Oldlife.org 101

Regular readers of Oldlife likely don’t need any explanation about the nature of this site but those unfamiliar with the medium or genre of blogging may need some guidance on how to read the posts published here. Genre may sound like a high-faluttin’ word to affix to a blog, suggesting some kind of artifice or even art to the mode of communication. But genre is fitting if only because a blog is a different kind of communication from older forms of publishing and readers who look at a post as if it were another kind of publication may hurt themselves as well as the author (I’m thinking here of the lack of charity or benefit of the doubt that some readers of blogs display, thus raising questions not only about the virtue of the author but also about the motives of the reader).

A blog – at least as I read them and participate in several – is somewhere between a Facebook page and an editorial in a magazine. Blogging is almost entirely personal since the author is his own editor in most cases; no editorial staff or marketing department oversees the writing. A blog is also a forum for thinking out loud – “here is something I read or observed, and I thought I’d write about it and see what readers think.” Magazines are in themselves ephemeral. I used to save old copies of magazines but soon gave up after several moves not only owing to sloth (or declining strength as aging happens) but also because highlighted articles were not as pertinent at the time of the move as they were when saved. If magazines lack permanency, blogs do so even more.

In which case readers, readers should not take a blog too seriously. It is not only an ephemeral medium but often times the author’s thoughts are highly transitional – again, this is a way of thinking out loud. James K. A. Smith recently explained the tension between a blog author’s intentions and readers’ expectations during some flack he took for thoughts he wrote in passing about a review of Rob Bell:

Um, it’s a blog post people. I wrote it in 20 minutes one morning after reading another piece of dreck by Lauren Winner. If it’s stupid, why comment on it? (There is a huge laughable irony about charges of ressentiment in the ballpark here–you can work that out for yourself.) . . . .

I must have missed the memo about the requirements for writing a blog post. Apparently, according to the self-appointed police force of the theological blogosphere, one is not allowed to comment on a topic unless one has first completed a dissertation in the field. Who decided only specialists could speak? Is there a reading list everyone’s supposed to have mastered before they can comment on an issue?

In other words, if readers don’t want to see what an author is thinking about, they don’t need to read the blog. But if they do, they shouldn’t expect the thoughts posted to be ready for prime time.

A blog is like Facebook (such as I imagine since I am not networked) in that it invites comments and an informal exchange of views. For this blogger, the responses are an important facet of the medium because it functions as a built-in letters to the editor. And just as a post can go up immediately in response to a recent event or development, so readers may respond immediately. The immediacy and the responsiveness of blogging is what makes it valuable in my judgment, and unlike most other forms of publication. It is also what makes it ephemeral. Who will read a post about the Phillies’ 2008 championship three years from now and think it poignant. Of course, some blogs do not allow comments, and I do not understand the point since part of the nature of thinking out loud is to start a conversation and see what others think as well.

At the same time, a blog is not like a magazine in that it does not reproduce well articles or material requiring hard or sustained thought. Some magazines, of course, have on-line content. But this is simply a way of reading a magazine article on-line. But a blog is more like the op-ed portion of a magazine – actually more like a newspaper because a magazine takes at least a week to be published; the newspaper comes out daily (most often) and the blog may occur semi-daily. But when bloggers are tempted to post papers or talks given at conferences, they become almost unreadable. Such material needs to be printed out, read with pen or pencil in hand, and given sustained attention – not read for three minutes before checking email or stock quotes.

Truth be told that the Nicotine Theological Journal has been delayed considerably by the distraction of blogging. And the reason has to do with the nature and immediacy of the blog; an article that I might write for the NTJ is generally too long for a blog, and the immediacy of a blog makes it a more tempting medium than a journal to make one’s thoughts public. Why wait three months to print my latest critique of Keller when I can publish it TODAY!!! at Oldlife.org.

In other words, readers of blogs need to lighten up. And readers of Oldlife, the on-line version of the NTJ, would best be advised to light up when reading the blog. Here at a blog, the most fitting form of smoke, as ephemeral as the medium, is a cigarette. For the journal, best to light up a pipe or cigar.

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19 thoughts on “Oldlife.org 101

  1. Doctor, you might do well to explain the name “Old Life” as well. I think I understand it to be something of an 18th/20th century presbyterian inside joke.

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  2. Should have read the “About” page:

    “Throughout most of American Presbyterian history, the prevalent assumption has been that old things are dead and new things are vital and alive. Generally speaking, this was an important dynamic in the controversies between the Old and New Side Presbyterians of the colonial era, and the Old and New School Presbyterians of the nineteenth century.

    Oldlife.org challenges this assumption partly because it seems patently disadvantageous for Reformed Protestants to make it. The Reformed faith may not be as old as Rome or Constantinople, but its most reliable guideposts are –“ to put it bluntly — old.”

