Marc Cortez (PhD) is an Associate Professor of Theology at Wheaton College as well as a doctoral supervisor. In addition to being a cool theology professor, husband, and father, Marc blogs at one of my favorite blogs: Everyday Theology. I love reading his blog because he writes so well and blends biblical / theological, practical, and cultural ideas so well. In fact, Marc has really influenced me as a blogger as I see him often doing what I want to do, only he does it way better! Anyway, Marc was kind enough to allow me to ask him a bunch of questions on blogging, Evangelicalism, and issues related to the Charismatic Movement / Holy Spirit! Let’s go…
Luke: Marc, thanks for taking the time to answer some of our questions. I’ve been following your blog for what seems like forever and have found it very influential in my own blogging. What got you into blogging and has anything changed from when you first started blogging and what you do today?
Marc: It’s my pleasure, Luke. Thanks for asking. And the story of my blogging has a few twists and turns in it. But I think each turn highlights some of the things that an academic can do with a blog. So let me try to walk you through some of them quickly.
I started my blog back in 2008 when I was directing the ThM program at Western Seminary. I was looking for a way of helping my students discuss their research even when they weren’t in class. And a blog seemed like a fine way of doing that. And for about a year, that’s all the blog was, an internal forum for Western’s ThM students.
The second stage of the blog came two years later when I noticed that we were receiving a fair amount of traffic from people who weren’t ThM students at Western. And it occurred to me that the blog might be a great way of getting more attention for the program, and maybe even attracting new students. So in 2010 the blog became more focused on an external audience. I continued to encourage the students to post and comment, but to keep the content consistent enough to build our audience, I began writing more actively. That was really the point at which I started “blogging” in the more usual sense of the term.
The third shift came in 2012, and it again involved a shift in both focus and content. After two years of using the blog to build the ThM program, it seemed to be working. The program was growing and was getting interest from a much broader audience. I can’t say for sure how much the blog contributed to that, but it helped. So I began to think that the blog might be a good resource for growing Western Seminary’s online presence overall (not just the ThM program). And, since that meant the blog would also need to have a slightly less academic focus, it would provide a good opportunity for me to shift it toward connecting academic Bible/theology with the needs and concerns of everyday life. That’s always been a keen interest of mine, and this seemed like a good way to pursue it. So I re-branded the blog, changing it’s name to “Everyday Theology” and emphasizing posts that were still theological, but less technical. And that’s still the blog’s focus today.
Luke: Thanks Marc, that was fun to read! I’m sure our readers loved that. Do you believe that blogging has helped you as a professor and a theologian? If so, how?
Marc: Absolutely. I wouldn’t keep doing it if I didn’t think there was as a benefit. Obviously much of that benefit focuses on what I hope others can gain from my blogging, the external focus. And that’s really what keeps me going. But I think your question is looking more at what I gain personally from blogging, and there’s plenty of that as well. But I’ll focus on just four things.
First, my blog keeps me grounded. Because I routinely blog about my research and writing, my blog forces me to ask how my academic interests connect to the needs of the church. Since I think all theology should have an ecclesial focus, that constant reminder makes me a better theologian, less likely to get caught up in the pursuit of academic theology for its own sake.
Second, blogging has helped me communicate better as a theologian. Blogging is a unique medium, one that requires clarity and conciseness. Every time I blog, I’m forced to think about how to communicate important theological truths in just a few words. And I think (hope!) that carries over into the classroom, bringing an aspect of currency and vitality that wouldn’t be there otherwise.
Third, blogging forces my attention in new directions. In academic theology, it’s easy to remain limited to your particular areas of interest. But a good blog ranges beyond that, forcing you to think outside the box, pressing your theology down unexpected paths. One of the greatest benefits of blogging is that I’ve been forced to think through and articulate what I think about a wider range of issues than I would have engaged without this medium.
Finally, my blog has expanded my range of dialog partners. I love interacting with people beyond my normal group, and the blog extends the range of conversation in ways I never would have believed possible.
I could say more, but those four points are the ones that keep me going.
Luke: Wow, that’s excellent. One of the things we’re trying to do here at ThinkTheology.org is focus on biblical, theological, and practical reflections from the “trenches,” so I REALLY appreciate what you are saying here. Why do you think your blog went from being read by a few seminary students to being read by people all over the world? Have you attempted to grow your audience and if so, how?
Marc: That’s a great question, and I don’t think I have a particularly good answer, though I’d love to say that it’s because of my charming personality and witty writing style! If I had to guess, I’d say that there are three things people seem to have resonated with in my style of blogging. First, it’s rather eclectic. Although “everyday theology” is the emphasis that holds the whole blog together, I post lots of random links, articles, and pictures that are interesting and/or simply funny. Although experts warn that you have to be careful about being so diverse on your blog that you lose focus and your readers lose interest, some level of variety has worked well for me.
Second, there are a lot of people out there who want to engage difficult theological issues in a way that is more readable than you’ll find in your average theology book. I draw a lot on my experience as a youth pastor and try to write in a way that I think most Christians can understand and enjoy, even when I’m dealing with pretty technical theological issues.
And I think my blogging style also resonates with people who are tired of the polemics that you’ll find in a lot of other places. I know strong rhetoric drives traffic, and others have built very successful blogs by addressing issues rather aggressively. But that’s just not who I am. So posts tend toward clarifying issues and helping people think through complex debates, rather than staking a position in the debate and arguing for it. There’s definitely a need for people who will do the latter, but I think my blog plays a different role. And it’s one that people seem to appreciate.
Luke: Awesome! So who is your primary audience when you blog and do you ever get surprised by who is reading your posts?
Marc: I can answer that question in two ways. The “ideal” audience that I have in mind when I’m writing is the lay person who knows enough about the Bible and theology to want more. They may not have much (or any) formal theological education, but they’re theologically curious and looking for resources that will help them understand theological issues and why they matter.
Having said that, I think my “actual” audience differs somewhat from that profile. Although I do have a lot of readers that would fit the ideal description, I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that a majority of them are actually pastors, other Christian leaders, and Bible/theology students. I’m sure some of that comes from the blog’s more academic roots, but I think many of them also appreciate the blog’s more popular focus because it gives them resources for dealing with difficult theological issues in an accessible manner, since that’s precisely what many of them do on a daily basis.
And yes, I’m constantly surprised when I find out who reads the blog. As you know, most people never comment or give any other sign that they read your blog. But every now and then I’ll run into someone and they’ll casually mention that they enjoyed a post or picture. That’s usually fun, though it can be a little intimidating when you suddenly remember that you reviewed that person’s book a while back.
Read part 2 here.
I encourage you to read Everyday Theology as well as follow Marc on Twitter and Facebook, You should also check out his books: Theological Anthropology: A Guide for the Perplexed and Embodied Souls, Ensouled Bodies: An Exercise in Christological Anthropology and Its Significance for the Mind/Body Debate. You can also find a list of Marc’s publications here.