By / Sep 5

In today’s digital world, how can we help children find their identity in Christ? Every child is looking for a place to anchor his or her identity, whether that be in the search for a best friend on the preschool playground, trying to make the team, or joining the right club in their teen years. It is essential that Christian parents guide their children toward their identity in Christ while protecting against spiritual identity theft in today’s digital age.

Internally, all people are asking three questions: 

  • Who am I?
  • Where can I have meaningful human relationships? 
  • And what should I do with my life? 

In Deuteronomy 6, God gave parents the task of forming their children’s spiritual identity. In that day, they spent time raising crops and herding flocks (Deut. 6:7-9). In our day, we spend time on social platforms and streaming platforms. In the middle of this digital age, we cannot replace the essential need for our children to find their identity in Christ, their calling in God’s mission, and deep community in God’s family If we can turn down some of the noise, they will hear the beauty of God’s design for their identity.

In order to nurture our children’s spiritual vitality, we must find ways to lessen the noise that is drowning out the beautiful symphony of God’s design for them. We need to protect our children’s spiritual identity from being hijacked by a digital identity. We have to challenge and propel kids toward real-life impact instead of virtual experiences. In a world in which many children have a myriad of superficial connections, we have to encourage them to cultivate real-life, meaningful connections.

Digital identity theft 

We live in a digital age where most of our day is a dance between screens. We are curators of our own content and sometimes pawns of algorithms that plunge us down rabbit holes of digital content. For many children, their dance between screens has begun to define them. 

Nearly 2/3 of teenagers are on screens for more than four hours a day. Research has shown that dopamine levels produced in the brain in response to social media interaction are comparable to that of drug or gambling addiction. It is not a stretch to say that children are addicted. Perhaps like me, you have witnessed a child melt down and exhibit withdrawal symptoms when a device is taken away. The child’s identity is so wrapped up in their digital identity that it is actually painful to be away from it. 

Pursuing a digital identity leads to addiction, but it is also leading to increased levels of anxiety and depression. Between 2006 and 2016, the suicide rate for those between ages 10 and 17 rose by 70%, and clinical depression rates rose by 40%.

Our children are swimming in a sea of digital content that misinforms them about their identity. As parents, we have the opportunity to anchor our children’s identity in what God says about them. My wife and I often remind our son to listen to the people who love him when he is trying to decide what he will believe about himself. Often, our children are listening to people who do not love them as we do or as God does.

Our job as parents is not to instill self-esteem in our children, but to guide them to the foundational truths about who God says they are. The God who breathed everything into existence says that they have inherent dignity and worth and that they are irreplaceable (Luke 12:7, Jer. 1:5). Once your child trusts in Christ, you can take them to even greater depth of identity through their adoption into God’s family, the indwelling in the Holy Spirit, the shepherding care of Jesus, and so much more. These realities will not shake with the wins and losses of the digital world, because they are rooted in the character, nature, and activity of God.

Differentiating between digital wins and real-life impact 

For many children, the rise and fall of their lives depends upon what happens in the digital world. We must separate digital identity from spiritual identity as we lead and empower our children to embrace their calling in the real world, not by living vicariously through YouTube or video games.  

A few weeks ago, I was talking with one of our children’s ministry leaders. He asked our church’s elementary-aged kids to name a challenge they faced recently. Almost every tough scenario named was faced in a video game. We have an opportunity to help call our kids to join God’s mission and gain a sense of accomplishment outside of their digital world.

We often undervalue the influence that our children can have, but preteens and teenagers have made a big impact throughout history. Think about young men and women like David, Daniel, Joseph, Samuel, and Esther. Perhaps part of the problem is that we are not giving our teenagers any challenges to face in the real world, so they are fleeing to a digital world.

Helping your children cultivate an awareness of God and desire submission and obedience to him is the biggest gift you can ever give them. Calling them to see his glory and purpose while inviting them to embrace their unique personality, gifting, and calling is the greatest privilege and joy of parenthood. The Bible says our children are like arrows, so let us aim them so that they hit the bullseye of eternity (Ps. 127:3).

From superficial digital connections to biblical community 

Finally, we need to model and prioritize biblical community for our children. When we do so, they will be able to distinguish deep connections from superficial digital interactions. We set the example for our children when we spend more time engaging in deep relationships at our church and in our neighborhoods than in our online communities or on social media. Orienting our lives around spending time with God and people will become the true source of our identity—for parents and for children.

