By / Apr 29

In this episode, Brent and Lindsay discuss the Coach Kennedy religious liberty case, Madeleine Albright’s funeral, and the economy. They also talk about Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter, the U.S. and the end of the pandemic phase of COVID-19, and Oklahoma’s ban on abortion after 6 weeks. 

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Culture

  1. Biden, Obama, Clintons speak at funeral for Madeleine Albright, 1st female secretary of state | Richard Land with What Secretary Albright modeled for us: The calling of our time to become peacemakers
  2. Economy shrinks 
  3. Elon Musk buys Twitter, says it should be neutral | Axios follow-up
  4. Fauci says U.S. is transitioning out of ‘pandemic phase’
  5. Oklahoma passed Texas-style 6-week ban | BP rundown on states enacting pro-life laws

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By / Mar 30

“I’m here to tell you that the water is poisoned.” These are the jolting words that open Chris Martin’s new book, Terms of Service: The Real Cost of Social Media. The water he’s referring to is the social internet, a term he uses to describe not just social media but the entire internet. And like a fish in water, totally at home in its environment, the social internet “has become so woven into all of our lives that we don’t even notice it anymore.” What’s more, we often can’t see that the waters we’re swimming in have been poisoned.

And that is Martin’s stated goal, “not to tell [readers] to delete our social media accounts . . . but to help [us] see that the water is toxic . . . to help [us] recognize that social media is changing the way [we] think, feel, and live . . . and largely in negative ways.” In Terms of Service, Martin sets out to shine a big, bright spotlight on the noxious environment we’re swimming in and then to shine that light on a better way forward. 

As a content marketing editor at Moody Publishers and a social media, marketing, and communications consultant, Martin has spent years advising some of the foremost Christian leaders and authors on digital content strategy, and is, therefore, qualified to speak authoritatively about the social internet’s toxicity. As a Christian, he is uniquely equipped to shepherd readers away from those toxic waters, and to the living water that Jesus offers those who come to him. For readers, the question is: will we continue swimming with the toxic tide of the social internet, or will we paddle against the current, refusing to be malformed by its poison?

What have we gotten ourselves into?

In the first section of the book, Martin provides a brief overview of the internet’s history and evolution, from its earliest prototype as a government project in the late 1960s to its virtual omnipresence today. In a matter of about 60 years, the social internet has evolved from a primitive project to a pervasive and, Martin argues, “inescapable” reality. He says, “We may be able to log off the social internet, delete our accounts, and never participate, but we can never escape its influence.” And then he follows that statement with a piercing question: “What is it doing to us?”

One of the critical pieces that we tend to misunderstand, and which Martin spotlights, is that the social internet is not a neutral tool. Well-intentioned though we may be, we fundamentally misunderstand the way the internet and specifically social media works when we assume otherwise. “The social internet is designed to be addictive,” he says. “It is not a neutral tool humans discovered and decided to use nonstop on their own.” Instead, “Since the start, and especially in the more recent iterations, the social internet has been designed with the intent to get people addicted.” In the early days, our forays into the internet began primarily as a quest for anonymity, a means of exploration, and a source of community. But now, it’s an addiction. And, Martin argues, it’s not entirely our fault.

“Our addiction to the social internet is ours to overcome, but it isn’t totally our fault. The social internet is designed with addiction in mind. The systems are designed to enslave our eyes. We’ve been set up. We’re being played” (emphasis added). Borrowing the language used by Sean Parker, former president of Facebook and founder of Napster, our brains have been “hacked.” The platforms where we spend so many hours of our lives have been designed with algorithms that exploit the human brain, leading to all kinds of ill effects, which Martin explores in the next section. 

The social internet is “an invention that was originally designed to serve us but which we have come to serve. We are servants of the social internet. It governs our days and poisons our lives more than we recognize.” What have we gotten ourselves into?

Malformed discipleship

In the second section of the book, Martin highlights five ways the social internet is shaping us, though the list is most certainly longer. From the ways we view and treat others to the way we view and behave ourselves, this “digital discipleship” is not so much shaping us as it is misshaping us; not forming us, but deforming us. Make no mistake, the social internet “is making its mark on us.”

If Christian discipleship is the process by which Jesus makes us more like himself, more truly human, then the social internet disciples us — and don’t be fooled, it is discipling us — with another end in mind. It is doing the opposite, unraveling our humanity bit by bit (and byte by byte). And, as Martin argues, it is doing so in at least five distinct ways. The social internet shapes us to “believe attention assigns value,” to “trade our privacy for expression,” to “pursue affirmation instead of truth,” to “demonize people we dislike,” and to “destroy people we demonize.” And as devastating as these are to our becoming more like Christ, they are symptoms of a deeper sickness.

Our addiction is virtually indisputable. As with any addiction, we are dependent — enslaved, even — on the thing we desire. And this addiction, widespread as it is, has produced and exacerbated a four-fold effect that is deforming us both individually and corporately. It is forming us to become more polarized, gullible, unhappy, and anxious. And, if I can add to Martin’s list, bored. We are addicted to the toxic water we’re swimming in, and the effects are overwhelming.

Undoing our digital discipleship

In a stark description, Martin says, “The social internet is brilliant and obscene. It sharpens the mind and dulls it. It brings nations together and tears them apart. It perpetuates, reveals, and attempts to repair injustice. It is an untamed beast upon which we can only hope to ride but never quite tame.” But if this “brilliant and obscene” tool is a bell that cannot be “unringed” and “a Pandora’s box that, now open, will never be closed,” then how can we possibly expect to undo the damage that Martin describes? How can we “de-toxify” the environment in which we now live? Thankfully, Martin doesn’t leave us guessing. He gives us a sample of six practices that can help put us on firmer ground moving forward: studying history, admiring creation, valuing silence, pursuing humility, establishing accountability, and building friendships.

At the core of each of these suggested practices, to some degree, is the implicit encouragement to retreat for a time from the digital ether we’re constantly staring into. Instead of peering into the pixilated displays that occupy our pockets, Martin encourages us to look elsewhere — back in history, up at creation, inward in silence, down in humility, and around in accountability and friendship — nearly anywhere but the digital twilight zone we’re immersed in. 

