The other day our seven year old daughter, Caroline, was watching something on the Kindle while I was sitting nearby. The video stated something as fact that isn’t a fact. I asked her to pause it and I said, “We don’t believe that is true. We think (enter short explanation)…..” She said, “But it is true. They just said it.”
Ah, perfect teachable moment.
I explained to her that not everything online is true. I showed her The Drudge Report because it is something she’s seen us use many times. I told her, “This is all news. Some of it is true. Some of it isn’t. We need to ask God to help us read and figure out what is true and what isn’t. Just because someone says it online or in a book doesn’t mean it is true. Just because a leader says it doesn’t make it true. Just because someone we respect says it doesn’t make it true.”
While I think most Christians would readily agree with this view as it pertains to the news, too many of them seem willing to check their brains and critical thinking skills at the door as soon as it has anything to do with Christianity, the Bible, big name teachers, etc. This is unfortunate because there is usually more at stake when it comes to our faith than when it comes to the news!
Being Bereans Online
We absolutely have to be Bereans online. If you aren’t familiar with that term, here is the context from the Scripture in Acts 17:10-12 (NIV).
The brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so. Therefore many of them believed, along with a number of prominent Greek women and men.…
The Bereans did not just take Paul’s word for it. They didn’t blindly follow Silas. They examined the Scriptures to see if they were telling them the truth or not. Luke, the author of Acts, describes them as more noble-minded. It is a quality to be admired when Christians are willing to be skeptical and check out the teachings of a leader or author to make sure they line up with the Scriptures.
So do you want to know the truth? Are you looking for THE answer that someone can just give you? Or are you reading, studying and praying that God will guide you? Are you willing to take the time to examine what someone says or writes? I hope so! Your spiritual well-being and that of those you influence may very well be at stake! We all need to be Bereans!
Fear Mongering Online
One thing I’ve seen online lately is a lot of fear mongering posts and Facebook discussions. People discussing in vague terms the “terrible blogs” that are out there and how they will “lead you astray.” After a lengthy but vague discussion of all the hidden dangers out there just waiting to take people down, it is inevitable that a few people will say something like, “I’m so glad I stayed away.” or “Thank you for the warning. I’m never going near those kinds of blogs again.” In other words, I’m not going to listen to anyone else except you because I “know” you are safe and that’s a big, bad world out there.
People, red flags should be going up all over the place while you are reading the above paragraph.
How to be a Berean Online
So let’s think about practical ways to be a Berean online. Here’s my take. Let me know what you think of these suggestions that I’m presenting in random order.
Does the writer encourage you to think for yourself or check your intellect at the door so he can tell you what to think? Is he leading you to dependence on him and his interpretations or dependence on the Bible and Holy Spirit? Is your first thought, “I wonder what God thinks about this and what the Bible says?” or “I wonder what so and so thinks about this?” Do you form your own opinion or immediately race to (insert prominent blogger/writer/pastor here)’s blog to be told what to think?
Is the writer pushing you to fear or faith? I am seeing a lot of fear mongering online regarding blogs that are willing to take on difficult issues. Is the person pushing you toward fear (run or you’ll get contaminated!) or faith (read and equip yourself to understand all the sides of the issues)?
As best as you can determine, what is the writer’s motivation? What is the overall tone of their blog? You can’t always tell by one post the first time you visit a blog. If someone has only read my most recent post on this blog, they might think I have an anger issue. But in the context of my eight years of blogging and all the other posts on this site, they would see that I almost never write with that much intensity about any topic. So you have to read around a bit and try to get at the writer’s motivation. Can you know the motivation of another person for sure? No. But you can get a feel on someone’s blog. Are they there to help people grow with the help of the Holy Spirit or push an agenda?
Does the writer encourage you to study the Scriptures or study their materials in which they tell you what they think the Scriptures say? Big difference! One of the first red flags for me on a site is when it is full of their materials and little else. Does the writer link to lots of different people so you can read more fully on a topic? Or does he pontificate and keep you only on his site so you only hear his side of the story? Does he even admit that there might be another view that could be valid? Writers who have your best interest at heart are more than willing to let you read and ponder for yourself. They don’t need you to believe them and validate them. They trust that the Holy Spirit can do the job just fine, thankyouverymuch.
Do you get the impression (as best you can judge) that the author realizes his own fallibility? Does he ask people for feedback? Does he respond thoughtfully to questions? Has he ever written that he changed his mind about a certain theological point? (Changing your mind about something is not necessarily a sign of weakness but maturity!) Does he allow comments? Does he delete or censor comments that don’t agree with his view? Does he allow dissenting opinion with the outcome to agree to disagree in a friendly manner?
Does the writer have knowledge and experience with this topic as well as the authority that comes with them? There are some topics related to the faith I have never broached on any of my blogs in eight years. I don’t have the knowledge or experience to speak with authority on them. I have opinions, but it would be foolish of me to speak on those topics because I am not well-studied or informed. I will, however, speak on topics that have impacted my life and that God has used to teach me about Him, the church and others. God allows us to suffer in order to comfort others. God allows us to personally confront false teaching so we can warn others. So consider if the person has knowledge and experience. And, no, this does not mean they have to have a theology degree or be an “official” minister of the gospel. We are a priesthood of believers and as such we all proclaim the gospel and exercise the gifts given to us by the Holy Spirit. There are plenty of false teachers out there with fancy degrees and positions of influence. And there are plenty of wise brothers and sisters in Christ who have no formal credentials in the worldly sense, but have walked with God through some pretty significant learning experiences. Discern which one it is.
Consider the audience of the blog. This is an easy one to overlook if you come across a post on a blog you’ve never visited. You really have to take posts in the entire context of the blog and consider the audience that the blogger is focusing on. For example, there are certain things I assume about people who read here. I’m assuming a certain level of Bible knowledge. I’m assuming a certain understanding of the dynamics and history within the church when it comes to the issues of women in leadership. I do have a target audience. It is generally not non-Christians or new Christians. They are certainly welcome to read here, but when I write I have other people in mind. Every blog has an audience in mind. Consider the blogger’s audience.
Lastly, run far away from anyone who tries to shut down the conversation by throwing out the G word. Gossip. Yes, there are people who gossip online. Yes, there are good bloggers who cross the line sometimes. No one is perfect. I sometimes ask David to do a “Heresy Check” on my posts before I post them to make sure that I’ve been clear. I’ll send the link to an online friend and ask her if I’ve crossed the line with something I’ve written. No one does it right every time. But when people don’t like something or you are picking on their favorite, they love to pull out the Gossip Trump Card in order to shut down conversation. They have no problem critiquing the message of people they don’t agree with, but as soon as you pick apart the teachings of one of their heroes, you are a gossip. My opinion is that it is an unwillingness to admit that maybe the blogs they are accusing of gossip are speaking the truth. While they may not like the manner in which it is done, are they willing to admit that they are speaking truth? Oftentimes I think not. They don’t want their views challenged in a meaningful and thoughtful way so they pull out the Gossip Trump Card.
So there you are. Eight ways to exercise discernment and wisdom online. What would you add to the list?