The digital world is an extension of the real world, not a replacement for it. Although disconnection is not caused by devices, our devices can multiply our disconnection. Children need to understand that relationships are messy, but they are a mess worth making. In a digital confrontation, you do not have to look a real, living person in the eye. In the digital world, personality is often removed from intimacy and people can hide their flaws while magnifying their strengths. We need to figure out ways to get our children involved in deep relationships and invest in people rather than digital experiences. 

When Jesus was asked to summarize the Old Testament, he responded, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:25-28). Jesus took the same identity that God gave his people in Deuteronomy 6 and paired it with a missional imperative. When we listen to these passages, we hear God beckoning our kids to find their identity in Christ, their relationships in biblical community, and their purpose in their God-given calling. There are no perfect parents that handle this dance with screens perfectly, but all of us can help point our kids toward God’s glory and their good.

By / Aug 11

A recent article in Politico Magazine about a Louisiana law HB 142 has gone viral because of its astounding headline:  A Simple Law Is Doing the Impossible. It’s Making the Online Porn Industry Retreat. “Unlike past efforts to curb online porn that had simply declared the sites a danger to public health, these laws are not symbolic,” writes Politico’s Marc Novicoff. “And they are having real effects on how the massive online porn industry does business.”

Novicoff is referring to laws passed earlier this year that requires users to prove they are 18 or older before accessing pornographic websites. Louisiana was the first state to pass such a law, with similar bills passing in six other states—Arkansas, Montana, Mississippi, Utah, Virginia, and Texas. 

The positive effect of such laws—traffic to Pornhub has dropped 80% within Louisiana—shows why similar legislation should be adopted by other states and highlights why these efforts deserve the support of Christians across the country.

What is the Louisiana law HB 142?

The Louisiana law, known as HB 142, was the first of this type of legislation and provides a model for how they can work.

The process: That law requires users in that state to prove they are 18 or older before accessing sites that contain at least 33.3% pornographic material that is “harmful to minors.” To meet this requirement, users must show government-issued identification, such as a driver’s license, to verify their age. (Louisiana is one of the few states in the U.S. that allows residents to store government-issued IDs digitally on their smartphone.) Doing this helps to prevent minors from accessing adult content and ensures that the websites are complying with age verification laws.

The penalty: Companies that violate the Louisiana law can be sued for damages in civil court by the parents of minors who were able to access the site without being verified. The law makes it clear it does not apply to legitimate uses, such any “bona fide news or public interest broadcast, website video, report, or event,” nor does it “affect the rights of any news-gathering organizations.”

Why should state laws curbing online porn be embraced?

While some privacy advocates have expressed concerns about the law, there are several reasons why this is a legal approach to curtailing pornography that should be widely embraced.

1. Such laws protect minors from exposure to adult content

Christians and other anti-pornography advocates make no apologies for wanting to see all pornography banned. But the primary reason for these laws is the more limited effort to protect minors from exposure to adult content. By requiring users to prove their age before accessing pornographic websites, the law ensures that children and teenagers are not exposed to inappropriate content. 

Decades of social science research has shown that exposure to adult content can have negative effects on young people, including:

  • increased sexual activity,
  • risky sexual behavior,
  • and negative attitudes toward women.

By preventing minors from accessing adult content, these laws are helping to protect young people from the negative effects of porn.

2. Such laws ensure compliance with age verification requirements

Another reason why the Louisiana law is a particularly helpful model is that it ensures compliance with age verification laws. Many states have laws that require websites to verify the age of their users before allowing them to access adult content. However, these laws are often not enforced, and many websites ​either do not comply with them or do so in a way that negates the effectiveness and intent.

By requiring users to show government-issued ID to prove their age, the Louisiana law ensures that websites are complying with a community’s efforts to protect its children.  

The law also puts the onus for compliance and enforcement on the community. Louisiana doesn’t identify which companies need to comply. Instead, the state allows companies to determine for themselves whether or not they decide to implement age verification to avoid legal liability. Parents, rather than the state, also bear the burden of determining harm and seeking restitution.

3. Such laws do not pose an undue threat to user privacy

Some privacy advocates have expressed concerns about the Louisiana law HB 142, arguing that it could lead to the collection of sensitive personal information. However, the law is designed to protect user privacy by:

  • requiring that the information be collected by third-party sites—rather than the porn websites,
  • and that all information contained on the user be deleted within 30 days of verification.

This means that websites cannot collect and store user information, which helps to protect user privacy. 