While the social internet is here to stay, undoing our digital discipleship will require a strategic retreat from its active use with some regularity; a sort of reimmersion into this God-made, material world. To reframe Martin’s earlier statement: though our addiction to the social internet “isn’t totally our fault, it is ours to overcome.” 

A most consequential decision

Despite all the caution that Martin suggests when it comes to our engagement with the social internet, it’s not all fire and brimstone. There is plenty of good that can and does come from the social internet. Thus, his goal is, again, not to convince readers to delete our social media accounts altogether. Instead, he aims to help us see. And, having read the book, we can’t unsee what Martin has shined his light on. So, a question looms: now, what?

What we do with what we’ve seen in Terms of Service is entirely up to us. But a decision is imminent: will we respond with the caution Martin encourages, or will we keep swimming as if the water isn’t poisoned? For the people of God, the decision seems clear. If the discipleship we undergo at the hands of the social internet unravels our humanity, as I’ve said, and Christian discipleship restores our humanity, then we would do well to empty our hands of our phones from time to time so we can “take up our cross and follow [Jesus],” which is the essence of true discipleship (Matt. 16:24). 

Martin’s predictions for the future of the social internet aren’t exactly optimistic. He forecasts more of what we’re experiencing right now; mental health issues, polarization, and even war. But it doesn’t have to be this way! And for Christians, we have an opportunity to show our peers, many of whom are hypnotized by the social internet, a way out of these toxic waters. But it’ll require an intentional, daily decision on our part — a decision that echoes from our elder brother Joshua: “choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve,” whether the gods of Facebook or the gods of Twitter. “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Josh. 24:15).

By / Feb 18

Earlier this week, a bipartisan group of senators introduced a bill to protect children from the potentially harmful impacts of social media. The Kids Online Safety Act of 2022 includes five major elements:

  • Social media companies would be required to provide privacy options, the ability to disable addictive features and allow users to opt-out of recommendations like pages or other videos to “like.” It would also make the strongest privacy protections the default. 
  • The bill would give parents tools to track time spent in the app, limit purchases, and help to address addictive usage.
  • It would require social media companies to prevent and mitigate harm to minors, including self-harm, suicide, eating disorders, substance abuse, sexual exploitation, and unlawful products for minors like alcohol.
  • Social media companies would be required to give kids’ data to academic and private researchers. The scientists would use that data to do more research on what harms children on social media and how to prevent that harm.
  • Social media companies would be required to use a third party to perform independent reviews to quantify the risk to minors, compliance with the law, and whether the company is “taking meaningful steps to prevent those harms.”

Whether the bill will be something Christians should support remains to be seen. But as Dr. Dave Anderson, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute, told ABC News, it’s an attempt to apply what social science research has taught us about the potential harms of social media. “I think politicians are taking what we know from the science and saying, ‘How do we build in these safeguards?’”, says Anderson.

Questions for evaluation 

While it’s important to build safeguards on social media for our children, every Christian adult should also consider what guardrails they are putting up for themselves. Listed below are 14 questions for self-reflection that we can ask ourselves about our social media engagement. 

1. The time use question: In 2020, the average adult spent three hours a day on social media. Do we spend more daily time on social media than we do on spiritual practices, such as prayer and Bible reading?

2. The best use question: Even if the time we spend on social media is not out of proportion to other activities, we should still consider how we want to spend our days. Is our social media usage an example of following the command in Ephesians 5:16 to make the “best use of the time”?

3. The bubble question: Social media allows us to choose who we interact with, allowing us the ability to create the online equivalent of gated communities. What types of interactions are you missing out on by engaging only within your social media bubble?

4. The corrupt company question: In light of question 3, what kind of bubble are you creating? Who are you surrounding yourself with online? Bad company — even disguised with Christian language — that will corrupt (1 Cor. 15:33)? Or good company that will build up? 

5. The looking with lust question: The predominance of personal photos on social media can allow us to get an intimate glimpse not only into people’s lives but often of people’s bodies. What precautions are we taking to prevent ourselves from looking with lust on the images we see in private (Matt. 5:28)?

6. The one another question: Throughout Scripture there are more than 50 “one another” commands that apply to our fellow believers (for example, the commands to “encourage one another and build up one another” in 1 Thessalonians 5:11). How are you using social media to fulfill those commands?

7. The probability of cancellation question: Cancel culture refers to the modern practice of withdrawing support for someone (i.e., “canceling them”) after they have done or said something considered objectionable or offensive. What are the chances that you could be “canceled” for something you post on social media?

8. The loving your enemy question: Jesus commands us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matt. 5:43). Do we use our social media accounts to identify the “enemies” we need to pray for?

9. The foolish controversies question: In Titus 3:9, Paul tells us to avoid foolish controversies because they are unprofitable and useless. Does our social media usage increase the likelihood that we will engage in such foolish controversies?

10. The eulogy question: Imagine that if at your funeral someone who despises you was able to give a eulogy that consisted of them reading 10 items you posted on social media. Would you have any concerns or fear of embarrassment if that were to happen?

11. The anonymity question: Many people on social media (especially on platforms like Twitter) choose to remain anonymous. But Jesus says “there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open” (Luke 8:17). If you have an anonymous account, would you be ashamed if your identity was revealed? (Alternative question: Should we be engaging with those who choose to hide their identity while attacking those whose identities are known?) 

12. The unwholesome talk question: Paul commands us by saying, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Eph. 4:29). Do we use social media to engage in unwholesome talk?

13. The true and noble question: Additionally, Paul says, “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Phil. 4:8). Does our social media usage help us to think about what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy?

14. The glory of God question: Paul also says, whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:13). Can we honestly say that all that we do on social media is glorifying God?

By / Jan 13

One of the great promises of social media is its implicit pledge to make its users well-known. Friends and followers, likes and retweets all whisper to us that we are being seen and known. And as our digital audience grows, we feel affirmed, important, influential, and maybe even powerful. It can be intoxicating, and social media companies know it. 

