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The trouble with blogs

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How should MB institutions respond to anonymous attacks?

MB Biblical Seminary (MBBS) faces a dilemma. A variety of blogs have recently popped up on the internet critical of many evangelical seminaries, with a few choosing to focus specifically on MBBS. A blog, like a newspaper column, offers an opinion. Unlike a newspaper column, a blog can be anonymous. The blogs that are attacking MBBS and Mennonite Brethren conference leaders have no names attached. The blogs give the appearance of being placed by people who have taken classes at MBBS-Fresno, though this is uncertain.

How should a Christian institution confront such mischief? As indicated above, MBBS is not alone in facing this question. At the Leadership Summit in August 2008, Bill Hybels made repeated reference to the pain at Willow Creek, the congregation he pastors, over blog attacks.  MBBS, too, has puzzled over the right response.

Our first response was to chuckle in amusement. The bloggers are clever but harmless, we thought. Then we learned that someone had sent the bloggers’ URL addresses to many U.S. MB pastors – just ahead of the July national convention. When asked about the blogs, we tried to answer questions directly. Despite the bloggers’ claims to the contrary, we’re committed to the MB Confession of Faith and seek to teach the Bible faithfully. Questions continue to swirl.

We’ve hesitated to give the bloggers the satisfaction of a direct response. We wonder: does a response dignify their methods? Does a response create the impression that there might be some credence to their charges? And what about those who know nothing about the blogs? Will a response now create doubts about the reliability of MBBS? Will the old adage, “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” be used to create suspicion about MBBS?

How do you deal with anonymous attacks on your character or against your friend? I appreciate the email I got from an old friend yesterday with the subject line, “Praying for you.” He says in part, “My heart has been praying for you a lot this morning. Yesterday [someone] raised concern over MBBS that stems from the blog that has been circulating. Blogs are often . . . the passion of someone who has not checked carefully the information he is using to draw his conclusions. I’m committed to doing my best to influence [them] to respond biblically. You have been a friend for a long time. I will protect that relationship. MBBS is my school and I will do my best to stop the slander that wants to take root.”

The internet is a tool that can be used for good or ill. While online communities can provide personal support, email can also be a tool for evil. It can be tempting to forward a message without checking its validity. The Bible warns against false accusers. Ghost bloggers are part of a shadow community that may fan the fires of gossip.
For us at MBBS, the bottom line is that anonymous blogging fails to measure up to the biblical injunction to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). The blogger controls the blog space.  Attempts to enter a reasoned conversation can be met with contempt and false charges. Christian communication works in the light. Christ-like dialogue is candid but respectful.

Our aim at MBBS is to help pastors prepare for the contemporary world. We do this by helping them anticipate some of the tough questions they may face. Pastors need to be able to help other believers respond appropriately to the divisive issues that are raised in the “marketplace of ideas.” At MBBS we think this means being aware of various points of view – not just presenting “right answers” that will stop debates.
MBBS welcomes open discussion about the controversies of our time. We have invited the U.S. and Canadian conference Board of Faith and Life to converse with us – even examine us. We would be pleased to have direct interaction with you, our supporters, to discuss any questions. An article addressing the theological issues raised by our critics is posted online at www.mbseminary.edu/news/2008-11-13.

I’ve shared openly with you about our dilemma. I welcome any opportunity to speak personally with you about these issues. We may not agree about every biblical interpretation, but as believers seeking to be faithful to the Bible and its interpretation in the MB Confession of Faith, we will be able to grow through meaningful and direct communication.

Above all, I ask you to pray for MB Biblical Seminary. Please ask God that we will continue to be faithful to our mission of inspiring and equipping men and women to live as disciples of Jesus Christ and to serve and lead in the church and in the world.

Lynn Jost acting MB Biblical Seminary president, can be reached at (559) 452-1791 or  ljost@mbseminary

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