Additionally, the law only requires users to show government-issued ID, which is already required for many other activities, such as buying alcohol or tobacco products. Therefore, the law does not require users to provide any additional personal information beyond what is already required for other activities intended to protect minors from harm.

4. Such laws encourage other states to take efforts to protect our children 

These laws have already provided a positive example for other states to follow. If adopted by a majority of states, it could reshape the landscape of the internet in the U.S., reinforcing the importance of responsibility and accountability in the digital age.

While the main focus is on protecting minors from adult content, the implications of such laws go beyond this. They highlight the broader issue of how society should regulate online pornography to ensure the safety and well-being of its users, particularly among the most vulnerable groups.

The ripple effects of these laws can already be seen, with discussions and debates arising in legislative chambers across various states. This reflects the widespread recognition of the potential dangers of unrestricted access to adult content for minors and the need for concrete steps to address it. It’s also an invitation for tech companies and website developers to innovate in creating more robust age-verification mechanisms that are efficient, user-friendly, and respectful of user privacy.

Whether we should be all that concerned about the privacy of pornography users is debatable. What we should not do is put such concerns ahead of our need to safeguard the well-being of minors in the digital age. The Louisiana law HB 142 and the ones that have followed serve as pioneering models, emphasizing the importance of finding creative legal solutions and setting the stage for broader discussions on how best to navigate the complexities of the internet.

As other states consider similar legislation, it’s imperative that lawmakers are aware that Christians support such efforts to protect our children from the soul-destroying evil of pornography. 

By / May 12

Over the past year, there’s been increasing debate about the nature and classification of Large Language Models (LLMs) like ChatGPT, an artificial intelligence chatbot developed by OpenAI and released in November 2022. Are these systems truly representative of artificial intelligence (AI)? Do they propose a threat to humans? The answers, as with many things in the complex world of technology, are not as straightforward as they might seem.

What is a Large Language Model?

A LLM is a type of computer program that’s been trained to understand and generate human-like text. It’s a product of a field in computer science called AI, specifically a subfield known as natural language processing (NLP). Chat-GPT (which includes a couple of variations, such as GPT-3, GPT-3.5, and GPT-4) is currently the most popular and widely used LLM.

If you’ve ever started typing a text message on your smartphone, and it suggests the next word you might want to use (predictive text) or suggests a spelling (autocorrect), you’ve used a basic form of a language model. LLMs apply that concept on a larger and more complex scale.

An LLM has been trained on a broad and diverse range of internet text. It then uses a machine learning process, including advanced statistical analysis, to identify patterns in the data and uses that information to generate responses for a human user. The training sets are also incredibly massive. The older, free version of Chat-GPT (GPT-3.5) was trained on the equivalent of over 292 million pages of documents, or 499 billion words. It uses 175 billion parameters (points of connection between input and output layers in neural networks).

When you interact with a large language model, you can input a piece of text, like a question or a statement (known as a “prompt”), and the model will generate a relevant response based on what it has learned during its training. For example, you can ask it to write essays, summarize long documents, translate languages, or even write poetry.

The output produced by such models can often be astoundingly impressive. But LLMs can also produce “hallucinations,” a term for generated content that is nonsensical or unfaithful to the provided source content. LLMs do not have an understanding of text like humans do and can sometimes make mistakes or produce outputs that range from erroneous to downright bizarre. LLMs also don’t have beliefs, opinions, or consciousness—they merely generate responses based on patterns they’ve learned from the data they were trained on.

In short, an LLM is a sophisticated tool that can help with tasks involving text, from answering questions to generating written content.

Are LLMs truly AI?

Before considering whether LLMs qualify as AI, we need to define how the term AI is being used. In broad terms, AI refers to the simulation of human intelligence processes by machines, especially computer systems. These processes include learning, reasoning, problem-solving, perception, and the ability to use human languages. The key term is simulation. AI’s do not have consciousness, so they cannot perform such rational functions as thinking or understanding, or possess such attributes as emotions and empathy.

In the strictest sense, LLMs like GPT-3 fall under the umbrella of AI, specifically the subgroup known as generative AI. LLMs learn from large datasets, recognize patterns in human language, and generate text that mirrors human-like understanding. However, there’s a distinction to be made between what is often referred to as “narrow AI” and “general AI.”

Narrow AI systems, also known as weak AI, are designed to perform a specific task, like language translation or image recognition. Although they may seem intelligent, their functionality is limited to the tasks they’ve been programmed to do. Chat-GPT and similar LLMs fall into this category.

