Snap Judgments: Social Media Challenges

The past several days saw a flare up in the blogosphere over a possible attribution error involving the venerable theologian, N.T. Wright and a book he was purported to have written or at least given a contribution.

This was first posted by Michael Bird who brought up an issue concerning a soon to be released book titled Breaking Beautiful: The Promise of Truth in a Fractured World. Though the item has been pulled from the Amazon.com (thought still up on their UK site) you can go see a page over at Barnes & Noble’s site. According to a loose reconstruction of events, it appears Bird saw this release and contacted Wright who was not familiar with the text. Bird then sent off the later redacted post questioning the reliability of the book in light of his conversation with Wright.

Well, this fired up the social media world and soon we had a number of blogs and twitter discussions going on about this issue. Soon Brian LePort over at Near Emmaus noted the discussion and soon also had its resolution. By the afternoon (US Central Time) Bird had posted a resolution post after Tim Suttle had offered a “confessional” post detailing his side of the situation. Apparently, Suttle had been under contract with a publisher, The House Studio, to provide groups content behind Wright’s videos on the topic.

Soon enough Elizabeth Perry, editor at The House Studio, offered a public statement to Bird’s piece and ChristianityToday’s Liveblog had a chronicle of the situation. It seems the situation arose out of confusing marketing, a quick decision to post a perception of a situation, high level intellectuals were involved, and the pire of fire that is social media was soon ignited. My purpose here is not to assess blame or who is right or wrong. In fact, I think the comments fields of the many posts above will give any reader a better view of this. However, it does serve to remind us of a few lessons:

  • Always proceed with generosity and be willing to fact check before quickly posting. We’ve all seen what happens when news organizations post unfounded stories. Theologians and church leaders have a higher calling and that means we take intentional steps to seek resolution before making assumptions.
  • Publishers are not above reproach and can slide too often towards pushing celebrity over substance in the process. Though I am uncertain if The House Studio did conspire to do anything wrong, they appear to have done the proper thing in removing this initial marketing. We can and should be thankful for their discernment here.
  • We should all be equally vexed and thankful for the power of social media. Though it provides ample opportunities to exacerbating problems, it also can provide quick resolution when cooler heads prevail. This episode, I think we can honestly assess, is a good example of both. Imagine what would have happened 25 or more years ago if this had gone to a major professional journal. It would have taken years to unwind and reputations would have been irreparably sullied. Now, within one day, we have resolution and peace.
  • For my purposes here and elsewhere in my writing, I believe Matthew 18:15-17 mandates that I personally attempt to call, message, or contact a person before I personally question something about their motives and actions. Perception across so great a divide as the internet is dangerous.
  • Along these lines, when it comes to professional discussions I am in agreement with Dr Carson on matters concerning published matter, in personal ministry discussions I am challenged by Scripture to inquire privately first and publish publicly second.

 

We all must share a burden of openness and generosity. When we do not we fail to uphold the character and calling of Christ. This episode is, hopefully, instructive. I am thankful for theological leaders like Michael Bird who have a passion for truth and academic integrity. Without excellent leaders like him our churches would be worse off. I am also thankful for writers and ministry leaders like Tim Suttle who willingly partner with leaders to bring wonderful resources to our churches to help grow our people and who speak publicly about their own questions on publications. I am also thankful for publishers like The House Studio who are willing to seek out leading edge curriculum to help our people grow.

Ultimately, we can all be thankful for the grace and charity that go before us all and help unite us in our own shortcomings while serving the Kingdom of God.

33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you. 34 Therefore don’t worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. Matthew 6:33-34