CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Zeal, Wisdom, Culture Wars and the Social Media

Jan 14, 2017

There are plenty of zealous folks out there – folks with a zeal to promote various causes, or engage in various activities, or champion various beliefs. Nothing wrong with all that, as long as it is done wisely and carefully. But too often it is not, and zeal outstrips wisdom, caution and prudence.

Christians can as easily be guilty of this as non-Christians. This ought not to be the case. After all, Scripture does speak about this very matter. Let me just offer one text from each Testament. A classic Old Testament message is Proverbs 19:2: “Zeal without knowledge is not good”.

And Romans 10:2 is a major New Testament warning about this: “For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge.” Zeal by itself is not a virtue – it can often become a liability. Our zeal, passion and devotion must always be channelled by wisdom, knowledge, understanding and care.

Social Media 2The social media is where we see all this taking place on a regular basis. There anyone can post anything at any time. This is both a blessing and a curse. It is terrific in that now we can get truth out into the public arena, reaching many more people much more quickly. It is a great alternative to the mainstream media and its stranglehold on what is seen and heard.

But it also allows any nutter or fraud to freely post any amount of loony nonsense. So the social media easily becomes flooded with everything bogus, whacko, foolish and false – including plenty of conspiracy theories of all sorts and sizes. So much erroneous and deceptive stuff is being posted every day, that those who use the social media must be very careful, discerning and selective.

Too often however believers are passing on spurious, unhelpful and just plain loony material. They need to be far more careful in what they share and pass along. While sometimes the stuff being posted may seem legit, we can cause mischief simply by not checking things out a bit more closely.

Being aware of the source of some information is part of how we assess things. Knowing if it comes from a reputable or a dodgy source helps quite a bit here. If you are not sure of a site or a person, simply conferring with a friend may quickly make things clear.

We must take care in not peddling rumours and urban legends. And of course there do exist fact-checking and myth-busting sites, but they too need to be handled with care. Some have their own biases. For example, the popular Snopes site is really a leftist site which is far from impartial and reliable, especially on political and religious topics. See here eg.:

dailycaller.com/2016/06/17/fact-checking-snopes-websites-political-fact-checker-is-just-a-failed-liberal-blogger/
accuracyinpolitics.blogspot.com.au/2013/05/snopes-got-snoped.html

And simply looking at the date of a post can avoid various problems. Often folks will post stuff as if it is brand new breaking news, but a quick look at the site where the piece comes from will usually reveal to us that it may in fact be quite dated information – perhaps even years old.

We also need to be aware of websites which are actually satire sites. Sharing their stuff as if it is some shocking true story, when in fact it is just a spoof or a send up is not very helpful. Usually these sites (such as the Babylon Bee) say somewhere on their site that they are a satire site.

And we need to be careful about sharing stuff that may be well over our heads. To be honest, those who share stuff which is rather detailed and technical in nature should have at least a little understanding about such things first. For example, it may be useful when posting some highly scientific material to have a modicum of scientific background yourself. It is not essential, but it can be helpful.

Also along these lines, too often I find believers who obviously do not have the slightest knowledge about the biblical languages acting as if they are, posting stuff, insisting that this is what the Greek says, and so on. A little humility can go a long way here.

A general rule of thumb is that unless the person or the site you are sharing from is quite reliable, you may need to think twice before posting. After a while you may become more familiar with those who are dependable and those who are quite dubious.

This is especially so when people share a YouTube video by someone who is ranting and raving about something, who is usually not an expert at anything, but is just mouthing off. Simply sharing a video like this is no way to make your case or to provide a solid argument.

Theological debates also can be mentioned here. There are countless heresy hunters on the Internet and social media, happy to condemn anyone who does not fully line up with their way of thinking. Usually we should give a wide berth to such folks. They often cause far more harm than good.

