Christian Internet Apologetics

by Lambert Dolphin, Elaine Stedman, Mike McKenna, and Ted Wise.
Paraclete Forum Team Members 



The Internet has exploded as a world-wide easy-access means of communication crossing every border, nationality, culture, race or religion.

To some, the Internet is an impersonal library of knowledge and information. For many it is fast and easy way to send email to friends, colleagues, and relatives. Others exploit the Internet for business solicitations and advertising. The pornography industry on Internet amounts of many billions of dollars of revenue and enough revenue to drive most of the new Internet technologies-- such as live stream video and instant sexual encounters on demand. Newsgroups, Support Groups and Chat Rooms Abound--on every conceivable subject and for all possible motives. Every group or individual who wants a platform, a soap-box, a place to be heard (whether he or she is sound or a crackpot) can find an audience for the small price of a modem and a monthly connection fee via local ISP.

We wish to discuss none of the above. In the past three years our team has learned from experience that the Internet can be a powerful medium for the communication of the Christian faith. This includes evangelism, apologetics, edification of Christians, comfort, prayer, teaching, encouragement and instruction.

We strongly believe the Internet is not, and will never be, a substitute for the local church. The Body of Christ exists in cities, towns and villages almost everywhere in the world and is ordained by God--without any doubt--as the place where Christians are to gather regularly for fellowship, prayer, teaching and worship-as a family.

Christian "ministry" on Internet can be as simple as making sermons, teachings, Bible studies, study helps and reference material available in what are really public libraries. This requires little or no interaction with the readers and users, but it only the first step.

We all entered Internet Christian service in mid-1995 when we began to make the sermons of the late Ray C. Stedman available on Internet. When all of Ray's readily available sermons were on line, we then added the sermons of our PBC pastors, current and former. We followed with interest the responses in our guest book and we noted with surprise and amazement the daily web logs that told us hundred then thousands of people were reading these sermons per day.

Since then we have moved into full-scale Internet Christian activity-both responding to and initiating email discussions with "strangers" and also writing article and providing additional resources on subjects that are not being currently addressed by many churches.

Our comments are based on our experience and hopefully can be of benefit to others who are getting started in Cyberspace.

Email Guidelines for Christian Internet Apologetics

Here is a check list of some of the factors that make Christian Internet Apologetics or reasoning unique. We try to keep in mind the following:

1. We do not have any visual cues, body language, or background on the person writing, so caution is important and assumptions or pre-judgments useless. We know next to nothing about the other party. Are they old, young, smart, serious or pulling our virtual legs? What are their lives, families, churches and friends like? Face to face clues about the person are missing in cyberspace and it takes a while to learn to read between the lines for a sense of their individuality.

2. As Jesus' representatives we try to keep our focus on what Jesus would have said--and is still saying--in the Bible. Jesus was a very good listener. He put a lot of nervous people at ease.

You may be the first Christian that the email writer has ever written to. Frequently we have just one opportunity to successfully communicate with the person at the other end. Don't forget hospitality. Thank the people who take the time to comment on their beliefs and yours as well. Invite them to read a paper or a book that you think might be helpful or interesting. Provide a link for the sake of easy access. We may not be able to offer a glass of cold water but we can leave a refreshing impression.

3. "A soft answer turns away wrath." If the writer is angry, deliberately go easy and be prepared to change your mind on something you have written where you may need to be corrected. It is amazing how much this helps.

4. Avoid Christian "code" words like saved, justified, fellowship, spirit filled, sanctified, redeemed, etc. They are fine to use with those who are familiar with what they mean, but definitions vary from group to group. Over use of code words has led us to the sad state of affairs of being frequently misunderstood by the very Christians who use them the most. Non-believers don't know what these words mean (see next section). Work diligently to speak to modern man in the language modern man uses. Finding new words may be difficult at first, but English is a tongue and the Holy Spirit will enable you to write about the same eternal unchanging Biblical truths more comprehensibly than code words do.

