There Goes Peer Review

Peter Leithart warns about the danger of Christians taking their complaints before the court of bloggers:

Paul urges that it is better to be defrauded and wronged than to take a brother to court: “It is already a defeat for you, that you have lawsuits with one another” (v. 7). Paul urged the Corinthians to follow Jesus by suffering shame, rather than seeking vindication before unbelievers.

Many Christians today are resolved not to take a brother to a civil court, but try to solve disputes through arbitration or through church-courts. That is highly commendable.

Yet many Christians are perfectly content to take disputes with their brothers to the web, presenting them before the court of public opinion, before unbelievers.

What should we say about that? Does that come under the same Pauline strictures? The web, after all, is not only filled with unbelievers but is a notorious free-for-all. Civil courts have rules of evidence and mechanisms to confirm or refute allegations. The web has none of these controls, and taking a case to the web is like taking it to a court where everyone is judge, jury, and executioner. People who have no right to have an opinion get to express an opinion. Is that a good place for Christians to be wrangling with each other?

Is there a difference between public theological debate and public airing of grievances and complaints against a church or a pastor? Am I contradicting my own principle by blogging about this?

I understand the temptation to take it to the Court of Google. Resolving disputes through church channels is laborious, slow, unsatisfying. Church boards and courts make mistakes, and, as in civil courts, decisions often leave all parties frustrated and unhappy about the outcome. Many churches in the United States are nondenominational churches that don’t present any obvious way of resolving conflicts that are unresolved in a local church.

I get the point. If we lived in a world of Caesaro-papism, maybe all aspects of life would be overseen by the emperor/bishop.

But not taking every dispute to the church also pertains to a whole host of modern conveniences. Do we not solicit a second opinion about a surgery? Do church courts decide? Do scholars not seek publication in journals reviewed by experts in the field?

And why can’t the Internet just be a place to have a conversation? Do we really need to check with session or consistory about what the family might discuss over dinner tonight? Peter’s point seems a tad pietistic, which is surprising since I suspect he has frequently found himself, independent of church oversight, in a bar gassing on with friends about various foes.


23 thoughts on “There Goes Peer Review

  1. I agree with Peter. I also agree with DGH: The internet should be a place to have a conversation.

    Sadly, the line between “conversation” and “public accusation”, which seems pretty clear and obvious in person, is not well-observed on the IntarWebs.

    I *also* think that Peter L benefited from a Presbytery process. And while I would have been in the minority in the PNW, I must acknowledge that the PNW was the proper place for the trial, and it was really their call to make.

    Related to the question of due process is another question of a temptation that I fall prey to, which is to be a busybody. Did Doug Wilson mess up with Sitler, or is Sitler just one of those people that fails polygraphs?

    Dunno. Not my business.


  2. Who was the intended audience for Leithart’s response to the OPC report on Justification? Was he talking to you? Was he talking to you as a member of some church, or as a person with an internet connection?

    Perhaps the internet is a church way of talking to people who have not yet been watered in church yet. Or is only always only as a “private Christian individual”, and pretend for now I am not a member…???


  3. Certainly it’s hazardous to try someone on the internet and the temptation to mob-rush is strong. Does it make a difference if a guy lives off the internet? In other words, if a humble low-profile parson gets into a sticky situation is it different than than a guy who makes himself a celebrity by cyber-promotion? If a guy paints a flattering self-portrait for all the world to see, is it wrong to point out that he actually has a gut the size of Montana?


  4. People who have no right to have an opinion get to express an opinion.

    Since when did anybody not have a right to an opinion? On the internet no less?

    How boring, to have to listen to PhDs (no offense to the host) all day long…


  5. What about if a “brother” is wronged by a fraudulent web retailer who hung out his shingle as a “Christian?” There are many out there like that and I know as many people who have been rooked by them as those who have not. Should those who have been defrauded by these “web-waving Christians” be restricted from lodging their complaints on the Internet?


  6. Maybe his point concerns gossip, which is fair. But to conflate what Paul is saying about actual courts of law with informal venues for conversation seems like a fundamentalist mistake.


  7. Peter Leithart warns about the danger of Christians taking their complaints before the court of bloggers

    Looks like Leithart wants to put Old Life out of business.


  8. It seems that the PCA and other denominations do have a good number of leaders who want the flock to seek their approval on ‘everything’ (hyperbole used to make my point). In my day, they were called ‘control-freaks’…………’loving the preeminence’…..


  9. The internet was fine to broadcast ones teachings (presumably misleading on teaching is not as bad as ‘misleading’ on character), not so much when the peasants gets uppity.


  10. Revivalists are the ones who are hyper about making sure that there are zero tolerance policies for holding discussions and expressing opinions (referred to as gossip because leaders’ views are disagreed with) while those who desire reformation hold open discussions and encourage conversation and even debate.

    What did Luther do around the table at his home with his students at meat? Oh – Sorry, I forgot – Luther is ‘taboo’ according to the Gospel Reformation Network……


  11. Certainly the web has been used by the saints for gossip and slander. Insofar as that is the case, it ought not to be so used. And “telling it in Gath” makes it worse: the church must be careful about unduly hanging out its dirty laundry before the whole world in an improper way (admitting that we are sinners, and perhaps even confessing specific sins, and acknowledging how much we need grace are not ordinarily improper).

    That having been said, a conversation, even a heated one, in which sides sharply dispute their points, is not only not necessarily wrong but may be salubrious. If Peter’s point is to remind us that we ought to treat one another properly in such debates, who can disagree? We are, always and everywhere, to do to each other as we would have the other do to us. But is he saying something that might prove chilling to our free and open interaction with each other? I am not sure.

    I am sure of this: as hurtful as sharp internet exchanges can be (and possibly even harmful in some measure), it must be remembered that “the court of public opinion” is neither an ecclesiastical nor a civil court. It has, in other words, no power of the keys or the sword, and thus cannot inflict the kinds of penalties either of these can. It’s not really a court in any proper sense of the term so that Paul’s strictures against the saints taking their disputes into civil courts surely has in view the kind of censures that such courts may render (and even here there’s historic dispute about the precise meaning of the Apostle’s prohibition).

    In other words, a civil court can fine or jail you and an ecclesiastical court can suspend or excommunicate you. I do not make light of harm that may result from a negative judgment in “the court of public opinion,” but I would not compare it (especially in its internet form: being castigated here–no offense DGH–is not quite the same as the New York Times doing so) with actually being censured by a court civil or ecclesiastical that had the proper authority and power to do so.


  12. Alan and Publius – Who is Leithart trying to teach and reach with his blog, and do they belong to a congregation which is part of a group to whom he has accountability? If spewing on the interwebs is a bad thing in principle, then it’s a bad thing in principle, the quality of spew shouldn’t affect that.


  13. Any communication that doesn’t allow for the context expressed by eye contact and gesture is frivolous.

    Which means shutters for ScoldLife. No exceptions.

    Seriously though, Peter is on the web complaining about the web and a founding member of the FV which conducted its campaign against the reformed faith in part on the . . . web.

    It’s one thing to claim tolerance when one is in the minority; another to try to shut things down now that what? PL has been vindicated by NWP presbytery. And stymied from moving to Alabama by another PCA presbytery, but who moved anyway?

    This is after all, a purportedly reformed minister who (not so plainly) says all who are baptized are in Christ while the FV plainly says it. Who are we to believe?

    Hans Christian Andersen, contact counsel directly. A profitable breach of copyright lawsuit is in the offing.


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