In contrast, general AI, also referred to as strong AI, represents systems that possess the ability to understand, learn, adapt, and implement knowledge across a broad range of tasks, much like a human being. This level of AI, which would essentially mirror human cognitive abilities, has not yet been achieved. Some Christians believe that AI will never reach ​that level because God has not given man the power to replicate human consciousness or reasoning abilities in machines.

While LLMs are a form of AI, they don’t possess a human-like understanding or consciousness. They don’t form beliefs, have desires, or understand the text they generate. They analyze input and predict an appropriate output based on patterns they’ve learned during training.

Are LLMs a threat?

LLMs are a category of tools (i.e., devices used to perform a task or carry out a particular function). Like almost all tools, they can and will be used by humans in ways that are both positive and negative. 

Many of the concerns about AI are misdirected, since they are fears based on “general AI.”  This type of concern is reflected in science fiction depictions of AI, where machines gain sentience and turn against humanity. However, current AI technology is nowhere near achieving anything remotely reflecting sentience or true consciousness. LLMs are also not likely to be a threat in the way that autonomous weapons systems can be. 

This is not to say that LLMs do not pose a danger; they do in ways that are similar to social media and other ​​internet ​​related functions. Some examples are:

Deepfakes: Generative AI can create very realistic fake images or videos, known as deepfakes. These could be used to spread misinformation, defame individuals, or impersonate public figures for malicious intent.

Phishing attacks: Phishing is the fraudulent practice of sending emails or other messages purporting to be from reputable companies in order to induce individuals to reveal personal information such as passwords and credit card numbers. AI can generate highly personalized phishing emails that are much more convincing than traditional ones, potentially leading to an increase in successful cyber attacks.

Disinformation campaigns: AI could be used to generate and spread false news stories or misleading information on social media to manipulate public opinion.

Identity theft: In 2021 alone, 1,434,698 Americans reported identity theft, with 21% of the victims reporting they have lost more than $20,000 to such fraud .AI could be used to generate convincing fake identities for fraudulent purposes.

While there are also many positive uses for generative AI, ongoing work in AI ethics and policy is needed to limit and prevent such malicious uses.

As the ERLC’s Jason Thacker says, a Christian philosophy of technology is wholly unique in that it recognizes 1) that God has given humanity certain creative gifts and the ability to use tools, and 2) and that how we use these tools forms and shapes us. “Technology then is not good or bad, nor is it neutral,” says Thacker. “Technology, specifically AI, is shaping how we view God, ourselves, and the world around us in profound and distinct ways.”

 See also: Why we (still) need a statement of principles for AI

By / Jan 10

According to Pew Research Center, 80% of Americans say social media platforms are effective for raising public awareness about political or social issues, and over half have also been civically engaged on social media in recent years. Social media can be a powerful tool when harnessed with wisdom as we seek to influence change and address grave issues of injustice throughout our world. 

But for all of the positive change that these tools can help facilitate, one of the temptations in this age of social media is to believe that digital activism is all that is needed to address real-world issues. Digital activism can quickly become a substitute for true and lasting change because we buy into the lie that simply participating in an online campaign is enough. 

Here are two ways to think about social change and move beyond raising awareness of these issues online.

Raising awareness is good, but action is better

Marking our hands with an X to raise awareness about sex trafficking around the world or changing our social media avatars to show support for a cause can be a helpful way to let others know about issues that may fly under the radar of our daily experiences. With all of the busyness and constant distractions of life, digital activism can be an important tool in the age of social media. 

But as our teenagers and families participate in these online movements, we need to stop and examine our motivations for participating. It is tempting to post, share, or like things in order to be seen as the type of person that is socially involved but then fail to actually address these issues in the real world.

Social media can quickly become a way to show the world a version of ourselves that we want them to see rather than seeking true and lasting change through a concerted effort in our communities. Talking or showing support for an issue is one thing, but acting is a whole other level of engagement.

Look for ways to partner with others

One of the blessings of social media is the ability to connect with others, but these online connections can become shallow or superficial. It is more important than ever to move those connections offline and engage with others face-to-face. You may feel called to get involved with important issues like abortion, sex trafficking, or racial injustice, but true change usually happens in real-life relationships with others.

There are countless reputable and gospel-centered organizations that you can partner with in your community to help move the needle on these important issues. You can give resources, volunteer time, and and participate in community events that allow you to put feet to the online support. 

