I mentioned last time that we are becoming unhealthy addicted to the dopamine rushes of instant information and digital attention. Add to this growing problem is the fact that Christians are often wired to attach desperately important spiritual significance to these dopamine rushes. It’s not merely what we feel the need to be perpetually up-to-date, but that we are somehow obliged to pay attention to the spiritual significance of this daily information and provide a running commentary for the world to see. The problem here is that this behavior attaches instant judgment to the analysis of any and all cultural events – so that we now have a form of digital Pharisaism emerging, and the comments sections from Christians are not at all encouraging, or even remotely persuasive on a biblical and evangelistic level. We are becoming addicted to being angry, right and besieged and it’s not a good thing – particularly when, in our anger, we find ourselves behind a computer screen, feeling compelled to comment digitally.
An article by Joe Carter entitled “Are Evangelicals Addicted to Pseudo-Events and Media Outrage?” speaks to this concern:
On just about any given day someone in your social media circle is complaining because Pastor X or Organization Y didn’t denounce a comment made by some pastor they have no association with or some politician they would never, ever vote for. In the age of instant media, it’s not enough to simply be our brother’s keeper. Now, we must also be their round-the-clock, always-on-call denunciator too. . . If you’re engaged in the practice every single day or week then you should really ask yourself, Is this incessant focus on daily trivia the best use of my God-given time and energy?
This is a really a practical rebuke, yet the issue goes much deeper than the potential waste of our time with digital outrage. With this behavior, we are actually having our lives conformed the culture we think we are standing up to. Russell Moore comments on this in his recent book Onward.
I heard a Christian media personality defend a shrill, angry tone as “prophetic,” just like Jeremiah and Isaiah and the Old Testament prophets of yesteryear. This is a matter of being conformed, not to the Old Testament, but to the spirit of the age. Our culture often identifies conviction with intensity of feeling. And intensity of feeling is marked by theatrical outrage and attention-getting vitriolic speech. . . . Along with this, we have adopted allies on the basis of this intensity of outrage rather than on the basis of consistency with the gospel. If you are angry with the same people we are, you must be one of us. Jesus just never operated this way. … the problem with carnal anger and outrage is that it’s one of the easiest sins to commit while convincing oneself that one is being faithful. (35-36)
Moore couldn’t be any more clear – there is often very little difference between the speech of the Christian and the non-Christian as they defend their views in the public square, foolishly thinking the world is waiting for their next posted thought. Is this form of digital witness – by Christians and Christian pastors alike – changing anyone’s minds for the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Is it really the means by which the Church shines the light of Christ into this present darkness? Is this the definition of what it means to be a witness to Scripture in this culture? There is a better way.
I had dinner recently with friend heading out into the mission field. He wondered why many don’t see the inherent contradiction in thinking that one witness to and love their neighbor into the Kingdom of Jesus, by consistently living the kind of life that their neighbor cannot simply dismiss because of the nature of the love, conviction and character shown to them personally while at the same time demonstrating an online presence that looks more like a self-righteous, angry Pharisee than a disciple of Jesus Christ.
There is a reason that Christians books are coming out, challenging not only the content but the form of our Christian witness. I’ve already mentioned Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel (Christianity Today’s Book of the Year 2015). Other books are Dallas Willard’s The Allure of Gentleness: Defending the Faith in the Manner of Jesus and Os Guiness’ Fools Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion. These books are full of meat – they all make clear that biblical truth matters, that sin is a cancerous evil in us that requires invasive surgery and that there is no more important news to deliver than the gospel of Jesus Christ. Yet, they explain that how we do this is tremendously important.
Next time, Part 3 – Digital Discipleship and Relationships (followed by a conclusion on the many benefits of digital resources – I’m not a complete Luddite!)