Blogging Controversies

Illustration from Pickling His Presence

Late last week, I took some heat in the comment section of a post that I meant to be a rather lighthearted way to slide into the weekend. Some readers took that as an opportunity to let me know how much I’ve disappointed them, saying that they used to think that I was interesting, but now I’m a whiney crybaby.

A couple commenters seemed to complain that I am classified in the Evangelical Portal at Patheos. I asked to be categorized there — as well as in the Progressive Portal — and these commenters insinuated that I did so only to increase my traffic. I can state, for the record, that being included in the Evangelical Portal has not increased my traffic.

(I can also state plainly that, despite what those commenters say, I have just as many grievances against mainline/progressive Christianity as I do against evangelicalism.)

Timothy Dalrymple is the editor of the Evangelical Portal at Patheos, and he’s got an intriguing post up about blogging controversies. He interviews some others from his camp, and he quotes the traffic from some bloggers in his stable whom you and I can both guess the identities of. Tim ends — as is an evangelical’s wont — with a list of prescriptions. I’m not much of one for lists of prescriptions, but I think Tim’s are pretty good.

But I also have some other thoughts about his post, and about blogging controversies:

Controversy brings traffic. There’s simply no doubt about that, and I think my friend Rachel Held Evans is being a tad bit disingenuous in her post about this. True, I’ve grown my traffic by posting regularly — twice per weekday, and once or twice on the weekend. But when I blog about Mark Driscoll or Rob Bell or gay marriage, my traffic doubles. I can spend an hour writing a thoughtful, theological post and it will get one-tenth the traffic of a one paragraph rant about John Piper with a link.

Referrals bring traffic. My biggest traffic on a single post came in my thoughts on Rob Bell, because it was linked to by Christianity Today (thanks, CT. Love ya!). I’ve never been linked to by Andrew Sullivan or The Huffington Post or any huge site. Tim has and Rachel has, and there are big traffic spikes as a result.

Conversation brings traffic. Scot McKnight has built his traffic as a result of regularity, yes. And he occasionally wades into controversies, but usually only after some time has passed. What it’s clear that Scot does is read every comment. Scot is very active in his comment section and, as a result, has developed a very committed (and large) community of readers — readers who go back many times per day to read the latest comments by Scot and others.

Ambulance-chasing is tiring. Even as I watched Rachel get hundreds of comments about the Piper-masculinity-mess and Matthew Paul Turner rack it up on the Driscoll-excommunication-fiasco, I decided to sit both of those out. I felt myself getting tired of controversy-after-controversy. I couldn’t keep up, and I didn’t know that I had anything interesting or new to add to the conversation controversy. I will, of course, jump into the hot waters in the future, but I needed to take a couple off.

Finally this: Tim’s post takes numerous swipes and Brian McLaren, calling him “no longer clearly Christian” and “terribly misleading theologically.” Tim is way off the mark here, and I have to wonder if he’s even read the book to which he’s referring.

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  • First time visit to your blog. Feel like I have stepped into the middle of a fight and I don’t know the story! But, I will say I agree that ambulance-chasing is exhausting and I applaud you for getting out of the fray, and staying far enough out for as long as you can, in order to offer insight and content that contributes value and doesn’t simply feed the controversy beast. I will be back as I find your tweeted blog links!

  • I thought the twitter post was hilarious.

    Also, I was severely disappointed when Scot has changed his blog originally a few years back and lost his commenter community. I had learned a tremendous deal from them about many good things while lurking. Glad that he’s got that going again, though I rarely lurk anymore for time constraints.

  • First, that photo of Driscoll and Bell is brilliant! I haven’t read you or any other evangelical bloggers in probably 2 yrs or so (used to enjoy watching the Piperites and the Driscollites, Mclarenites and Bellites throw mud balls at each other….with each crying foul). No offense, but having returned to reading this and others it still feels like DC versus Marvel kind of scuffle going with y’all.

    • Frank

      I know sad isn’t it that some have not grown up and moved on to maturity.

      • Larry Barber

        Frank, are you angling for the position of Resident Ironist?

        • Frank

          No I could never be good enough to usurp Tony and his followers for that position.

  • I used to blog regularly but it was too much to juggle with work, marriage, fatherhood, home ownership, personal recreation, etc but I definitely know of the temptation, especially when you’ve hit a wall (writer’s block), to just write tackle a controversial subject and see numbers rise. For the most part I only wrote about such matters if they were of true interest to me and I thought I had a unique perspective or I saw underlying factors being ignored.

    Quite frankly as of late Driscoll and Piper have said enough outlandish things that they don’t need me to point out the flaws – it’s already immediately obvious. And I’ve wondered how mature it is to simply do back to the right that which they’ve done to us – pick apart beliefs and theology and slam us.

  • Zach

    I think people who get so worked up need to get a life. Certainly, the detrimental influence of the Piper/Driscoll etc crowd on the church today is very disturbing and shouldn’t be taken lying down. But the people I admire don’t live for blogging but are rather engaged in God’s Kingdom work in the world, the real world, not cyberspace. Certainly the net is a valid and today influential medium for information and debate, but who really cares about whether Rick Warren follows you? (I’m in complete agreement with you there Tony).

  • Marshall

    It’s disappointing that the internet turns out to be about traffic, and the point about “conversation” and “compassion” is that it’s good for same. Ambulance chasing must be spiritually exhausting, in the sense of emptying the tank and blowing it out the tailpipe. Politics (pejorative sense intended) is what happens when everybody tries to be a leader … “assholes and elbows”, we used to say … yet another example of original sin at work. It seems to me.

    Tony, I think it’s a good thing that you identify as an Evangelical as well as a Progressive. Belonging to a minority tradition shouldn’t take anything away from being an influence in the wider tradition … thus does one herd cats. Isn’t it weird that an attempt towards unification can be dismissed as divisive?

  • For what it’s worth… this has become one of my favorite blogs in the past year or so, controversies and all. I totally understand that sometimes the most thoughtful content doesn’t drive the most traffic. I have a small food blog that I’m constantly working on making better, and in the food blogging community (like all blogging communities) the thing that drives the traffic are the links. The biggest post of all time on my blog was this dopey little cookie recipe. The cookies were ok, but the picture of them was featured on a couple of conglomerate sites, so the traffic went through the roof. Sometimes I’ll flip through my stats and think “You came here for those? They’re not even that great! Why didn’t you stick around for something that I worked really hard on!”

    The fact that the controversial (or highly linked) subjects bring a lot of traffic isn’t a problem as far as I am concerned, as long as you are not posting it just BECAUSE it brings traffic. (And I’ve never gotten that sense from you.)

    One more thing… I read the comments in this blog more than I do on other blogs and here’s why:
    1. There are some truly obnoxious “regulars” that make me snort and giggle.
    2. There are some truly thoughtful “regulars” that add a lot to the conversations you start.
    3. You regularly comment in your own comment section, which I really appreciate.

    So… if you’re asking (and I’m not sure you are ;), I say keep doing it the way you’re doing it. Don’t ease up on those really thoughtful posts that don’t get a lot of traffic, and keep posting the controversial stuff that you want to post.

    Thanks for a good blog.

  • well said, as usual, tony.

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