Christians often find ourselves in serious pursuit of more online followers and influence. Sometimes, it’s because we are rightly seeking to embrace the call to spread the gospel that’s been entrusted to us. Yet, the very nature of social media means users are encouraged to increase their notoriety. And while this may create a unique opportunity for us to share the gospel, it also presents us with a dangerous temptation that Jesus warns us to avoid — “practicing our righteousness before others to be seen by them” (Matt. 6:1).

So, while God may be calling some believers to use social media platforms for the sake of the gospel, what if the way of faithfulness for most of us is more akin to serving in obscurity? In a culture that seeks notoriety at all costs, one of the most important ambitions that some of us can choose to adopt is to embrace a quiet life, where we serve and share the gospel with those around us and recognize that our God-given desire to be seen and known will only be fully met by Christ himself. 

Practicing our righteousness to be seen by others

Why do we sometimes do the things we do on social media? It’s a basic question that we often fail to ask ourselves. Our feeds can frequently turn into kitschy Christian tropes, self-aggrandizing photos of our religious activity, and faux humility that spotlights just how earnest and spiritual we are. And, why? It’s because social media is one giant marketplace that makes it easy and “normal” for us to show off without even realizing it. 

What’s so addictive about our public displays of righteousness, as Jesus tells us, is that they promise and produce a reward that our flesh loves. Public displays of our piety — like Jesus’ examples in the Sermon on the Mount of praying and fasting or a punchy, well-timed religious quote meant to “own” one of our detractors — undoubtedly gain the applause of our followers through likes and retweets, giving us the dopamine hit that we’ve grown so addicted to. 

In giving ourselves over to this use of social media, we have contented ourselves with and even preferred the reward that comes not from the Father but from our crowd of followers. “Truly,” Jesus says to us, “they have received their reward” (Matt. 6:2). 

Gain followers, lose your soul

One of the interesting things about social media is that, regardless of which platform is being used, it has become our culture’s most prominent stage for acting out its most prized virtue: self-expression. It’s where we go to express ourselves and rally others to our cause. But following Jesus is not chiefly about expressing ourselves, as much as our culture may recoil at the thought. Instead it’s about denying ourselves (Matt. 16:24). It’s not about adding to some ever-growing list of followers, but about following Jesus with a cross on our back. 

Jesus assures us that he will return one day “with his angels in the glory of his Father,” and when he does, he says, “he will repay each person according to what he has done” (Matt. 16:27). At his coming, will we be those who have “gained the world” of social media, having forfeited our souls in the process, or will we be those who value self-denial above self-expression? 

Your Father who sees in secret

Social media, though it can certainly be used for good, is often the trumpet blast that Jesus condemns in his sermon (Matt. 6:2), the loud invitation for onlookers to clap their hands with “likes” and shout their approval with “retweets” at the righteousness that we have publicized for them. But Jesus tells us, “Beware.” And not because our desire for reward is inherently bad, but because we’re settling for a lesser reward! 

We do not have to practice our righteousness before others to be seen and rewarded. Our Father sees our acts of faithfulness, and he will reward us. He sees when we give and pray and fast in secret (Matt. 6:2, 6, 17). And he sees when we read his Word without posting a photo on Instagram, when we share a meal with a brother or sister without tagging them and announcing it on Facebook, and when we refrain from disparaging an image-bearer on Twitter. Even if no one else ever sees these “acts of righteousness,” our Father sees in secret, and he will reward us.

Lead a quiet life

Paul’s words to the Thessalonians are worthy of our consideration in a culture that has made an idol of celebrity and self-expression: “aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs” (1 Thess. 4:11). Our society rewards those who are loud and bombastic; those who are pugnacious, insolent, and “omnicompetent”; and those who parade their righteousness around for all to see. But God calls us to embrace something different — a life of self-denial; a life of unheralded, unseen acts of faithfulness; and a life content with obscurity

As St. Augustine and others have said, all of life is lived coram Deo, before the face of God. Therefore, we don’t have to fear that our effort to follow in the way of Jesus will go unnoticed, even if our peers never acknowledge it. And we don’t have to worry that the cups of cold water we give in Jesus’ name (Matt.10:42) or our hidden day-to-day faithfulness will go unrecognized, even when there are no “likes” or “favorites” to reward us. We can be content with praying behind closed doors (Matt. 6:6), giving anonymously (Matt. 6:3), serving and sharing the gospel with those around us, and quelling the impulse to practice our righteousness before our audience of social media followers because we are waiting for a better reward. 

May we be countercultural — happy to live a quiet life, hungering and thirsting for the righteousness that doesn’t need to be performed before others, and finding our joy and satisfaction in the approval of God alone. 

By / Nov 9

It happens like clockwork. Often within a few moments of breaking news or some other major event happening in our culture, we see one of the most damaging effects of social media and digital culture. Our feeds are immediately filled with “expert” opinions, half-baked ideas, and reactionary takes that routinely fail to account for the reality of the situation and resort to partisan or cultural talking points. In these moments, it seems that everyone we know has a take on what is happening. It’s tempting to join in as we seek to align ourselves with the “right” tribe or group online.

The internet was originally promised to be a major turning point in the pursuit of truth and free expression. We were told that the democratization of information would usher in a new era of freedom and emphasis on truth. The idea is that the truth would naturally rise above the fray given the freedom of information and a common pursuit of truth. But along with this pursuit came an onslaught of fake news, misinformation, and opinions based on feeling and emotion.

In reality, much of the ”news” we hear about today or “expert” commentary is nothing more than content designed to whet our appetites for immediacy, inflame our alliances to group identities, or stir up controversy to influence our behaviors. Social media in some sense breeds behavior in which we project ourselves as omnicompetent. We are constantly being pushed to post about “what’s happening?” on Twitter or to post “what’s on our mind?” on Facebook. We are encouraged and incentivized to post our random musings, unformed thoughts, and reactionary takes for the world to see.

So, how are we to break this vicious cycle of self-promotion and recenter our lives on pursuing wisdom in a digital age? The answer might sound trite and overly simplistic, but I am convinced that three little words can help change a culture: I don’t know.

