Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Every Square Inch: A Response to Anthony Bradley

Anthony Bradley has a provocative piece in WORLD Magazine's blog today called Tweeting a shibboleth gospel, in which he claims alternately that the medium of Twitter is too simple for the gospel's complexity and that Twitter complicates the gospel's simplicity. He claims "The Twitter-gospel is for über-church Christians," and while I have no idea what an über-church is, this is only the tip of the iceberg of confusion that is Dr. Bradley's post. Here is a response to his arguments, one at a time. (Lines in italics are from his post.)

The new trend of provocatively restating “the gospel” on Twitter may be inadvertently keeping Christians on spiritual milk.

This is where Dr. Bradley makes his first misstep, and it guides the entire rest of his argument. He says here that what gospel-centered tweets reflect is a "re-stating of the gospel." (He never mentions any Twitter users by name, of course, although that would be extremely helpful. He does cite 3 anonymous examples of tweets previously cited by another blogger who wrote basically the same piece Bradley mimics here, but beyond that gives us no sense of the breadth of the problem except that it is in his estimation a big problem.) But the problem with this is that none of the gospel-centered "tweeps" I know have ever claimed to be re-stating the gospel. Most of us know that most often we are tweeting gospel applications or implications. The tweet could have any topic in mind, really, but through the lens of the gospel it takes on the weight of gospel-centrality.

Bradley says we are re-stating the gospel. I am sure somebody somewhere does this, but the wealth of gospel-centered tweeps I read every day do not.

Twitter is the new roadside church sign where corny quips go viral.

This is a rather telling statement, I think, and also integral to Bradley's dislike of what he's reading. The very first sentence of his piece is "I need a Twitter-gospel break." Later in the post he writes about "weak attempts at imaginativeness" [sic]. I believe most of his logic serves these points, the real heart of his post, which is not that there's anything really wrong with these tweets he doesn't like except that he doesn't like them.

Corny church signs are not an argument against church signs but against corniness.

I speak for many who are worn out on the Twitter-gospel.

And no doubt for all those who don't know what the big deal is about this "gospel" thing in general.

The Twitter-gospel attempts to reduce the Good News to a 140-character “tweet” that will make readers think it is good enough to be endlessly retweeted, because each retweet builds up the sought-after coolness affirmation for some.

I really don't know where to begin with this claim because it is somewhat convoluted and rather cheap in its character attack. But I'll try.

The first part restates the false thesis that gospel-centered tweeps are trying to re-state the content of the gospel, not give fresh insights into its implications and applications, but even if he were right, it is a strange claim to make that the gospel cannot be stated in less than 140 characters anyway. Is that what Bradley wants to argue for? A gospel that can't be contained in John 3:16? (That verse is 124 characters, by the way.)

He compounds this falsity with a slash at people's characters. I can't recall seeing any "gospel tweep" ask for a re-tweet, but Bradley seems to be adept at mind-reading. I am sure coolness is sought after by some, probably even a lot of people on Twitter, but this reasoning is so bizarre. Well-crafted gospel-centered tweets get re-tweeted a lot, but then, so do well-crafted tweets of all kinds. Dr. Bradley gets re-invited to appear on cable news talk shows. Is that because he's seeking affirmation of some kind too?

I am even beginning to wonder if a few of these Twitter-gospelers are trying to tweet their way to fame.

Another mind-reading stab at the character of nobody in particular.
Anyways, there are worse ways to get noticed than talking compellingly about the gospel, I'd think.

Something so important seems hardly reducible to a clever one-liner.

This is where Bradley says the gospel is too big for Twitter. (And it is, by the way, but not in the way he means.)

the Twitter-gospel can frustrate the simplicity of the message

And this is where, three sentences later, he suggests that Twitter is too big for the gospel.
At this point, I think Bradley is really riffing, but not really thinking.

He then cites the three anonymous tweets cited by the Jake Belder post. Here they are:
“Legalism says achievement leads to approval, the gospel says that approval leads to achievement.”

“The gospel obliterates, annihilates, and disembowels any notion of wage earning as a basis for our acceptance with God.”

“The Gospel makes us stop asking: What have I done for God? And makes us ask: What’s the Lord done through/in/despite me?”

The odd thing is that Bradley does not tell us what's wrong with these statements. He acknowledges that these kind of tweets are meant to encourage Christians and then says that instead of tweeting things like this, we should re-state the gospel: "So tell us, then, what the gospel actually is."

This is not only a non-point, it is self-contradictory. Bradley has already said we shouldn't re-state the gospel, and now he says instead of tweeting gospel-centered encouragements like those cited we should just re-state the gospel. But, wait, there's more:

Unlike the Bible, the Twitter-gospel has no context, and unless you’re a Christian you might not get the point without some sort of theological background.

Again Bradley reveals confusion. He says before that he understands the encouragement tweets are for Christians but now says unless one is a Christian, one may not understand the context of a gospel encouragement. Um, yes. This is true of portions of the Bible, as well, unless Bradley believes non-Christians know the context of the Scriptures.

