On Writing for a Blog

If you’re interested in my take, this is an example of how not to write for a blog. I don’t know Chad Hall, and I’m sure if I met him in a different setting it would be different, but this post is like entering into a room and asking for a fight just for the sake of a fight. I see no attempt to understand, to sympathize, to empathize — and out of understanding, sympathy and empathy, to engage in a critical conversation. Sorry, but this didn’t do it for me. In my opinion, Hall was unfair both to Mark Driscoll and Tony Jones.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • http://manofdepravity.com Tyler

    wow i love it so much when it is beyond noticeable that someone wrote a post because they had a bone to pick. totally agree scot. i see no point to that post either.

  • Ranger

    That is a terrible article…truly immature and a rather poor critique. I know that Chad Hall “started it,” but I didn’t think that Tony Jones response was much more gracious. Both show the sad state of where we are at…evangelicals and emergents taking shots at each other and talking around each other when in truth they agree on the vast majority of issues. Truly sad. I never thought I’d say this, but I feel that Mark Driscoll actually came across as the classiest of the bunch with his response.

  • RJS

    This is tough to say – but I stopped reading or looking at the Out of UR blog long ago because too many of the posts seemed poorly thought through ahead of time and were too antagonistic. More significantly the comments by and large fall far short of true Christian conversation on any controversial issue.

  • Duane

    I agree. This guy need a Scot McKnight injection and two Michael Spencer pills.

  • http://www.friends4thejourney.com josenmiami

    I read the review and the two responses. I agree that Chad Hall seemed a bit overly provocative… and I agree that Mark Driscoll gave a humble response. I am grateful for that, because things I had heard about Driscoll had left me with a more negative impression. Despite the acerbic edge of the discussion, I must say that it is a wonderful example of the power of digital communications … with all of the comments and the responses, there is a lot of communication going on. Just imagine if Luther had had a blog, and that the Pope could have posted a response with everyone else posting their comments.
    Perhaps we can avoid a religious war and we can all beat each other into some humility this time…

  • RJS

    josenmiami,
    I am not so sure it is a wonderful example of the power of digital communication in the church – because I am not sure that there is any real communication – or at least much real communication in the mix.
    The acerbic edge is disturbing (as it is in the reformers and many of the post-nicene church writers).
    And I say this as one who thinks that there is great value in digital communication.

  • Chad Hall

    Scott, I’m a frequent visitor to your blog and huge admirer of your work and the heart with which you offer it. So I’ll take your criticism of my review to heart.
    I prayed and struggled for several weeks reading these two books, reflecting on how they impacted me, where they fit into my own journey with emerging church — and tried to do all this under the umbrella of what the assignment from CT asked me to do, which was to walk into a conversation that was already going on (Emergent & New Reformed) and share my reactions to the two books. All in 1000 words or less, of course. :)
    Seriously, I really did not intend to provoke a fight for the sake of a fight, and I am disappointed that my efforts had this result. I had hoped to provoke an honest conversation (including honest conflict, which I think the conversation needs) for the sake of Christ. Alas, my best efforts feel not only wasted, but counterproductive.

  • http://www.friends4thejourney.com josenmiami

    you might be right … maybe I was influenced by Stackhouse in his book on Christian Realism to lower my expectations…
    RJS, are you familiar with Jurgen Habermas and his theory regarding communicative ethics and the ideal speech situation?

  • RJS

    josenmiami,
    No – much by him in the library here though. Is any of it worth reading?

  • http://letsmovetothemoon.com Steven

    I was really impressed with the way Mark Driscoll responded. It seemed that the humility that Hall mentioned was very present in Driscoll’s response. I struggle to comment on an article like Hall’s because it makes me want to respond like Tony Jones did, which I don’t feel is the best way to do it. Eh.

  • http://www.jesustheradicalpastor.com John Frye

    “My author is MORE HUMBLE than your author.”
    When will Christian celebrity groupies grow up?
    I read the review and the two author-responses. A waste of time really.

  • http://www.JesusCreed.org Scot McKnight

    Chad,
    I cannot say how grateful I am for you to write in and apologize for the review. From this point on, I will admit to this post only comments that are appreciative of this response of yours.
    Again, it is gracious of you to respond as you have.

  • http://livingythebiblios.blogspot.com Ted

    Best critique of emergent movement IMHO is “Why We’re Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be”) by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck, Moody Press.

