02 September 2011

What Kind of Online Culture Are We Cultivating?

Let another praise you, and not your own mouth;
a stranger, and not your own lips.
--Proverbs 27:2

Something tells me it wouldn't cut it for Carson's NSBT series, but someone needs to develop a biblical theology of marketing and advertisement.

Blogs, Facebook, and Twitter are fantastic tools with unprecedented potential for strategic, efficient kingdom instrumentality. A pastor in Scotland can write a blog post and within seconds a believer in India can read that post and be strengthened.

But as Peter Parker's Uncle Ben would remind us, 'With great power comes great responsibility.' And the amount of self-foregrounding that takes place on these media--by Christians--by pastors--is troubling. Promotion of our own books, letting everyone know where we've been and whom we've met, drawing attention to what others are saying of us--how easily we become Corinthians and employ the world's mindset for ostensibly kingdom purposes.

What are we doing, brothers? I am asking myself no less than you.

What if we made up our minds to refuse to quietly electronically parade whatever accomplishments the Lord grants? What if we let the Lord decide who knows of us and what we've done? What if every post, tweet, and FB update was passed through the fine filter of Matthew 23:12?

What are we of? What's driving us? Is this how true faith acts, faith in a God who one day 'will disclose the purposes of the heart' (1 Cor. 4:5)?

'Get a life, Dane. Quit the alarmism. I'm just trying to spread the gospel by alerting others to resources. Is it really a problem if that includes some of my own stuff?'

Maybe. Maybe not. That's between you and the Lord. There is certainly some gray in this conversation, it's not all black and white; there's room for wisdom here, not simplistic rules. And I have in mind individual 'marketing'; corporate marketing is, I think, in another category. But as far as your own personal online presence, why not determine to honor the Lord by getting up each day, keeping your hand to the plow, and letting him sort out who knows about you and what you've done? When you're unsure as to whether or not something is self-promoting, why not err on the side of blessed obscurity, to which God loves to draw near?

We are increasingly cultivating an online evangelical culture of self-projection. Trying our hardest, of course, not to look like we're self-promoting. This is not where God's power lies.


Ed said...

Spot-on. I’ve been doing some thinking along the same lines, though my conclusion is that we need both a theology of online marketing and social media, as well as an ethics for the same.

It’s astounding to me, not just the amount and extent of self-promotion and aggrandizement, but also the simple loss of inhibition for being rude, let alone slanderous and gossip-prone. The three you named are simply the tools du jour, though the problems will certainly persist.

Thanks for the challenge and reminder. And also for the model of antithesis that you yourself put forward.

Dane Ortlund said...

Thanks for this, Ed. I miss you.

Anonymous said...

Well said.

There is a Christian leadership blog author that has written about building your own platform. His social media presence produces a lot of traffic. He writes a lot of beneficial stuff too. But the idea does something weird and unsettling inside me. On one hand I feel the need to "create a presence" for influence and career reasons. On the other hand it doesn't seem like Jesus' way.

I deleted one of my blogs after reading your words.

Denny Burk said...

Thank you for this, Dane. This is wonderful.

kurie eleson me

Matt said...


Thanks for the post. Just for clarification, I would be interested in reading a post that you would consider "self-promotion.". Obviously, you can't judge anyone else's motives, so perhaps one of your own?


KP said...

Thanks so much for this, Dane. It is much needed.

Dane Ortlund said...

Thanks Matt.

Though they're closely linked, this post mainly addresses self-promotion--what we actually say--not motivation.

Frankly, brother, I think if you have to hunt for an example, you're probably not tracking with the basic point of my post at all. It's pervasive.


Jude St.John said...

Good stuff Dane!

Anonymous said...
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Taylor said...

This isn't exactly related, but I can't read Luke 12:48 anymore without thinking about Uncle Ben. I love him even more because Jesus said it first.

Beal said...

Thanks Dane, I have been thinking about this for years now but have never put it into words. Good thoughts. We should make much of Jesus not ourselves.

A. Amos Love said...


You write...
“And the amount of self-foregrounding that takes place on these media--by Christians--by pastors--is troubling. Promotion of our own books, letting everyone know where we've been and whom we've met, drawing attention to what others are saying of us...”

You mention todays media - but - hasn’t this “self-promotion” been with us for quite awhile. Look at what we have accepted, approved of, and is now the norm. Just look at all the “Titles” carried by believers today that are not even in the Bible.

In the Bible believers would shepherd one another, admonish one another, teach one another - But - NO one had the “Title” Pastor, or was called Pastor, or was known as Pastor. Seems they did the job without calling attention to themelves by taking a “Title.”

Jesus, as man, humbled Himself, made Himself of NO Reputation,
and took on the form of a “Servant.” Phil 2:7-8

Today we have - Senior Pastors - Lead Pastors - Executive Pastors - etc - And we make the “Title“ Pastor a “graven image?” An “Idol?” “En-graven” on diploma's, that are hung on office walls, “En-graven” on office doors, “En-graven” on business cards, that are handed out, “En-graven” on the Sunday morning bulletin, “En-graven” on the street sign, “En-graven” on the church Web-site, and anyone who reads them knows who “the Pastor” is. Yes?

