when is a link not a link?

A friend of mine posted an article to which I objected. I objected privately, so I’m not going to post a link. We had a brief and I think courteous exchange of views. But the whole discussion gets me thinking about the whole paradigm shift that the new media is. That is, I think we are still getting used to the internet (or, as one of my hockey bloggers calls it, “the AlGore”).

It is common practice in the blogosphere to link to other blogs or articles online. This is part of the ‘netiquette’ of blogging, especially when you are writing a contrary opinion. The link provides context, your readers can go to your online ‘opponent’ to see what they said in context in order to decide whether they will agree with you or him or neither.

It is also common practice to link to news items of interest with a brief comment suggesting why the link was interesting to you.

I have occasionally linked to Christianity Today when I see articles of interest there, or when I wish to take issue with something said there. Some of my fellow fundamentalists have commented when I have done that without much of a disclaimer. I guess I don’t think a disclaimer is all that necessary when I am critiquing an article. It is pretty clear that I am not agreeing!  (Does anyone think I am ambiguous when I disagree?) And I don’t think a disclaimer is always necessary when I am just passing along a link to say: look at this, it’s interesting.

But what if I was writing an article listing a whole host of sites as “good resources for church planting” or “good resources for spiritual growth” or “good resources for theology”?

Suppose in writing such an article I listed exclusively evangelical sources with virtually no disclaimers of any kind. And suppose I wrote fairly positive mini-reviews of these sites, implying that these fellows are good brothers doing good work. Suppose that I wrote in a different post a generic disclaimer to my readers that “I don’t endorse everything I link to.”

I think I have a fairly well-known fundamentalist reputation. Ben Wright tells me I represent the fundamentalist wing of fundamentalism. (Thanks, Ben, I guess!) So if I were to write an article full of positive comments about the usual evangelical suspects with no disclaimers in that article itself… what would you think?

Would you wonder if my position had changed? Would you consider my ‘fundamentalist reputation’ maybe not as hard-line as you had earlier thought?

Fundamentalists are agreed that the way we are careful about fellowship is especially in the area of ministry cooperation – shared platforms, cooperative ministry opportunities and the like. We are apparently not so clearly agreed about internet endorsements.

The argument could be made that we will use books by evangelicals (or even others further ‘left’) in our seminaries without much of a disclaimer and a recommendation on the internet is very similar. And we see books by evangelicals in some of our Christian bookstores (like those at our Fundamentalist colleges).

So my question is this: when is a link not a link? When is it an endorsement? Or when is it perceived as an endorsement?

With the turmoil in fundamentalism over the apparent love affair many ‘young fundamentalists’ have with all things Calvin and all things evangelical, should we pause before we make what appear to be endorsements of popular evangelical ministries? What do we communicate when we make such links? Does the internet change our view of Christian cooperation? Is it limited only to active/physical cooperation in some kind of joint endeavour? Or can we give tacit approval to evangelicalism by the links we make?

A while back, I had a much longer blogroll in my side-bar. Some of the sites I listed were friends who weren’t necessarily so fundamentalist anymore. I still have a couple of links to blogs that are definitely not fundamentalist but are particularly interesting to me. But I did purge a lot of the links I used to have. I decided I didn’t want to promote them anymore – even though some of them were personal friends.

So what do you think? Am I merely a paranoid fundamentalist? (Keith, we already know that you will say ‘yes’.) Or is there some cause for caution and concern in the kinds of things we endorse?

don_sig2

Comments

  1. Jonathan Hunt says:

    I am reminded again of the difference in labels across the pond. Here in the UK to be an ‘evangelical’ church is, from a Bible-believing Christian’s perspective, a good thing!

  2. It’s a difficult question. I’m verging on purging a like or two.

    One way I decided to handle it was by killing my blogroll and creating a page so I could say more about each link. That let me give a little more disclaimer — but I may not have enough of a disclaimer in some cases.

    If I see a link on your site, I don’t personally consider it an endorsement. I consider it something that you think interesting, or that you think has some value. It helps that you have “Hockey” right underneath it — that sets a “non-endorsement” context, IMO.

