So, in this question, @El'endia Starman and I good naturedly batted around the question of whether or not Rob Bell is a denomination. Obviously, he's not that, but it did get me wondering - How prominent does an individual need to be in order to be considered "on topic" for this site?

In other words, who qualifies as "sufficiently notable" people to be considered as either sources for answers or questions?

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Of course Rob Bell isn't a denomination all by himself, but he is a heresiarch (a heterodox teacher with a significant following). Sağolsun Peter Turner brilliantly noted the scope of this site is Christianity together with all its heresies. –  Caleb Oct 24 '12 at 9:03
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@Caleb Sağolsun? What's the English equivalent? –  Affable Geek Oct 24 '12 at 20:02
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@Caleb and upvoters - I would really appreciate your explanation here. –  Wikis Oct 26 '12 at 13:09
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@AffableGeek Sorry, the Turkish slip-up was not actually intentional -- it came out that way because there isn't a convenient way to say it in English. It's just an expression of gratitude and acknowledgement of the source of something. –  Caleb Oct 27 '12 at 10:06
    
@Wikis: Please note I've upgraded my comment from "heretic" to "heresiarch", for reasons that a dictionary or wikipedia makes obvious. I will also work on an answer for your question on main. –  Caleb Oct 27 '12 at 10:07
    
@Caleb, thx, I guess editing comments is a mod ability? –  Wikis Oct 27 '12 at 11:01
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@Wikis Yes, it is. Normaly I don't use it for much other than fixing broken links, the occational typo, or removing obsolete bits etc. Since I made a content change to a significant statement, I figured I'd note the change specifically so nobody wonders what happenend. –  Caleb Oct 27 '12 at 11:08

4 Answers 4

up vote 10 down vote accepted

Theology is on topic. Whether or not specific people are on topic should be secondary to examining the beliefs they have laid out.

Let's take the Rob Bell example, he has written a book in which he lays out some of his theology. that theology and the reasoning behind it is definitely on topic. This leaves both the questioner or answer free to quote Mr. Bell's work to frame and/or answer the question.

People with more public writing are even more open to this kind of discussion and criticism. Calvin, Augustine, Luther, the Popes are basically all fair game because they have volumes of doctrinal writing that should be closely examined.

More modern sources are more difficult, but I would propose trying to limit our discussion of them to what they have put in print, said in their sermons and put on their websites. Specifically the doctrinal issues they raise.

Personally I find the actual doctrinal arguments much more interesting than any discussion of the people themselves, but for sufficiently notable people (Calvin, Luther, Arminius, the Popes, etc) actions they took in their life may be significant to our cultural history (Luther's nailing of the thesis for instance set of a chain reaction that still affects us today).

So to sum up, anyone's doctrine is on topic provided there is sufficient information published to make a reasoned argument one way or another (this is nebulous, but a book, website, or online sermon series is a pretty good start). Actions of sufficiently important historical figures are on topic provided the ramifications of their actions are relevant to the topics of this site.

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From reading some of Dan's comments, I've picked up the understanding that in Eastern Orthodoxy, a theologian's moral behaviour is considered relevant when discussing their writings. –  TRiG Jan 22 at 17:47

On Topic

On the one side of the spectrum, there are the guys that are clearly on topic - the classical "greats" of the faith:

Basically, if people know you by just one name, you're pretty clear on topic. Somewhere in the middle are the theologians that really smart people add in:

If your seminary professor has mentioned them, you're probably on target. Now, to their credit, all of these guys have the advantage of being dead. There is another category - the guys who are still alive, but undoubtedly important:

And, finally, you have the "popular, but probably not classic" contemporaries

Off Topic

On the other end of the spectrum, you'd have:

I'm sure we can all name our own personal person's profile to put a link to here. No matter how tempted you are, please do not do that. Be nice!

Guidelines for determining the line

Of all these categories, Only this last category would be what I consider "too localized." So, where is this line?

  1. If there is a Wikipedia entry authored by someone other than the target, you're probably on topic. Otherwise, you are probably a bit too local. The distinction is pretty simple - we want to know about the same kinds of things that would pass Wikipedia's "notablity" criterion. We don't care about "your opinion."
  2. If this person has a published work of theology, then you definately have something on topic. The point is typically the theology anyways, so what makes it on point is that it is a source that can be read by proponents and detractors alike, using the author's own words as a valid viewpoint.

What is the reason for requiring "notability" and/or disallowing "personal" theology?

Simply put, theology means challenging assumptions and pointing out internal contradictions. This can only be done when there is a corpus of theology that can be referenced by both adherents and critics alike.

Additionally, this site is not a place for working out theology - it is for the examination of extant theology. In the same way that lawyers have a "discovery phase," in which evidence is considered before introduction, so too new theology may not be simply introduced whenever one feels like it. This site is for critiquing and understanding existing theology, not introducing theology that would be called "peculiar," "novel," or "innovative."

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This site's general guidelines are helpful here.

You've come to the right place if you have questions about:

  • specific doctrines or doctrinal traditions (Catholicism, Young Earth Creationism, Calvinism, etc.)
  • understanding the Bible from the perspective of a specific viewpoint (like those listed above)
  • the history of Christianity

Questions that are not constructive include:

  • whether some group or person is "Christian"

So questions about the pastor's theology or viewpoint would be on topic, but asking whether the pastor is a True Christian is not.

We've already had some questions about pastors. For example:

To me, the Paul Washer question looks iffy, but it generated a good answer from Mike. The Derek Prince question is off topic in my opinion, but so far I'm the only one who has cast a close vote, so maybe the community sees it differently.

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Agree on the judgement of the Derek Prince question as off topic. (honestly anything seeking an opinion from the nebulous body of "main stream christianity" is probably a good bet to be off topic) –  wax eagle Oct 25 '12 at 12:25

I think there are two kinds of questions that you can ask about any old famous Christian personality.

  1. Questions about what you can do with their theology
  2. Questions about what you can do about their theology

I'd think we should encourage the first kind of questions as they're actually productive. But we should not shy away from the second kind; only closing them if they're particularly harsh, pointless or don't indicate prior research.

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