The Next Story: Faith, Friends, Family and the Digital World by Tim Challies. 224 pages. Zondervan. 2015 edition.
Tim Challies is a pastor and a popular blogger at Informing the Reforming, which is required reading for me each morning. In this book he looks at how the digital explosion has reshaped our understanding of ourselves, our world, and, most importantly, our knowledge of God. He writes: “If technology is a good gift from God, with the potential to help us fulfill our God-given calling and purpose, why does it so often feel like we are slaves to our technology, like we are serving it instead of demanding that it serve us?”
He explores suggestions and ideas for how Christians can live in this new digital world with character, virtue, and wisdom. He examines how we can respond to these revolutionary changes as followers of Christ, and how we can learn to live faithfully as the next story unfolds.
In the first part of the book, Challies looks to theology, theory, and experience. In the second part he looks at areas of application specific to the Christian life. He shows how we can live with wisdom and virtue in a digital world, using our technologies without being used by them.
He writes that it is not the technology itself that is good or evil, but instead the human application of that technology. Every technology brings with it both risk and opportunity. He includes a helpful digital history that includes discussion of the impact of the steam engine, telegraph, telephone, television, computer and mobile devices.
He states that the average adult now spends nearly nine hours per day in front of some type of screen (desk top/laptop/tablet computer, phone, gaming devices, television). He writes that soon we will be spending more time in the glare of a screen than we spend outside of it.
He discusses that the way we read online differs from the way we read printed material. He states that studies show that, at best, Internet users skim text rather than read it. Skimming has now become the dominant form of reading. He encourages readers to seek to understand how a technology will change and shape us before we introduce it to our lives.
In discussing whether something has become an idol in our lives he writes: “One possible sign of idolatry is when we devote an inordinate amount of time and attention to something, when we feel less than complete without it. Clearly, cell phones have the potential to become an idol, determining our behavior and creating patterns of addiction in our lives.”
He writes a lot about how the digital explosion has brought distractions into our lives. He states that with these ever-present distractions “….we are quickly becoming a people of shallow thoughts, and shallow thoughts will lead to shallow living”.
Challies states that the challenge is clear: “We need to relearn how to think, and we need to discipline ourselves to think deeply, conquering the distractions in our lives so that we can live deeply. We must rediscover how to be truly thoughtful Christians, as we seek to live with virtue in the aftermath of the digital explosion”.
A section I found particularly interesting was his discussion of Wikipedia and Google. With Wikipedia he shows how truth in a digital world often comes to us by consensus. And search engines such as Google incline us to associate truth with relevance.
An interesting observation that Challies offers is “The strange reality that we crave both privacy (example: our data) and visibility (example: social media) in this new digital reality.” He discusses our “data trails”, and asks, “What does your data trail say about you? Would you be willing for your spouse to see it? Your parents? Your pastors?”
In the chapter added for the paperback edition of the book, he helps the reader practically apply the book’s principles to the Christian home and family via his Digital Family Plan. Again, I feel that this single chapter is worth the price of the entire book. The plan has three broad goals:
- To teach and train children to use the Internet and their devices responsibly.
- To guard children from seeing or experiencing what they do not know exists.
- To prevent children from seeing or experiencing what they may desire once they learn that it exists.
The plan has four phases: Plan, Prepare, Meet, and Monitor. This is an important and challenging book for Christians as we consider what it is to live in the new digital age.
A related resource is Tim’s excellent message “Purity in a Digital Age” from the 2015 Ligonier Ministries National Conference.
I read this book when it was first published in 2011. The recently published updated and expanded paperback edition features a new chapter that is worth the price of the book. The book also features a helpful application section and questions for reflection at the end of each chapter, making it a good book to read and discuss with others.
Christianaudio’s Free Book of the Month. The May free audiobook of the month from Christianaudio is The Advocate by Randy Singer, an ECPA 2015 Christian Book Award Finalist. The Advocate revolves around the life of Theophilus, a young assessore in the Roman aristocracy. Beginning with the trial of Christ, and continuing through to the trial of Paul, he is lawyer and witness to the incredible trials and circumstances surrounding the first century church. David Cochran Heath narrates this audiobook.
