One of the participants at The John 3:16 Conference (J316) was Dr. David Allen, Dean of the School of Theology, Professor of Preaching, Director for the Center for Expository Preaching, and George W. Truett Chair of Ministry at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS). Professor Allen's presentation focused on Limited Atonement. I wrote before the conference that we "expect[ed] his contribution to invigorate the discussion on what I view[ed] as the definitive chink in the Dortian Calvinist's armor." I was far from being incorrect. The discussion has been inciting.
Unfortunately, one of the negative contributors to needless rhetoric was the live-blogging that took place during the conference. Leading the pack was Andrew Lindsay, writing for Challies.com. Sweet Tea & Theology (Mark Lamprecht) also posted live from Woodstock. Perhaps the most influential SBC Calvinist blogger, Timmy Brister, while not at the conference, offered his thoughts from afar, depending largely on the live-blogging of others.
One of the glaring problems of "live-blogging" is also a major one--accuracy. How precise are the bloggers who attempt to whip out a condensed post at accelerated speeds? Do mistakes matter? How many mistakes do the bloggers make? Are the mistakes minor ones like punctuation, spelling errors, or perhaps a date for a historical reference (this, however, could be critical!)? Or, are the errors major such as overlooking an important distinction, leaving out a crucial definition, or worst still, reading into the presenter's view positions he/she neither verbalized nor necessarily implied?
The J316C is the first event I recall having personally attended that was also "live-blogged." And, while I have yet to give a full review of the conference myself, the stark difference I experienced at J316, along with many things I personally heard from the speakers, compared to the "live-blogging" posts I've read, literally stuns me.
In fact, I am convinced blogging live should have no future for conferences like J316C. It's just too easy to post serious mistakes that bloggers make about the presentations offered. This not only feeds mythical internet frenzies about an alleged point someone made, it also is entirely unfair to both the conference and the conference speaker, attributing to him/her a position or statement he/she emphatically did not embrace. There is no moral hope for a tool that caters to such unfair, ungodly consequences.
Allow me to offer a couple of examples. Timmy Brister, who did not attend the conference, apparently depended exclusively on Challies.com (Andrew Lindsay) and Sweet Tea & Theology (Mark Lamprecht) for his own view from afar. One problem evident from Brister's post was his wild charges of unfairness--his words were "lobbing grenades and fostering a fight rather than seeking gospel consensus"--all based on commentaries from two "live-bloggers." Furthermore, Brister concludes that
"Commentary from non-Southern Baptists, such as Justin Taylor, James Grant, Michael Spencer, and dozens of others commenting on the blogs, reveal that the John 3:16 conference is a disappointing if not embarrassing attempt to debunk the doctrines of grace and one-up the Building Bridges Conference."
What the unwary reader must observe is, not one of the three non-Southern Baptists to which he links above attended the conference. Taylor's essay did not address the J316 per se and the other two mentioned used the exact same live bloggers to make their conclusions as did Brister. Do we detect a perpetuation of myth here? We most certainly can if the live-blogging is woven with errors.
Another problem with Brister's view from afar is that even he did not quote accurately the live-bloggers! That is, not only did Brister unfortunately make unjustified sweeping conclusions about J316C based on live-blogging alone, he also contributed to perpetuating error by misquoting the live-bloggers. One example is Brister's statement about Dr. Ken Keathley. Brister writes:
"Ken Keathley asserted that Tom Schreiner and A.B. Caneday teach salvation by works, according to the Council of Trent (Roman Catholicism)."
If I recall correctly, Dr. Keathley did no such thing. Instead he said the teaching sounds like Trent, obviously a significantly different assertion altogether.
As a further example, Brister wrote
"David Allen concluded that a move toward “five point” Calvinism was “a move away from the gospel.” The crowd responded with a standing ovation."
Tony Byrne, who created one of the helpful handouts for Dr. Allen, logged on to Brister's blog and requested the correction, to which Brister complied with a qualification:
"Fair enough. Oversight on my part, and the qualification is inserted...In any case, I do not see how the qualification makes the charge of Allen any less significant."
So much for precision. What seemed to slip completely past Timmy Brister is that a major point of Dr. Allen's presentation would be entirely lost if Brister were correct! Know we are glad that Brister corrected the record. However, to imply it makes no difference if we are precise when we are stating anothers view is the kind of dialog we do not need when there exists a provocative atmosphere already about the very issue with which we are dealing.
Even more, how often do we hear from our Calvinist brothers the ceaseless charge that non-Calvinists are not being fair with the Calvinist position? The reader, I think, will agree that it is frequent.
With that in mind, I offer a few tasty little remarks from the comment thread from which Timmy Brister posted his "I do not see how the qualification makes the charge of Allen any less significant" rejoinder:
- "Is anyone holding these guys personally accountable for their poor understandings of Calvinism and for repeating horrible arguments?..."these particular SBC leaders need to be held accountable for their mischaracterizations [sic] and name calling."
- "The standing ovation to “a move toward Calvinism is a move toward the gospel” is more disconcerting to me than that Allen said it!"
- "...guys like Allen are lobbing bombs like Calvinism is “a move away from the gospel."
- "As I react to the John 3:16 Conference and much of the misinformation presented there I feel my own anger well up and a desire to prove them wrong."
The laments above (I could have listed a few dozen) from Calvinists that Non-Calvinists do not portray Calvinists accurately and precisely are taken contextually from Brister's incredible defense to Tony Byrne that quoting Dr. Allen accurately made no real difference to Dr. Allen's proposition.
In conclusion, I find that not only is live-blogging a questionable medium for events like the J316C--something I address in Part II--but influential bloggers who do not even attend a conference make terrible mistakes when they depend solely upon the live-blogging of others.
More significantly, at least in Timmy Brister's case, he created the perpetuation of a myth about Dr. Allen's position that, more likely than not, will not cease to make its way through the world wide web. Sadly, it's Dr Allen (and Dr. Keathley) who get the tarbaby. Bloggers can just move on to the next post.
With that, I am...
Next up: Part II. I will continue this post dealing with some of the errors of live-blogger, Andrew Lindsay on Challies.com.