OK, so blog post discussions are not immune from derailment, and blog spots are hardly consistent in promoting the kind of discursive exchanges an optimist might assume. But Facebook does seem to promote a special kind of dialogue, one that is possible because a) most people have an extensive list of Facebook friends well beyond particular academic or discipline specific interests, many of whom have strong opinions about faith, the bible, and well, pretty much everything. And b) the whole idea behind the Facebook exchange is instant call and response; quiet and patient reflection would obviously not work in the Facebook format. More often than not, this leads to a frenetic exchange that tends to reveal more about its participants than it does about ideas.

Perhaps you have found yourself in a Facebook debate that looks something like this (and in the spirit of every great evangelical sermon I have ever heard preached, I see myself in all of this ;))

Person 1 “Provocative semi-theological statement” (most likely the result of reflection upon a number of disciplinary concerns that author is engaged in, however context completely unknown to all but 18 of 724 Facebook friends).

Person 2 Witty reply seeking likes

Person 2 Double reply, trying to attend seriously and makes a good point

Person 3 Vague theological quote with grammatical errors

Person 1 Author inserts qualifying remark

Person 4 Irrelevant comment that shifts focus to me

Person 5 Questions whether original statement and qualifying remark is even biblical

Person 6 Reference to a passage in Romans
reference to passage in Romans 8

Person 8 Paul-hating comment with air of moral superiority

Person 2 Counter with Scripture from the Amplified bible

Person 1 Unexplained tagging of Another Person

Person 4 extreme passive aggression followed by Jesus reference

Person 6 Pompous response with dubious link

Person 8 Reference to the apocalypse of Ezra

Person 8 ^ just kidding

Person 6 Liking of every second post

Person 3 reference to how manly this conversation is

Person 6 Offensive comment that will ultimately be deleted

Person 1 copy and pastes informed comments from other post

Person 2 looking up wikipedia for definitive Derrida quote

Person 3 *mansplaining* with asterisks

Person 1 Claims to be a feminist for having read something by Coakley

Person 4 use of urban dictionary

Person 9 awkward comment from family member who is proud of status author

Person 1 Mansplains the meaning of mansplaining

Person 6 Attempts to affirm woman in conversation but accidentally suggests that attending to her ‘female perspective’ is optional.

Person 8 “To pretend, I actually do the thing: I have therefore only pretended to pretend.”

Person 3 corrects misplaced use of Derrida quote with confusing and irrelevant reference to presence and absence

Person 2 allusion to the ‘real world’

Person 1 Cat meme!

Person 7 Pacifism (hopes to ignite more debate)

Person 4 Comment meant for other thread

Person 3 moronic attempt to show comment is linked to this very important discussion

Person 9 Apology

Person 2 Notes moronic attempt to shows comments are linked

Person 1 Righteous indignation

Person 3 Recollection of a shared experience when teenagers

Person 9 science

Person 7 rejects science


Person 1 Accusation of Unitarianism

Person 5 blames, in this order, modernity-liberalism-Bultmann

Person 1 embarrassing explanation of post-modernism

Person 3 grammatical interjection

Person 2 Out of theological depth – sudden reference to hip foreign film

Person 8 defending ‘Ian’

Person 6 Random person adding an irrelevant comment

Person 9 Accusations of socialism

Person 3 Wearing accusation as a badge of honour

Person 2 deflecting attention by comparing Hitler to Obama

Person 1 attacking ‘Ian’


Person 1 way too late clarification of terms

Person 8 comment about the misuse of apostrophes

Person 2 Bows out with final passive aggressive comment

Person 1 gut wrenching autobiographical disclosure as trump card

Person 7 feigned compassion

Person 4 rejection of emotional trump card with reference to scripture

Person 3 Use of: ‘what I think you really mean is…

Person 6 Responds to a statement made 30 comments earlier

Person 8 Mark Driscoll

Person 9 DRISCOLL!

Person 1 Philippians 2 Chistology

Person 2 Gets into argument with stranger about Piper vs bible

Person 4 Discredits Piper without possessing any prior knowledge of the man

Person 7 Uses “no offence” to absolve offensive content of previous comment

Person 1 reference to my forthcoming publication

Person 2 Joke about forthcoming review of forthcoming publication

Person 6 (sends three friend requests to complete strangers participating in debate)

Person 8 Back on topic comment from author

Person 2 Points out that all these questions have already been answered in his previous publication.