    I assumed it also had to do with the “new life” presbys as well.

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  3. Very helpful indeed. I stopped blogging because I am a fickle character and this was being exposed publicly on a daily basis as I changed my mind on various issues!

    Blogs have had a huge impact on my pilgrimage into reformed theology, and Oldlife along with the HB (RIP) have been the principal influences in this regard.

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  4. “In other words, readers of blogs need to lighten up.”

    Good advice, and personally taken.

    Somehow, I think our default setting when reading anything in print is to take it seriously. Then again, if I were waiting at the base of Mt Sinai when Moses came down I might have read God’s Law written on the stone tablets as just God’s blogging….

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  5. Dr. Hart, it was great meeting you in person last week. I was greatly edified by our conversations and continue to grow in my love for the OPC. Thank you for this post, hopefully it will help others see the point of this blog as well as enter the conversation. If that is what you desire, after all it is all about you. 8^) haha Thanks again.

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  6. So, let me get this straight:

    I’ve been pointing out several poorly-thought-out arguments here, as well as the fact that simplistic straw men have been made for purposes of having a quick and ready post.

    Old Life fans have criticized me, trying to defend the arguments as if their very life depended on it, vehemently demanding that your arguments were not poorly-thought-out and hastily thrown out.

    You then write this post confirming many of my complaints here.

    That’s gotta burn Old Life fans.

    Alternatively, we can look at things this way: If your post here is true of blog posts, a fortiori is it true of *comments* on a blog post. Hence, when me and my comments are jumped on, Old Life fans are treating comments as treatises ready for journal publication.

    The irony of this post is rich! Thanks for this, Darryl. 🙂

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  7. Paul,

    The irony isn’t rich. I have formed a comprehensive anti-worldview based on the assumption that everything Dr. Hart has written was at the level of a journal article if not a doctoral thesis.

    But after hours of thinking about this, I still believe you are wrong, not because your arguments were based on flimsy assumptions, but because analytic philosophy is fundamentally weird. I’ve gotta jet though, there’s a Jersey Shore marathon on MTV2, and I am in the mood for something that is put together in a well thought out manner, in all seriousness and sincerity.

    Peace.

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  8. Paul, wait, demanding vehemence and swinging like one’s very life depended on it is OldLife-y? I think you’re thinking of Triablogue.

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  9. To all those who wonder why some people prefer to comment anonymously, this post explains it. People have differing opinions on just how seriously a blog or its comments should be taken. Perhaps some of us don’t want to have someone Google our name and have a bunch of comments on a blog packaged nice and neatly and ready to be taken out of context and read in as uncharitable a light as possible.

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  10. OPC Guy,

    You make a good point, and I can understand why some prefer anonymity. My only contention with anonymity in the wild wild west that is the blogosphere is that it allows some to make personal attacks and insinuations that they don’t have to be accountable for. That is the downside of anonymity, I think it can undermine the consequences of publicly stating your opinion. But I do realize the desire to maintain privacy and understand why some choose to use an online alias. It is a freedom of conscience issue, and I think there should be latitude here.

    I think DGH does bring up some very important points here, and many blog posts come off the top of the author’s head and aren’t really serious, but there are also some important ideas being kicked around on blogs as well. There are times when I have agreed and disagreed with the participants here at OldLife. Paul, Zrim, and DGH among others all know how to contact me if a comment I have made was good, bad, or ugly, or otherwise, so there is accountability when heated debates go awry. The conversations have stimulated a lot of learning for me, and it has been a good thing that they can look me up and give feedback. So there are some advantages to anonymity. That makes it easier to stomach the risk that someone might take some of my online statements out of context. Besides, how much of me can they really know by a few comments on the interwebs anyway?

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  11. Paul,
    Let me say how much I appreciate your use of the discipline of logic in working through issues. I wholheartedly agree that we need to think and write with logical coherance, and your use of logic offers a helpful and salutary critique that I find very helpful. Thanks.

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  12. An OPC Guy, but what have you commented that requires such reticence? And why anonymity when others are revealing their identities? And if it’s only a blog, then why the high stakes?

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  13. Jed – yep. It’s kinda like the despicable DH rule (not to be confused with the moderator of this blog) in the American League; it allows a pitcher to hit people, but then never have to stand in front of them to face revenge.

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  14. Jed & OPC Guy – I hear you both. I don’t mind planting my name on things on blogs, but it is amusing to mildly disconcerting to introduce oneself to someone in person, and hear, “Oh I know who you are” because they recognize the name from a blog.

    Guess we should all take a cue from the host’s nicotine-stained photo, and consider ourselves seated round a table with a favored beverage and/or smoke to hand, chatting and sharpening wits in friendly give & take without presuming the weight of the ages rests on our words.

    -=Cris=-
    Another OPC guy

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