Information overload

Each and every day, we are bombarded with more information than we could ever hope to process. In our digital first world, it is far too easy to focus on the things right in front of us. Social media naturally breeds an expert culture, where we seek to prove our knowledge, allegiances, and abilities often before we consider the full impact of these decisions. Through our feeds, we fall prey to what Neil Postman referred to as an “and . . . now this” culture, where we are encouraged to quickly move from one thing to the next without any real reflection or sustained evaluation of what we are being exposed to each day.

As writer Alan Jacobs puts it in his recent book, Breaking Bread with the Dead: A Reader’s Guide to a More Tranquil Mind, “navigating daily life in the internet age is a lot like doing battlefield triage.” In this digital age, we are often overwhelmed with the sheer amount of information to process. So, we usually default to shallow engagement and forgo deep reflection on the important things of life.

In conversations about technology and what this level of information access is doing to us as people, we often focus on some of the more prominent effects of technology such as screen time, app limits, and the rise of various psychological effects like the increase of loneliness, isolation, anxiety, and more. While all of these issues are important and should be addressed by the church, one of the most subtle and deleterious effects is how society perceives truth and how this information overload is causing all of us to lose grip on reality. This isn’t an isolated occurrence but has become a cultural practice across political, social, and even religious grounds. 

“I don’t know” and epistemic humility

In our digital age, it is easy to falsely believe that we know more or can navigate more than we can actually handle. As we wade through this battlefield of the mind, our sin tempts us to believe that the problems we see in the online world would simply go away if people just believed what we do or would just listen to us. Richard John Neuhaus reminds us in The Naked Public Square, “In principle, we should be suspicious of explanations for other people’s beliefs and behavior when those explanations imply that they would believe and behave as we do, if only they were as mature and enlightened as we are.” In the digital age, cultivating humility and understanding of how deeply embedded sin is in every aspect of our life can help usher in a more righteous pursuit of truth in a divided society.

One of the most countercultural things we can do in the midst of information overload — especially with the constant allure of projecting ourselves as omnicompetent online — is to simply say “I don’t know”. While it may sound trite and doesn’t entail that we cower from speaking truth, it reminds us that we are indeed finite and limited in what we actually know. We simply aren’t designed — nor do we need — to have an opinion or draw an immediate conclusion about the onslaught of information we face each day.

Paul warns young Timothy that “Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions” (1 Tim. 1:6-7). These simple words seem to typify our current age of constant connection and ease of sharing things online with social media, especially for God’s people. 

Social media generally yields itself to “vain discussions” where we try to prove ourselves to others and become teachers of others, often without a deep understanding of what we are actually saying or making confident assertions about. Modeling epistemic humility or a responsive awareness of the limits of one’s own knowledge by regularly reminding ourselves and those around us that we do not have all of the answers can help combat the concerning rise of misinformation and conspiracy theories. Not only are we ill-equipped for the task of responding to everything we see online, we simply aren’t created for that type of responsibility. Cultivating epistemic humility can breed a culture of curiosity and intrigue as it encourages sustained study and a culture of learning rather than uninformed opinions passing as facts or knowledge.

Speaking truth with grace in the public square

So when is the last time that you slowed down to evaluate the desires that may motivate your posting, sharing, or clicking online? The evaluation of our online habits shouldn’t be driven by a pursuit of avoiding the dreaded cancel culture, where a single post can ruin someone’s life, or out of a desire to back down instead of speaking truth to power with grace and understanding. With platforms (and society) designed for instantaneous connection and constant sharing, wisdom calls us to step back and seek to examine our souls before engaging online.

Slowing down can allow us time to verify the truth before we share, notice the actual person made in God’s image behind the inflammatory post, and think about why we feel the need to contribute in the first place. We can ask ourselves what we are trying to prove to others or what kind of façade we are seeking to build online. This pause can also help us see what is driving our need to be the one who corrects everyone’s controversial opinions or to show ourselves to be on the “right side” of the latest political controversy.

Of course Christians should engage online. However, when we engage, we should desire for others to know that we are not confident in ourselves but in the One who made us in his likeness (Gen. 1:26-28). Social media can tempt us to think that the things we say and do online are spoken into a void of time and space, disconnected from real life. But behind the avatars and updates are flesh-and-blood human beings with struggles, fears, and desires, just like you and me. Let’s be the ones who prize people over power and truth over position.

By / Nov 2

Love it or hate it, social media has become enmeshed with virtually every aspect of our digital lives. With the advent of the smartphone and smartphone apps, and relatively new services like Facebook Pay and WhatsApp among other, we are becoming more invested in and more dependent on these social platforms and their menu of features.

And despite our familiarity with and constant use of social media, we are still learning how to use each respective platform. Stated differently: we’re still learning how to behave on them. By and large, online dialogue continues to grow increasingly reckless, unkind, and contentious, on the one hand, and infantile, vapid, and self-absorbed on the other. 

But since social media is clearly here to stay, it is imperative that the people of God commit ourselves to the wise, charitable, and productive use of these platforms. 

Let every person be slow to . . . tweet?

While I am of the (strong) opinion that we should be less engaged on social media than we currently are, the fact is most people spend a significant amount of time on their preferred platform(s) scrolling and posting, tweeting and retweeting. There is no mass social media exodus anywhere on the horizon.

So, if we’re committed to staying, if we’re committed to the continued use of these social platforms, how can we avoid the recklessness and performative self-expression that so often spoils our online dialogue? 

Here are three important questions that we should ask ourselves before posting anything online.

  1. Why am I saying this?

Before finally clicking “post” or “tweet,” we should stop ourselves and ask this very simple question: “why?”

Our motives, the why behind what we post or share, matter. And on platforms where contentiousness, conflict, and impulsiveness are rewarded, we are being constantly encouraged to skip this first step of pausing and considering the motives of our heart. Wisdom is being forfeited for clicks. 

Why do we post cropped and filtered photos of our quiet time on Instagram? Is it because we want “to be seen” by others like Jesus warns against in his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:1)? Or why do we feel the need to join in with angry online outbursts? Could it be that, instead of “walking by the Spirit,” we’re “carrying out the desires of the flesh” like Paul warned against in his letter to the Galatians (5:16)? If we believe Jesus’ words, that “from the heart comes” all kinds of evil (Matthew 15:19), we would be wise to stop and examine the motives of our heart before posting.