God calls his people to be the hands and feet of Christ in a broken and sin-torn world. May God find his Church actively engaging the world around us, caring for the least of these, and championing human dignity for all, instead of thinking that performative online activity is enough.

By / Dec 7

The internet is changing again. And that is bad news for the churches that are already lagging behind on social media platforms. But it also creates an opportunity to leapfrog the era that is going by the wayside and start engaging a medium that has drastically influenced our culture (and our pews) more than we ever imagined.

By the late 2000s, churches had figured out they needed websites and sermon podcasts. Fast-forward to the mid-2010s, and most saw the need for Facebook pages and Instagram accounts. But pastors can’t be experts in everything. So perhaps it’s no surprise that most churches failed to understand how these tools worked, and how they could maximize their potential to spread the gospel. 

Even megachurches with budgets large enough to accommodate full-time social media personnel followed models focused primarily on creating influencers —a strategy exacerbating the celebrity scandal problem causing public crisis after public crisis.

On top of that, pastors across the country have seen their churches, and sometimes even families, torn apart by conspiracy theories and political vitriol on Facebook and Instagram. Young people are deconstructing their faith online to the aplomb of digital followers. They’ve even created a new kind of celebrity on TikTok: the Christian deconstructor. Given all these problems, you can’t blame church leaders for taking the soft-luddite position, using social media sparingly. 

But here’s the good news: the era of having to do everything is (thankfully) coming to an end. This means that churches can strategically assess their goals for online mediums and social media and focus on the one thing they believe they can do well. Is your goal reaching new people? Re-engaging dechurched people? Becoming a resource church? Providing digital discipleship for your congregation? Disseminating information about upcoming church events? Your answer to this will dictate the route you decide to go. But before you make that decision, you should consider four major shifts happening on the social internet:

From social-media-as-Newspaper to social-media-as-television station

The first wave of social media was text and photo-driven, much like newspapers. Pastors and institutional leaders had the writing skills necessary to engage in this format.

But now the internet is making a wholesale shift to video, specifically short-form video, requiring production skills more common in television stations than church offices. Video requires proficiency in lighting, audio, composition, and editing. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg: you also need to understand the tactics that work best on each platform. Unfortunately, hiring costs put this kind of endeavor beyond the bounds of what an average church can afford. 

Even leaders with these skillsets quickly discover that the time, energy, and equipment outstrip what their schedule and operations budget can afford. Forced to pick between short-form videos and caring for the people that attend your church, many church leaders choose the clear biblical mandate: care for the local flock. 

Should leaders also make the shift to video to meet the times? The answer is: it depends. If your church or institution has the funds and people skilled in video production and marketing, then absolutely. Try to break the celebrity model by measuring success in new ways. Rather than focusing on vanity metrics like followers and views, focus on quality and in-person conversion rate (i.e., of the new people we connect with, how many arrive in-person at church in the next year?).

If you lack the resources (and the majority of churches lack the resources), you should not invest in half-baked, short-term video projects that cannot be sustained over time. Video will quickly deplete resources you could more effectively deploy elsewhere. 

A shift from geography-driven to geographically neutral

Social media used to be able to do two things at once: reach locally and reach globally. You could do either depending on your goals. But with TikTok’s Discovery algorithm and Meta changing their algorithm to also be discovery-first to compete with TikTok, that is no longer true. Social media is becoming a global-reach-only system. The days of organically reaching the people in your immediate area are coming to a close. The exception is if you have the resources to pay for ads in a geographic location, but be ready to put far more of your budget into that than previous years. 

So how do you do local ministry online? Email. There is no space more intimate on the internet than the email inbox. Churches, who often already have large lists of email addresses spread across excel spreadsheets, need to lean into this asset. The beauty of email contacts is that you own them, and no platform or changes in algorithms can take them from you. Services like Mailchimp, ConvertKit, and even Substack make email newsletters extraordinarily easy. 

Double down on your efforts to grow your email list. Regularly encourage your people to read the emails. These are useful opportunities for ministering to the church’s specific season and also inviting people into in-person discipleship and community opportunities. However, email is not a one-size-fits-all silver bullet to your communication strategy. Study the best practices for good email communication, and consider using additional communication tools (such as Slack or Circle) to strengthen your communication without sending out too many emails. 

