Self-examination for the digital age


I was expecting a lot from Tim Challies’ new book, The Next Story: Life and faith after the digital explosion. But it has far surpassed my expectations.

Thinking that I already knew quite a lot about the subject, and also confident that I already knew much of Tim’s thinking on it, when I first saw the book I thought, “Hey, I’ll skim this in a couple of hours.”

I’ve not read a book so slowly for a long time.

Not that it’s difficult to understand. It is just so substantive and thought-provoking. It took me to a whole new level, even dimension, of thinking about the impact of digital technology on me and my world. I found myself reading a paragraph, pausing, reflecting, praying; reading a paragraph, pausing…etc. Three hours later, I was only at chapter three. Two weeks and many hours later, I’ve read the book through twice, and already know that it’s going to join my small pile of annual re-reads (if I can get it back from my wife).

I certainly want my teenage sons to read it; and I look forward to discussing it with them as I try to set them on a good foundation of digital virtue.

I’d also recommend that congregations buy quantities of the book and ensure that each family gets a copy. It could be the best bit of pastoring you do this year (I think Ligonier have the best deal at the moment).

I thought about writing a book review. However, Tim’s been such a good friend and Christian brother to me, I knew I couldn’t write it with any kind of objectivity. I’ll leave that to others.

Instead, I thought I would provide the questions I wrote out for myself as I read the book, questions that I now intend to use as a kind of annual or bi-annual digital inventory for self-examination. I hope others may also find them useful.

Chapter 1: Discerning Technology

1. Do I own my digital technology or does it own me? Does it serve me or am I its slave? Do I use it to serve God or is the Devil using it to enslave me?

2. Am I keeping abreast of research into the impact and influence of technology on me and my world? Am I applying theology to technology?

3. Has my technology become an idol, or an enabler of idols?

Chapter 2: Understanding Technology

4. Do I evaluate the downside/risk of any new technology before I buy it or use it?

5. Do I understand how each particular medium communicates a message, and even shapes and distorts it?

6. Am I analyzing how technology is not only re-shaping the world (society, culture, morals), but also the church, the family, and even myself (my brain, my relationships, my personality)?

Chapter 4: Communication

7. Am I abusing the new tools of communication to serve the idol of productivity?

8. Am I seeking significance and self-worth in the number of Twitter followers, blog subscribers, and Facebook friends I have?

9. Am I addicted to information?

10. Are my digital communications serving as a substitute for face-to-face relationships, or even spiritual communication with God?

11. Do I ever choose anonymity over visibility?

12. Am I open and honest in my accountability?

13. Is my online persona real or partly an act?

Chapter 5: Mediation

14. Are my best and most valued relationships mediated (conducted through an electronic medium) or face-to-face?

15. Am I consciously pursuing less mediation in my relationships?

16. Is my local church community more important to me than any online community I’m part of?

Chapter 6: Distraction

17. When I wake up, do I read my Bible and pray before any electronic communication?

18. Am I carving out and securing significant amounts of uninterrupted time for deep and focused thinking?

19. What am I doing to make time for contemplation and meditation? Am I taking regular digital sabbaths?

20. What am I doing to preserve and strengthen my reading skills in an age of distraction and skim reading?

21. How long a period of time can I go without connecting with the digital world? Am I seeking to extend and stretch such periods?

22. How am I teaching my family to use technology? Am I a good role model?

Chapter 7: Information

23. Has information become an end in itself (informationism), or am I processing information so that it becomes knowledge and then wisdom?

24. Am I cultivating and developing my memory or increasingly relying on Google?

25. Am I rationing and regulating information flow to ensure quality over quantity?

Chapter 8: Truth and Authority

26. Am I watchful about how ultimate authority and objective truth are being redefined and undermined by Internet authority models of consensus and relevance?

27. What am I doing to promote God’s Word as the ultimate authority and perfect witness to the truth?

Chapter 9: Visibility and Privacy

28. Are my digital footprints in paths of righteousness? Would my ministry be finished if my online habits were “Wiki-leaked?”

