I had intended to post the next selection from the writings of F. W. Boreham today, but I’ve pushed it back to tomorrow because of how last week’s discussions here at InFocus (see here and here) and Jeremy’s post yesterday have raised the issue of online discussion. I think there is value in taking some time to think this through again here.

My goal in today’s post is twofold. First, I want to explain some of the issues that I wrestle with in handling such discussions. Second, I would like to get your feedback on how things are handled so I can deal with these sorts of situations more effectively in the future.

The goal of this post is not to chastise anyone, to bring up personal criticisms, or necessarily to discuss the particular conversations we had last week.

I’ll bring up these issues under three major headings. Each section will end with a question.

The economics of truth

This might seem a strange expression, but it is fundamental to why InFocus exists. It comes from something my brother-in-law, Lawrence Lantz, said to me many years ago. Roughly put, he said “Truth can stand on its own in the marketplace.”

That single statement worked its way into my soul and completely changed my life.

Now that I’m an academic in the field of business, the language of market economics is familiar to me. Free market economics holds that markets are self-regulating. That is, that a free market, with only very limited outside regulation, will accurately determine the appropriate value of items in that market at any given level of supply and demand. Adam Smith referred to this idea as “the invisible hand” which works for the good of society.

The alternative to a free market is a controlled market where an outside influence sets prices and regulates who may buy and sell, to/from whom they may buy and sell, and how and what they may buy and sell. Many are familiar with the Communist expressions of controlled markets in the previous century and continuing to today in some places.

The point here is that in much of Fundamentalism, there is a controlled market for truth. Truth is highly valued, but it is also highly regulated. And as in any market, such an approach leads inevitably to shortages and distortions in the market.

As a younger man, I believed that such an approach to truth was neither healthy nor biblical, and it was out of that conviction, primarily, that InFocus came to be.

I believe that truth can stand on its own in the marketplace. I believe that a free market for truth, with only very limited outside regulation, will accurately determine the appropriate value of items in that market.

This is the rationale for allowing a variety of views to be argued in the comments section. Views which are poorly supported will eventually be recognised for their bankruptcy in the open market of ideas.

But even the freest of free market economists recognise that some level of regulation must occur (e.g. taxation, anti-monopoly laws, laws against extortion, etc.). And this raises the question, in the free market of ideas, how much regulation is necessary? Where do we draw the lines?


It goes without saying that the discussion of Christian truth should be done in a Christ-like way. At least it should go without saying.

The basis of Christian grace towards others is rooted in our experience of God’s grace towards us (1 John 4:7-11). Scripture teaches that those who show no grace towards others, have no basis on which to argue that they have experienced God’s grace themselves (v. 20). Yet we all live at times as if we needed no grace.

So here’s the question. Can we “regulate” grace? Should we try?

I have typically drawn the line at personal attacks. Is this too early to draw the line? Too late?


I’ve suggested that open discussion, and that done graciously, should be the normal modus operandi for the Christian comment thread. But if that is true, it is no less worth suggesting that sound reason should be the norm. To draw on the economics parallel, to argue through fallacies is to create counterfeit money, or to hold a monopoly, or to price gouge, or any number of other economically dysfunctional activities. This holds even if the arguer is unable to see that his argument is a non sequitur.

This is one of the key values of discussion. It is through the free market of ideas that logical weaknesses or fallacies are exposed in order to reveal the true value of an idea. Still, in the short term, people are likely to differ on the value of various ideas and permission to do this is inherent in the idea of free market.

So the problem is not logical fallacies per se. The problem is stubborn persistence in logical fallacies after they have been pointed out. But for those who have not made it a practice to study logic and who have not grasped it well yet, how much allowance should be made? If someone’s arguments are riddled with logical fallacies, is there a point at which their contribution should be excluded? If so, when?

I would value your input on these issues and others and your ideas on how best to answer the questions raised.

Grace to you.


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About Jason Harris

Dr Jason Harris is a writer, pastor, and academic. He has authored multiple books, articles, and papers including his book Theological Meditations on the Gospel. Jason has a PhD from James Cook University as well as degrees in theology, music, accounting, and research. Jason has lived in Cairns, Australia since 2007 and serves as pastor at CrossPoint Church. You can contact Jason at jason@jasonharris.com.au.


  1. Jeremy 9 August, 2011 at 8:04 am - Reply

    @ Jason, Thanks for the framework for this discussion.

    I support the free market strategy for blogging on this site. I think each of the authors on this site are robust enough to deal with rogue comments. Thinkers can see through the motives of hateful comments. While we may choose to delete a comment here and there that does not comply with the guidelines, this can be done on a case by case basis.

    I honestly did not expect my post on Heart Matters to generate controversy. It was more a testimonial than a doctrinal treaty. However, sometimes the pot does need to be stirred in order to generate growth. My feeling is that we must be wary of IFB groupthink. The critical issue is how do we provoke to love and goodworks. It must be done with grace as you have pointed out.