It’s also important to empower leaders in your church (small group leaders, Bible study leaders, and whoever else) to communicate vital church information so people can participate in the life of your church. One church divided a ministry team’s contacts into groups based on involvement. They began to invite disconnected people to specially designed events. The results were tremendous—hundreds of people who simply stopped going to church reappeared. 

A shift from brand to influencer

Brands are losing their influence on social media. Influencers are not only the future, they are the “now” of the internet. If you spend the majority of your time on Facebook and Instagram, you may not see it yet. But on platforms like TikTok, this is abundantly clear. 

Most people will see a church’s online presence the same way they see brands. They aren’t personal. They are self-serving, focusing primarily on pushing out church events and information, not helping or engaging the social media consumer. People are going to look for and care about your church online less and less. They don’t go to the internet to find a brand, they go to the internet to find a person.

At this point, you’re probably feeling a bit sick. Seriously? You want us to be influencers? We get it. The word “influencer” has many unhelpful connotations that we want to reject. But there is one good thing about it: it’s personal. God didn’t come to us as an abstraction or a brand. He came to us as a person and it is other persons who are his ambassadors, or representatives, in the world according to Paul (2 Cor. 5:20). While Christians should reject the celebrity aspect of “influencer,” they may do well to embrace the personal aspect. The truth is that the internet is a mission field, and we need digital missionaries who create content for specific niches to reach people with the gospel. 

What would it look like to support people in your church who already have a developing online presence? Could you resource them with community, pastoral discernment, and maybe even some equipment or ad dollars as your budget allows so they can reach people more effectively than a church account ever could? What does this look like for you as a leader? How can you become a more personal, engaging presence online for the people you shepherd?

A shift from information to identity

Social media was once primarily about making and maintaining relationships with others. With the shift to short-form video and Discovery algorithms, social media has become primarily a performance platform for people to express their individual identities. Of course, this becomes a discipleship problem when people are more interested in performing an identity than being conformed to Christ. Worse still, the solipsism (the view that self is all that can be known to exist) that develops online can easily bleed into real-life relationships that impact the church.

But the risk is not merely for creators. You may never make a TikTok, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t shaped by it. It’s not unusual to see people mimicking the speech patterns, personalities, and values of influencers. Put another way: some will perform an identity on social media, and some will receive an identity from social media.

Chris Bail wrote in Breaking the Social Media Prism: How to Make Our Platforms Less Polarizing,

“We are addicted to social media not because it provides us with flashy eye candy or endless distractions, but because it helps us do something we humans are hardwired to do: present different versions of ourselves, observe what other people think of them, and revise our identities accordingly. But instead of a giant mirror that we can use to see our entire society, social media is more like a prism that refracts our identities—leaving us with a distorted understanding of each other, and ourselves.”

Tribalism (and trolling, its shared ritual) is the immediate fruit of these “distorted understandings of each other and ourselves.” We do not use social media as a tool for discovering truth; we use social media as a tool for understanding ourselves, finding people we think are “like us,” and banding together with those tribes we believe we belong to. This dynamic is at play whether you are an active content creator, a passive content consumer, or somewhere in between.

It does not mean people have stopped using social media for information, but they seek that information through shared identities first and reliable sources of a fact-finding second. 

Not only is it harder to find reliable information, but it’s also even harder to find reliable information without going through someone who communicates from a tribalistic frame of mind. Institutions are no longer the sole gatekeepers of truth; tribes have become powerful gatekeepers of their own, and good media literacy discipleship must emphasize how to see that dynamic and correct for it—both in how to get information, but also in how we see ourselves.

We need robust discipleship around our use of social media. This includes media literacy (how we are being formed by media and algorithms) as well as admonishment to engage others with the fruit of the Spirit both online and offline. Training our congregants to use social media well includes teaching, but modeling and displaying the fruit of the Spirit online is even more important. As Paul once told believers in Corinth to “be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1), pastors must model the digital wisdom and fruit of the Spirit they hope to see in their congregants. Through their personal example, pastors can help form their people into the image of Christ, and not into the image of partisan tribalists. 

Spiritual formation in a digital age

Pastors, if you are reading this and wonder “what should I do with my church’s social media presence?”, the best thing to do right now is to watch and experiment. Pay attention to these shifts in the social media industry, and wait to see what lasting impacts they have in your community. The social media world is in the midst of a very volatile shake-up, and now is not the time to make a reactionary, sweeping change when more change is likely on the horizon.

