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The Challenge And Blessing of Our Digital Age

By: Akos Balogh

We’re swimming in a digital ocean.

Google, Facebook, smart phones: these are part of our daily lives. (In fact, we now have a generation – ‘iGen’ – who can’t even remember a time without smart phones.)

But how should Christians approach digital technology? What should be our mindset in this digital age?

A little while ago I sat down to do a panel interview with Canadian Christian author and blogger Tim Challies. Amongst other topics, we discussed digital technology – something that Tim has written much about. [1]

Becoming Urgent Rather Than Thoughtful: How Technology is Shaping Us

Akos Balogh: Tim, one of the ideas I really appreciated in your book ‘The Next Story’ was this idea that technology is not ‘value neutral’, but shapes the user. What are some of the underlying values that are shaping the users of digital technology?

Tim Challies: Digital media is about urgency. Things can appear [online] in and instant and get around the world in an instant. Think back to some of the terrible things that have happened over the history of the Internet. Somebody puts out a tweet and very quickly, I mean instantly, it’s around the earth. And so, the internet values that urgency.

Some people now say, “I used to blog but then Facebook came along.” Well, blogging required some level of thoughtfulness because it’s associated with your name and you know it’s going to live on at your blog. Facebook values urgency because once you post it, it’s gone. You’re probably never going to see it again.

So again, there’s a lot of urgency in the digital world that is making us live faster paced lives. But I also think it’s reducing the amount of thought and time we ponder things before we release them to the rest of the world.

I love to read the Puritans. And the Puritans has this way of taking a big idea and then shortening it to a quick sentence. And so, they were “tweeting” in their own way long before Twitter. If you read Matthew Henry you’ll see that he has a paragraph and then he has this sentence, and that sentence is gold. But that sentence didn’t just happen. He had to take tons of time into taking that idea and boiling it down to one small thing.

I don’t think we’re doing that today. We’re just being urgent rather than thoughtful.

Inevitable But Different: Understanding Digital Technology

AB: What are some of the overall attitudes that Christians should have when approaching digital technology and social media?

TC: I think we need to understand the inevitability of technology: this is the world we live in. You speak to some parents and they say, “I don’t let my kids do this, and I don’t let my kids do that.” But part of our parenting now is teaching our kids to use digital technology well.

We get 18-19 short years with our kids and then they’re gone. By the time our kids are gone we ought to have really trained our kids into mentoring them into how to use these things. Our kids must be media savvy. They must be able to use these things without completely falling apart as soon as they’re out of our purview. I think that’s a very important thing that a lot of people overlook.

We also need to be aware that face to face communication is still better. As good as email is, as good as Facetime is, as good as Twitter…they’re all blessings, they’re all good. But there’s something about face to face communication.

The big promise of the gospel is that we get to see God face to face. We love reading the Bible to know God, but we’re longing for the day we can be face to face with God. That’s no knock on the Bible, that’s just an acknowledgement that being face to face is better. And I think we’ve got to realise that’s true of our digital communications as well: it’s not as good as being face to face with someone.

How Christians Fail With Digital Technology

AB: What are some of the pitfalls and mistakes Christians make with digital technology?

TC: We’re very good at looking at taking a new technology and seeing all the great possibilities, but we’re very bad at assessing the risk.

An analogy I like to use is us ditching hymn books in favour of PowerPoint on the screen. That was in its own way a very costly switch. People made that switch very quickly and thoughtlessly. What we lose when we lost the hymnal was we lost this idea that we have this collection of songs that we sing and that we master. That this collection of songs was semi-permanent. That we only add to it slowly and very thoughtfully.

Keith Getty writes, “In Christ Alone” but it’s going to be about 15 or 20 years before we run a new print run for a new hymnal and can add it. But with PowerPoint we can hear a new song on Wednesday and we can add it on Sunday. This happens with lots of things, including changing our print Bibles for digital Bibles. We move ahead very, very quickly without properly considering the risks.

Think about getting rid of our paper church directories to get an electronic version. It seems like a very good move: it saves money, and gets rid of printing costs. But it also excludes many of the all the older people – they’re not on Facebook, they’re not using their computers and so now they don’t have a directory. Churches have done a lot of things where they just haven’t thought it through carefully enough and I think there’s been a cost with that.

[1] See Challies’ book: The Next Story – Life and Faith After the Digital Explosion. This is an edited excerpt of the interview, which was conducted along with Reformers Bookstore and Australian Presbyterian magazine. I was representing TGCA as I asked my questions. To see the full interview, CLICK HERE.

Article supplied with thanks to Akos Balogh.

About the Author: Akos is the Executive Director of the Gospel Coalition Australia. He has a Masters in Theology and is a trained Combat and Aerospace Engineer.

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