  1. What do I hope to accomplish by saying this?

I’m under no illusion that all our social media interactions should aspire ultimately to change the world. If that is the aim of our online life, we are sure to be severely disappointed. But there should be some intended purpose behind what we choose to share, from our light-hearted posts to those that are evangelistic. 

For Christians, we can use a simple rubric to help answer this second question: will this post glorify Christ, or will it glorify me? Will it bring about good, or will it lead to ruin?

Our task as Christians is summed up well by the apostle Paul in his letter to the Corinthians: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31, emphasis added). For those of us who are active online, does our tweeting and posting accomplish the task that Paul charges us with in this text? Or does it fuel controversy, stoke rage, stir up jealousy and contempt, or, in some other way, produce the chaff described in Psalm 1? Do our online words speak life or death (Proverbs 18:21)? 

  1. How can I say this in a way that is truthful, charitable, and productive?

There is no shortage of “fake news,” hateful “hot takes,” and fruitless discussion taking place online these days. But that doesn’t mean that we must take part in any of it. In fact, Christians are those whose “speech” should “always be gracious, seasoned with salt,” the apostle Paul says (Colossians 4:6). What does that mean for the things we post on social media?

This final question is a safeguard that commits us, as much as possible, to craft our social media posts so that they are truthful, loving, and productive, in that they aim to produce good or simply to move a conversation forward in a charitable way. This means that there is no place for “owning” our so-called opponents, for peddling falsities, or engaging in shameful and degrading conversations. To this, with the apostle Paul, we might say: such talk “is not suitable and should not even be heard of among [us]” (Eph. 5:3-4). 

If we can’t, in good conscience, answer each of these three questions with sufficiently godly answers, we should be content with saying nothing. But if we can, we should feel free to click “tweet” or “post.” 

Blessed is the one

In a very real way, social media can function as the “company of mockers” mentioned in Psalm 1 and can serve as our “walk[ing] in step with the wicked” and “stand[ing] in the way that sinners take” (Psa. 1:1). But it doesn’t have to be this way. And it shouldn’t. 

“Blessed is the one,” the psalmist says, “whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night” (Psa. 1:1, 2). May we be the people who delight in “the Lord’s instruction,” who delight in obeying him, and in bringing his law to bear on every motive of our heart and every word that leaves our mouths, whether spoken or posted on social media. 

By / Oct 19

The world is many things. It is both stunningly beautiful and unquestionably broken. It is vast and expansive, and surprisingly small. And it is loud. Very, very loud. The noise that we hear so often now, though, is not the sound of thunder or rushing waterfalls, but rather what G.K. Chesterton described in his book Orthodoxy as the bustle of “human repose.” 

That contradictory phrase — bustle of human repose — has become even more true in our own day than it was in Chesterton’s. A sort of societal idleness, masked as activity, has reached its widespread peak in our era of social media. And the noise is almost unbearable. 

Boredom will not be silent

As a self-acknowledged grouch when it comes to noise, I should start by stating something obvious: noise, in and of itself, is not inherently negative. In fact, some of the most moving and formative experiences of life involve a high decibel count, like a good belly-laugh with friends or the collective voice of a congregation singing to and about the Triune God. And we can be sure that these sorts of joyful noises will come with us when heaven and its King descend and this age gives way to the age to come. 

But this is not the noise that Chesterton had in mind when he wrote Orthodoxy, nor is it the clamor that fills our minds when we scroll through social media. 

Despite all the good that we’ve convinced ourselves we’re doing on our respective social media platforms, we are without question contributing to a societal noise that is not healthy by filling every idle moment with a post or tweet, or simply scrolling our timelines. Part of it could be, as Blaise Pascal wrote, that “all of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”

But, in this case, I suspect it is more so the fruit of boredom or, to use Chesterton’s word, repose masked as activity. And what’s more, this deafening noise, this way of idling away our days through the glow of a screen, has deadened our capacity to embrace the blessed monotony of real life. 

The cure for boredom

Has there ever been a time in history in which more hours of our day were wasted? On bathroom breaks, between meetings, on the clock, and across the table from those dearest to us, we’re haunted by a perpetual boredom fed by the very thing with which we seek to cure it. The constant buzz of social media — it’s noise and sensationalism — draws us in, rescuing us from and reminding us of our life’s mundanity all at the same time. It is a self-perpetuating black hole of boredom. 

But there is a cure. And for Christians, it’s spelled out for us in the black-and-white text (or red letters, depending on your Bible) of the scriptures. The cure for boredom is obedience to the commands of God; particularly in obedience to the cultural mandate and the Great Commission. 

1. Cultural mandate

In the opening book of the Old Testament, not long after God had formed Adam “out of the dust from the ground,” Moses wrote, “The Lord God took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden to work it and watch over it” (Gen. 2:15). This text is part of what has historically been referred to as the “cultural mandate” (Gen. 1).

The cultural mandate, to summarize very briefly, is at the very least the commission that God gave to Adam, and to us, “to work and watch over” the areas where he has placed us. For Adam and Eve, this was the garden in Eden. For us, it is our homes and our places of business, and wherever else God has placed us. As God’s likeness, we have all been given a task to attend to. 

On this topic, I can’t help but think of Samuel Hamilton, one of the prominent characters in John Steinbeck’s novel, East of Eden. When introducing Samuel, an able and tireless farmer, the narrator writes, “He was a busy man. He had no time for nostalgia.” Samuel Hamilton was a busy man; he had no time for Chesterton’s “bustle of human repose.”

Boredom is not an unhealthy thing. It’s what we do with our boredom that reveals whether we are healthy.

So, before we allow boredom to drive us online to the noise of social media and to the neglect of our God-given responsibilities, maybe we, like Samuel Hamilton, should go do the dishes. Or instead of mindlessly scrolling through our feeds to pass the time, maybe we should faithfully serve the work our employer has hired us to do. Maybe we should retire from the mindless bustle that takes up so many hours of our day and instead take up the activity of faithfully carrying out the cultural mandate, wherever God has placed us. 

