Reading Books In An Age Of Blogs

When I was in primary school, we had a library book bus that came to the school every week and we borrowed books that we would read for a week before returning them back the following week. Without a doubt, there was a culture of reading that existed then. Yes, there were those dudes who only got the books with pictures and never liked actually reading. By the time I was in High School, the importance for reading books and learning was entrenched in my thinking, and books became the primary source of what is known as truth - historic, experiential, and all other disputed subjects of the human experience were recorded in systematic, artistic (sometimes) and nuanced ways.

Disclaimer: This conversation assumes that the reader already knows that the Bible is the primary source of information for a Christian's life and doctrine. This is more about supplementary, explanatory, historical and statistical information that can help us better make sense of the world around us about any topic, in the realm of private or public life.

By the time I was in university, there was Wikipedia coming. Oh my days. The temptation to just be lazy and copy and paste stuff we saw from there was super high, and many times there were instances were work was refuted because it was taken from Wikipedia (a Web 2.0 site, which is basically edited and created by users hence a weak source of information).

Fast forward to a couple of years later, the blogosphere, which has particularly grown in the last 5-10 years, has exploded. Access to all kinds of opinions and information has hightened like never before. At the click of a button, we have access to some of our favourite writers and bloggers, theologians, thought-leaders and business people. And I want to say that this is great news.

For disciples of Christ, this has meant that we are able to access content which was almost difficult for us to get apart from the internet. We are able, by and large, to share so much materials and view peer generated content that enriches our understanding of concepts in a really great way.

A couple of years ago I had a huge shift in my theological convictions. And one of the ways in which I got to know of a group of people that believed what I believed was through a blog by Zambia Pastor, Conrad Mbewe. When I read Pastor Mbewe's blog about the "Township Reformation" that was taking place in South Africa, and just the interest in reformed doctrine that was taking shape on the continent, a whole new world was opened up to me. I remember going to Facebook and looking for the Township Reformation page, and just marvelling at the thought of young people like myself who were interested in old-time religion and orthodoxy. This was primarily the way I built friendships across Africa - through seeing mutual interest and sharing content online.

So, I want to say this straight up - I do think blogs are an important part of our learning, but I also want to argue that they are not enough. I think we need to actually go deeper and read more primary sources in our quest to learn and be knowledgable. I really want to be clear with what I am not saying: I am in no way saying books are better than blogs because they are two different media, so I will not make false equivalence. What I am saying though is: you and I probably need to learn from both. An individual Christian who indulges in blogs alone and builds opinion solely based on these without checking out some primary sources and scholarly works will likely have a skewed understanding of particular subject matter.

Of late, as I have seen the continuing conversations about land here in South Africa, and social justice in the USA, the greatest discouragement has not been the differing opinions but actual just differing facts. We live in a world where opinion trumps facts. Politics trumps facts. Theological tribes trump facts. And we also lack a clear understanding of what the "other" is actually saying - and this is why we need to enrich our knowledge base. Blogs can help, but we can go deeper by reading more actual books and scholarly papers where needed.

Pros for blogs, and cons for books:

a. Blogs are concise - they typically can simplify topics that are hard to understand. Books can be dreary and long and can be hard to consume for people that do not read a lot. So blogs can be a good start, clearly.

b. Blogs are personal - you might actually know the author and very much relate to them in deeper ways because of the generally chilled style in which a blogger typically writes. Books can be written with a very broad perspective and it can take a while before some people relate. There are books though that have shorter articles inside and you can actually read them like blogs. One book that I have read at least twice and I felt was a series of blog posts was Martin Luther King's Letter from Birmingham Jail. The book definitely reads like a series of MLK blog posts to me!

c. Blogs are free - you pay nothing, most of the times (well, except your data charges). Books are not, typically. You pay an arm and grip sometime, but you can also pay a little sometimes - but cost always affects access in many instances.

d. Blog posts are released every hour. Literally, about 2 million blog posts are published daily. Of course, not all of them are helpful - the point is - there is tonnes of content at our avail. With books, it takes a while to obviously come out.

Cons for blogs, pros for books:

a. They can lack depth unless the blogger also references actual primary sources. Blogs can easily be just opinions. Books, because of the rigorous editorial policy will likely have valid references to primary sources and research. Books pass through many stages of the selection, correction and quality control if we may call it that.

b. Books are much much longer than blog posts. They can cover much more story in the more coherent way. There is very low chance that you will get the book that is poorly written, while the same cannot be said for the blogs themselves.

c. There is much higher chance that you will learn something new and factual from the book than from the blogs.

Brothers, and sisters, let us read history, research papers, books and primary sources. Or we will be doomed with empty opinion and irrelevant banter in the streets of this world that look at us to see Light, rational, truth and reason.

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