  • http://www.friends4thejourney.com josenmiami

    RJS: he is pretty hard to read. I just finished his Legitimation Crisis and, although I was fascinated and drawn to it, I didn’t really understand it until I heard my prof. lecture on it. I do believe he has something to say to us about seeking consensus on ethical issues through honest and thorough communications (something this blog is good at, although I occasionally fall short) with a diverse group of actors.
    Habermas believes that the communication will become more essential in the future… and must needs include as diverse a group as possible.
    Something that disturbs me is the tendency in many of my friends (this blog excluded) to only talk to those who think the same way as themselves…and only to read that which confirms what they only believe. This contributes to the further polarization of our society and ingrown thinking.
    One of the things I have come to appreciate about my graduate studies in a secular, public university is that I have been forced to read all kinds of stuff that I would never have chosen to read. I have had to grapple with issues that I would never have chosen to think about, and it has changed me.
    I am currently reading a book by Nicholas Adams, prof. of Theology and Ethics at the U. of Edinburgh, which analyzes the potential contribution of Habermas to theology and some of the pitfalls; Habermas and Theology Cambridge University Press, 2006.
    For a brief and clear intro to Habermas, check out Habermas: a Very Short Introduction by Gordon Finlayson.
    Chad: thanks for showing up in here to respond. Don’t be dismayed when things backfire…keep trying to stir up communication. It is easy to get discouraged and to just want to quit and let the world go to hell. I feel that way pretty often! :-)

  • Karl

    I expected and am glad to see Hall respond in the comments above. Honestly, the criticism leveled by Scot at Hall echoes how I have felt about nearly everything I have read from both Jones and Driscoll. Not the content of their views, but their tone – the lack of empathy, sympathy and understanding for those who they are criticising. I agree that both Hall’s response here and Driscoll’s on the Out of Ur site are refreshing.

  • http://www.therealap.blogspot.com Aaron Perry

    I thought the review somewhat antagonistic, but nothing extraordinarily improper. I thought Jones’ review in the same regard, whereas Driscoll took the criticism in stride and admitted it was one to be expected from one in Hall’s position.
    This reminds of the charges of “going negative” in the Obama and Clinton campaigns. Bill Clinton’s response that having such a tough debate was a good thing, to be expected. In my opinion, Hall’s review (and Jones’ response) is edgier than others one might read, but at least I know where he stood.

  • Kristie B

    Chad, thanks for your response here. Sometimes I feel the tragic pattern in all these conversations is that we’re all demanding generosity from one another in a very ungenerous way. We’re quick to point out when others are not being gracious, but then we treat those ungracious folks without grace! I certainly know I’ve been guilty of this. And I think it’s fair to say that Tony and Mark are both guilty of this, in their own ways. But if we don’t break this cycle of accusation (that is, if we fail to extend generosity to Tony and Mark…and now to you, Chad) the destructiveness just abounds to the glory of the evil one who sows all this nonsense among us. But I’m sure glad we’re having this conversation.

  • http://alexlsilva.blogspot.com Alex

    Scott,
    Rather than piling on, I actually would like to defend the Chad’s original review. His review is actually the type of book review I’d like to see more of. I’ve not read either book, but if a reviewer finds a book boring and/or uninsightful, I want to know about it before I spend money on it. It’s a lot more helpful than the vast majority of reviewers out there who just fawn over their favorite theologians. A case in point is all the talk I heard about Moltmann’s “Theology of Hope.” I was really excited about the book from all the glowing reviews, but I after reading it, I was disappointed and feel the author didn’t say anything as insightful as everybody claimed he had and it frankly bored me. I think that everybody should know that. And I think it’s right that Chad gave his honest opinion. May there be more reviews just like Chad’s!
    Furthermore, if he feels Jones is being arrogant and pompous and is charging money for the privelege of reading it in text form, I want to know about it! It’s one thing to confront someone in your church privately about their arrogance. That is the proper way to do it. But when someone is charging money for their theology? That’s where people should receive full disclosure about a reader’s experience with the product.
    Chad, maybe you can blend your penchant for honesty, i.e. calling a spade a spade with Scott’s important emphasis on empathy, which is much needed in today’s theological conversation, and become the ultimate reviewer! Honesty & Empathy, the keys to book reviewing.

