Lately I’ve been thinking about what it means to write and teach without merely “tickling the ears” of my readers. In the age of the internet this goal is tough, not because I can’t find anything substantive to talk about, but because of the nature of the internet itself.
Just think about it: If I write something that readers don’t like, they can post a nasty comment or refuse to engage what I’ve said, and never visit my blog again. If I write something that readers do like, they will probably return for more.
In some instances, a reader who dislikes the content may return as a “guardian of truth” type, sensing it is their duty to correct false teaching. But these vigilante commenters aside, blogs don’t retain regular readers who disagree with them, because blogs don’t require readers to endure teaching that makes them uncomfortable.
A reader can dismiss a message she dislikes with the click of the mouse.
Because of this dynamic, I’ve noticed that blogs often fail to challenge a truly diverse set of readers. The word “challenge” is important here. Some blogs acquire a wide array of readers, generally speaking. If I say something sensational or provocative, I’m likely to attract all sort of eyes. But the question is not whether I am attracting people; the question is whether I’m challenging them to learn and develop. Are my words fostering spiritual growth? Are my blog posts pressing Christians to examine themselves honestly and humbly?
I’m not sure how many bloggers can do this well. While a lot of writers critique hypocrisy in the church, it is often a hypocrisy “out there,” a hypocrisy that they themselves are not guilty of. A Reformed blogger will object to the bad theology of another Christian leader, and his regular Reformed readers will all nod in agreement. A progressive evangelical blogger will call out the sexism in another strand of the church, and her regular readers will shout “Amen!”
These types of discussions certainly have their place in the church, but I wonder how often they produce personal growth. If Christians only read the leaders who a) Share the same theological allegiances, and b) Largely criticize “other Christians” without leveling the self-examination at themselves, then are they likely to grow?
It’s possible. But they are also likely to become more entrenched in their own views.
2 Timothy 4:3 warns,
For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions.
Sometimes I wonder, is this what the internet has become? Do Christians gravitate toward the blogs that “suit their own passions”?
Even if those passions are well-directed toward a concern for social justice or sound theology, 2 Timothy should give us pause. In this day and age, it’s so easy to read blogs that affirm what we already believe, and to filter out any messages that don’t.
As a writer myself, I think my best teaching comes from my own experiences, my own mistakes, and my own areas of growth. When I first started writing I mostly addressed issues “out there”–and there is indeed a place for that kind of teaching–but this approach can also dodge the need for heart change. I can sit in judgment over the decline of culture, art, virtue, etc. without ever examining myself and my own sin.
I think the best way to avoid tickling the ears of my readers is to speak out of my own life. As God convicts me and illuminates His Word in new ways, I hope I can relate it in a way that speaks into your life as well. At the end of the day, that’s what I really desire for anyone who visits my blog. I hope that God will use my words to encourage you in your faith and love for Christ.
If you have any ideas on how I can do that better, please share. Within the context of the internet, how can Christian bloggers avoid “tickling ears”? And what kinds of blogs are most likely to challenge you to grow?