29. Am I promoting myself or my Lord?

30. Have I confessed my digital sin and found forgiveness in the blood of Christ that washes whiter than snow? Am I daily seeking and depending upon the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit to help me use digital technology for God’s glory?

Caring for the depressed (3): Support

Support follows sympathy.

  • It involves being available to listen and talk either in person or at the end of a phone.
  • It includes praying with the person, especially as the depressed person may find it impossible to put words and sentences together in prayer.
  • It means unconditional love, love that is maintained even when you do not agree with every decision your loved one is making and even when that loved one may unjustly turn on you.
  • It requires practical help such as babysitting to enable a young mother to get a few free hours each week or such as taking an elderly person out for a drive to give him a refreshing change of scenery.

You will need wisdom to recognize when the help you are providing is not enough and the depressed person needs expert support from other caring professions. The benefits of such supportive friendship cannot be overestimated:

The presence, the availability, just the existence of a friend like this provides a tremendous degree of comfort to the depressed person, as it demonstrates in physical terms how much he is cared for,accepted, loved, as he is, warts and all. It is not difficult for the depressed person to go on to realise that if individual Christians can love him that much, how much more will God do the same….Unconditional friendship is the key, as is loyalty. The real friends are the ones who can accept the depressed person as he is—on good days, bad days, sad days, frightened days and angry days. Friends like this don’t put pressure on in any way, but allow the sufferer to be himself, however horrid that may seem to be. As one of my depressed friends said, “It’s a relief not to have to put on a disguise.” (A Practical Workbook for the Depressed Christian, 338).

On a congregational level, pastors and office bearers should encourage a supportive atmosphere:

For our churches to be really effective in supporting those with mental health difficulties, we need to establish a culture where everyone in the local church knows that it is acceptable to have problems from time to time, and that the church as a whole—and especially its leadership—is there to support church members during these times as well as in times of success (I’m not supposed to feel like this, 236).

The church should be especially aware of the need to support the supporters. To be an effective  support to depressed loved-ones is physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually demanding. As Christians we need to be conscious of the need not only to support depressed people but also to minister to the needs of their nearest and dearest.

Edited extract from Christians get depressed too. Available at RHB and Ligonier. Kindle version here.


CK2:9 A discussion with Todd Friel

Download here.
As Tim says on the podcast, I’m indisposed this week. I think that used to be a euphemism for having some embarrassing operation! Thankfully my indisposition is much more of a pleasure than a pain. But in my absence, Tim interviewed Todd Friel of Wretched Radio, one of those hyper-enthusiastic guys that makes you feel like a plank of dead wood! But I enjoyed listening to this, and hope I get my seat back next week when we plan to podcast from the Gospel Coalition conference.

A heresy or a hobby?

Tim Challies recently argued that Christians should also read in the mainstream, which, with a few cautions, I heartily agree with.

I then received an email from a friend who, had been “forced” into reading about a subject that he would not normally have chosen to research. Amazed at how refreshing and stimulating he had found the experience, he suggested that preachers (and their sermons) would especially benefit from wider reading. He wrote:

Theological reading is usually a specific type of reading, and once you’ve reached a certain level of theological competence, and as long as you are inclined to remain orthodox, your brain forgets what it’s like to be suddenly and massively expanded or changed. New discoveries are made, no doubt. But these are discoveries made along the same well-worn paths; not in some distant land.

Imagine a man who spends hours every day reading and researching, who collates these thoughts into reasoned and passionate discourses every week; a man who undoubtedly derives great good from what he reads, and yet a man who has completely forgotten what it feels like to reach the top of a hill and discover a completely and radically new vista before him; a man who’s thinking has been circling within a relatively small box for decades, never venturing beyond it’s walls. It’s terrifying.

If that man wants relief from his moribund thoughts, there seems to me only two options: a heresy or a hobby. Either he determines to discover a radically new theology or he sets out on a journey through some other intellectual landscape he’s never seen before. My guess is that a fresh infusion of thoughts formed in distant lands will improve his sermons immeasurably. And it is, of course, much to be preferred over a fresh infusion of heresy!