Life in the digital age for those who enjoy its fruit is easier in some ways, and more convenient than it’s ever been. Nearly everything we can imagine—information, goods and services, and social connection—can be delivered to us almost instantly with the click of a button. But the digital age, and the ease and convenience that it affords us, are shaping us into spiritually barren people who are more inclined toward “discontentment, fragility, and foolishness.” It is conforming us into its own digital image.
How are we to resist being conformed to the image of another? In his book, Analog Christian: Cultivating Contentment, Resilience, and Wisdom in the Digital Age, Jay Kim seeks to address this very question. Kim serves as the lead pastor at WestGate Church in Silicon Valley, and he’s the author of Analog Church, a book that “explore[s] the ways the digital age and its values affect the life of the church.” That Kim and his church are situated in Silicon Valley, the capital city of the digital age, makes him a respected voice uniquely capable of providing aid for Christians seeking to live faithfully in the digital age.
For those who “care about our spiritual lives and [our] walk with Jesus,” Analog Christian is “a resource and guide to help us become aware of changes we need to make.” Moreover, it is one that helps us become aware of the changes the digital age is enacting upon us and an instruction manual for how we can resist those changes. In this book, Kim offers readers a glimpse into what it might look like for the people of God to be dosed with the Spirit’s “very specific antidotes we most desperately need for the undoing we’re experiencing in the digital age.”
Cultivating good fruit
The act of gardening may not be the imagery you expect to encounter when opening a book about life in our digital society, but Analog Christian is, at its root, precisely a book about gardening; about cultivating the soil of our spiritual lives so that we can bear the fruit that is now native to us who are indwelled by the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22–23). It is this fruit in all its variety that the Spirit seeks to produce in us, yet it is this fruit that the digital age is actively choking out of us.
In the book of Galatians, the apostle Paul uses the analogy of fruit-bearing to describe what a life lived “by” and “in step with the Spirit” looks like (v. 25), undoubtedly mimicking the language that Jesus himself uses in John 15 to describe what happens when we abide in him. For “where the Spirit is,” wrote Willian Tyndale, “there it is always summer,” for there “there are always good fruits, that is to say, good works.” But, if we are honest, our spiritual lives often feel more like a barren wasteland than they do the “always summer” reality that Tyndale describes. So in this cultural moment, when we are so enamored by the digital ecosystem we inhabit, Kim calls his readers to pick up our gardening tools and go to work cultivating the ground where the Spirit has made his home—the human heart.
Like gardening, the work required to cultivate our hearts is a slow process. “It will not happen overnight,” Kim reminds us. It involves softening the ground, weeding away what doesn’t belong, and enduring the conditions of life that we encounter over days, weeks, and years. And it requires a prayerful dependence on the Holy Spirit, who will take our efforts and, by his grace, produce the fruit in us that the Scriptures say is his. Only then will we bear fruit. Only then can we “thrive” in the digital age, “like trees planted by streams of water” (Psa. 1:3).
What we are up against
“The fruit of the Spirit does not require neat, clean environments to grow,” Kim says. “It is in fact dirt, the humble and messy stuff of life, where fruit comes alive.” And while our digital age promises to create neat and clean environments, building neat and clean facades out of our Instagram feeds and Facebook pages, what’s being swept under the rug or simply ignored at our own peril is that the bulk of today’s technologies are producing a society devoid of virtue and individual lives devoid of flourishing. Our digital masters are dehumanizing us, forming us into digital shells of ourselves. But it’s precisely here, Kim argues, in the “messy stuff of life,” where the Spirit can do his work of fruit-bearing and reform us into the image of the icon of humanity, Jesus Christ.
But the pathway to Christlikeness is not a byway around the slow, hard difficulties and inconveniences of life, which the digital age promises to remove. And it’s certainly not to forsake the journey altogether and take up residence in the digital ether where the process of fruit-bearing is traded away for the “easy everywhere” that Andy Crouch describes in his book, The Tech-Wise Family. No, Christlikeness is a hard-won, Spirit-wrought process of walking with God into “the humble and messy stuff of life,” getting dirt under our fingernails and, by his grace, bearing the fruit of love in a culture of despair, the fruit of patience in an environment conditioned for impatience, and the fruit of gentleness in an age of outrage.
At a time when we are “immersed in unreality,” Kim is arguing for—pleading for—Christians to “go analog,” to pursue “the true spiritual life not [by] escap[ing] from reality but [by] an absolute commitment to it.” As Dan Kimball writes in the foreword to the book, Analog Christian “is not an anti-technology rant or anti-digital world rant.” It is “a thoughtful, biblical look at how technology forms us spiritually—both the good and the bad.” So, you will not find an explicit admonition to run for the nondigital hills. What you will find, again, is “a resource and guide to help [you] become aware of changes [you] may need to make.” Analog Christian is a counterargument against the subliminal polemic of our day that is pulling us deeper into the digital facade and its attending barrenness.
Do you find yourself increasingly inclined toward discontentment, fragility, or even foolishness? Has the digital age produced in you poisonous “fruits” like despair, contempt, hostility, or reckless indulgence? These are not signs of life; they are signs that this digital age is enacting its will upon us, deforming us into the bits and bytes of its own digital image. Begin again the “lifelong journey of watering” and “tilling the soil” of your heart, keeping in step with the Spirit, and abiding in Christ the vine, apart from whom we can bear none of the Spirit’s fruit. Let Jay Kim in Analog Christian be a shepherding voice that leads you back to the Chief Shepherd of your soul.