    The reason for caution is that not all of your readers will necessarily view it the same way. The fact that I don’t think it is an endorsement, and you don’t think so, doesn’t mean everyone will have that view. That should tell us to be careful.

    On the other hand, not everyone who is providing useful teaching or information agrees with me on everything, including some important things. Am I going to refuse to benefit or help others benefit from that?

    I have no definitive answers. I suppose it’s a cost/benefit/risk analysis. How great is the risk that, by linking, someone will think I’m endorsing something I wouldn’t endorse? And if that happens, what is the cost/damage in that? By comparison, what is the benefit people may receive by my providing that link?

    Kent Brandenburg has a post listing sites he reads but doesn’t necessarily agree with, and gives some info on each site. No one would think he is endorsing everything on those sites. So perhaps that is a good way to go.

  3. Brian Ernsberger says:

    Appreciate the article, Don, and the comments by Jonathan and Jon. These are things that we will continue to graple with in our ministries. Yes, the stage has changed from possibly our library shelves in our office and talking and making disclaimers to our people as they entered our offices and noticed our books and the authors, to now our internet sites and our links. I believe, we start a bit of an “uncertain sound” when we clearing articulate our stand for sound doctrine, separation, etc, etc, but then have nothing by way of disclaimer in our links to places that do not hold to those same beliefs. I think there is also a distinction to be made, as you mention Don in your article, between linking to site in an article where we are building a context and to those sites we have in our sidebars as links. This latter set, I believe, should have some disclaimers. What Jon mentions about Kent’s site sounds like a good practice to institute.
    The Scriptures in a couple of different places places the burden upon the mature believer to see to that the immature believer is not harmed but helped in his development of Christlikeness to the extent that the mature believer denies himself to the benefit of others. We have no doubt immature believers surfing the web; we must be mindful of their lives as we post.

  4. Mark says:

    I think that fundamentalist pastors need to give more disclaimers. Our church used some of Weirsbe’s commentaries as Sunday School quarterlies without any kind of disclaimer. Would you do that? Do you give a disclaimer in a sermon before quoting someone that is a well-known evangelical? If not, it could be easily taken as whole-hearted endorsement, correct?

    It’s an interesting question, but I’m just thrilled that you are known for your fundamentalist reputation. “Fundamentalist wing of fundamentalism?” Shows how far much of fundamentalism has drifted. Of course, there are so many who used to identify with the term and now find it too restrictive, dated, or negative.

  5. d4v34x says:

    So, is linking to The Gospel Coalition from one’s blog a failure of militancy that lands one outside of fundamentalism?

  6. Don,

    You are not disobeying Scripture by providing links for reference or even of good articles written by people you don’t fellowship with. There is a difference between that and going all goo-goo over the people. No one, and I mean no one, thinks you do that. That only criticize you as a faux argument in the secondary separation issue battle. That is so obvious.

    Love rejoices in the truth, even if it is truth spoken by someone you don’t fellowship with.

    One more thing. There can be a danger to linking, so I’m sure you don’t link everywhere. But it really is a 1 Cor 8-9 issue more than anything. Will it harm others? Whether it harms others is not a secondary separation issue, but whether aspects of the site will cause someone to stumble. I’m guessing you thought of this.

    • @ All

      My apologies for not approving Brian, Mark, and Dave’s posts until now. Something is messed up with my blog (again) and it is not e-mailing me all comments. I got Kent’s, then noticed there were three waiting. I’ll see my genius son next week and hopefully he can get me fixed right up! (he has nothing else to do, eh?)

      Also, I hope that you all aren’t missing what I am really talking about. I do think about the blogs I link in the sidebar, but that isn’t my primary point.

      What I am addressing is what Kent calls “going all goo-goo over the people”. (Love those theological terms, Kent!) And I think that he is right in saying this is a 1 Cor 8-10 issue… it isn’t separation, but influence and being a cause of stumbling that is the critical issue. It matters not that I am ‘separated’ from ‘The Gospel Coalition’ or whoever. When I am writing and preaching, I am exerting influence to some extent. So my unqualified puffing of someone who has serious baggage is not loving my brother.

