Bullet Points?

From the Reformation 21 blog:

A few years ago, I was on a panel discussing the Puritans.  A member of the audience asked if I could provide `a few bullet points’ to summarise Puritan theology.  My mind immediately went to those passages of John Owen and Richard Baxter where they give the reader the fifteenth point of the seventeenth qualification of the twentieth application of a doctrine or passage.  `No, I’m afraid I can’t.’ I replied, `The Puritans were not bullet point people in the modern sense.’  As if to underline the point, the recording manager, now a respected RCA pastor in California, added a backtrack of a tommy-gun firing to the mp3 recording.

It also reminded me of wise words a colleague who works in the field of seventeenth century Reformed Orthodoxy once gave me.  I asked him about a certain book on a particularly sophisticated Puritan theologian.  “Look at the man’s sentences,’ he said `You cannot capture the nuance and subtleties of the original author with English prose which is simply not fine-tooled enough for the task.’

One of the key problems of this age is the reduction of every complicated issue to a few sound-bites.   Politicians are the worst of all, not because they are actually worse at reductionism than other people but because the stakes are so much higher.  It is vital that the church does not end up in the same place. Some ideas are just complicated and not even a double tweet or even an extended article in wikipedia can do them justice..  A theology which can be expressed in 140 characters or turned into a half dozen semi-grammatical bullet points without an obvious main verb is inevitably a theology which is either ambiguous, simplistic or both.   It behooves those in positions of ministerial leadership in the church to make sure that the way they write and express themselves on any given topic is not only clear enough for the audience to understand but also precise enough that the audience does not misunderstand.

That is one reason why there must be a difference between evangelism and discipleship.  We should expect those who come to church to grow in their ability to understand the deep things of the faith. Church teaching needs to stretch believers.  Evangelistic preaching and teaching cannot be the sole diet of a church, even though believers as much as anyone need to hear the simple gospel on a regular basis.

It should also make us cautious about the limits of certain media.  Twitter is the obvious example.  It is a great way of linking to more substantial material; it is somewhat crass — even crasser than a typical political campaign debate — when it comes to expressing anything actually worth saying.

James Delingpole has a good piece on this in The Independent.  If Twitter is a bad place for giving expression to post-colonial theory, what hope is there for tweeting decent theology?

Oh, and if you communicate by Twitter, do not complain at being taken out of context.  Twitter has no context worth speaking of.

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