What Ever Happened to Online Discussions?
At the request of a DB Visitor on December 21, 2012, our Forum section was updated so as to remove any useless links that no longer lead to valid pages. If you previously had a forum, but have moved it to a new website or a new URL, please notify the DB so that we can update our records and hopefully encourage others to visit your ministry.
One concern that was raised by this brother in Christ regards those forums that remain on the list. Aside from Facebook groups, it has been said, the other forums are seemingly dead and lifeless, with “most recent” posts dating back to 2009 or earlier. As many of you know, I was previously the moderator of a reasonably decent size forum called G.R.A.C.E. (Grace Rightly Applied Changes Everything), which was later changed to the Advancement of Grace. At the height of my own forum’s popularity, we had approximately 300 members, with conversations happening weekly, and sometimes daily (depending on how intense a topic was or how captivated the audience was with the dialogue). My forum had been built in 2005 for the sole purpose of bringing grace believers together on a myriad of issues so that they could hash out their various thoughts and concerns in a public venue.
From 2005 to 2008, this proved to be a worthy cause. Conversations were enriching. Relationships were being built. And people were finding ways to process and communicate their responses to the Word of God with believers of like mind.
So what changed? Where did this kind of experience disappear to? Since this is a loaded question, let me break it down as I experienced it over the years:
The vast majority of dispensational forums prior to 2008 (including mine) allowed users to communicate with anonymity. In other words, they could register for these forums and post to their heart’s desire without ever letting anyone know who they actually were. Part of this was the result of a still-nervous group of internet users, many of whom were not comfortable giving their credit card numbers to Amazon, eBay, or any other online market, which fostered a natural hesitation to give out any personal information to those on a forum, including first and last names. However, at some point around 2007/2008, Facebook went from being a college-student-only website to being an anyone-and-everyone website for social media. And since it was the next new thing for so many who were not college students, the fad stuck. My forum in particular became a victim of technological progression… essentially, people wanted to interact with other believers on Facebook instead of an anonymous forum. So participation went south while Facebook groups began to grow.
As I observed this transition, public and open conversations on Facebook were becoming far more trivial than they had regularly been at a private forum. Facebook users would join discussion groups, but hesitate from saying something that might be seen as objectionable by someone else who was a “friend” from somewhere else. Such a massive submersion of “friends” who might include work colleagues, long lost family members, fellow believers, old high school sweethearts, etc, meant that “discussion” participants were far more likely to be guarded in their comments than they were during an anonymous conversation.
Perhaps the strangest shift in “online discussion” came from a heated move by thousands upon thousands of Christians from biblically-minded discussions to fear-mongered political discussions. As the presidential campaign of 2008 was amping up during the summer, I would interact with dispensationally-minded believers that I had known for years, but our conversations would seem to inevitably shift to politics. What’s worse, far too many of these long beloved brothers and sisters in Christ were putting politics in front of the sound faith and doctrine they had known. It was not uncommon for me to hear things like, “no one could call themselves a Christian and vote for ________________.”
As these conversations went on, I began to feel like I was in some kind of alternate universe, one in which grace-believing men and women who understand that salvation is by grace through faith and not of ourselves, had now altered their entire doctrinal outlook so as to connect one’s voting preferences to one’s salvation. It was as though voting one way or another was somehow going to separate someone from the grace of God. Moreover, what troubled me perhaps more than anything else was that this manner of thinking produced Christians who were now more concerned with fixing a dying world and saving an always imperfect nation than sharing the gospel or teaching the Word of God, as they had for so many years before.
By early 2010, my forum had come to a grinding halt, with only a few people posting once or twice every two or three months. Almost everyone was on Facebook and many that I had once admired as fellow believers in Christ and followers of dispensational teaching were now embroiled in hate-filled political rants with no thought for their heavenly witness.
Toward the end of the year, my site went through an upgrade. Sadly, the forum I had been using since 2005 was no longer compatible with the system upgrades. One of the IT companies that I was working with at the time mentioned that they still had the ability to restore the forum at a cost, but there were no guarantees that it would work the same as it had. I was told that I had roughly six months to decide whether the forum should be restored or permanently let go.
So I waited. I wanted to see if anyone would express an interest in its restoration. Anyone who would send me an email wondering where the forum had gone. When no one contacted me, the forum was permanently demolished.
Since 2010, I have continued to be encouraged when I observe brothers and sisters in Christ who engage in dispensationally minded conversations online, whether they be on Facebook or anywhere else. I do not begrudge the loss of my forum (though I probably did a little bit at the time), but I certainly acknowledge that online discussion for dispensationalists leaves much to be desired.
For the believers who have contacted me over the last several months inquiring about online forums, I hope that this response helps to explain the situation, as far as it has been witnessed in my view. There may come a time in the near future that I will restore some kind of online discussion area and place it within the Dispensational Berean site directly. If you have an interest in this possibility or would like to express your thoughts about this message, feel free to send a message to Ben or myself through the contact page.
Jeremy D. Lucas