The jungle of weeds overtaking my home’s flower beds bears witness to my own neglect. What areas of responsibility have you neglected in exchange for idle time on social media?

2. Great Commission

On top of the cultural mandate lies the commission given by Jesus, to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe” the commands that he gave to all his disciples (Matt. 28:18-20). As if working and keeping the places where God has put us wasn’t enough to stave off boredom, here is another task: go and deliver the greatest news the world has ever known to everyone you encounter.

Moreover, though we are certainly messengers of good news, by God’s own decree, we are much more than that. We are “ministers of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:18), “ambassadors of Christ (2 Cor. 5:20), and, by virtue of our union with Christ through his Spirit, we are those who’ve entered the “strong man’s” (Satan) house and begun to “plunder his goods” (Matt. 12:29). When we carry out the Great Commission, sharing the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and when our hearers set their allegiance on Jesus in response, we get to witness the plundering of Satan’s house. 

One of the phrases that my pastor repeats often is “if you’re a Christian who’s bored, you’re doing it wrong.” So, if we find ourselves bored, and prone to medicate our boredom with idle scrolling, let us commit ourselves afresh to the mission of God.

Make friends with boredom

Boredom is not an unhealthy thing. It’s what we do with our boredom that reveals whether we are healthy. 

Does our boredom send us to the digital ether in search of stimulation? Does it compel us to embrace the noise of social media because we’re afraid of the quiet? Has our boredom given way to idleness, a sort of addiction to the mind-numbing habit of seeking entertainment as we scroll endlessly down? 

In our day, boredom comes easily. We have no lack of entertainment, but we nevertheless live in a boredom epidemic. And if we continue to feed our boredom with paltry substitutes like the never-ceasing noise of social media, we will find ourselves in a perpetual state of unhealth. But if we make friends with our boredom, if we respond to its message by giving ourselves to the mandate and mission of God, we will find that boredom is our ally, not something to be stuffed down with the idle noise of our social platforms. 

If you’ve grown weary of feeding your boredom with the noisy bustle pouring out of your social feeds, hear the clarion call of God through your boredom: “Go and make disciples.” 

By / Sep 16

My family lives just outside of a small town in Tennessee with a historic downtown district. Like many small towns throughout our nation, we have a downtown square that serves as a hub. In prior generations, these public squares were gathering places for everyone. People regularly traveled in from the outskirts of town to shop, eat, and do business. They would also come together for community events and to freely engage with one another. While many historic downtown public squares have been abandoned in light of the growth of suburbs, there is a renewed interest in revitalizing these historic neighborhoods and to provide a place for communities to gather once again — especially in a digital age that has led to increasing isolation.

These public gathering places serve as an apt metaphor for a period when much of our daily communication, commerce, and community are facilitated in the digital public square of social media and online connectivity. With the rise of the internet and various social media platforms — such as Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok, and massive online retailers and internet companies like Amazon and Google — these new digital public squares promised to bring about a vibrant era of connectivity and togetherness across distances, more diverse communities, and more access to information. Many of these initial promises were made in light of oppressive regimes throughout the world that stifled free speech, suppressed human rights, violated religious freedom, and limited access to information in order to maintain control over other human beings made in the very image of God. 

Ethical challenges in the digital age

While technology has brought incredible benefits and conveniences into our lives, it also has led to countless unintended consequences and deep ethical challenges that push us to consider how to live out our faith in a technological society. Each day we are bombarded with fake news, misinformation, conspiracy theories, ever growing polarization, and more information than we could ever hope to process. We are regularly faced with challenges where wisdom and truth are needed, yet faith is not always welcomed in the public square and in the important debates over digital governance. In truth, technology has always been used and abused by those who seek to hold on to power and wield it to suppress free expression all around the world. But today, these threats seem more visceral and dangerous to our way of life than ever before.

One of the most challenging ethical issues of our day with technology is centered around the proper role of digital governance and the ethical boundaries of free expression in the digital public square. Many have recently begun to question the role of the technology industry over our public discourse, as well as the responsibilities of individuals, third-party companies, and even the role of the government in digital governance. While much of the dangerous, illegal, and elicit content is rightly moderated, questions remain as to what kind of ideas or speech are to be welcomed in the digital public square and how we’re to maintain various ethical boundaries as we seek to uphold free expression and religious freedom for all. 

On one hand, our digital public squares are very public and have an incredibly diverse group of community members. But on the other hand, there is often immense pressure to conform to certain secular ethical principles that tend to push people of faith out of public conversations and debates simply based on their deeply held beliefs about God, the nature of humanity, and how we are to navigate these challenges to free expression and religious freedom. 

A new research project

The complex nature of the questions surrounding ethics and religion in the digital age is exactly why I am excited to announce that the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission is pioneering a new research project called the Digital Public Square. This project is designed to help provide the local church and the technology industry with thoughtful resources that will help everyone engage these important debates over digital governance and promote free expression as well as religious freedom for all. We seek to cast a robust vision for public theology and ethical engagement in a technological society — a vision grounded in a historical understanding of the role of the church in society and in the unchanging Word of God. While some believe that religion has no role to play in a modern society, we believe that our faith is central to how we engage these pressing issues and live faithfully in the digital age.

The Digital Public Square project will gather some of the best voices from across academia, journalism, public policy, think tanks, and most importantly, the local church to clarify the state of the digital public square and to cast a vision for Christian engagement in the areas of content moderation, online governance, and engagement with the technology industry as a whole. Just as Christians have sought to develop a robust public theology on matters of church and state relations for many generations, Christians must also think deeply about how God would call us to engage the challenges of technology and these companies that operate around the globe in vastly different cultural contexts. We will seek to answer questions surrounding the nature of free expression, the role of democratic values around the world, and best practices for cultivating a truly diverse digital society where people of faith are a vital part of these important conversations.

