On Ranking Christian Blogs

Over at his Patheos blog, Christian Piatt is attempting a rather ambitious ranking of the “Top 25 Christian blogs you should be reading,” using a crowdsourcing/curating tool called Listly. It’s an interesting experiment that’s already yielded thousands of votes and over 250 nominations. Check it out if only to stumble across a blog you might not have encountered before.

But it also reveals all kinds of problems with Christian blogging, starting the nature of this exercise itself:

1. And if you don’t believe me, ask Christian Piatt

Christian PiattIn a kind of mid-survey progress report, Piatt expressed astonishment at the response, but also concern:

Of course, as a blogger myself, I’m thrilled with the traffic. But I’ve also heard a couple of things that have troubled me. One well known blogger mentioned that such lists inevitably bring out the worst in people, like playground bullies who hold up a choice few friends, while pushing others to the side. I also heard from a handful of other bloggers, a little lower on the list at the moment, that they were more than a little anxious about their ranking, and whether or not they’d make the cut.

Ranking? Cut? This isn’t the Christian blogger equivalent of American Idol. There’s no prize, no glory, save for getting a mention in a subsequent post as a blog of note. Clearly, I underestimated the weight of the whole exercise.

Then I started noticing some lingering anxiety in myself. I had originally said that I’d use this survey as a guide, but that I was going to ultimately curate my own list of 25 blogs. But now, with all of the attention, the likelihood of pissing people off who get bumped because I added my preferred bloggers was really high. And of course, there already are folks complaining that X-Y-Z blogger tragically isn’t even on the list (hint: add them yourself, doy), which freaks me out even more.

I also appreciated the first comment in response to that post: “I think the intense attention and concern is driven by how incredibly hard it is for people who aren’t part of the ‘in crowd’ to get attention. And I know several bloggers (admittedly myself included) who feel strongly that God has entrusted them with a particular message and perspective to share with the world.”

Piatt’s response was both wise (“There are amazing, brilliant writes [sic] out there (I could name a dozen right now) who I think should be on that list but aren’t. Meanwhile, there are some blogs on the list that hardly even have any substantive content on them. So the fact that someone outranks you on this particular list doesn’t really mean much, in the grander scheme of things”) and practical: to produce a reader’s list, then his own list. That might help address some of the other problems I’ve noticed with the list…

2. Where are the professors?

Blogging for DummiesAs the list currently stands (mid-afternoon CDT on Friday, August 23), you have to go down to Peter Enns at #12 to find a blogger who holds a doctorate and teaches at a college or university. (A few graduate students — several of the bloggers at Homebrewed Christianity and Krista Dalton — do show up in the top ten.)

On the one hand: fantastic! It’s great that pastors, journalists, writers, stay-at-home parents, and others are offering thoughtful, often quite learned commentary through the blogosphere. I very much appreciate what I learn from others of our common priesthood.

On the other hand… I am somewhat bothered that some worthy professor-bloggers are going underappreciated (Roger Olson barely cracks the top fifty? Bart Ehrman has one vote? The Christian Humanist isn’t even on the list?), and the paucity of historians (no Anxious Bench, John Fea, or Tracy McKenzie?) doesn’t do much to reassure me that the blogosphere is a refuge from the ahistorical impulses of American culture.

But to turn my attention from specks to planks… I think we of the Christian academy would do better to take this as just one more reminder that we are called to serve the church, and given an array of digital tools with which to do so. If more of us aren’t on the list, maybe it’s because we don’t tend to value communication outside of our circles, or do it very well.

3. Epistemic closure?

Last fall I warned about “epistemic closure” within American political discourse, and tried to suggest some conservative writers for progressives to read and vice-versa. Looking at the list generated by Piatt’s readers, I felt the same concern for the Christian blogosphere: there’s a preponderance of self-identified progressives, postevangelicals, postconservatives, and emergents, and precious few who would claim the label “conservative” (in a theological, political, social, or intellectual sense). Do members of the former group truly believe that no Christian blogger in the latter category should be read? (And would the story be any different if, say, the thus-far unnominated blog of First Things sought its readers’ “Top Christian Blogs”?) Or is “Christian blogging” an exercise in confirmation bias, and we tend to seek out people who already share our beliefs, preferences, and grievances?

So here again, I appreciate Piatt’s follow-up, which recommended (via Tony Jones) the “Top 200 Ministry Blogs” curated by Kent Shaffer and Craig Van Korlaar of Church Relevance. Its top ten list includes four blogs from The Gospel Coalition, plus others who probably drive progressives (and me, often) up the wall.

6 thoughts on “On Ranking Christian Blogs

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