5. Give the writer every benefit of the doubt and say what ever good things can be honestly said (without flattery). The person writing has found the incentive and taken the time to write. Try to sense their real motive. Pray to understand what is between the lines. Be sensitive to what may be the inner needs of the inquirer when writing back. If you can successfully make friends, they will probably write back and tell you more about what is really bothering them. Everyone wants to be liked, accepted, and valued for who they are and what they have to say. It makes a huge difference to be kind and gracious, avoiding self-righteousness, and opinionated, pompous arrogance, especially when disagreements arise. If you lack discernment or wisdom on an issue perhaps one of your friends can suggest an answer or approach. However, be careful not to betray confidences.

6. "Esteem the other person as better than yourselves." Make an effort to see the other person as ultimately surpassing you in spiritual maturity even if they are still in the process of becoming a believer. Jesus valued us while we were still in our sins. Use what John The Baptist said as an objective, "He must increase, but I must decrease..." (John 3:30). Success should be measured by the growth of those to whom we minister, not our own. An important principle of ministry is that Jesus enters into every Spirit-led conversation to remove death and to impart life:

For it is the God who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For while we live we are always being given up to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you. (2 Cor. 4:6-12)

7. Be confident that God will complete what he has begun in the person. God's grace CAN change everything. As the folks who like to use code words say, "Resurrection power works best in a cemetery." Paul said, "Where sin abounded, there grace abounded all the more..." Is the difficult, angry, argumentative, arrogant person you are "talking" to one of God's elect? Will he or she perhaps come to the Lord years from now because of seeds planted now? What was I like before I became a Christian as seen by others?

A little of your own testimony is powerful truth and can not really be refuted. After all, it happened to you and you can't truthfully tell your story without including the grace of God.

8. Put a little salt in what you are saying. Try something that is slightly provocative and avoid pat, simplistic answers. See if or how the writer responds to a change of subject next time. Often the correspondent will deliberately avoid replying to issues you have raised that they may not want to look at. Gently and lovingly stir up the other person to look at his or her issues in a different light. (See below)

9. As a representative of the Most High God we speak for the King Himself. We do not speak for the church but for a Person who is higher than the church who is God over all. You may be the first real Christian this person has met. Be a trustworthy Ambassador of the Great King. Paul said,

"This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy." (1 Cor. 4:1-2).

10. In writing to non-Christians you may have to undo damage that some "church" or well meaning churchy friends have already done to the person. Allow the fragrance of "Authentic Christianity" to flow through you. The person you are writing to may be suffering from the effects of abuse, a dysfunctional family, or chronic health problems. Initially they may not tell you any of this.

11. Bible based theology says that everyone is totally depraved and the human heart is 100% deceitful (Romans 1-3). Grace is new to lost people. Try to determine if the person is open to grace. Nobody wants to hear about how sinful they are and nobody wants to do the right thing. If you see that they are practicing one of the "new" self-improvement philosophies, then minister grace not Law. We serve God under the New Covenant. (Incidentally, the term and the idea of living by the New Covenant is foreign to MOST Christians we meet on the Internet).

12. Most people who write us haven't a clue about what the true "Church" is. The idea of Christ living in people and making them part of His Body is totally foreign to them. Therefore we can leave the subject of the Church out of most discussions because the real issue starts with a personal relationship with Jesus. We need to be all things to all men and meet people where they are. Be careful, avoid sounding like an in-group church person talking to an out-group sinner.

13. In an email exchange it is important to keep copies of previous correspondence handy to refresh your memory. Some people have a remarkable ability to pick up a conversation right were they left off. It takes time to develop a talent like that, but it is a worthwhile skill to cultivate. Even if they do not remember the words you sent them and have forgotten what you have said, avoid repetition in your replies. Because we represent Jesus, do not treat any piece of personal email as unimportant or insignificant.

"For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews; to those under the law I became as one under the law--though not being myself under the law--that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law--not being without law toward God but under the law of Christ--that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings." (1 Cor. 9:16-23)

14. Seek to agree with the person whenever it is truthfully possible. Watch for an opportunity to gently point out what they may have overlooked. Don't forget that you are a stranger, not an intimate friend of the writer. As an outsider, you might make suggestions like, "Have you thought about such and such?" Be on guard not to come across as "holier-than-thou"; make it decidedly clear that you are not better than they are. Friends meet on level ground. When writing to hostile people win them with love. (Most of us don't do a very good job of loving our friends).