We will do so in a four-prong approach that will extend throughout 2021 and 2022. The project will include an in-depth report on the state of the digital public square, a set of guiding ethical principles for digital governance, and numerous resources for the local church to use in order to engage and bear witness to the gospel in the digital age. These resources will include two different book-length volumes: Following Jesus in a Digital Age with B&H Publishing, and The Digital Public Square: Ethics and Religion in a Technological Society from B&H Academic in 2022. The latter will feature contributions from 14 leading thinkers from across society addressing the pressing issues of digital governance, such as the nature of the public square, US and international technology policy, religious freedom, hate speech/violence, seuxality and gender issues, pornography and other objectionable content, misinformation, fake news, conspiracy theories, and the rise of global digital authoritarianism. 

To learn more about the Digital Public Square project and to receive project updates, along with our weekly content on technology ethics, visit ERLC.com/digital.

By / Aug 9

In 2009, I was encouraged by some friends at work to join a new social media platform called Twitter. I remember watching a short promo video and hearing about how this site allowed people all across the world to connect and speak freely about whatever came to mind — whether about our favorite sport teams or the most important social issues of the day. But as the platform grew in users and influence in the public square, real challenges emerged about how to navigate violence, misinformation, and even hate speech online. And as a long history of U.S. jurisprudence illustrates, hate speech has been notoriously difficult to define, often due to inadequate parameters and the robust protections for free expression and religious freedom from heavy-handed government overreach.

While these problems are not limited to Twitter specifically, the type of users the platform attracts and its enormous influence in public discourse have made it ground zero for many of the debates over free expression and content moderation. Just this past weekend, two prominent conservative pundits, Allie Beth Stuckey and Erick Erickson, were both temporarily suspended by Twitter for violating the platform’s rules on hateful conduct, specifically concerning gender and gender identity issues. Both users had access to their accounts limited for 12 hours, being unable to post new messages, like posts, or retweet other accounts. 

A recent Twitter controversy

Stuckey and Erickson both tweeted about the first openly transgender athlete in history to compete in the Olympic games. Laurel Hubbard, who was born as a man, recently represented New Zealand in the women’s weightlifting competition in Tokyo. Both Stuckey and Erickson were suspended for tweeting that Hubbard was still a man and that even though Hubbard fell short in the competition, it was not fair for the athlete, who is a biological male, to compete against women during the games.

Neither of the tweets advocated for physical violence, attacked, or threatened Hubbard in any way. Yet, both users were suspended for violating a hateful conduct policy that defines hate speech in the broadest of terms. Twitter defines hateful conduct in their content moderation policies by stating,

“You may not promote violence against or directly attack or threaten other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, caste, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or serious disease. We also do not allow accounts whose primary purpose is inciting harm towards others on the basis of these categories.”

The company goes on to say, “We are committed to combating abuse motivated by hatred, prejudice or intolerance, particularly abuse that seeks to silence the voices of those who have been historically marginalized. For this reason, we prohibit behavior that targets individuals with abuse based on protected categories.” But if you dig deeper into their policies, it becomes clear that the company has an incredibly broad understanding of what constitutes hateful conduct, which can easily extend to any type of speech that one simply does not like or makes a user feel uncomfortable.

Defining hate speech

While many technology companies refer to international norms on defining controversial topics — including the nature of human rights — it should be noted that hate speech is often left undefined in legal terms because of the deep tension that exists between hate speech and free expression. The U.N.’s own plan of action on hate speech from May 2019 makes this clear by saying, “There is no international legal definition of hate speech, and the characterization of what is ‘hateful’ is controversial and disputed.” While the UN leaves hate speech undefined, it clearly desires robust protections against hate speech and calls it “a menace to democratic values, social stability and peace” that “must confront[ed] . . . at every turn.

Similarly in the United States, there is no legal definition of hate speech in U.S. law as the Supreme Court has routinely affirmed that hate speech is protected by the First Amendment. A recent example is the case of Snyder vs Phelps concerning hate speech and Westboro Baptist Church. According to the American Library Association, “under current First Amendment jurisprudence, hate speech can only be criminalized when it directly incites imminent criminal activity or consists of specific threats of violence targeted against a person or group” (emphasis mine). 

Defining hate speech is a perennially difficult issue throughout society, especially with the rise of online speech through social media platforms. There are constant ongoing debates in society and the academy over what actually constitutes hate speech and if the label should simply be limited to speech that incites or instigates physical violence or harm. In the case on Twitter, the company has drawn a clear line by defining hate speech broadly, a definition which necessarily infringes on free expression and religious freedom concerning some of the most contentious issues of our day — namely human sexuality and marriage. 

Most people would tend to agree that the initial categories laid out by Twitter such as threats of physical violence, “wishing, hoping or calling for serious harm on a person or group of people,” and “references to mass murder, violent events, or specific means of violence where protected groups have been the primary targets or victims,” fall under good faith content moderation and should be championed by all. Christians, in particular, should affirm many of these guidelines because of our belief in the innate value and dignity of all people as created in God’s image and the freedom of conscience that flows from our understanding of the imago Dei (Gen. 1:26-28). But when hate speech is broadened to include speech that makes one feel uncomfortable or that one simply does not like, we have set a dangerous precedent for public discourse.

Free expression and public discourse

Twitter claims in their content moderation policies: “Free expression is a human right – we believe that everyone has a voice, and the right to use it. Our role is to serve the public conversation, which requires representation of a diverse range of perspectives.” But this lofty goal of free expression is actually stifled and in many ways completely mitigated by promoting some speech at the expense of other speech deemed unworthy for public discourse, even if that speech aligns with scientific realities which are taught and affirmed by millions of people throughout the world — including, but not limited to, people of faith.

As I wrote earlier this year in response to a similar situation over transgender ideology and free expression, civil and nonviolent disagreements over the biological differences between a man and woman simply do not and cannot — especially for the sake of robust public discourse — be equated with hate speech or hateful conduct. And any attempt to create and enforce these types of broadly defined policies continues to break down the trust that the public has in these companies and violates the immense responsibility they have over providing avenues for public discourse and free expression.

In a time where there is already a considerable amount of distrust in institutions, governments, and even technology companies themselves, ill-defined and broad policies that seem to equate historic and orthodox beliefs on marriage and sexuality with the dehumanizing nature of real hate speech and violence only widens the deficit of trust and increases skepticism over the true intention behind these policies.