This is an opportunity for the church to regroup, take things more seriously this time around, and work to get in front of the change instead of lagging behind it. Now that we all know the formidable foe that the algorithm is in our spiritual lives, we can develop the tools and strategies to guard our hearts and prepare our minds as we work to follow Jesus in an increasingly digital age.

By / Sep 9

In this episode, Lindsay talks with Jason Thacker about his new book, Following Jesus in a Digital Age, and how Christians can approach technology. They also discuss the biblical definition of marriage and how that is being undermined by the Respect for Marriage Act. 

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By / Sep 1

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. 

By / Aug 31

We live in an unprecedented age of information, more than we can even begin to comprehend, right at our fingertips. The internet was once seen as an instrument that allowed the average person access to near limitless information, instead of limiting these things to certain elite groups, as was the practice in past generations. But as we know all too well today, one of the unintended downsides of this widespread availability of information is the breakdown of trust throughout society in what we hear or read. This shift is especially prevalent in our growing inability to discern what is true in a world that seems to be given over to misinformation and reinterpretations of reality often to gain status or prestige.  

Technology has a profound effect on us as human beings and shapes not only how we view ourselves but also the world around us. One of the most devastating effects of technology on society has been the breakdown, if not a full-on crisis, of what is considered true.1For more on the rise of cancel culture from a non-Christian perspective, see chapter 7 of Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge: A Defense of Truth (Washington, DC: The Brookings Institution, 2021). This is especially widespread on social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, where terms like fake news, misinformation, conspiracy theories, and post-truth have become part of our everyday vocabulary.2For a more in-depth look at the the technical and political factors involved in this debate, see my expanded chapter on misinformation and conspiracy theories in Jason Thacker, ed., The Digital Public Square: Christian Ethics in a Technological Society (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2023). On this side of the often-utopian promises of technology, we now see how universal access to information and power actually helped to usher in a host of unexpected complex ethical questions—questions that many are unprepared to answer. Parents, philosophers, and tech-company founders alike seem to respond the same way as they wrestle with the ethical aftermath—if only we could have seen these things coming

French sociologist and theologian, Jacques Ellul, captures our blindness well when he wrote that “man can never foresee the totality of consequences of a given technical action.”3Jacques Ellul, The Technological Society (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1964), 105. Even our best intentions for these innovations can overlook the devastating unintended effects, especially when deployed at a massive scale throughout our society—especially a society that has sought to rid itself of a transcendent (or supernatural) understanding of truth and reality. We often pursue individuality at the expense of truth, and nowhere is that clearer than on social media.  

Post-truth problems

Filling the headlines of major media outlets and saturating our social media timelines, the influence of fake news, misinformation, propaganda, disinformation, and conspiracy theories grows each day. Where do we hear about these things most, though? In what context do you hear the term “fake news” thrown around? If your social feeds are anything like mine, your answer is probably, “When my political party takes issue with the opposing political party on a certain issue.” And that should upset us, shouldn’t it? That “fake news” or “fake facts” would be wielded as a weapon against our political opponents simply because they take a different position than us on a particular matter? Simply because they said something we don’t like or agree with? Simply because the information presented—even if it’s actually true—feels inconvenient or challenging? Shouldn’t it sadden believers that throughout our culture and even in our churches, it seems truth has become simply what we want it to be rather than some objective and knowable reality outside of us?  

I’ve noticed that trying to have a civil conversation online is getting harder and harder these days, even about the smallest of issues. Have you noticed this too? One idea or opinion expressed, and it’s like a fire erupts out of nowhere. We can blame our modern pursuit of defining truth on our own terms for this, as doing so creates an online atmosphere where “communication [with one another] is thwarted, and the possibility of rational discourse disappears,” as one ethicist put it.4D. Stephen Long, Truth Telling in a Post-Truth World (Nashville: General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, UMC, 2019), 8. It becomes increasingly difficult to navigate the pressing ethical issues of technology—like the rise of misinformation and conspiracy theories—since we no longer have a common starting point for these debates in society or even a similar grasp on reality. Without agreeing on the foundational level about what’s morally good and bad, truth naturally becomes a political weapon, used to denigrate or “cancel” those who might hold to a different worldview or belief about how the world works.5For more on the rise of cancel culture from a non-Christian perspective, see chapter 7 of Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge: A Defense of Truth (Washington, DC: The Brookings Institution, 2021). Though if you survey the top resources on the rise of conspiracy theories, misinformation, and fake news, you will quickly find many are extremely partisan in nature, intentionally blaming one side of the political spectrum for rejecting reality or believing in fairy-tale fantasies in order to maintain some semblance of cultural power or influence.  