15. Find out about the person, their childhood, parents, spouse, occupation, interests. Friendliness is a vanishing commodity. Sadly, Christians these days do not have a reputation for being friendly. If you are not able to be interested in the person, then perhaps you should explore what other gifts you might have and leave Christian Internet Apologetics to those who find themselves gifted with a genuine curiosity about other people. This ministry is not about being "The Answer Man".

16. We are not doing pastoral counseling. The people who correspond with us are from every conceivable background and every walk of life and religion. Email conversations can be casual and brief. Often a "thread" or series of emails may continue for a few weeks and abruptly fade away. This is one of the cool things about email. Our experience has been that the Lord will have spoken to and helped both correspondents.

17. When writing to Christians who are "hurting" (a code word), we encourage the person to actively take part in a local Body where they can receive pastoral help, prayer and teaching. If it appears that no such church exists in their area, we recommend that they start a home Bible class or a think-and-pray group. Lone Ranger Christians never flourish in their isolation from the Body of Christ. This is especially true of Internet loner Bible teachers and self-appointed prophecy experts. They are usually lacking in accountability to peers and elders and are often spiritually immature. In most cases they don't have an overall sound Biblical world view.

Note: In Christian life there are many differences in dress, worship, music, customs, liturgy, tradition. God evidently likes variety! It is not unusual for people to write us about some of these peripheral areas of the faith. It is always a pleasure to meet people whose practices in these non-essential areas are different from our own--because we learn and we appreciate more fully the richness of our faith. However, there is a core of central doctrinal issues at the heart of the faith that are not open to negotiation. We take care when such issues come up so that we deal without compromise, but in love and compassion towards people we meet who are in error regarding what Jude calls "the faith that was once for all time delivered to the saints."

One of us is especially discerning in exposing the differences between walking in the flesh and walking in the Spirit. These days we find many Christians do not understand that only what God accomplishes through us has lasting value. (Our self-efforts do not count with God). We have discovered that many Christians today are not aware of what it means to live under the terms of the New Covenant and do not know the wonderful freedom of the "Exchanged Life" (Galatians 2:20) in not widely practiced.

18. It is OK to engage error--to challenge faulty teaching on the Internet. However, grace is more successful than condemnation. Anyone at all can publish on the Internet; part of our work is to confront those who are plainly in error, cultic, or presenting themselves as orthodox. We are not trying to shut down their web sites. We believe we can reach many of the misguided or misled Christians who have gotten side-tracked from walking with God.

Welcome to Christian Internet Apologetics.

An Anecdote

Meghan Daum has written a humorous article called "Virtual Love," (New Yorker magazine 825-9/1/97) describing an "affair" between two unattached professional people who met in a Chat Room on Internet. After many e-conversations and phone calls, this particular man and woman even flew back and forth across the country for several weekends together. Their Cyberspace romance was, however, ephemeral and ended as quickly as it began. Many Internet personal exchanges are shallow or superficial, but we have found this not to be the case when followers of Jesus Christ spend serious time communicating over the net. Our web sites have been around long enough now that we have met in person quite a few people we first got acquainted with in Cyberspace. We have been delighted that genuine face-to-face relationships often results from a conversation that began on the Web. For us, this is just one more conformation that God is at work in Cyberspace in a powerful way.

Guestbooks

Many web sites maintain a guestbook. We do too. We also send one or more personal replies to each guest and special extra time addressing problem issues that are raised.

The Christian Milieu in Cyberspace

Christians are a small minority in the world. Usually we hang out only other Christians who are like ourselves in belief and life-style-within the boundaries of what could be concerned orthodox Christianity. Though we acknowledge that Presbyterians, Pentecostals, Episcopalians, Roman Catholics, Messianic Jews, and Greek Orthodox people may be Christians we are not likely to number many of these "brothers and sisters" among our regular friends. We tend to find a comfortable group of Christians--just like us--to associate with and we leave it there. While we may talk to relatives, friends at work, and occasionally a fellow-traveler on an airplane, it is rare for us to engage ourselves in serious and ongoing discussions with non-Christians. On Internet all these daily constraints go out the window right away--thankfully.