Besides that, Twitter streams are their own context. Certainly, gospel tweets presume some gospel context -- not always, but frequently -- but because there is a particular audience assumed, the context is assumed too. This is true of nearly all tweets; it is true of the Twitter medium itself. Just stroll through Dr. Bradley's Twitter feed, for instance. There are references to political and legal research, use of Latin phrases, and even a somewhat passive aggressive reference to another anonymous person he disagrees with. (That last one is a reference to my post on the institutional church, by the way, and I'll have you know that Dr. Bradley did not resist the temptation he says he did. ;-) One tweet simply says "tostones." I have no idea what this means. Is it a typo? A "butt-dial"? A reference to something mysterious? The bottom line is that all of these tweets presume context, both of his own feed and of outside information he presumes those who read his tweets have access to.

In this sense, gospel-flavored tweeps aren't doing anything uncommon to the medium of Twitter.

While it gives the appearance of sophistication...

But I thought they were like corny church signs?

. . . much Twitter-gospel is gospel milk. It reminds me of a couple passages from Hebrews . . .

Bradley then quotes Hebrews 5:13-14 and 6:1-2:
“Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” (5:13-14), and “Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment” (6:1-2)

The problem is that these passages don't mean what Bradley thinks they mean. He posits them as proof of the idea that Christians ought to "graduate from the gospel." Not only do we not find this idea anywhere else in Scripture, it is not the point of these passages from Hebrews either, despite appearing so to the casual reader. Some context would be helpful.

In Hebrews 5:12, the author writes, "Though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God." The dilemma is seeing how the recipients of the letter would need to both re-learn the elementary principles of the oracles of God and leave the elementary teachings about Christ. Unless the author is speaking out of both sides of his mouth, these must mean two different things.

What does the "foundation" we're told not to lay again consist of? "Repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment." John Piper writes this:
So evidently there is a difference between the teaching that they need in 5:12 and the laying again of a foundation in 6:1. One they need and one they don't. What's the difference?

I think the teaching they need about the basics (5:12) is how to use these basics for Christ's sake to press on to maturity. But laying a foundation again, I think, implies that they are losing sight of the basics about Christ and are beginning to occupy themselves with Old Testament and Jewish truths that were used as the foundation for presenting and understanding Christ. And the writer doesn't want them to go that far back.

Let me explain. In this writer's mind, laying a foundation for the understanding of Christ is different from teaching about how to live in Christ on the basis of that foundation. The foundation he has in mind is described in 6:1d–2. The striking thing about this list is that it is not distinctively Christian. It is made up of foundational Old Testament and Jewish truths and practices that the readers probably built on when they were converted.

John Calvin concurs, writing of this passage:
He bids them to leave these rudiments, not that the faithful are ever to forget them, but that they are not to remain in them; and this idea appears more clear from what follows, the comparison of a foundation; for in building a house we must never leave the foundation; and yet to be always engaged in laying it, would be ridiculous. For as the foundation is laid for the sake of what is built on it, he who is occupied in laying it and proceeds not to the superstruction, wearies himself with foolish and useless labor.

If I had to reduce these complex thoughts to a tweet ;-), I might do it this way: "We do not leave the foundation of the gospel, but we need saving only once." Or perhaps this way: "At the cross, you are saved once for all time. Don't get re-saved. Walk in your salvation."

In any event, I believe the passages cited here don't mean the gospel is the ABC's and now we need to buckle down and learn the hard stuff. They are calls to grow.

“the gospel” may be on its way to becoming a shibboleth

For some, perhaps it is. But for the rest of us, we cannot shut up about the versatility and the many endless awesomenesses of the gospel of Jesus Christ because it saved our lives, and to hermetically seal off our use of Twitter from that which most thrills us simply because it rubs some people the wrong way is tantamount to saying what Bradley claims we are saying: it is meaningless.

So for all of us who want to uphold the meaningfulness and sanctity of the message of the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ, will the Twitter-gospelers please give “the gospel” a Twitter Sabbath?

For all of us who believe there is no square inch of the universe over which Christ who is Lord of all does not say "Mine!", the answer is no.


rdsmith3 said...

I'm not a Bradley apologist, and I enjoy the tweets of many preachers (including you), but here is my take on perhaps, just maybe, what he really meant:

If a person's diet consists ONLY of reading tweets, that is not enough. It is really spiritual fast food, not milk. To the extent that a person fills up on gospel tweets, and never reads the Bible, then Twitter does a disservice. It is spiritual malnutrition.

However, I contend that a good tweet can cause one to think about the gospel in new ways, from new perspectives. A good tweet can make one want to read the Bible. A re-tweet is a sharing of the gospel.

TrueConvert said...

Boom. I loved the clarity of expression. I would've said it myself had I been so gifted. That's what the Body is for.
Grace and Peace.

Matthew Johnson said...

rdsmith3, if a person's spiritual diet truly consists of tweets then the problem isn't the tweet writer. Is Snickers the problem of obesity or is it the person shoveling fistfuls into their mouths?

I'd rather read Jared's gospel tweets than most of of the stuff that comes across my screen.

PMinDC said...

another piece of evidence that xtns are well off if they dont read world magazine!

nhe said...

