Citizenship Confusion: Online Evangelism?

Citizenship Confusion: Online Evangelism? April 2, 2012

Every Monday in Citizenship Confusion, Alan Noble discusses how we confuse our heavenly citizenship with citizenship to the state, culture, and the world.

Due to some family medical problems (nothing “serious,” but plenty inconvenient), I did not have the time to write a column this weekend; so, rather than skip this week entirely, I’ve decided to feature an old CaPC article that I am proud of, an article that most of you would probably never find on the site otherwise. As I’ve said before, this is “my way of fighting the ephemerality of web content.”

On October the 24th, 2008, I published an article entitled, Proclaiming the Gospel, One Forum at a Time. In it, I started to work through the question of what it meant to proclaim the Gospel in online communities:

“If we are called to proclaim the Gospel to all nations, and if message boards, forums, and Internet groups allow us to easily reach people all over the world, how should we use these tools to fulfill the Great Commission?”

Many evangelicals feel called to evangelize online, but their methods suggest that little thought has been paid to what it ought to look like to be a witness in a digital public forum. Specifically, my concern is that the Internet invites poorly conceived, arrogant, trivial, ineffective witnessing because of how easy it is to enter dialogue with non-Christians online and to avoid the very real consequences of ungracious speech. The result of this technology has been a flourishing of absurd and ugly attempts at spreading the Gospel or “defending” the Faith:

“Go to nearly any predominate site on the Internet which allows the users to create groups or start discussion forums, and you will find groups devoted to proving the existence of God, threads dealing with the problem of evil, commenters declaring why the Jews need Christ, discussions explaining why atheism leads to immorality and anarchy, and why the Mormons are all going to hell.”

Despite being written nearly three and a half years ago, I think the article still offers something. Take a read:  Proclaiming the Gospel, One Forum at a Time.

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  • Steve S.

    I think your recent post on the TM case illustrates yet another problem with “online evangelism.” Most people who read material online aren’t actually reading. They’re just skimming. And the more complex the issue, the less actual reading goes on. Even if we take the time to craft a careful, gentle, gracious explanation, most readers will skim it for key words and come away with nothing approaching real meaning. When speaking person-to-person, we have body language that tells us when the other person has stopped paying attention, is becoming distracted, or is becoming hostile, or whatever. We can’t do that online.

  • Ben

    The hardest part about online discussions is the lack of follow up. Okay, so sure you can meet somebody on the street, discuss with them, and never see them again too, but it feels more “real” because they are right in front of you. When talking online, it is hard to convey that you might actually care for them. And you aren’t a real person to them just a name and some text. And then you move on to somebody else or another discussion like nothing happened. I have tried to follow up with some people I had discussions with, and they did not reply. I take it with a grain of salt, but there is definitely a hurdle there.

    My wife actually has quite a gift for witnessing on the Playstation Network. Many times she has met people and discussed with them Christ. Albeit she is using voice, so there are easier ways to convey information, but it still holds that it is a temporary medium where you meet people passing in cyberspace and will never see them again. But it is pretty amazing to see the Spirit work and convict people. Frequently I will hear her say something to the effect of, I didn’t say that. That’s a feeling you are having all on your own. I am just saying such and such about me or about God. It goes to show that usually we know we are sinners, and really just need to know the path to walk to deal with that. So being out there pointing to Christ can have a profound effect even through technology.

  • Daniel

    This old article is pretty timely for me, as I an engaged in a very civil and stimulating discussion on Facebook with a Muslim friend. The advantage of Facebook is it’s non-anonymity…I cannot hide behind an online persona, my friends know who I am.

    Yet it’s interesting, because my relationship with this Muslim friend began in a Christian forum, where he was offering respectful, though challenging, debate with Christians–and most posts to him were quite ungracious and hostile. I wanted to have a more “personal” discussion that would avoid these traps, and so eventually we ended up “friending” each other on Facebook.

    Online anonymity, while useful for certain things, is dangerous to civility. I have severely cut down on my posting to online forums because of the lack of grace and hostility (CIPC is an exception), and devote far more time to Facebook. (Of course, face-to-face would probably be better still…but I would have never met some people that challenge me if I simply spent time with those who live in the same community as I.)

  • JO

    Thanks for sharing this helpful article.