My friend and colleague, Carl Trueman, has published another thoughtful piece in First Things,“Lessons From the Reformation’s Pamphlet War.” In this essay he makes an analogy between Twitter and the Reformation pamphlets that were so widely published and distributed during the Reformation. He argues that, in the long run, the pamphlets were less valuable and had no lasting value, unlike some of the great works of the Reformation.
The essay deserves consideration. He may be right. There are serious problems inherent to social media, which I have described here. The BigSocial media platforms are increasingly hostile to real dialogue and they do not exist to help us communicate as much as to turn us into a product to be sold to advertisers. Any point of view that falls afoul of the censors is cause for removal from the platform even if the view that was expressed later turns out to be right. Who knew that “the science” changes? For more on this see the resources.
I wonder, however, if the pamphlets of the Reformation are the correct analogy? What if we compared Twitter not to the pamphlets—which seem more like online articles than they do like Twitter—and instead compare it to Luther’s theses?
Trueman mentions the Heidelberg Disputation (1518). He is quite right to say that this was a significant turning point in the Reformation. Those theses remain some of the most compelling compact statements of Reformation theology and piety produced. Consider thesis 19:
The theologian of glory calls evil good and good evil. The theologian of the cross calls a thing what it is.
Rhetorically, this thesis is fairly typical of the genre. Twitter accepts messages that are 280 characters. Thus, and I tested this, thesis 19 fits twice in a single tweet. Theological theses were meant to be compact claims and provocative, in the best sense. They were meant to be explained, discussed, and debated. I have written and posted theses for my students on covenant covenant theology and on theology generally. Most of them would easily fit the character limit. One might doubt the lasting value of the pamphlets but we all see the value in the theses of the Heidelberg Disputation.
Now, whether Twitter is a fit place to post serious theses is a question to be debated. As Truman notes, however, there are thoughtful people on Twitter and as even those who have never seen Twitter know, there are less than thoughtful people there. Unlike real life, on Twitter, those people are easily blocked or muted. I use both features liberally.
I find it a useful place to let people know what is happening on the Heidelblog and the Heidelcast. I have met and made friends there. It is an interesting place to find out what people are thinking. One finds interesting and useful news there. I have learned things on Twitter and engaged in interesting and illuminating discussions there that, without Twitter, I might missed.
After I began learning more about the nature of social media (e.g., how the algorithms work) and as I have become frustrated by the limits imposed by the censors (e.g., do not say that a trans person belongs to one sex or another. That is forbidden and only heaven can help those who question “the science” on climate or Covid) I have been spending less time there but it is not without its benefits and if tweets bear some analogy to sixteenth-century theses, one wonders if at least some of the minor figures from the Reformation might not have found Twitter a useful place to articulate the Reformation solas and other truths?
©R. Scott Clark. All Rights Reserved.
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Thank you, Professor! 🙂