Entering the marketplace of ideas

Entering the marketplace of ideas October 15, 2012

This post is a slightly long-winded way of explaining why I am taking my blog to We live in interesting days. As Christians, both offline and online we find it very easy to huddle together in groups that think the same way as us. There is clearly an important place for that. We gather as churches and in virtual communities online and as a result our faith is strengthened by our fellowship with brothers and sisters. All to often some Christians find we enjoy being with fellow believers so much, a big part of us wishes we could just be with them the whole time. And so, at least emotionally, we withdraw step by step from the world around us. Before we know it our friends all go to the same church as us, we read only books and blogs that we agree with, and we sleep walk into constructing a Christian ghetto. And, as a result, the gospel can be constrained within the boundaries of our own communities rather than proclaimed. As Spurgeon is reported to have said, “The gospel is like a caged lion. It does not need to be defended, it just needs to be let out of its cage.”

When asked about evangelism, our goal would be that the world comes to join us at church. But we forget, Jesus did not command us to gather in huddles and wait for others to join us, instead he commands us to “go” into all the world and make disciples. Truth be told, the command to “go” does very much include an invitation for everyone and anyone to “come”, but we must embrace and act on Jesus manifesto for his church! Paul’s example compels us to by all means save some. Without some form of engagement with the world, how can we fulfill Jesus’ Great Commission? Jesus commands us to go but we would much rather they come to us

For most Christians today who are not full-time pastors, actually we cannot avoid being immersed in a world that is increasingly hostile to us. Sometimes we even struggle with knowing how to relate even to other Christians who go to different churches to us and think differently. I think it is vital for us understand each other rather than constructing “straw men” from different traditions. This is why I have written a number of what I call theological spectrum posts, on a range of controversial subjects facing the church today, including Complementarianism vs Egalitarianism, homosexuality, gifts of the Holy Spirit, Calvinism vs Arminianism, hell and salvation, and evolutionism vs creationism. If we cannot even understand other Christians, how can we hope to engage with the world around us?

Many of us are very concerned about talking about our faith with people of other faiths or none. The aggressive secularism around us increasingly tells us to keep our beliefs to ourselves. There is real hatred for Christian values in our culture today. Therefore many Christians, like myself, either through fear or the wisdom of Mordecai live largely incognito at work, biding our time, waiting for the right opportunity to share with our colleagues that we are in fact Christians.

Meanwhile we may in fact work with others from different religions who also feel the same apprehension about sharing their faith. There is a not very subtle drive from militant secularists seeking to construct an atheocracy, and to push all conversation about personal beliefs out of the public square. We need to tackle such a drive head on, and one way of doing this is having respectful conversations with those of other faiths, without trying to pretend we all agree. My friend Bob Roberts exemplifies this approach more than anyone else I know.

Pastors, your people desperately need to learn how to simply speak about their faith with people who have all kinds of religious backgrounds and none. Believe me when I say fewer and fewer of them live in a cocooned world where their only spiritual input is listening to your sermons, or reading materials you would agree with. We need to learn about other faiths, and be able to disagree agreeably. Crucially we need to learn how what we say can be misunderstood by others, for example explaining to Muslims what we mean by claiming Jesus is God’s son takes great care. I hope that in some small way, as I continue to share my own journey of learning in all this, I can help others as they in turn help me.

For almost ten years now I have been blogging on my own site. I’ve noticed very often the tendency for us all to congregate online with others who think like us. But I have always enjoyed interacting with others who think very differently. I find it sharpens my thinking, helps me to understand why I believe what I do, and shapes the way I explain my views. Until I realize how I sound to others, how can I effectively communicate with them? Unless I am willing to listen to them why should I expect them to listen to me?

Many years ago I felt God calling me to preach. I did a bit of preaching in a church environment. But at the time I felt compelled to take the message outside, just as we had done when I was a child in Open Air Evangelism services in a local park. So, together with some dear friends of mine I started going to Speakers Corner in London’s Hyde Park. This is a place where traditionally people go to declare and debate their views, however unusual. It is a bit like a modern version of the Aereogapus where Paul stood and announced the gospel in a marketplace of ideas. At Speakers Corner you don’t mind who is speaking at the stall next to yours or what they are saying. You simply aim to get your message out and interact with others.

It seems to me that the folks at have attempted to construct just such a marketplace for ideas online. Their goal is simply hosting the conversation on faith. Atheists, Muslims, Catholics, Buddhists, and evangelicals of all persuasions each run their own blogs for which they retain ownership and editorial responsibility, and yet in various channels and in other ways they can find each other and interact. When approached a few weeks ago to consider joining them, I found it hard to resist, especially having read Timothy Dalrymple’s vision for a relaunched Patheos Evangelical, with a clear goal to bring more blogs on board from a more traditionally evangelical perspective.

It will be nice being a neighbour to Joe Carter, who will be known and loved to many who remember the early days of Christian blogging as the founder of Evangelical Outpost. I know there are also some other “traditional” evangelical bloggers who’ve either already decided to move, and some including Ed Stetzer are still considering it. Timothy says he is looking for more blogs from the reformed wing of the church, as well as baptists, and pentecostals / charismatics. As someone who has my feet firmly in all three of those camps, I guess I represent killing three birds with one stone for them!

As I make this move, easily the most dramatic in all my years of blogging, I feel the same excitement I felt as a boy when I used to sneak off from my parents in the park to find someone to share my faith with, and the same anticipation I would feel as my friends drove me on a Sunday afternoon to Speakers Corner. Joining a site like Patheos is not for everyone. But aside from me having new neighbors, and presumably interacting with them a bit more on my blog, you really won’t notice much change around here. The site will look different, but it was overdue a redesign anyway. There will no doubt be some of the advertising in the sidebars that we will have to agree together to ignore! That is just the cost of being in a forum that is open to people of all faiths or none, and will finally mean that this blog stops costing me money. But I have already seen a few interesting things there, as someone who almost never watches TV with commercials, I suppose I have to be exposed to the messages of secular advertisers somewhere!

Essentially, this move feels to me like I am leaving the online hamlet of my own construction and moving into the centre of a busy metropolis. My blog posts will continue to be available via email subscription, RSS feed, or on Twitter or Facebook, so it is very possible many of you might barely even notice the difference. As they say, change is here to stay, however. I am excited about the move, and I would value your prayers as I enter this next phase of my blogging life. I hope you will join me for the next chapter in the adventure that has been this blog.

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