      And let’s note we all have baggage. Kent will link to me under the category of guys he doesn’t entirely agree with. I’ll do the same to him. We have a couple of areas of pretty strong disagreement although we think alike in a lot of ways. I don’t mind Kent’s caution in lending his influence to his readers when he links to me, I think it is entirely appropriate.

      @Mark

      I do use Weirsbe and others in my study of the Bible. I sometimes quote them, sometimes by name, but usually not. Most of my people wouldn’t know one commentator from another. I wouldn’t necessarily be against using Weirsbe as a study guide for a Bible study, but I would be sure that our folks knew that he was quite antagonistic to fundamentalism, albeit a fairly conservative evangelical. But I probably wouldn’t choose Weirsbe as a curriculum in any case. He has some strengths as a commentator that are sometimes helpful.

      @ Dave

      No, I wouldn’t say linking TGC lands someone outside fundamentalism. If you look at my blogroll, you will see some guys who aren’t fundamentalists. What I am more worried about are “puff pieces” where erstwhile (and fairly influential, much more influential than me) fundamentalists write an article to promote numerous evangelical sites and writers with NO qualification in the article itself and a very mild qualification in a preceding article (one that amounts to “I don’t necessarily endorse every link I put up”). That doesn’t seem like holding the line as a fundamentalist to me. And I think the weaker brother principle is the one we need to consider. Thanks to Kent for pointing it out.

      Maranatha!
      Don Johnson
      Jeremiah 33.3

  7. “Love rejoices in the truth, even if it is truth spoken by someone you don’t fellowship with.” Yes.

    “So my unqualified puffing of someone who has serious baggage is not loving my brother.” Yes.

    So love gives links, but doesn’t do “unqualified puffing”.

    Perhaps the need for “disclaimers”/warnings is somewhat dictated by how well you have trained your audience/readership in that principle.

    I say it all the time in my preaching: if you don’t see it in the Word, don’t trust it, whether it is me or someone else. Test everything by the Word. I’ll make mistakes, and so will others you think you could trust. Since I’ve emphasised that so much in my preaching, I might not have to be as careful about quoting people.

    I’ve only gone down that path maybe once or twice on my blog, so perhaps I need to be more careful about links than I would be about quotations while preaching. And on a blog, we never know who is reading, or who might read two months from now, and won’t have had that “discernment training”.

    The level of caution needed is determined, perhaps, by the audience. I could send you an email referring to something by Mark Driscoll and skip the disclaimers entirely. i’ve figured out that you know about him by now, and I’m not likely to be leading you into some of his errors. :) Know your audience, and decide accordingly — but on a blog, we don’t really know our audience, so decide accordingly.

    Thanks for challenging our thinking on it.

  8. JSA says:

    FWIW, if you want to link to something without contributing to the site’s search ranking, just put rel=nofollow on the link. That way, the search engines ignore the link.

    • Well… can’t say that search rankings are a concern at all. Who pays any attention to that? I don’t. That must mean no one else does, right? (joke)

      No, if you think my concern is search rankings then you have seriously missed the point. What I am concerned about are fundamentalists (especially those in positions of influence over young preachers) who write “puff pieces” promoting the kind of evangelicals who are among the sources of most of the discontent and defection we are seeing from some of the young. Perhaps if our Influencers refrained from such promotion, or even dared to point out the many problems with such sites, they might influence one or two young fellows to stay the course.

      That’s what I’m after.

      Maranatha!
      Don Johnson
      Jeremiah 33.3

  9. Arlyn Ubben says:

    Don,

    I face this issue when I am teaching. However, I teach in a much broader context than any who have been writing. (I teach Bible for high school students in an Evangelical academy) I am careful with what I endorse in my teaching, but I deal with students from a variety of backgrounds whose parents and churches endorse a wider range of authors than what I would encourage.

