. . . an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people . . . --1 Timothy 6:4b
Hard to imagine a text more relevant to the blogosphere.
In context, Paul is describing someone 'puffed up with conceit' who doesn’t promote 'the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness' (6:3-4a). And he says that this kind of person has a 'craving for controversy.' Interesting phrase. This person has a weird impulse within him that enjoys 'quarrels about words' (lit. ‘word-wars’). The result--'envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction.'
How well we know this in blogdom! Of course the internet and blogs did not create the problem. But they do exacerbate the problem, giving a disturbingly natural platform to act out what 1 Timothy 6 warns against.
A few thoughts.
1. I see it in me. The first thing this text confronts me with is not what I find in others but what I find in me. When I come across something I disagree with online, or when someone disagrees with me, there is a dark, perverted impulse deep within that boils up and actually enjoys locking horns with another brother. I'm not talking about an honest love for truth, though that is sometimes there. I'm talking about simply wanting to win. It's the online equivalent of Mutombo's obnoxious finger-wag after swatting some guard's lay-up.
2. There is a difference between reluctantly engaging in controversy and eagerly engaging in controversy. 'Craving' it, as Paul says. Are you distressed, even a little bit, when you have to cross another brother? Or is it emotionally intoxicating? Do you salivate over an imminent argument?
3. The man writing 1 Timothy 6 publicly rebuked the rock of the church over a point of doctrine (Galatians 2). Conclusion: 1 Timothy 6 is not advocating the end of all 'quarrels about words.' It is advocating the end of all sick enjoyment of quarrels about words.
4. Some bloggers, of various theological persuasion, are acting out the tragedy of 1 Timothy 6 while thinking they're acting out the triumph of Galatians 2. How easily craving for controversy is mistaken for love for truth. There is a place for honest self-examination here, friends--not morbid introspection, but honest self-examination. A good diagnostic is: If I realized I was wrong in some matter after a series of back-and-forths in a comment thread, which would be greater, my disappointment at having 'lost' or my gratitude at having learned something?
5. To the degree that this post irks you, to that degree you need to hear it.
6. There's a connection between one's felt sense of full and free justification by faith and one's impulse to have the last jab in a comment thread. The reason we must have the last word, must defend ourselves and our name, must win, is that we don't really believe the gospel. We say we do; we even think we do. But we aren’t viscerally convinced that our personal worth is already fully secured without any contribution from us. It is functional semi-Pelagianism that makes us obnoxious online. We feel more approved before the mirror and before the world if we can inject a dose of self-generated vindication into our sense of worth. How deeply ironic, then, that it is often those most zealous for reformed doctrine who most need to hear 1 Timothy 6. We receive the gospel of grace with one arm (our doctrine) while stiff-arming the gospel with the other arm (our hearts).
7. The results of controversy-craving that Paul lists are so true to life, especially online life, aren't they? Take 'slander.' The internet is the most merciless machine for promoting slander in the history of the world. When else could someone (anyone) write whatever he wanted about whomever he wanted, press a button, and have it instantly and universally available without any filtering or time lapse or peer review necessary whatsoever?
Or 'evil suspicions.' Blogs and blog commenting breed suspicion. Peering through (not at) others' words, trying to discern what they really meant. We do it all the time.
8. I believe there is a common root heart issue from which both pornography viewing and online obnoxiousness emerge. In both cases 1) it is usually a man 2) who logs on to his computer, 3) is most prone to fall into this sin when tired or depressed, 4) feels personally inadequate, 5) is spurred on in this online activity by not having to truly engage another human being but instead has no relational demand placed upon him, 6) generates self-identity and bolsters his own sense of vaunted masculinity through his time online, 7) finds the activity addictive, immediately satisfying yet only leaving him hungry for more, 8) underestimates how much damage he is doing to himself and to others, and 9) logs off feeling a little more dirty.
At the end of a long day one guy looks at porn, another blasts away at the emergents or traditionalists or Arminians or Calvinists or cultural transformationists or two-kingdom people or multi-site advocates or single-service advocates or gospel tweeters or gospel tweet avoiders or presuppositionalists or evidentialists or charismatics or cessationists or 24-hour day creationists or framework folks or ESV-ers or NIV-ers. . . . Is not the dynamic of the heart, at root, the same? Could it be that porn-viewing and blog sniping, despite one feeling unrighteous and the other righteous, is the exact same immaturity channeled in a different direction?
Oh, one final similarity: both porn-viewing and blog sniping can be utterly redeemed--utterly redeemed--through penitent, grace-bathed, fault-confessing, pride-admitting, excuse-refusing contrition before Christ.
Hope for me.