Person 1 Author private messages intimidating friends to apologize for douche who keeps referencing his publications

Person 3 Highlights Godwin’s law

Person 9 counts how many people have liked each of my comments

Person 5 appeals to nuance of some ancient language

Person 8 Lengthy explanation that just keeps on and on til you just give up reading or persevere until you want to gnaw your own arms off… Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Nullam placerat consequat eros et ornare. Integer lobortis sed eros et tempor. Aenean nisl nisi, vehicula non venenatis id, sollicitudin in augue. Duis ut nibh non eros aliquet egestas. Donec molestie dictum arcu, sit amet sollicitudin nibh accumsan eu. Nunc ligula mi, sodales in rutrum eget, fermentum eu tellus. Nunc pretium lectus nec porta tempus.
Etiam ut lacinia leo. Sed quis ipsum sed libero pharetra consectetur. Proin pulvinar luctus sapien, at fermentum lectus volutpat et. Ut fermentum id nunc id semper. Integer sed enim ultricies, mattis est ut, feugiat dui. Suspendisse id suscipit sapien. Morbi quis velit vitae dolor congue scelerisque. Proin id turpis sit amet magna blandit vestibulum. Etiam in rutrum magna, eget commodo augue. Suspendisse ac justo ut libero auctor faucibus.Aliquam at est id elit auctor rutrum vel vitae ipsum. Fusce id consectetur purus, nec rhoncus diam. Nulla imperdiet eget mi vel tristique. Ut rutrum placerat augue, commodo auctor odio porta eget. Nulla tincidunt vulputate felis et tempus. Pellentesque sodales bibendum ullamcorper. Donec sagittis orci non cursus sagittis. Cras aliquam tincidunt ullamcorper. Pellentesque ac congue arcu. Interdum et malesuada fames ac ante ipsum primis in faucibus. In vel nibh tellus. In hac habitasse platea dictumst.Maecenas vulputate metus quis semper condimentum. Vivamus vitae arcu a magna pretium iaculis. Cras molestie egestas mauris eu ultrices. Fusce dictum, risus at vehicula adipiscing, eros elit posuere ante, a luctus dolor lacus eu erat. Fusce non nulla pretium, adipiscing tortor aliquet, interdum tellus. Sed ultrices facilisis euismod. Nulla vel tincidunt orci. Fusce varius molestie adipiscing. Cum sociis natoque penatibus et magnis dis parturient montes, nascetur ridiculus mus. Pellentesque in facilisis nisi. Sed non mollis risus, vitae lacinia ipsum. Integer laoreet nibh quis interdum pretium. Maecenas id nunc nisi.

Donec tincidunt mi at tempor blandit. Curabitur nec nisi vitae lorem dictum vulputate id non urna. Mauris nisl mi, accumsan vitae ante in, congue imperdiet tellus. Proin feugiat nibh et nunc fermentum, vel tempus nunc aliquam. Donec odio diam, accumsan a mi in, gravida mattis nisi. Duis nisi magna, dictum fringilla risus non, rhoncus fermentum dolor. Nulla egestas dapibus eros, eget vulputate erat mollis a.

Person 4 tl;dr

Person 7 copy and pastes informed comments from other post

Person 6 Considers looking up previous reference then realises it will take too long to find and re-join conversation in a seemingly intelligent way so chooses to politely smile and nod and move on. Smiley-face emoticon with tongue out.

Person 3 random disclosure of tattoo

Person 4 whoa!

Person 1 Attempts to claim that being a white male limits academic possibilities.

Person 1 anecdote from non-western country with a photo of a black baby

Person 8 Aligns with another commenter to make the same arguments and overpower a minority voice

Person 5 accusation of dualism

Person 9 accusation of essentialism

Person 3 comment that attempts to poorly summarise everyone’s opinions and show how we really all agree

Person 2 Puzzling use of question mark?

Person 5 Doesn’t know what essentialism or dualism is so responds with childish retort

Person 4 references really important scholar I have never actually read

Person 7 Links important scholar to show that they are Facebook friends

Person 2 Questions the whole concept of important scholars. Suggests we spend more time with the suffering

Person 1 TV Quote

Person 9 Doesn’t get tv show reference and responds seriously and piously

Person 7 pompous comment combining “Trinitarian”, “Pneumatological” and “Eucharistic”

Person 10 interjects with ‘sorry I came to this late, but…

Person 4 quotes poem in hope flowery language will disarm conceptual abilities of opponents

Person 2 ‘What you say is really great, and I fully agree with all of it, but…

Person 7 Links to cool female pastor with tattoos

Person 6 I love that chick

Person 1 rolls eyes

Person 9 Complains about mainstream music

Person 4 Questions the credibility of involved ‘academics’

Person 2 Agrees to disagree

Person 1 wrapping up joke with ridiculous #hashtag

7 thoughts

  1. And this is why theology or any other serious matter should never be discussed via Facebook. Use of social media should be restricted to an exchange of cat pictures and one-liners, which is what it was created for in the first place.

    Thanks for the great post. Made me smile.

  2. What a great post and spot on. And while I theoretically agree that Facebook might not be the best place for a theological conversation, in practice, I love Facebook for theological conversations. Despite the spikes in my blood pressure due to some of what you have enumerated above, I have met so many fine people and I have learned so much. Thank you!

  3. Hah! I’ve been bemoaning to a college of mine that there are so few theology blogs don’t 1) lack a critical mass of participation to foster academic exchange or 2) devolve into something like the above.

    I was blaming the medium but then she’s in philosophy and pointed me toward blogs where actual philophical debate takes place in the blog format.

    Maybe it’s something about religion on the Internet that everyone feels they need to respond with something unrelated to the topic at hand but desperately important enough to post.

  4. I blew my coffee out my nose! 😀 I’m # ……
    FB – good for looking at family photos from afar and getting practice in maintaining some privacy and security.

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