I have written about this often elsewhere, eg: billmuehlenberg.com/2014/04/09/on-heresy-hunters/

Also, there is a tendency to condemn other believers for one small thing they have said or done, ignoring all the other good they have done. Sure, real heretics and apostates must be caught out, and real doctrinal error must be exposed. But too often other Christians are attacked either for a very minor thing, or for things which are only a small part of who they are and what they believe.

The truth is, there are all sorts of people I may disagree with about various issues, but for the most part they are good men and women of God who love the Lord and are faithfully serving him. To pick out one or two things that we may differ on, then treat the person as anathema is not very wise or Christlike.

If I were to have fellowship only with those believers who think 100 per cent the same as I do, I would be down to a club of one – and I disagree with myself sometimes! We really need to cut each other some slack and show some grace and Christlikeness in areas where there should be some room to move.

And then there are those who love to use the social media to hang out all their dirty laundry. They might be having a bad day or are in an emotionally bad way, but then they let it all hang out online. They will even attack loved ones or family members.

One can understand people going through tough times and wanting to vent, but the Christian should not be splashing these matters out there for the whole world to see. Find a close friend or pastor to share your concerns with, but don’t splash everything online, only to later regret it, and to cause so much harm to relationships along the way.

We simply need much more wisdom and grace in what we share and post online – and how we do it. Some people are far too ready to share every silly thing found on the Internet without doing the slightest bit of checking first. Sure, with millions of things floating around the Web, we cannot check out everything before we post it.

I too have shared some things on the social media which have turned out to be untrue, or misleading, or rather dubious. The Christian thing to then do is to thank those who have offered correction, and either delete the post or share more on it with your new-found knowledge.

The reason this is all so important should be obvious: truth matters, and Christians of all people should be concerned about truth. We need to handle the things we share with others carefully, making sure we are not passing along misinformation or false and scurrilous material.

That means we will need to do a bit of homework first before simply clicking the share button. Discernment and wisdom is needed here just as much as in any other area of the Christian life. Of course we cannot properly check out everything we see, and if the post is from a reliable source or a reliable friend, then you can feel more free about sharing it.

But we all can be guilty of doing harm to the cause of Christ by not being as discerning, wise and careful as we might be in what we post. We need to do better. We are Christ’s ambassadors, and that means we must be very circumspect and diligent in making sure we represent him accurately and faithfully.

So keep on using the social media and other outlets to share truth, preach the word, and offer much needed information to a needy world where people are starved of truth – both within and without of the church. But do so wisely.

We want to be faithful to the Scriptural concerns about being zealous for that which is good and right and true – but to do so with knowledge, wisdom and care.

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3 Responses to Zeal, Wisdom, Culture Wars and the Social Media

  • On the topic of those who insist “this is what the Greek actually says”: usually what they are offering is simply their own literal English translation of what the “Greek says”. What the Greek actually says is in Greek. There’s nothing like being a bit of a pedant when discerning what people are saying or writing! And there’s nothing like trying to be accurate when discussing important subjects.

  • And I’m the first to comment!?

    Thanks Bill, well said, and really fair.

    I have changed my opinion about things a number of times; important things included.
    Yes, I have disagreed with myself, and there are currently a number of issues including doctrines that I find I want to be really careful about when explaining them to myself and to others. A teachable spirit is of great value.

    I have found my zeal for an idea has corresponded with how sure I am about its truth and importance.

    When I find myself being skeptical about what I am zealously being told, There are three things that help with assessing the value of the information or opinion, and they are,
    1. Is it scriptural?
    2. Is the source reliable, respected, accurate, careful, etc, etc?
    3. Does it even seem right or plausible?

    After the comments about those who zealously believe in a flat earth, egged on by Tim, I did some cruising on the internet. I wanted to see if any of their theories were credible at all. Most were sadly laughable, and some were as you suggest, ignorant of science, measurement, and physics. They did not even really understand what they were saying, scientifically, logically or for that matter scripturally.

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