Isn’t that also “self-promotion,” “self-honoring” and “seeking glory?” Oy Vey!!!

John 7:18
He that speaketh of himself seeketh his own glory:

And every Pastor I’ve met also has the “Title” - Reverend...
What’s up wit dat?
BUT... NO human in the Bible has that “Title.”

...holy and reverend is his name.- Psalm 111:9 :-)

Seems like todays use of this new media is just an extension of what’s been going on all along. :-(

A. Amos Love said...


Haven’t you ever wondered, or asked God, why...

NOT one person, in the Bible, has the “Title” and “Position,”
Of *Today’s* Pastor/Reverend?

Or is called - Pastor/Teacher/Leader/Reverend?

And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold:
them also I must bring, and they shall “hear My voice; “
and there shall be “ONE” fold, and “ONE” shepherd.
John 10:16

One Fold - One Shepherd - One Voice

{{{{{{ Jesus }}}}}}

Aimee Byrd said...

Thank you for this post. I struggle with this as well as a new blogger. One thing I could not bring myself to do was the whole "like" box. It's like showcasing your own popularity pole.
Another self-promoting arena is the whole conference circuit. The big ones have become so expensive, and when reading the blogs afterwards, it seems like a big schmooze-fest.
It is a struggle when you mix in books to promote--I'm sure if your book is good, you want many to buy and read it.
But I always say smart people don't need to tell others they're smart, beautiful people don't need to advertise their looks, and popular people don't need to proclaim they are well liked.

hsl said...

Excellent comments. Too bad I can't post this on Facebook, but it might be just too pointed for a couple of my friends to see! For now, though I'm not in full time ministry, these words are equally valid personally and I remain, I hope appropriately, convicted.

Randy said...

Thanks for the challenging post. I serve as a cross cultural missionary in SE Asia and have had many people suggest that we have a blog to write about our work. I have not done so because of the reasons you wrote. But much "pressure" remains from some supporters, who in essence tell us we need to promote ourselves and our ministry in order to be adequately supported financially and through prayer.

Something just feels wrong about that to me.

Anonymous said...


I'm posting this anonymously so as to not (self-)promote my own blog.

You hint toward it in your post, but I believe it all has to do with your heart. If your purpose is to make yourself important...we all know what our Lord says about people who like to make themselves first. But I also think there are many, many legitimate purposes for these tools, and you make that point as well.

I think it's even possible to engage in social media with mixed motives. Perhaps you want to encourage fellow saints or spread the gospel. Perhaps by your online teaching you have insight through the Spirit that can help the church grow. I even think that most participants in this world have a good foundation to base their online ministry, but I would also guess that every single one of them struggles with pride and self-importance. I've heard and read John Piper talk about the pride he battles though he is one of the most respected authors of our day--no one is immune.

So I think the real question is what you do with your mixed heart. It's not an easy question to answer, but I think it's the same as the answer you struggle to seek in real life as well. How many of your actions in this world spring up from a pure heart of faith and love toward God and others? For me, it always seems to be very, very few, and I need to confess my shortcomings to God and live in the forgiveness of Christ.

From there, it's living on the road of sanctification. Dane, it sounds like you may have identified a particular weakness. I would encourage you toward gospel growth and to not throw the baby out with the bath water (I doubt you would, but others might). Encourage others who know you well to hold you accountable and be deliberate about your activity: walk the narrow road of purity online (i.e. don't seek self-promotion) and always look to glorify God.

Personally, what I'd love to see is a call for Christian pastors in this arena to shepherd the online flock. In the same way that we receive daily application from the weekly sermon, I would love it if pastors would encourage the hearts of bloggers and tweeters to remain focused on Christ, the cross, the gospel instead of their navel.

Just because it's online doesn't mean it's new. It does give us a new vector to fall short, but it also gives us new ways to grow in grace.

In Christ,

Judd said...


Nice post.

I agree with most of it. But I have a question, if we really want the Lord to guide others to our work do we even need to be on blogs and FB and such? Isn't everything we post in some way tied to us (our insight on a text, our liking or discerning such a great article, etc.) I think most would agree that Justin Taylor is one of the best Christian bloggers. He points us to great articles that he thinks are worthy, insights that he sees in the text and yes sometimes even promoting the ESV which he worked on but never once have I thought what a shameless self promo even though all his post have the JT touch. Just thinking this through with you and apparently many other bloggers.

By the way what did you your dissertation on and when can we read it, Jim Hamiliton, whom I trust, says I need to take a look at it.

Judd Rumley, Eagle, CO

Chad Harms said...

This article is thought provoking and I quoted it in my blog - http://www.creeksidebiblechurch.org/churchschicken/

Dentist Seo said...

In the Bible believers would shepherd one another, admonish one another, teach one another - But - NO one had the “Title” Pastor, or was called Pastor, or was known as Pastor. Seems they did the job without calling attention to themelves by taking a “Title.”
Dentist Seo