  • http://danielktaylor.wordpress.com Dan

    I agree that the review could have taken a less personal and confrontational tone, but I think Chad Hall is tapping into something. I’ve been around the emerging conversation for a along time now and there are times when it feels like we’re stuck in the middle of an overly long adolescence. Like teenagers we think that what we’re experiencing is “new.” This feeling is reinforced by unfortunate book titles (I know publishers pick them, but do we really think that after twenty centuries that there is any such thing as a new Christian?) and we have the same conversations we were having back in 2002 where the solution to all our ills is for whatever hurt me to go away. Will we ever finish emerging and get to the spadework of being church?

  • http://robopa.blogspot.com Rob

    Alex #18, maybe the people that said Moltmann’s book was insightful actually believed it was? One’s insight is another’s boredom. Just a thought.

  • RJS

    josenmiami,
    Thanks, I may take a look at this (time permitting). I really think we need to learn to interact with diverse opinion in civil conversation – honest, but respectful.

  • Mick

    I think whether in reviews, or review of reviews, incarnational dialogue is limited in digital communication. Yes, if we were face to face with each other in conversation about our understanding of the faith, we might be more apt to get into a playground fight but we also get to see the non verbal, the tone and heart expressed through face to face encounter. We get to ask questions of the person and not just the print. This is not to say we should never have digital dialogue but we should always qualify or temper our responses with it’s limitations.

  • Bill

    Nice to see Mr. Hall recant. But w/ empathy toward him, I think it’s important to read between the lines. He seemed to communicate some discomfort without mentioning what it was. Now I don’t know what it was either but from my own experience, when I have emptied a clip, it usually means something else is what is really bugging me.
    So I think Hall’s review is really about something else and probably fit for some other type of discussion. Let’s exercise forgiveness like Scot does knowing that each one of us has gone on automatic at one time or another and that we have been forgiven much by the one who really understands what we do and why we do it.
    Peace.

  • Mike

    Mick (22): Spot-on. I reread Chad’s review, and he interspersed some important observations about the content of both books. Regrettably, his disappointment with Driscoll and Jones elicited some tough rhetoric that cuts off some analysis of the books.
    One example would be where Chad critiques Jones’ description of an emerging church in Seattle. The response (reaction?) is so strong, that I found myself checking out of the review. When I got a second pass, Chad found another voice in the paragraph that follows:
    “More than the condescension and contradiction, what I found most disturbing was that emergents’ thinking process seems self-sealing.”
    Now, the analysis of the “thinking process” was actually very good and when compared to other parts of the review it was free of the harsh labels: he held back from further expression of his disappointment. Mind you, I did not catch this until a second reading of the review, again that was because the language prior really made me think: “Chad is not going to analyze anything more than he has already.”
    So, yeah, digital communications has severe limitations, especially in “incarnational dialogue.”
    Moving this conversation forward, then, what of Tony’s omission in his reply to Chad on this very matter of the “self-sealing thinking process”? I wonder-in the real sense of needing conversation, understanding, and inquiry- I wonder about this depiction that Chad has made and that Tony did not reply to it.

  • http://www.davidwierzbicki.com/blog David

    thanks for keeping things fresh, scot.
    dan #19, every day there are new christians. these new christians are tending to exhibit their christianity in ways that are older and newer and similar to those that have come before. the title is very appropriate.

  • http://bobbyorr.wordpress.com MatthewS

    Scot,
    I appreciate this post and Chad’s response and your response to that.
    I read the review and responses. Chad made a claim that touches something I have wondered about before. He used the term, “self-sealing process” and claimed, “Nothing self-critical here.”
    Do you think there is merit to this concern that Chad stated? In general, do you sense a willingness in emerging believers to be self-critical and/or to accept criticism from outside, including from evangelicals who disagree with them?
    I realize the question is tangential to your point here and I suppressed the urge to post it the first time, but now that something of a coner has been turned in the comments (per Chad’s appearance), I thought I would risk asking you.

  • Mike

    MatthewS (26):
    I agree with you that the question is tangential. But, the thorny matter popped up for me as well. For as much as Chad may now regret his tone and the naming he attributed to the authors, you’re not alone in discovering this item on the thinking process.
    I don’t have any value attached to the process per se. I would like to understand it, even if the process is also emerging and developing. So, you raise a good question.

