Book Review: “The Next Story” by Tim Challies

Highly Recommended. I have a friend who recently updated his phone plan so he could send and receive text messages. It wasn’t because he wanted to, but because he had to. He was one of the last remaining holdouts in my group of friends, a man of simplicity. But he was compelled to get text messaging because it was an important means of communication for his new girlfriend, and something he had to get hip with for her sake. He himself was a throwback man, but alas, he could no longer resist the wave of technological advances without risking being left behind. These are the times in which we live and it poses questions that Tim Challies addresses in his new book The Next Story: Life and Faith After the Digital Explosion

I’ve been following Tim Challies for quite some time now mainly as a resource that points me to other resources. He’s been a launching pad for me these past few years in directing me to great expositional preachers and implanting Christ-centered thoughts and ideas in my mind. His blog (www.challies.com) is among the most popular Christian sites yet I see it more as a ministry for him than “just another blog” like most them. He’s also a web designer by trade, so when he told his audience that he was writing a book on the Christian’s interaction with technology, he already had the credentials to write an insightful piece. And that’s exactly what he did.

Tim Challies set out to address the digital age and the struggles that come with the creative technology that God has blessed us with. People are distracted, our minds are subject to information overload, and our daily lives are clouded by minor tweets and status updates; but how are we supposed to live as Christians in such a colluded world? Challies’ response might surprise some of you:

If technology is so easily twisted and abused, our gut response may be to avoid it. We can try to carefully avoid using any form of digital technology, fleeing the temptation and the opportunities for evil they encourage. And yet for most of us, avoidance is not an option, nor is it necessarily the most biblical, God-honoring response…Our task, then, is not to avoid technology but to carefully evaluate it, redeem it, and ensure that we are using it with the right motives and for the right goals.

We are a generation that is being shaped by our circumstances. Challies makes it clear that our times are changing and it’s beginning (if it hasn’t already) to change the way we do normal life. For example, a “growing number of us, our first glimpse of a future spouse comes through a picture displayed on a website. We use Facebook to provide updates on everything we do, combining the mundane with the sublime in one long stream of information.” Though a rather depressing thought in its own right, it’s time to be real with what’s really going on and how our world is being redefined by technology.

There is no escaping technological advances and their affects on American society. It’s true, sooner or later, it’s going to get you. Even good things rely on media, remarks Challies. “New Calvinism is a reaction to the church growth movement…It is a movement that relied heavily on Christian blogs and social media, one that would not have happened without them.” So our goal as Christians is to be good stewards of what we have, to use it responsibly and for the glory of God.

One issue with which Challies most struck a cord is when he writes about our affected ability to communicate. He writes:

God’s Word teaches us a key principle that underlies our ability to communicate: The tongue is connected to the heart. The words that come out of a person’s mouth or are typed on his keypad and texted to a friend are an expression of what is in his heart. When angry words spill out of his mouth, he cannot plead ignorance or circumstance. His words prove that there is an internal corruption. As Jesus said, “What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person” (Matthew 15:18).

And what of the vast amount of empty, meaningless conversation that goes on today? This must show that there is an emptiness, a lack of substance, in our minds and hearts. Shallow words reveal a shallow heart. Could it be that our digital technologies are encouraging us to live in a world of shallow, meaningless, immediate communication? Are these the ideologies carried within Facebook, within the cell phone? Do they promote significance in communications, or do they seem to prohibit it? Do they promote depth, or breadth?

Challies would give us his answer:

The truth is that text rarely, if ever, can equal the richness of a face-to-face conversation. It’s static, disembodied. It does not convey hand gestures, verbal tone, inflection, or facial expressions, things we are taught from birth to encode and decode.

This is not to say that all communication through social media is a bad thing, but its value is overstated. God created us to be relational people, just as we’re to be with Him, which is why face-to-face is such a rich experience for people. It’s time to rethink how God created us and how technology might be molding us into something we’re not. We are meant to communicate with one another, some ways are more effective than others.

It’s a good time to consider how technology affects us, especially as Christians who are purposed to glorify God with our lives. It’s been a while since I’ve been so convicted by a book, mainly because Challies touches on things that I myself struggle with when it comes to technology. There are so many points that he makes in this book that reveal our true heart condition, our true sinfulness in using technology. I was pleasantly surprised by the various issues that he addressed and how relevant his questions and applications are to this digital generation. There is scarcely a person who wouldn’t benefit from what Challies has to say.

bc

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