The Gospel According to Facebook
Is technology declaring or distracting us from the gospel?
I never planned to write this article. But like you, COVID-19 has forced me think deeply about things I hadn’t before. I’ve never considered myself a ‘tech guy’ but now it seems that my whole life revolves around the use of technology. Most of my job, relationships, community, ministry, and mission are happening online. I imagine that you feel similarly.
I began writing a few months ago to cast a vision for Biblical community. But now that most of our small groups and church relationships are inter mediated on video chats and text messages, I thought it wise to step back and reevaluate the Christian’s use of tech.
There tends to be 2 primary approaches to the church and technology. One, only use it when necessary. Or two, fully embrace it. Admittedly, I naturally lean towards a full embrace. However, I’d like us to consider a third approach: a counter-cultural use of technology. In many ways, I’m preaching to myself here.
If you’re hesitant to blend technology and your spiritual life, you have good reason. Numerous studies have shown the negative effects that screen time and digital media have on our brains. I’m just old enough to remember a time when I didn’t have a computer. But the generation coming after me grew up with iPhones. That’s one of the reasons some are referring to them as “iGen.” My preschool and elementary age kids not only grew up with iPhones but know how speak to Alexa, Google, and Siri. Things like video chat, live gaming, and VR are normal to them. And now that they’re homeschooling, each child has been given their own iPad by the school district. It’s been true in America for a few years now that there are more screens than people. With the stay at home order, it’s the first time it’s also true in our home.
When Christians think about the danger of technology, particularly the internet, we tend to only think about the content — bad language, violence, pornography, false teaching, and fake news. But I’m starting to wonder if the way that our technology is shaping us is more dangerous than the content itself. I’d highly recommend Alan Nobel’s book Disruptive Witness for more on this subject.
For one, your phone is literally designed to distract you. The design of your phone, the colors of the apps, the sounds, the notifications, everything is strategically designed to grab your attention and keep you coming back for more. By the time I’ve gotten out of bed, started a pot of coffee, and gone to the bathroom, I’ve already checked the weather, the final score of the Mavs game, Facebook notifications, and the latest crazy thing a politician said. In these moments, I’m not sure my use of technology is helping me be like David when he says,
I rise before dawn and cry for help;
I hope in your words.
My eyes are awake before the watches of the night,
that I may meditate on your promise. (Ps 119:147–148)
Technology is also shaping our worldview. Again, I’m not referring to content promoting various worldviews and religions. I’m arguing that the communication tools and platforms themselves are changing the way we interact with the world and determine what is ultimately “true”. We literally receive thousands of messages and stories on TV, social media, and the internet each day. In turn, we piece together these mini-narratives to teach us about who we are, what is real, and how to fit into the world around us.
When you look at your “news feed” on social media (and sadly your favorite cable news channel), images of starving children in war torn countries are sandwiched in between a Tik-Tok dance video, a foul-mouthed political comment, and a Bible verse. In this way, messages of varying importance are given the same weight in our minds and emotions. Partially due to how we use technology, it’s rare that Millennials and GenZers fully subscribe to overarching worldviews like Hinduism, Humanism, Islam, or Christianity. Rather, we piecemeal various ideologies and stories that make us feel good and help us live our “true identity”.
Our iPhone’s have become sacred objects.
Opposed to the mini-narratives we receive on TV and our feeds, the Gospel is a meta-narrative. The Bible is one synchronous story composed of various parts. A self-sufficient, triune God created the world so He could dwell in it and share his love with us in His presence (Genesis 1–2). But His creation rebelled against Him by deciding to find fulfillment in and of themselves and brought suffering and pain into the world (Genesis 3-Malachi). God had a plan though to bring them back. He’d send His son, Jesus, to enter into the suffering, live the perfect life the people couldn’t, and die in their place to take the punishment for their rebellion. Jesus rose again to defeat sin and death and show the people that they too could have new life (Matthew-John). More and more people are going to surrender their lives to Jesus until one day, He comes back and dwells in His creation as He always intended (Acts-Revelation).
Biblical Christianity is not picking and choosing which parts of Jesus’ message and which parts of the world’s messages you want to add to your spiritual toolkit.
It’s surrendering to His story and living your life as part of His grand narrative. This means meditating deeply on His Word, spending time in His presence, and in the presence of His people.
If we’re living in God’s story as He orchestrates His plan, it also means that He must have a plan and purpose for technology. The question is: How do we use it in a way that builds His Kingdom and not our own? That’s the question we’ll turn to in the next post…