  • http://www.JesusCreed.org Scot McKnight

    MatthewS at #26,
    There is merit to Chad’s concern but thre is also willingness in emerging to be self-critical and to accept criticism, just as I think there is concern with critics not to read well and listen well and a willingness on their part to change their views. Maybe another way of putting this is that I simply don’t think humans, as a rule, are much in for changing their minds. And mind changes are not very often the result of logic but of confidence in another person who holds a different view that gives someone the confidence to reconsider.

  • RJS

    There is, for lack of a better word, an academic style of conversation that involves questioning much, putting forward ideas (often forcefully), having them shot down or questioned, rethinking and rephrasing, incorporating new insight, putting ideas forward again …
    Don’t get me wrong – this does not exist in ideal form. Sometimes personalities get involved; occasionally it can get heated; sometimes it is formal; sometimes it is informal; but it is a good way to learn. People often revise thinking – but only in the light of convincing argument.
    I think that some of the claim of arrogance for the emerging movement is true – and some of it comes from this clash of styles that comes across as arrogant to one who is not prepared to respond. It is not the typical style of conversation in our local churches, which is much more sedate and respectful of “authority” – personality driven even on occasion. Since the review here dealt with Tony’s book, it is probably fair to bring him into the conversation – I have not read any of Tony’s stuff – but I’ve listened to him speak (via mp3 file) a few times in different settings and my impression is that part of the disconnect arises from this style issue.
    Mick (#22) makes a great point – what comes across as reasonable in a face to face conversation is often lost or over the top in a digital conversation. It requires care to hit a good tone.

  • http://jonathanbrink.com/2008/07/18/much-love-to-mark-driscoll/ Anonymous

    Much Love To Mark Driscoll « Missio Dei

    [...] But recently Chad Hall wrote what, from my perspective and others, to be a callous and almost absurd critique of both Tony Jones’ book The New Christians and Mark Driscoll’s Vintage Jesus.� Other’s agreed with me.� The review reminded me of Mark’s diatribe against those in the emerging church. It looked like a knife fight masked as a book review.� And to be honest, I thought Tony got sucked in with his response.� Defending one’s point to someone who is not listening doesn’t really work.� But maybe that’s what Chad wanted.� Who knows? [...]

  • Karl

    MatthewS #26, I think that’s a great question and the “self sealing” criticism struck a chord with me based on a few conversations I have had.
    In conversations with several friends and acquaintances who self-identify as emergent, I have asked them questions along the lines of: (1) “what concerns do you have about emergent?” and (2) “which of the criticisms of emergent by evangelicals have some merit?”
    The responses I have received have pretty uniformly been (1) “my only criticism of emergent is that we aren’t emergent ENOUGH, that we aren’t radical enough, that we are tempted to settle back into complacency and not push on into this thing that we are experiencing”; and (2) No, I don’t think any of the criticisms of emergent by more conservative evangelicals have any merit, nor are they fair, nor do they really even understand emergent, etc.
    That strikes me as pretty self-sealing. No movement is so right on target that (1) it’s only “problem” is not being true enough to itself, and (2) none of its critics’ points have any merit.
    Granted my sample size is small, but that’s the tone I’ve picked up both in personal conversation and in reading Jones and others.

  • http://alexlsilva.blogspot.com Alex

    Rob in #20. I agree with your thought. But I would have liked to have heard two sides of the story, instead of just the positive. Now I realize that when someone does give a critical even scathing review, they get lambasted. A book is a product, not a person. There is nothing uncharitable about Chad’s review. Let’s remember that he is not reviewing a person here. He is reviewing a commercial product, a product that is sold for profit by the likes of Amazon.com and the respective publishers. If Chad was reviewing a person’s life, than that would be extremely judgemental and horribly uncharitable. But Chad is warning us not to spend our money and when that’s what’s on the line, I want a reaction from the gut, not a sales pitch where we try not to step on toes.

  • RJS

    Alex,
    Putting aside all other points for the moment – a review in a newspaper or magazine or on TV etc. is intended to give insight and allow an intelligent decision to watch a move, buy a book – whatever. A review on a blog is intended primarily to start or continue a conversation. The conversation will include the persons as well as the products. The tone of the original post sets the tone for the conversation. This gets to Mick’s points in #22. And I would guess this is why Chad (#7) feels his efforts in the end were counterproductive.
    I find the Out of Ur blog on CT unhelpful because the tone of the comments often becomes uncharitable on any controversial topic even when the original post is fair and gracious though critical.

