Features

Sarcasmagorical, meet Jollyblogger

Culture | Web meets religion at GodBlogCon

Issue: "Malaria: Kill or be killed," Oct. 29, 2005

The pews of the Biola University chapel were filled with 135 Christians from around the country. The believers sat quietly, heads bowed, reverently searching the answer to the same question: "Why is the wireless connection not working?"

Getting connected to the internet in church is not yet a common concern, but for attendees at the first-ever GodBlogCon the matter was urgent. The online faithful, on the Southern California campus to participate in an Oct. 13-15 conference of Christian bloggers, were eager to share their every thought and reaction with the rest of the blogosphere.

Blogging has become a community-building tool and GodBlogCon was a place for Christian bloggers to meet counterparts with whom they have corresponded for years. Some of the better-known bloggers even had the kind of celebrity status normally reserved for reality-TV stars.

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The online community consisted of a motley assortment of styles, both in fashion and theology. Pastors wearing the latest Rick Warren-inspired attire (Hawaiian shirts and khaki slacks) mingled with shoeless emergent church types and buttoned-down Calvinists. The bloggers approached each other tentatively, unsure of how to interact IRL (blogspeak for "in real life") and looking lost without a keyboard and mouse. The conference organizers had made the mistake of only including people's names and not their blog titles on the nametags. The oversight led to some awkward greetings:

"Excuse me, are you Sarcasmagorical?"

"No, I'm Pseudo-Polymath. The guy you're looking for is over there."

"Where?"

"Standing by the bagels, he's the one next to Imago Articulus and Intellectuelle."

"Oh, I thought that was Jollyblogger."

"No, Jollyblogger is at the table with SkyePuppy and 2BHuman."

For some ministers, it's hard to explain the value of their online avocation. According to the Barna Group, 60 percent of Protestant churches have 100 or fewer adults in attendance on a typical Sunday, yet popular pastor-bloggers like David Wayne, a PCA minister from Glen Burnie, Md., often reach 10 times that number on a daily basis.

In the early days of the internet, Mr. Wayne noted, few churches saw the need to have a website, yet now they are as common as church bulletins-and blogs go a step further than static websites by becoming instruments for personal outreach. Mr. Wayne's own congregation remained skeptical about his efforts until a family of blog readers-a married couple and their five children-joined his small church earlier this year.

Other bloggers discussed how Christian blogs may be viewed by non-Christian readers. Biola communications professor Timothy Muehlhoff emphasized that blogging can be a potential "train wreck" and if done wrong can reinforce stereotypes of evangelical Christians as "pit bulls of the culture wars."

Other sessions examined similar themes that plague "Godbloggers." Panel discussions addressed such issues as whether bloggers could make money from their efforts (they can't), whether blogging pastors should be involved in politics (they shouldn't), and whether communities of bloggers will ever replace the local church (they won't).

If the plenary discussion and breakout lectures produced few new insights, the sessions gave bloggers an excuse to hang out with other internet-savvy Christians: Saying you're attending a conference on a university campus is slightly less embarrassing than having to admit you're going to be with people from A-Team, SmartChristian, and A View from Her.

One recurring theme of the conference was how blogging could be used to transform culture. In the 16th century it only took a monk, a church door, and 95 theses to spark the Protestant Reformation. Could 21st-century bloggers with their laptops and hyperlinks be on the verge of igniting a New Reformation? Perhaps. But first they must answer their fellow believers' most pressing question: "What in the world is a blog?"

-Joe P. Carter is managing editor of Worldviews at worldmagblog.com

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