    At the end of the day, I don’t believe a change is necessary in this site’s mode of operation. Rather, I suspect that last week’s discussion is representative of some of the barriers that we must push through (e.g. The London riots are signs of our times. It does not mean London should stop being London).

    It may be worth adding a few more regular posters to the site. (e.g. one post every day). That way we have enough activity on the site so that single posts do not hang out there for too much over-commentary.

  2. PJ 9 August, 2011 at 8:20 am - Reply


    Very difficult issues you’ve highlighted. As a committed left-leaning Keynesian I tend to favour more regulation than less! (The US economy is showing us just how brilliantly a less regulated marketplace works!)

    My economic views flow into the marketplace of ideas and the expression of those ideas. As Believers we are called to be ‘heavily’ regulated by the Word and Spirit of God in every part of our life – including what we view and communicate on-line. So name-calling, personal attacks and derision of another person’s views are clearly out! (There is a big difference between ‘mocking’ a point of view and ‘debating’ it.)

    If contributors are not allowing themselves to be regulated by the Word and Spirit of God in the expression of their ideas, then the moderator has every right to remove those comments and/or ban that individual from participation in the debate. The moderator, who is responsible for the testimony of the website, has also to be regulated of the Word & Spirit of God.

    As for the issue of logical fallacies – I think one can express a completely illogical point of view but still do so in an appropriate manner. Censorship should not be exercised in those cases.

    (Hope that helps!)

  3. Jane Gibb 9 August, 2011 at 11:39 am - Reply

    This is tough, Jason. On one hand, I agree with Jeremy that we need to discuss these things. How can we grow unless we have a forum for talking about the hard stuff? But when discussion degrades to mockery and bullying, the discussion’s value rapidly drops because of all the distracting elements. In last week’s post about the KJV, I expected some people to find my mindset about Bible versions a problem, but I was not prepared for the barrage of verbal meanness that followed. By the time the comments were closed, it appeared that the conversation was not redeemable–at least not immediately.

    I also agree with PJ that we don’t need to censor stubbornness. In those cases the adage about truth in the market place holds true. Readers will see those posts for what they are–even more so when those opinions are expressed with venom.

    I do think that InFocus should insist that people who comment use their real names. Hiding behind a blog name lends boldness to the most cowardly.

  4. Jason Harris 9 August, 2011 at 12:06 pm - Reply

    @Jeremy C., I suspect part of the reason your post engendered controversy is because of how the previous post had drawn the attention of a certain kind of person to the site.

    @PJ, Your reference to the US economy is quite valid. I would probably view the US as being closer to the extreme edge of the free market approach. Much like Communism is the extreme on the controlled market side of things. And in that light, I suspect you are closer to the free market side of the spectrum than the controlled market side…? To follow the analogy, I think the pure free market ideal is exemplified in places like the “Fighting Fundamentalist Forums” where there is almost no regulation and where things get very ugly, very easily, very often. The opposite extreme probably has no significant expression in the blogosphere because it finds the very nature of the blogosphere to be threatening. We’re looking, I suppose, to be somewhere in the middle, but probably closer to the free market side than the controlled market side.

    @Jane, That’s a good point with the user names. It is generally quite cowardly to take a major stand online under a pseudonym.

    Thanks for the thoughts so far. Very helpful. Keep ’em coming. =)

  5. Jeremy Crooks 9 August, 2011 at 12:34 pm - Reply

    @ Jason Regarding your comment about ‘drawn a certain type of person to the site’

    My advice would be don’t give too much time of day to that ‘certain type of person’. They would love nothing more than to derail good discussion. Using a real first and last name is a good blogging requirement. Any further restrictions, to my mind, would be surrendering to abuse.

  6. PJ 9 August, 2011 at 1:33 pm - Reply

    Re: the use of real names. I agree that hiding behind a pseudonym while attacking someone is cowardly and inappropriate.

    However, I think some people have legitimate reasons for wanting a degree of anonymity and therefore use a pseudonym, first name only or their initials. I use my initials because I have a public teaching ministry but participate in this blog in my personal time as a ‘private citizen’.

  7. Jason Harris 9 August, 2011 at 1:47 pm - Reply

    @Jeremy C., Fair enough. I think the biggest difficulty is that when you try to respond to the nuances (such as the one PJ raised), you open yourself up to being biased for/against those you might agree/disagree with. E.g. if you delete the crazy comments for breach of guidelines but don’t delete the more reasonable ones which may have technically breached the guidelines. Ultimately, I guess there are a lot of conscience calls to make.

    @PJ, Yeah, I recognise the value of that point. I’ve tried to make allowance for that sort of thing in the wording of the guidelines: “name or real nickname.” If someone is known to many or most of the commenters, there is a level of accountability in place. It is understandable that someone doesn’t want to have a google search for their name turn up their unrelated comments on a blog post. So yeah, I agree that there is a balance to be reached on this point and have never really minded those who post under a real first name or initials or some sort of nickname by which they are actually known in real life.