Building off of the legal boundaries of defining hate speech, our society must be able to have healthy dialogue about these contentious issues. The best way to do that is to champion free expression and religious freedom for all, not just those with whom we agree or even like. Free expression does not mean that we all must agree on these particular issues, but it does mean that everyone is able to speak their opinion freely and without fear of being cut off by those who oversee these platforms.

Whatever you may think of Stuckey or Erickson’s beliefs, we should all be able to agree that these broadly defined hateful conduct policies are dangerous to free expression and our public discourse. We need more, not less dialogue and engagement on these contentious issues. These issues will not simply pass away because God’s design for human sexuality is central to the church and society. These content moderation policies must be amended to actually stand for the free expression for all people, not just those with whom a company or even our society may agree.

By / Jul 6

As things start moving back to a post-pandemic “normal,” many parents are looking forward to their children returning to in-person learning. In addition to improving their concentration, reconnecting with in-person friends, and reestablishing rigorous standards, one of the key benefits will be less time on screens. None of this will be without effort and intentionality, but what may prove most difficult is dialing back kids’ dependence on screens.

The battle over devices

The battle over devices was already a problem before the pandemic. Books like Naomi Scaeffer Riley’s Be the Parent, Please: Stop Banning Seesaws and Start Banning Snapchat sounded the alarm in January 2019. Real harm comes to children of all ages from unsupervised, unfiltered access to all things online and virtual, confirms Riley. The pandemic only made that worse. Once schools went online, there was little hope for limitations. Not only were children expected to be on their iPads or computers for all of each school day, they were typically given looser restrictions during after-school hours by parents who, scrambling to get their own work done and anxious about all the bad news, were glad for their children, who had nowhere to go, to have something to do. 

Last spring, when most kids didn’t have a choice about being on a connected device for hours a day, experts tried to be reassuring. They said some screen time is okay, but still agreed that too much is detrimental. “Spending an hour or two a day with devices during leisure time doesn’t seem to be harmful for mental health,” wrote psychology professor Jean Twenge, at the Institute for Family Studies. “And doing homework or educational activities on devices for a few hours a day is a virtual necessity and is unlikely to be harmful, so we can cross that off our list of worries as well.” 

Even when screen time was considered essential, Twenge wasn’t giving unqualified support. “[This] doesn’t mean parents should give up on managing kids’ screen time during this extended period of staying at home. Watching videos and scrolling through Instagram all day might keep them quiet, but it’s not the best for their mental health or development.” As virtual school winds down, it’s time to revisit prior concerns about how much screen time is too much, and even more urgently, how much of what’s online is harmful, regardless of time limits.

In addition to the angst all parents generally feel about what kids are watching and doing on social media these days, Christian parents have a biblical imperative to disciple their children — to oversee not just their mental and physical health, but most importantly, their spiritual growth (Deut. 6:6–9; Eph. 6:4). That includes shepherding their media use. We need renewed vigor to reclaim — or introduce for the first time — God-honoring digital habits. 

The Wall Street Journal’s family and tech columnist, Julie Jargon, says, “After more than a year of being glued to their devices, a lot of kids will have trouble easing up on the tech that brought them comfort and connection during the pandemic.” It’s not just children who will have to work at this. Parents, too, likely spent more time online and on devices in 2020, and their modeling is a primary influence on their kids. 

Digital reset

Jargon’s article, “How to Wean Your Kids—and Yourself—Off Screens,” recommends a family “digital reset” including things like phone-free times and spaces (the dinner table, car rides), shared rather than solo screens, and even a one-day-a-week tech sabbath. She suggests going back to pre-COVID tech rules. “Use the start of summer as an opportunity to re-establish any tech rules you let slide during the pandemic, like allowing devices in bedrooms at night or allowing videogames before homework or chores are done.”

Assuming you had pre-COVID tech rules, that’s a good place to start. But many Christian parents need to honestly ask themselves what their kids ’— and their own — habits were before the pandemic. What’s needed may not be a return to pre-pandemic normal, but a better, more biblical, normal. That includes a better rhythm of shared family culture, analog learning, creative real-life (not virtual) endeavors, and using technology for the glory of God. Some examples include reading books aloud together, asking good questions to foster substantive conversations at meal time, going outside to explore nature together, re-engaging with or developing shared hobbies, playing instruments and singing, playing board games, cooking together, exercising as a family, and the list could go on. 

It is up to parents to set expectations for life together in the family. That life is shaped in large part by how much, or how little, time is given to screens. Children need us to help them answer questions like: What does it look like to faithfully steward our time? How does social media use affect our thoughts, our affections, our desires? What might we do together if we put down our phones? And in the absence of those phones, how might we advance the kingdom of God in our childrens’ hearts and minds?

Here’s what might that look like in everyday life:

Meet with God before you meet with people: My husband and I both wait until after we’ve met with the Lord, praying and reading our Bibles, to even pick up our phones. Giving our first thoughts to what’s essential, seeking God’s will for the day, meditating on his revealed truth — all of this grounds us in what’s most important and makes us less vulnerable to the voices of the world that flood our phones (Psa.1:1-2).

Study the Bible and pray together: After seeking God personally, we seek him together as a family. Last fall we started spending between 10–15 minutes together on weekday mornings before we all headed in different directions, reading Lord Teach Us to Pray, a family study on the Lord’s Prayer. With our kids’ help, we read the text selections together and answer the questions provided in the study about what we just read in the Bible. 

Use screens in community: Proverbs 18:1 says, “Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment.” That reality is a warning against giving kids connected devices to use by themselves. We limit screen use to shared family spaces where they can be easily seen by more than just the person using them. 

Model what you require: (Or plan to when your children are old enough). Let your children see you stewarding your phone, your iPad, and your other smart devices the way you want them to steward theirs. 

Put screens to bed early: Rather than scrolling ourselves to a fitful sleep, we spend the last hour of most days together reading a story aloud, or reading books to ourselves, unwinding the stress of the day with restful “slow” entertainment, and closing the day’s activity with a family prayer.

As we celebrate a return to normal, these, and other similar embodied, relational practices can keep us from losing our way in the fog of media that grows thicker by the day.