While the problems we face today in our post-truth society are exacerbated by technologies like the internet, social media, and even the rise of deepfakes—altered videos through artificial intelligence—the root of the problem is not the technology itself. Many of these pressing issues find their root cause in the philosophical and scientific movements of the last few hundred years, where there was a near total rejection of a transcendent reality, especially when it comes to moral norms. While many who write on these issues seek to blame “them” for the rise of our post-truth society and the chaos that naturally flows out of such a society, this kind of blame-shifting only makes the problem worse, driving the wedge deeper between opposing conversation partners. The result? Both sides increasingly fuel the breakdown not only of civil discourse but also of our shared pursuit of truth as a society.

Excerpted with permission from Following Jesus in a Digital Age by Jason Thacker. Copyright 2022, B&H Publishing. 

  • 1
    For more on the rise of cancel culture from a non-Christian perspective, see chapter 7 of Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge: A Defense of Truth (Washington, DC: The Brookings Institution, 2021)
  • 2
    For a more in-depth look at the the technical and political factors involved in this debate, see my expanded chapter on misinformation and conspiracy theories in Jason Thacker, ed., The Digital Public Square: Christian Ethics in a Technological Society (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2023).
  • 3
    Jacques Ellul, The Technological Society (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1964), 105.
  • 4
    D. Stephen Long, Truth Telling in a Post-Truth World (Nashville: General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, UMC, 2019), 8.
  • 5
    For more on the rise of cancel culture from a non-Christian perspective, see chapter 7 of Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge: A Defense of Truth (Washington, DC: The Brookings Institution, 2021). 
By / Aug 23

 NASHVILLE, Tenn., Aug. 23, 2022— What does faith have to do with pressing issues of life in a digital world? Jason Thacker addresses this question in his latest book, Following Jesus in a Digital Age releasing Aug. 30 from B&H Publishing Group.          

Thacker, who serves as the director of the Research Institute at The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention and as chair of research in technology ethics, wrote Following Jesus in a Digital Age to challenge Christians to consider how technology shapes their faith and how to navigate the most difficult aspects of digital culture—including the rise of misinformation, conspiracy theories, social media, digital privacy and social polarization.             

“The ERLC has for the last several years been at the forefront of thinking critically and biblically about emerging technologies and the influence they are having on our culture,” said Brent Leatherwood, acting president of the ERLC. “This is due, in no small part, to the work of Jason Thacker, one of the leading thinkers focusing on the crossroads of ethics and technology. In fact, this very book springs forth from the very research Jason is spearheading on issues of the digital public square. It is a helpful resource that promises wisdom and insight for any individual, small group, or church that seeks to honor God as they navigate the digital age.” 

According to Hootsuite’s Global State of Digital 2022 report, the average person spends about two and a half hours a day on social media and nearly seven hours a day using the internet.  

Following Jesus in a Digital Age is designed to help readers understand the deeply formative nature of technology.  

“This book reminds all of us that technology is subtly, yet drastically altering how we perceive the world around us, including issues of the nature of truth, responsibility and identity in our digital age,” Thacker said. “Amid the confusion and seeming cultural chaos of our day, Christians can engage these pressing issues of technology and ethics from a place of hope rooted in God’s unfailing Word and how He calls us to live with wisdom in our increasingly digital culture.” 

In September 2021, the ERLC launched the Digital Public Square, a long-term research project convening top Christian thinkers to explore the intersection of Christian ethics, technology and today’s digital public square. 

In addition to Thacker’s Following Jesus in Digital Age book, leaders of the Digital Public Square project plan to release assets over a two-year period to equip Christians on why ethics of technology matter to human flourishing and our public discourse.  

Upcoming Digital Public Square project assets include:

  • Weekly podcast with top leaders across society called, The Digital Public Square focused on theology, ethics and philosophy in the public square;
  • Corresponding Bible study with Lifeway Adults on similar topics to Following Jesus in a Digital Age;
  • Edited collection of academic essays with B&H Academic entitled, The Digital Public Square: Christian Ethics in a Technological Society;
  • Guidebook for students and teenagers about social media set for release in January 2023 by Christian Focus.

The project will culminate with an in-depth report on the state of the digital public square and a set of guiding ethical principles for digital governance and the public square in the coming year. To learn more about the Digital Public Square project, visit ERLC.com/digital