As a result of our being ingrown as American Laodicean * Christians we may not be very aware that "church" is a totally unknown and meaningless word to most people in the world today. Or the idea of "church" carries with it negative connotations. Lots of people have never seen any form of Christianity in action except perhaps for an accidental TV evangelist while switching channels.

"Talking" to real people on Internet means that we must make a conscious and deliberate effort to speak ordinary king's English and to drop the code words and cliches we use when we are talking to other members of our in-group. Of course most Christians (we have come to believe) do not know the actual meaning of these code words and cliches anyway--but that is another subject.

Learning to Use the King's Good English in Cyberspace

Here is a list of words we suggest you avoid in discussing Christian life and issues on Internet:

bless, blessed, saved, "got saved," "in Jesus' name", sanctified, justified, called, minister, ministry, calling, anointed, anointing, heaven, swearing, glorified, worship, imputation, manifestation, revival, revival service, preacher, pastor, prophesy (verb), repent, righteous, unrighteous, intercession, covenant, baptism, Spirit baptized, "last days", "latter days", gospel, "preach the gospel", Holy Ghost revival, witnessing, glory, redeem, mercy, grace, expiation, propitiation, atonement, holiness, holy, charity, slain in the Spirit, born again, precious, rapture, lust, covetousness, sloth, redeem, redeemer, fornicate, "the flesh", "the Spirit", binding Satan, Lord and Savior, "personal Savior", Lordship salvation, baptized, Christian, sin, trespass, transgression, elder, deacon, angels, Trinity, transcendence, immanence, imminence, creation, judgment, incarnation,believer, soul, "the world," Church, "go to church", sabbath, "keeping the sabbath," "tithes and offerings."

Now we do not wish to discourage the use of the Bible in "talking" to people on Internet. In fact, we believe quite the opposite. Suggestion: Use the online OneLook Dictionary (http://www.onelook.com/)

The Power of the Word

Isaiah says:

"Seek the LORD while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. "For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and return not thither but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and prosper in the thing for which I sent it. "For you shall go out in joy, and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall be to the LORD for a memorial, for an everlasting sign which shall not be cut off." (Isaiah 55)

It is the Word of God which does the work, not our fancy explanations and eloquent "speech."

For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will thwart." Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your call, brethren; not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth; but God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption; therefore, as it is written, "Let him who boasts, boast of the Lord." (1 Corinthians 1:17-31)  

"the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are open and laid bare to the eyes of him with whom we have to do." (Heb. 4:12-13)

But we do suggest using the NIV or the NKJV and not the archaic language of the King James. Furthermore take the time to paraphrase, explain, interpret. When those words on the above list occur in legitimate Scriptural verses, replace those code words with words the reader is likely to use in everyday speech whenever possible.

Free of Charge

We lament the fact that many Christian Web Sites are commercial: designed to sell books and tapes, or to promote a particular "ministry" or church. From the beginning one of the strong principles of our work in Cyberspace has been based on Paul's words to the Christians at Corinth.

What then is my reward? Just this: that in my preaching I may make the gospel free of charge, not making full use of my right in the gospel. For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews; to those under the law I became as one under the law --though not being myself under the law --that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law --not being without law toward God but under the law of Christ--that I might win those outside the law.To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Well, I do not run aimlessly, I do not box as one beating the air; but I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:18-27)

Salt

"Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer every one". (Col 4:6.19).

Or from NASV:

"Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned, as it were, with salt, so that you may know how you should respond to each person".

Ted Wise comments, "Have you noticed that our most successful dialogs have been when we have been most like Jesus? Grace-filled opening lines, overlooking faults, sins and errors (at first) and treating everyone as an equal, then carefully answering with milk when appropriate and seasoned meat where it is warranted. As I've read over a few random emails from the past, it is clear that we are actually growing in our gourmand skills as we salt to the taste of the seeker. I'm amazed at how strangers, over the net, seem to sense that there is an 'aroma of life' at our sites."

