There is so much good to be said about Tim Challies’ new book, The Next Story: Life and Faith after the Digital Explosion. This is not a book review. If that’s what you want you can find one at Covenant Eyes, or here, or you can read one of 40 customer reviews at Amazon. Though I’m occasionally asked to review books (not this one, I’m just passing on my own personal gain here) I find it difficult and time-consuming and I’m not sure I’m wired well for the book-reviewer role for two reasons. First, I’m a slow reader so by the time I finish a book and get around to writing a review the author/publisher has probably already moved on to another book. Second, I read for personal and professional growth, not to evaluate others (this is not to say I don’t read with a discerning eye!). But instead of marking up the margins with things like “mention this in the review,” I find myself writing stuff like “Do this!” or “Yes!” (sometimes w/a happy face), or drawing sad faces in red ink alongside disagreeable or erroneous content (no sad faces in this book, by the way). As I read books I get caught up in what I can personally take away in order to be a better Christian, husband, father, pastor, counselor, etc. That’s just the way I read. If I’m going to invest my money and time in buying and reading a book then I’m going to squeeze as much help out of it as I can. Therefore, what I have done in this post is gather some of my highlighted portions, which capture key concepts that I as a Christian must ponder, or practical applications that I intend to take into my personal life, family, and ministry.
We need discernment, discernment, and more discernment. Digital technology is here to stay so what believers need is disciplined discernment (the subject Tim addressed very well in his first book). “In this approach, a Christian looks carefully at the new realities, weighs and evaluates them, and educates himself, thinking deeply about the potential consequences and effects of using a particular technology. Through it all, even as he is using a specific technology, he disciplines himself to be discerning, to embrace what can be embraced and to reject what needs to be rejected. He moves beyond the broad strokes of utter rejection and complete acceptance. Instead, he relies on the Holy Spirit, who speaks his wisdom through the Bible, to learn how he can live with virtue in this new digital world” (p. 17).
Why is discernment necessary?
- Because technology is not neutral. “Though the devices and tools we create are inherently amoral, at the same time we would be foolish to believe that they are morally neutral…it is not the technology itself that is good or evil; it is the human application of that technology” (p. 24-25).
- Because idols hide themselves from us “to avoid direct confrontation. And one of the ways they hide is by convincing us that they are actually good things in our lives” (p. 29).
- Therefore, our task “is not to avoid technology but to carefully evaluate it, redeem it, and ensure that we are using it with the right motives and for the right goals” (p. 32).
Technology changes our brain function and may actually hinder our ability to think. “Scientists are discovering that the human brain, once thought to form in childhood and then remain largely unchangeable, is actually extremely malleable and sensitive to outside variables” (p. 44). Our family saw this in real-time about 6 years ago when our then-17-year old son received his first cochlear implant. His brain, having interpreted sound from that side as analog through a traditional hearing aid for 15 years, re-trained itself in a matter of a few months in order to interpret all sound coming through his new device as digital. Then his brain did it again 5 years later on the opposite side after his second implant surgery. The human brain is an amazing part of God’s creative work!
What is essential for believers to realize is that the way we think in this digital age is changing and it may not all be for the good. Why? Because we are called to be thinkers. We have the mind of Christ (1 Cor 2:16)! Therefore, Challies rightly warns us, “While we sit at our desks working on a report, we are also monitoring our phones…instant messaging…a host of different media. As we do so, we keep our brains in a constant state of heightened stress, damaging our ability to devote ourselves to extended periods of thoughtful reflection and contemplation” (p. 45).
There are 6 ways our lives, churches, and society have been changed by the digital explosion. Tim dedicates a chapter to each of the following areas. I will summarize each chapter in one sentence and then quote “impacting sentences” that I highlighted.
- Communication – Substance is suffering in our communication-saturated world. “When our words (written or spoken) serve an idol, they try to distract us from what matters most. They encourage us to focus on quantity over quality. Our communication begins to lack substance, and the constant flow of words keeps us from focusing our hearts and minds on the truth. The sheer quantity of words can dilute their power and harden our hearts to the Word of God” (75-76). This chapter includes a good section on the power of words and the importance of wisdom.
- Mediation/Identity – We now live in a world immersed in media where it is tempting to allow our personal lives to be mediated through visual images on screens rather than real, face-to-face relationships that grow in love and promote life-touching-life. “The best relationships we can have are not those that rely on mediation, but rather the ones that allow for unmediated contact and communication” (p. 92). “We do well to be thankful for mediated communication and for its many benefits. Yet we do need to ensure that in all the ways we communicate we move toward true intimacy and avoid distancing ourselves from one another” (p. 97).
- Distraction – Distraction produces shallow thinking, which in turn produces shallow living. “Christians may be excited about God, but because they have become a product of our digital world, they have a diminished ability to think deeply about him, to truly know him as he is” (p. 116).
- Information – We live in a world convinced that more information is better; however, increase in knowledge does not equal increase in wisdom. “Information, available in unprecedented quantities, is no longer seen as a means to a higher and nobler end, a tool by which we increase our knowledge so we might live with wisdom. Instead, information has become an end in itself” (p. 141).
- Truth/Authority – The Internet has made it possible for anyone and everyone to be an “expert” and for truth to be determined by consensus, rather than by biblical revelation. “Knowledge and truth cannot be democratized: they flow from the God who is truth. As we create and use digital technologies like wikis and search engines to access information, we must guard against the danger of allowing them to re-create us in their own image” (p. 169).
- Visibility and Privacy – The digital age in which we now live makes our lives public like never before, which heightens our call as Christians to have lives marked by godly character and integrity. “The Bible calls us to…live with discretion. The Bible calls us to live lives marked by humility, by respect for one another. It calls us to make little of ourselves so we can make much of Christ” (p. 190).
There’s a lot more practical, wise counsel in The Next Story that I will highlight in a few more posts. This is a unique and important book that no Christian should ignore. Until tomorrow…control your digital devices…don’t let them control you.