- You Must Read: Books That Have Shaped Our Lives. Banner of Truth has released this this book with contributions from Joel R. Beeke, Alistair Begg, Jerry Bridges, Mark Dever, J. Ligon Duncan, R. Albert Mohler, Jr., John MacArthur, Stuart Olyott, R. C. Sproul , Derek W. H. Thomas, Geoffrey Thomas, and many others.
- When the Wicked Seize the City. Todd Pruitt writes about the book When the Wicked Seize a City by Chuck and Donna McIlhenny, quoting the Foreword from Dr. Jay Adams who states “It is one of a kind; it should be read by every thinking Christian”.
Reading Together Week 9
Counter Culture: A Compassionate Call to Counter Culture in a World of Poverty, Same-Sex Marriage, Racism, Sex Slavery, Immigration, Abortion, Persecution, Orphans and Pornography by David Platt.
David Platt, author of Radical, has written an important new book. So important, I believe, that rather than doing one book review, I’m going to review the content chapter by chapter. Note, all of Platt’s royalties from this book will go toward promoting the glory of Christ in all nations.
Each chapter concludes by offering some initial suggestions for practical requests you can pray in light of these issues, potential ways you might engage culture with the gospel, and biblical truths we must proclaim regarding every one of these issues. These suggestions will also direct you to a website www.counterculturebook.com/resources, where you can explore more specific steps you might take.
This week we look at Chapter 9: Christ in the Public Square: The Gospel and Religious Liberty
- Followers of Christ are the most widely persecuted religious group in the world. According to the US Department of State, Christians face persecution of some kind in more than sixty different countries today.
- Religious liberty is a rare commodity in the world, and one which is increasingly uncommon in our own culture.
- The cardinal sin of our culture is to be found intolerant, yet what we mean by intolerant is ironically, well, intolerant.
- Tolerance implies disagreement. I have to disagree with you in order to tolerate you.
- It would be wise and helpful for us to patiently consider where each of us is coming from and why we have arrived at our respective conclusions. Based upon these considerations, we can then be free to contemplate how to treat one another with the greatest dignity in view of our differences.
- Toleration of people requires that we treat one another with equal value, honoring each other’s fundamental human freedom to express private faith in public forums. On the other hand, toleration of beliefs does not require that we accept every idea as equally valid, as if a belief is true, right, or good simply because someone expresses it. In this way, tolerance of a person’s value does not mean I must accept that person’s views.
- I lament the many ways that Christians express differences in belief devoid of respect for the people with whom we speak. Likewise, I lament the many ways that Christians are labeled intolerant, narrow-minded, and outdated whenever they express biblical beliefs that have persisted throughout centuries. Nowhere are these twin realities more clear than in the current debate over marriage.
- On the whole, an average of one hundred Christians around the world are killed every month for their faith in Christ (and some estimates have this number much higher. Literally countless others are persecuted through abuse, beatings, imprisonment, torture, and deprivation of food, water, and shelter.
- (Matthew 5:10-12, Matthew 10:16-18, 22). Even a cursory reading of Gospel passages like these reveals that the more we become like Jesus in this world, the more we will experience what he experienced. Just as it was costly for him to counter culture, it will be costly for us to do the same.
- It is only when a Christian is public about his or her faith, applying faith in the public square and even proclaiming Christ that persecution will inevitably occur. In other words, as long as our brothers and sisters around the world sit back and accommodate the culture around them, they can avoid suffering. It’s only when they stand up and counter the culture around them with the gospel of Jesus Christ that they will experience suffering.
- Moreover, in a country where even our own religious liberty is increasingly limited, our suffering brothers and sisters beckon us not to let the cost of following Christ in our culture silence our faith. May we not sit back and accommodate our culture in relative comfort while they stand up and counter their culture at great cost.