Don't Argue  

It is very easy--especially in Cyberspace--to move from a gracious exchange of one's ideas and views, to intolerance and even bigotry towards those who believe differently than we. Sadly, the relative safety and anonymity of Cyberspace allows email exchanges to quickly turn to shouting matches and arguments. These are not profitable and nor honoring God. The Apostle Paul's advice to young Timothy are applicable.

Have nothing to do with stupid, senseless controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to every one, an apt teacher, forbearing, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant that they will repent and come to know the truth, and they may escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. (2 Timothy 2:23-26)

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied, when each part is working properly, makes bodily growth and upbuilds itself in love. (Ephesians 4:15-16)

Newsgroups and Chat Rooms

Last time we looked, there were around 26,000 Newsgroups on Usenet alone--not to mention AOL, Compuserve and other network groups. Some news groups are very worthwhile. Many are a total waste of time. Some are pornographic. Some are so hostile to the truth that is in Jesus Christ, that contributing to these groups is no different than casting pearls before swine. There are many occasions when we find that it is worthwhile to visit selected newsgroups and to reply by private email to intelligent, searching questions that happen to be posted there. For example, perhaps the inquirer is genuinely looking for God and is newcomer to a newsgroup which you know will not give him the answers he seeks. Send the person a private email message and an "e-friendship" will often result. In other cases we can hope to keep someone's weak faith from being shattered by wolves or prevent the more innocent from swallowing the bait of a cult group. Occasionally posting to one of the better newsgroups can let people know about our web site and resources.

None of us has ventured into any of the chat rooms thus far in order to bring Christian debate into one of these groups. Mostly this is time consuming and we are all quite busy! Perhaps someone can try this open approach and let us know how it can be used by God and in what circumstances?

We DO email other Christian web sites and introduce ourselves. When appropriate we try to be affirming, but we also gently challenge some individuals and groups that seem to us to be off base. In many cases this results in profitable and friendly discussions. The Lord always teaches us through such e-talks with people who believe a bit differently than we do. We have met a number of well-meaning Christians in Cyberspace who are poor communicators and thus not reaching anyone and still wondering why. We meet quite a few people whose web page posting suggest they have an ax to grind because they do not understand the New Covenant Jesus has called us to live by. We have encountered a plethora of false prophets and false teachers on Internet lately and the outward appearance of some of these sites can often be highly misleading.

Concerning the subject of link requests

We get quite a few requests from other Christians asking if they can have their web site address listed on PBC's page. This is called a "link." They are usually names that show up in a different color than the page text and when clicked on will call up another site and display it on the screen. The majority of those who ask are Christian organizations that want a link to the PBC web site for the purpose of making other Christians aware of their services or products such as Christian books. We can not check every request and it is impossible to avoid the appearance that we are endorsing these sites. Because of the magnitude of the potential problems involved in allowing links on PBC's page and the basic difference in our monetary philosophy, the web team thinks we should avoid putting links on the PBC page. We give away our resources while nearly all other sites charge for their services or materials. This is not wrong, the ox is allowed to eat as he treads out the grain and the workman is indeed worthy of his hire. PBC just does it differently.

There is a need for wisdom in answering a request for a link. We must let our yea be yea and our nay be nay. Former members and interns still feel very close to PBC and want to remain associated with Ray Stedman, most with godly motives, some not. With strangers we can let our "no" be "no" without concern. It is harder to give a graceful no to people with past associations with PBC who have web sites for their public ministries. This is where wisdom comes in. James warns us, "... but let your yes be yes, and your no, no; so that you may not fall under judgment." Rationalizations and policy statements can bring us as close to judgment as oaths did in James' day. We are justified in Christ, we do not need anything more than a simple "no" to answer the link question. Explaining why the web team won't allow a former intern a link will leave one shuffling his feet in the dust and hemming and hawing around a "no" while opening the door to self justification. Anything more than a simple yes or no really does comes from the evil one. Be confident in saying no to a link request. At PBC we simply do not have a links list at all. We do have a solution.