Can I get a link to these alleged "Jared Gospel Tweets"? Sounds like I'm missing something.

I read a lot of blogs, but I don't follow anyone on Twitter, so I guess I'm missing why this is even an issue.

It seems to me that AT WORST tweeting the gospel would be causing the gospel to go out under pretense - which according to Paul, is still a good thing......

Jared said...

nhe, I was reminded of the same passage.

What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. - Philippians 1:18 and preceding

But I didn't quote it b/c I didn't want to imply that I agree whoever the anonymous gospel tweeters Bradley is complaining about are indeed doing it out of pretense. I am sure some are. But I prefer to assume sincerity.

Alex Kloosterman said...

Hey Jared!

Just wanted to drop you a line of encouragement to thank you for your hard work in the scriptures, your delight and passion for the gospel, and your willingness to share that with the rest of us. I've personally found your teaching (including your tweets) to draw my heart towards the beauty of Christ and the glory of his gospel. I can especially appreciate how you've handled critics with grace and truth, further displaying the truth of the gospel.
I married my wife a month ago and am living in barbados now where she is from. Needless to say, all of my comforts and community are gone, and God has graciously revealed much of my idolatry in treasuring so much above Jesus. In this difficult but sanctifying time, I've found the tweets in particular encouraging and devastating (in a good way).
I know in one sense what I say doesn't mean jack, and it's all for king Jesus, but I wanted to encourage you. Thanks

Brandon said...

Two things...
1. I think a lot of people ARE trying to impress others with their tweets. In other words, the point, for a lot of people, is not so much to share the gospel as it is to share the depth of the tweeter's spiritual wit.

2. I've been a lurker around the blogosphere since before the blogosphere existed (as I'm sure many have). The one thing I have noticed, with few exceptions, is that any given blog got a little less interesting as soon as the blogger joined Twitter.

With those things being said, twitter is an incredible tool with a lot of uses. Glorify God with your tweets, but just because your tweets are "gospelesque" doesn't mean that your tweets are glorifying god.

stephy said...

Wow, you REALLY didn't like Bradley's post.

Joseph Sunde said...

I think both you and Bradley have valid points, but both are, in a sense a bit reactionary.

Yes, people make corny "Gospel Tweets," and yes, I think it can sometimes turn people off and sometimes even foster a bit of pretentiousness and pride among those who participate.

But likewise, obviously there are some good, hearty, meaty, 140-character Tweets. We've all seen them, and we all know that particular, well-thought-out statements can come across as meaningful -- even on Twitter.

Bradley seems to obviously be coming against the first type of Tweet, and I doubt he'd agree that the second kind of Tweet is acceptable and helpful.

In other words, he's being reactionary in a sense, but this post seems MUCH more reactionary in that it fails to see the limits of Bradley's critique. Bradley's post comes across as a call for Tweeters to be mindful of the potential to dilute the Gospel. Yours comes across like you were offended.

If your tweets (or anyone else's) are fine and dandy and you think they're beneficial for the Church as a whole, I don't get why you'd take Bradley's piece to be an indictment of you or anyone else who is using the medium effectively. It just seems he's critiquing a pretty specific set of Tweeters.

Phil Cotnoir said...

People using twitter and blogs as a platform for self-promotion? Say it ain't so. But let's face it, these mediums are inherently a temptation for self-interest.

I've noticed it so much in myself. I think it's partially because much of my Christian nutrition has come through 'popular' and well-known authors and preachers. Even if they are humble and godly and teach people not to seek after those things, their popularity and Christian-celebrity status are unavoidable and it's so hard to think of success as unrelated to such acclaim. I want to be like them, for good and bad reasons.

I love what Eric Mason said in a sermon I was listening to. "Everybody has a spiritual mix-tape they're hustling - trying to get noticed for what they got. But God will only lift you up at the proper time, so it doesn't matter if you get the best blog or myspace page, God is still sovereign and you won't be lifted to prominence until God says it's the right time." I love that. So true.

jbboren said...

Nothing like stirring up a controversy to increase blog readership...I think that's the main purpose of Bradley and Belder.

I certainly wouldn't want to be on record, as Belder now is, bragging that no one would find a gospel tweet on my tweet-list.

And Bradley's whole (implied) argument that Christians should graduate from the gospel? He needs to listen to Tullian's sermon series on Colossians. Anthony, it is at .

Orthodox B. said...


"I think that's the main purpose of Bradley and Belder". Mind reader huh? I mean heart reader.

This doesnt seem Gospel centered imo. How do you tweet them apples?

Jake Belder said...

Jbboren, you are, of course, free to think what you wish, but I assure you that this is not an attempt at increased blog readership. If that was my aim, I would have bowed out of the blogosphere years ago.

Please see my response to Jared's post here for a bit of further interaction on the issue and some clarification on my position on the issue.

The Larson Family said...

Bradley's article spent 544 words provoking some thinking, you spent 2047 words attempting a rebuttal,
and 140 character "Gospels" are able to communicate what?

pduggie said...

There has to be something to "graduating from the gospel" in the sense that the gospel message of justification is completely monergistic, but Christian living and sanctification is synergistic, and actually involved, y'know, human effort.