    I have come to realize that it is not my responsibility to screen everything that comes before a student. First, it is impossible.

    Second, we are united around the fundamentals of the faith. That is the focus of my teaching. It works very well for us who come from over 70 churches to focus on what are the essentials of biblical doctrine.

    If I take it upon myself to screen everything in the diet of my students, I produce a group of people dependent upon me for my evaluation. However, I teach principles of discernment which students can use to evaluate what they take in. Will some of them go further than I would like? Probably. That is true even in the local church. Ultimately, I will be accountable for what I promote, but all of my students will be accountable for what they accept.

    Part of my teaching includes a class that explores the highlights of church history. We do a lot of biographical studies of great church leaders from the first to the twenty-first centuries. One of the things I have had reinforced in my research is that no one in church history got it all correct all the time. I ask my students to look for what the man stood for, what he emphasized, what he got wrong, what his flaws were and what lessons we can learn from the man. So far my students show a lot of discernment when taught to look for these simple ideas.

    Let’s teach in such a way that when our people are with us for 4-5 years we no longer need to include a lot of disclaimer information. If we are still the key interpreter of correctness after we have served a church for a number of years, have we really taught people to stand in the power of the Lord?

    Arlyn Ubben

    • hi Arlen … attempting this on my phone, not a perfect thumb typer…

      what you are saying is not that far different from what I am saying. I am not advocating that I should be the sole arbiter of who someone else should listen to. I am accountable, as you say, for who I promote.

      What I am arguing against is men in positions of influence, such as yours as a Cbristian school teacher, giving unqualified recommendations of other men. I think you and I might differ to some extent on men we would recommend without much qualification, but let me propose a scenario…

      Suppose you were requested by a group of students a list of blogs and books they should read over the summer as an aid to their spiritual lives. Suppose you compiled a bit of an annotated list of 8 to 10 resources. Suppose ALL but ONE were non-evangelical or at best extreme left wing evangelical (some emergents and Christianity Today types come to mind). Suppose you made no critical comments but said ‘this guy is good on X topic’ and ‘that guy is the definitive source for Y subject’).

      Now, what would such a list say for your evangelical credibility, much less a fundamentalist creds? that scenario is exactly what I am arguing about, although much furter to the right. A fellow in a position of influence as a fundie writes an article endorsing a long list of evangelicals and only one fundamentalist.

      one could argue with my criticism of the article, but that really isn’t the point.

      The point is, what should we say about the separatist credentials of a fundamentalist who unqaulifiedly endorses men opposed to separatist fundamentalism?

  10. Arlyn Ubben says:

    Does anyone even read these fundamentalists in “positions of influence?” I cannot begin to think of who these might be. I think Paul has something to say about this in his first 3 chapters of his first Corinthian letter. He is not amused.

    • Hi Arlyn

      I’m being deliberately vague because I don’t care to identify the particular person or situation that I am referring to. But yes, the individual who wrote the article is in a position of tremendous influence, although not a household name, I suppose. I’m sorry I can’t be more specific. My point in raising the issue is that we have to be careful about the kinds of things we endorse. It is not that my opinion of a particular group or popular speaker is infallible. But I do want to influence people in a certain direction.

      In light of that, I need to take care about my enthusiasms for people who would lead in a different direction than I want people to go.

      On the other hand, if I claim to be heading one way, but put out endorsements of folks heading a different direction, I think it would be legitimate to question my claims.

      To use an analogy from the sports world, if I claimed to be a supporter of the Edmonton Oilers (which I do), but constantly talked about the Vancouver Canyecchhs, promoted their website, touted their bloggers, pointed others to the fan pages of their players, and said little to nothing about the old Oilers, what would people think of my claims?

      I do see this sort of thing going on in the ecclesiastical scene. Erstwhile fundamentalists regularly can be seen pointing people to evangelicals as the best sources on various topics. Little is said endorsing fundamentalists on these topics or pointing out the differences and dangers that might be present in evangelical authors / speakers. One does have to wonder about the fundamentalist claims such men make.

      Maranatha!
      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

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