If anyone wants a list of Christian web sites Lambert has a huge list (http://ldolphin.org/URLres.shtml) on his web site.

Note:

* "I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing; not knowing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. Therefore I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, that you may be rich, and white garments to clothe you and to keep the shame of your nakedness from being seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and chasten; so be zealous and repent." (Jesus speaking to the church at Laodicea, Revelation 3:15-19)


Email Sensitivities

(1) Always use good person-to-person communication skills: The best way to reach people is to treat them like a person even though they are a stranger on the Internet. If you are going to try to reach people it is best to disclose a small amount about yourself, so you are not seen as just another piece of junk-mail or a stranger selling something (even if it is Jesus that you are talking about). A few sentences introducing yourself and why you are sending them mail will go a long way towards getting the receiver to actually read the e-mail rather than just deleting it. Tell them something about yourself, who you are, how you got where you are, why you are writing them, etc. In short, start a conversation with them and see where it leads.

Also remember that if you are going to try to communicate with people on the Internet, you have to be prepared to put aside time for it. Be prepared to devote time to the responses.

(2) Focus on building a relationship first: Jesus comes to each of us in a unique way. He enters our lives and begins to build a relationship with us. When we see who He is, through this relationship, He becomes attractive to us, and we yield to Him. We need to model this in all of our evangelism weather on the Internet or in person. Genuine interest in the person is much more attractive to the individual than a focus on getting the facts across. You will find that focusing on developing a relationship will open up more opportunities for long term communication that has more depth and quality, and sows more seeds.

(3) Consider your method of communication carefully: Are bulk mailings really a good idea? If you bulk e-mail 10,000 people ( a simple thing to do really), how will you handle the responses you may get? Let's say only 1% of those people respond, that's still 100 e-mails to respond to. Can you handle that load? Do you have the time? Would your energy be better spent on a few quality conversations than 100, of which most go unanswered? Remember, not all of your responses will be positive. There are many people openly hostile to Christianity on the Internet, and they will be more than happy to write you back and cuss you out or start an argument just for fun. And they will spare you no curtsy in doing so.

(4) Don't minister on the Internet alone: The Internet spans the entire globe, and as such you may well get response from someone from Africa, Egypt, or Los Angeles. These people have backgrounds with all kinds of issues, problems, complaints, suggestions, hurts, etc. This is not something that one person can handle. Perhaps there is a local church in your area that has a team similar to the Paracletes which you can join? Maybe you could join the team at your local church who works on the church's web site. Most churches with a web site will have some way for people to write them, and these e-mails all need to be answered. Church staff, being overwhelmed as they are, would probably welcome the help. Team up and cover more ground.

(5) Give people a way to contact you: It is relatively cheap and easy to set up a personal web site these days. If you give your readers a place to go to learn more about the subject, you will add credibility to your communication. For example, if you and I were walking down the street and a total stranger ran up to us and said "The end is near!! The end is near!! Look out!! Look out!!" and then just ran off without saying any more, we probably wouldn't think twice about that strange person. It is my experience that this is how most e-mail recipients view unsolicited e-mail. If you can put some of your thoughts into documents that can be posted on your web site, and include a link to that website in your e-mail, others will be more prone to contact you and talk about the subject. Include some information about yourself on the web site ( a short bio and picture perhaps), maybe some links to other sites that you like, etc. Start small and let it grow over time. This is how the PBC website got where it is today. (Mike McKenna, 5/23/03)

Netiquette

Assembled by Helen Fryman Setterfield (bhs4light@sbcglobal.net)

The worldwide web is something new in man's history. You can talk to complete strangers, never seeing them, and share inmost secrets. With the anonymity of this medium, a person can hide who he or she really is behind a mask of pretend, as well. One of the things this anonymity does is invite rudeness, intentional or otherwise. Should you not intend to be rude, here are some ways to help you avoid it.

First of all, some terminology:

Flame ­ to insult or mock someone quite severely, with the intent of humiliating him or her.

Lurk ­ to watch a conversation on a forum or discussion board without people being aware of your presence; i.e. you are not participating.

Troll ­ to pretend to be someone else or to represent a view for the express purpose of getting a reaction on a forum or discussion board.