  8. Alen 9 August, 2011 at 7:50 pm - Reply

    My 2 cents:

    While I think developing a moderation of comments philosophy is great, in the end one can generally spot a troll or an unreasonable person and we all know that while that can generally be linked to holding onto certain beliefs, it isn’t necessarily so and to judge on a case by case basis. It just happens to be that in this case, they are holding onto typical beliefs associated with troll-like behavior.

    Your readership is limited to pretty much Australian IFBs. As we are all well aware, the main contentious issues within the IFB movement here are related to things like Calvinism, Bible versions and music. My point is, the issue isn’t big nor complex. It’s a very specific, and limited audience that we can count on one hand.

    The posts here are silent for the most part until these topics are brought up (this isn’t indicative of anything btw, many big blogs have few commenters). When they are brought up, it’s not like we get people from all over Australia casting in their 2 cents (at least not directly in the comments section). It’s as I mentioned, a handful of people (including myself) who chime in.

    These people have repeatedly ‘trolled’ the posts. I think the simple rules you have set up are sufficient. Simply block them after breaking the rules X amount of times and I think you should see the issues no longer occur.

  9. Steve 9 August, 2011 at 8:51 pm - Reply

    Excellent and timely post Jason.

    I think the moderation of the comments has been generally good and not too heavy handed. Personal attacks, name calling, ad hominem tactics in general, should be moderated more directly by the deletion of those comments. The same goes for sexist, racist and generally offensive ones.

    I believe that most people do not know what constitutes a logical fallacy. Perhaps a post listing and explaining the common ones would be helpful?
    I agree with the other comments that persistant illogicality should not be censored, only pointed out.

    My own personal standard is to handle controversial topics dispassionately. Easier said than done but a worthy standard to aim for, in my opinion.

  10. Kez 10 August, 2011 at 4:53 am - Reply

    I just want to comment and say that I’ve always admired how InFocus keeps it’s discussions pretty respectful and Christ-like. We get the odd nasty or out of order comment here and there, but I think generally speaking, Jay, you and the team have done an awesome job of keeping InFocus a Christ-like, truth-centered blog where respectful conversation and open discussion are the normal and natural atmosphere of each post. For what my opinion is worth… =)

  11. Matt 10 August, 2011 at 6:12 am - Reply

    Jason, I do have to agree with you on this post. I receive the email updates from InFocus, and usually just stick with them. However, with Jane’s post last week, I have begun to follow InFocus online. The goal of discussion is to always keep it rational. However, it is hard to do often when a person feels that the article has breached upon something that he/she holds dear. Perhaps we all need to just remind ourselves that what really matters is the gospel, the central theme of the Word of God.

  12. Cristy Mock 10 August, 2011 at 12:50 pm - Reply

    Jason, I certainly understand it’s a difficult thing to regulate. I do think the guidelines you have in place are good and should be adhered to. Much of what happened last week wouldn’t have, I don’t think, if comments stayed on topic and if those who commented used their real names (though how you really know if someone is using their real name or not beats me). I also wonder at the readership – could it be possible that there are non-Christians reading InFocus who might be pushed away from Christianity because of the ungraciousness of some Bible believers?

  13. Matt L 10 August, 2011 at 2:16 pm - Reply

    I’m glad to read the common sense and polite discussion on this thread. As a regular reader I was disappointed with the way some views were expressed recently, which sadly appeared to convey an immaturity and lack of Christian love to others.

    I found the following thoughts interesting …

    “The point here is that in much of Fundamentalism, there is a controlled market for truth. Truth is highly valued, but it is also highly regulated. And as in any market, such an approach leads inevitably to shortages and distortions in the market.

    As a younger man, I believed that such an approach to truth was neither healthy nor biblical, and it was out of that conviction, primarily, that InFocus came to be.”

    I definitely agree that the IFB circle could be characterised in this way, and somewhat for this reason I enjoy the discussion and stimulating thinking created by this blog.

    Might there be though some good reasons for such “protection” of truth? It takes a certain level of maturity and discernment to be able to discuss spiritual matters in a “deregulated market” and live in a manner that reflects your convictions. To promote an environment where Christians are encouraged to think for themselves about specific matters that require study, maturity, etc. (e.g. Bible versions, application of Christian liberty) puts some believers in a situation where they may not be adequately equipped.

    I’m guessing that in some circles the view would be that a little more regulation (dicatating of standards, etc.) is necessary to prevent the immature from stumbling or making poor decisions.

    Striking that balance, as Jason has explained, can be difficult.

  14. PJ 10 August, 2011 at 3:45 pm - Reply

    @Matt L – greetings. Great to read your thoughts so eloquently expressed. There is something slightly strange about @Steve, @PJ and @Matt L together again in cyberspace!

    (Assuming you are the Matt L who plays the piano, supports the Swans and is good at maths – how many of those could there be?!)

    God bless you mate.

  15. Matt L 10 August, 2011 at 4:34 pm - Reply

    @PJ – That’d be me, my hockey-stick-wielding left-leaning Keynesian friend.

    Glad I can participate in the discussion.

  16. Jason Harris 10 August, 2011 at 10:27 pm - Reply

    Thanks to everyone who’s put in their bit so far. There’s some really great food for thought there!

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