A Way with Words: Using Our Online Conversations for Good by Daniel Darling. B&H Books. 224 pages. 2020
In this book, Daniel Darling considers the important subject of communicating in the internet age. He addresses the way we conduct ourselves in this new reality, the way we behave online. He tells us that we have a speaking God, which means that those who bear his image are also speakers. Sadly however, not all the words that we create reflect God’s own beautiful words, which is the reason for the book. The author states that nobody who bears the name of Christ is exempt from the Bible’s command toward thoughtful speech. He reminds us that we are the people, after all, who should most care about the truth as we serve the One who ultimately claimed to be the truth.
In this book, the author addresses such important topics as confirmation bias (the instinct to believe the worst things about people with whom we might disagree); a “hive mind” (groups of people who come to a consensus about something without hearing or being willing to listen to alternative ideas; performative posting (a projection of a life and a persona that we wish we had. It’s wanting to be seen as the kind of person we wish we were rather than who we really are); performative victimhood, courage and civility; conspiracy theories; the emerging shame and cancel culture; discernment (a constant theme directed toward the people of God in the Bible, and thus not an optional exercise for believers); creating unnecessary division in the body of Christ, which he writes is not just annoying, but sinful; how we process the news and interact with it online, suggesting that we begin with a commitment to read a variety of perspectives, not just those that confirm our biases; not only being right, but having the right tone; how to properly steward our influence; what our online speech is modeling for others; and the impact of the internet on the local church.The book includes two appendices:
- 10 things the Bible Says about our Speech
- How to Read the News
A key thought in the book for me was that we should always be asking ourselves how we might be using our social media activity and our public work to serve the body of Christ and to point a lost world toward Jesus. A good question for all of us to ask is:
- How can we make our corner of the internet a better place?
This is an important and timely book. Below are some of my favorite quotes from the book:
- The internet can make us smarter, but it can also be the equivalent of eating junk food three meals a day. Christians who live in this age have to resist the wrong impulses of either being drawn into endless rabbit trails of information or withdrawing completely.
- The quick thrill of being in the know is a cheap substitute for the peace of knowing the One who created us and rescues us from our fruitless pursuits and is leading us toward a place where our longings to know and be known will be fully realized.
- We are susceptible to believe news, to jump ahead of the facts, to not wait for the full story because we want to believe the worst about the people with whom we disagree.
- Because we don’t wait before speaking, we allow confirmation bias and the internet’s hive mind to keep us from wisely evaluating both what we are hearing and what we are communicating.
- What’s ironic about this emerging shame culture is the way it draws out the longings of the human heart for justice and the way it tries, but fails, to mirror the story the Bible tells about righteousness and justice, forgiveness and grace.
- We might think we are doing the right thing by speaking against injustice, but if we do this without having all the facts and spread misinformation, we are sinning. Even if we are doing it in favor of a right cause.
- I think there is a big difference between what often passes for “discernment” and genuine, biblical discernment.
- Love motivates us to avoid offering critiques flippantly, without getting all the facts and understanding fully the position of the person with whom we disagree.
- Influence, held loosely as a stewardship from God, can be a good thing for Christ’s kingdom. However, influence stewarded poorly can be an addictive drug, an unworthy god whose adulation is undeserved.
- It doesn’t matter if ten or a hundred or a thousand people “like” us online; we are loved by the One who breathed life into us, who formed the universe, and whose assessment is the only one that ultimately matters.
- The best kind of social media is when people are light-hearted and poking fun at themselves. Take the gospel seriously. Take your work seriously. But, for the good of your own soul, don’t take yourself seriously.
- There is a tribe joining that is healthy community and there is a tribalism that seeks to constantly do war with everyone else.