Newbie ­ someone new to either the Internet as a whole or to a particular discussion group

"nt" ­ "no text". It is a courtesy marker when the title of a response on a forum carries the full message, and it signals the reader that the message window need not be clicked open.

"nim"­ "no internal message." Means the same thing as "nt."

Listserve ­ as one or two words, indicates a private email group

Emoticon ­ the use of certain typed signs to indicate a mood or personality (see below)

Some common abbreviations:

LOL ­ laughing out loud

ROTFL ­ rolling on the floor laughing

IMO ­ in my opinion

IMHO ­ in my humble opinion

i.e. ­ the letters are for the French words "il est," meaning, "that is." This is used when giving an example to clarify a statement. It is often read, or translated, as "for example" or "for instance."

ITM ­ in the meantime

OTOH ­ on the other hand

BRB ­ be right back ­ used on IM or a chat room when someone has to leave the computer for a moment.

BTW ­ By the Way

TTYL ­ Talk to you later

IM ­ Instant Message ­ a free one-on-one chat line provided by AOL (America On Line)

YIC ­ Yours in Christ

Some Common Emoticons

:-) -- (done with a colon, a dash, and a right hand parenthesis) ­ a smiley face

;-) -- (done with a semicolon, a dash, and a right hand parenthesis) ­ eye winking smiley face

:-O ­ shocked face

:-> -- alternate smiley face

:-/ -- not-really-happy face

:- ( -- (done the same way as the smiley face with the other parenthesis) ­ unhappy face now you can have fun and make up your own!

You will also find that there are several signs that can be indicated rather easily. There are others that are complicated enough to deserve the term "art." One easy one is the fish: <///><
This is another thing you can play around with yourself.

Now for some matters of courtesy:

On Forums

1. If your response to another person's post is short enough to be contained in the title (for instance, "Thank you for the correction," or "Will respond later; not ignoring you.") it is courteous to put "nt" either in quotes or parentheses after it in the title.

2. Stick to the topic of the board you are on.

3. Don't enter a new board with a challenge to the current participants (this is very common on both science and political boards). Be a "lurker" for a few days first. Most boards have a reasonable number of permanent lurkers. Learn who the participants are and what they are interested in. Then, when you enter the new discussion forum, enter saying something along the lines of "I have been watching this forum for a few days, and I have a question," or "..and I have a possible answer to this." In other words, insert yourself gently into the discussion and don't seem to be trying to take it over or dominate. You will be resented.

4. Do not post the same material over and over again. If you do not get the response you want, drop it and wait for another time and, possibly, another board.

5. Avoid profanity and flaming.

6. If you are flamed or simply insulted a bit, do not respond in kind. The anonymity of the web makes it easy to respond, but if you do you will be dragging the whole discussion board down into the mud, at least for awhile. In general, the more courteous you are, the more courteous others will be with you. There will always be exceptions, but human nature still responds to courtesy.

7. Do not pretend you are another person. If you should prefer a "handle" that is not your own name ­ and that is quite common ­ stick with it, so people will know who they are talking to.
8. Do not cut and paste material from private sources without their permission. When you do, give full credit to the person whose material you are posting. This goes for newspaper and article quotes as well, some of which are protected by copyright, so be careful.

9. Not everyone in the world is stupid but you. Pay attention to the material being presented if you are on any kind of educational or religious forum. You might learn a lot.

10. Don't respond in haste. Do you really understand what the person is saying? Check it again. Avoid the embarrassment of silly mistakes.

E-Mails

1. Do not say anything to someone you don't know well that you do not want shared.

2. The shorter the letter, the more likely it is to be read completely.

3. Do not presume intimacy. Unless the purpose of the relationship is to exchange personal information, treat your email contacts with the same courteous attitude you would treat someone you meet downtown with. This is especially true if you contact a professional in some field, and he or she has the time and courtesy to respond to you. This does not make you best friends. Maintain respect so that future emails, if necessary, will also be answered for you.