  • http://www.JesusCreed.org Scot McKnight

    I’ve been following this conversation about how comments on blogs can degenerate. 3 years of blogging now has taught me one thing that I wish more would realize:
    Blogs, as RJS has just commented, can set tone; the post sets the tone.
    But, in addition to this — and I don’t set myself up here as perfect, the blog operator can teach the art of conversation by what is permitted and what is not. Many corporate blogs don’t have time for that, so one sees those posts become name-calling and nastiness.
    So, one of the things I’d like to see more blogs do is take responsibility for civility. If enough of us do this we can make a generalized impact at the grassroot level on how Christians can learn to converse with civility.
    It takes time; I’ve done this quite a number of times in the last two weeks. Most people, and I would say close to 90%, take the constructive suggestions to heart. Some don’t.
    I feel a personal obligation to this because of the “Jesus Creed” itself.

  • http://abisomeone.blogspot.com/ Peggy

    That’s right, Scot! The “Jesus Creed” itself drives what you do on this blog and is a great part of the reason why the “Jesus Creeders” come here to talk over this amazing variety of stuff we talk about…. 8)
    I agree that the conversation at the “One T” here is just as much dependent on the folks who are patrons by as the owner who starts the conversations. Thanks for puttin’ your cards on the table — and callin’ folks out from time to time.
    So, Scot…are you saying that the Deputies who frequent the One T seem to be off on summer vacation or something? ;)

  • Ken

    I think we all need to remember the intent of what the original post was. If I stand as judge to judge another, accusing them of judging, then I should be judged more guilty than the judge I’m judging. Unfortunately, however, the 2D screen and its text don’t allow me to see into the heart of the contributor, the one my judging mind is calling a judge. So I, like everyone else, needs to remember that, in reading a post and its responses, the reader presently interacts with the other’s words apart from the text’s author, who is a person. But I don’t know that person and, again, can’t see past the text, the screen, and into the heart. So I give the benefit of the doubt. I give the benefit that the words, though limited, have an intended purpose that I can not too quickly dismiss or condemn. And I will then extend that same generous attitude and charitable disposition to the printed page as well – particularly the two books discussed in the first place. And when I look into my heart – the only one I can truly see into – and if I find there a willing spirit to embark on such an enormous endeavor, then I can give the benefit of the doubt that the authors of the printed page and the text-on-screen blog might do the same. To me, that is conversation.

  • http://blog.billsamuel.net/ Bill Samuel

    The review article did read like he was having a bad time and he was going to take it out on whatever he read. His passion was really against Jones, and it sounded like he partly blasted Driscoll to show he wasn’t taking sides. But the style is a dialogue closer not a dialogue opener.
    Tony Jones has blogged about deciding how to respond. He considered responding in a more generous, Brian McLaren type manner, but decided against that in favor of the blow for blow approach. I think that was a bad choice. I think he let his anger get the better of him. Certainly his response was more cogent than the original, but the spirit of it wasn’t markedly better. He could have done much better.
    Scot, you’re the model for blogging about serious things in a way that opens up dialogue. Jesus Creed is cited by many people as a model, and rightly so.

  • Nancy

    I find myself agreeing with John F. #11.

  • http://katadrew.com/2008/jesus-for-president-afterthoughts/ Anonymous

    kata Drew » Blog Archive » Jesus for President Afterthoughts

    [...] I blogged earlier in the week on going to see Shane Claiborne speak in Raleigh (Jesus for President: Shane Claiborne in Raleigh) on his new book Jesus for President. I knew that it was going to be unlike anything I’d seen or heard and that it was going to be strongly politically charged (e.g., “It’s not a matter of whether you’re political but how you’re political” said Shane), a subject which I normally shy away from for lack of knowledge, understanding and want-to. And though, since reading Scot McKnight’s post on how not to blog and the follow-up comments by readers, I’ve felt fearful of falling into a similar error, I still, because of the impression that evening in Raleigh has had on me, I’ve really wanted to share some thoughts, and so I’ll attempt, despite a slight reserve, to do just that in what I hope will be fair-minded reflection. [...]


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