, leave out, ignore, or deny key issues in the discussion, which makes the discussion weaker and skews the whole argument. When it happens it ought to be addressed and dealt with.
That said, it bears considering, especially in online forums, that there are structural limitations to the format. Unless your name is Alastair Roberts and you write posts that ought to constitute chapters in very large reference books, a blog post, with a word limit and a limited of scope and focus, simply can’t address every issue that may be tangentially connected to it. Nor should it have to.
For instance, a buddy of mine wrote a post the other day criticizing a very popular line of thought in Evangelical dating wisdom about what constitutes male ‘intentionality.’ He wrote it to specifically address one article on the subject and provide a corrective. Now while a great deal of healthy discussion ensued, a number of people proceeded to criticize him for failing to address a whole host of points connected to the issue. One even said it was a failure because he didn’t first articulate a comprehensive theology of dating from which to address the point.
Really? Really? So your complaint is that this was a post instead of a book? Cool.
And this is where I get to the point of this mini-rant on blogging hermeneutics: you can’t say everything in every post all the time. It’s simply impossible. When you’re reading stuff online, don’t assume that just because an author doesn’t mention a point, they don’t believe it.
So, in the interest of better, future blog I’d like to quixotically suggest a few questions that readers can ask themselves as they read and comment:
- “What is the author’s argument? What are they trying to accomplish?” In this way, when you see that someone is dealing with an issue related to the cross, it’s not necessarily the case that they’re ignoring the resurrection–it’s simply that this isn’t the point of the discussion.
- “Does the neglect of this topic, or verse, or fact, necessarily mean the person doesn’t believe it?” Again, maybe they just didn’t have time to address it given their stated purpose and word-limit.
- “Is this really a bad article, or did I just want a different one altogether?” Consider whether your problem is that the author left something out, or whether you just thought they should have written a different article. Often-times the article is fine for what it’s trying to do, but you really think an entirely different article should have been written. If so, it’s fine to say that.
We could probably think of other questions and angles on the issue, but these are probably a good start.
Soli Deo Gloria
Ahhhh Derek, so true bro!
feels to me also like it’s simply the active sin of those critics simply having too much time on their hands. In the end, if you feel a better post could have been written, then write it yourself! And if you can’t … well, i think you know where i’m going 😉
And usually the objective when people make these objections is not good-faith conversation but to try to dismiss a perspective they don’t like. So annoying!
Ya. It’s a problem. I try not to fall in, but I’m sure I have all too often.
Even I don’t address all bases. I see blogging as an attempt to contribute to, to prompt, and to pursue the integrity of a wider conversation. A blog post isn’t a monologue designed to cover all bases, but a voice within a larger conversation, an attempt to speak with truthfulness and wisdom from the point where we are standing. It isn’t entrusted with the task of representing truth single-handedly, not does it speak from nowhere in a timeless and non-situated manner.
Every voice within a conversation needs to be engaged with and challenged by other voices within it. When I post something that challenges other perspectives, I typically do not intend to nullify or replace those perspectives so much as to push back against them, to spar with them, and to ensure that they don’t push genuine truths farther than they ought to go. I discussed some of this in a post from a couple of days ago.
My blog posts are frequently one-sided and don’t give the full picture. This isn’t accidental. They are one-sided because I am only one voice within a larger conversation committed to the pursuit of truth and justice and so don’t need to accomplish the ends of the conversation alone. My voice is often only truly understood when it is set in counterpoint with others, who are no less necessary in the conversation.
I do hope I didn’t offend. I meant that as a compliment. You’re probably the only person whose posts of great length I take the time to read because they are so comprehensive and thorough. 😉
Not at all! 🙂
I gave up on really long, detailed blog posts – my habit is now to crank out two or three small posts about whatever issue I’m thinking about. Going smaller seems to me to be a bit more friendly for discussion and helps the creative thought process. IMO, of course.
Yeah, mixing up blog length is a good practice. Peter Leithart’s blog is a good example of this. Some are extended articles and others are just two paragraph meditations on a tidbit of what he’s reading.
Thank you! I’ve had this kind of comment come up often and I’m like ‘It’s a blog post people! It’s also why I get annoyed with folks that criticize pastors/theologians/authors because of a blog post somebody wrote,about them, especially when they haven’t engaged with the fuller body of work directly. It’s the kind of stuff that makes for premature and superficial debates.
Amen and Amen!
Got here through Alastair’s twitter. Great points here.
Thanks, Kyle! Alastair’s twitter account is a good one to follow.
Short or long, some posts are wrong. Brevity is not a safeguard from basic error. In the case of the dating post, it was an unargued assumption (dating as a norm) that made it hard to accept, not it’s lack of comprehensiveness.
Chris, you know that part where I said that if an author leaves something truly important out it should be called out and noted? And that other part where I said that some good discussion happened in the comments of the dating article?
You should read those parts and then you’d see that I’ve already conceded what you just said. Also, if you’d read the comments, you’d see that some people were asking him exactly what I said up in the article.
I had a brief but heated exchange with the author on twitter, as he deleted two of my comments on the actual article. He would not be challenged to justify dating as an idea that needs to be turned up-side down, that is, ended. Dating is the problem, not how it is approached, what a guy’s intentions are, or what kind of cologne he wears. Hermeneutics and reading-skills aside, you can’t polish a turd.
I understand the basic fallacy of accent, and how reading too much or too little into what an author says is maddening for all. But that is not what I am driving at. You guys talk about dating like it is some kind of thing that is normal. “What doest thou here Elijah?”
I don’t think that’s what you said in the article.
First, I’d just note that Paul probably didn’t delete your comments on the blog. TGC editors retain that authority. They must have found your comments unhelpful or contentious (which, in light of the fact that you chased Paul over to Twitter to argue, and have followed over here to argue about the issue, I wouldn’t find that surprising) or there was some oversight. So, yeah, I wouldn’t pin removing the comments on Paul.
As for the article, I simply used the article as an example because the kind of questions that some, maybe not you, but some were asking were on the order of what I was talking about.
As for the material issue of dating…well, it is ‘normal’, in the sense that it is the common practice. Whether it biblically-normative, scriptural, etc. that’s another issue. Which, it seems, is what you really want to talk about. I, however, do not as that’s not really why I wrote this article. So, you can respond if you want, but I won’t so it’ll be a waste of your time.
This post is terrible. You can’t talk about any of this stuff until you lay out your philosophy of communication and at least address how blog post length relates the continuum of attention span amongst readers on the internet…. 😛
Actually, great post. Blogs are a great medium because you can read a well-written post in 5 minutes (instead of the half hour it might take to read a book chapter) but you have the option of digging deeper if you want by reading related posts, skimming or digging the comment thread, and checking referenced links, (or not).
Look on any mildly popular blog and you will always find a couple of terrible comments like the ones you mentioned. They come from first-time visitors completely unfamiliar with the blogger’s body of work. His usual readership who actually read not just the latest post but the previous 500 can actually give a real critique. The rest is a lot of noise.