4. A caution regarding viruses: the VAST majority of viruses which are spread through emails cannot touch your computer unless you open and execute an attachment. If you receive an attachment from someone you do not know, do not open it. It is that simple. Opening an email itself, however, will not give your computer a virus as the emails do not touch the hard drive.

5. Do NOT, therefore, spread around virus warnings to multitudes of your friends unless you are sure they are really viruses!

6. One of the most irritating things that can happen is to be added to someone's email list and have that person email you and a multitude of others constantly with either jokes or inspirational messages or world news or whatever if you have not indicated that you want to be on that list. So don't do that to others, either. Occasional group mailings for specific reasons are fine. Listserves are, of course, a different matter, as people subscribe to them. But to repeatedly email en masse is rarely appreciated.

7. Different email programs have different levels of sophistication. Some will not print italics, bold, or even indentations. Some will do all that as well as indicate colors the sender may have used or colors to indicate different people in an ongoing conversation. But do not presume the person who is receiving your email has a program with this capability. To make sure you are clear with your meaning, there are some conventions that might help:

 
Underscoring before and after a title or phrase indicates the title or phrase should be underlined. "Yesterday I read the first chapter of __Moby Dick.__"

Asterisks before and after a word indicate you wish the word to have the emphasis of a bold type word. "I called you * three * times yesterday!"

Always use quotation marks for quotations as some programs do not indent what the sender had indented.

The use of ALL CAPITAL LETTERS IS CONSIDERED SHOUTING! This is poor netiquette.

If you are inserting responses into the original letter, make a new paragraph and indicate your responses with some kind of sign. Common ones are as follows:

******** My answer to that is..

%%%%% My answer to that is.

######## My answer to that is

These signs set off the response quite clearly and the person who is reading your response can clearly see which sections are yours.

Remember that every person you talk to on the Internet is really a person. Some people communicate badly in writing. Some are dyslexic. Some have English as a second language. Always presume the best about the person and do not judge because of spelling, seeming immaturity, bad grammar, etc. Not every person uses language the same way and some of the nicest people can come across as harsh. Conversely, some of the most bitter people can appear quite nice. Be careful with your contacts, understanding still that each one is created in the image of God and is your neighbor.

In all your www contacts, make sure that if you were to meet that person at some time you would not be embarrassed to introduce yourself. There was one instance where one lady was counseling another and they found out they lived a few miles from each other. There are a multitude of times when people who have been on subject forums (science, politics, etc.) will end up meeting at a convention or other affair. You may not end up being as anonymous as you think, or possibly would like!

One last word of warning. Do NOT give out personal information on the Internet unless it is the type of information you do not mind many people knowing. The Internet is not a secure medium and you often have no way of knowing who it is you are talking to. April 14, 1999.

Addendum: The 10 Commandments of Email

Thou shalt include a clear and specific subject line.
Thou shalt edit any quoted text down to the minimum thou needest.
Thou shalt read thine own message thrice before thou sendest it.
Thou shalt ponder how thy recipient might react to thy message.
Thou shalt check thy spelling and thy grammar.
Thou shalt not curse, flame, spam or USE ALL CAPS.
Thou shalt not forward any chain letter.
Thou shalt not use e-mail for any illegal or unethical purpose.
Thou shalt not rely on the privacy of e-mail, especially from work.
When in doubt, save thy message overnight and reread it in the light of the dawn.

And, here's the "Golden Rule" of E-Mail: That which thou findest hateful to receive, sendest thou not unto others.



Ted Wise's Web Site (http://pbc.org/dp/wise)
Lambert Dolphin's Web site (http://ldolphin.org/)

The Paraclete Forum

The Paraclete Forum. (http://paracleteforum.org) Our email help service and bulletin board. Your email to our team is welcome. When you write us you may receive a reply from more than one of us.

We also recommend:

BlueLetter Bible Bulletin Board.
Net Bible Institute (Don Stewart)
Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry (CARM)
The Christian Think Tank (Glenn Miller)
The Anonymous Self: Cyberspace Psychology, by Charles Colson




Created. September 16, 1998. Revised November 18, 1999. February 3, 2000. December 10, 2001. February 2, 2002. June 28, 2002. June 5, 2003