Results tagged “internet” from Reformation21 Blog

Closing the Facebook

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It's been two weeks since I deleted my Facebook account. I do not see myself going back. The reasons for leaving have nothing to do with cybersecurity or privacy - they have to do with what Facebook is doing to me as a person.

I began using Facebook about a decade ago. Ten years ago my life was very different. My wife and I had lived in a different state for a stretch and recently had moved closer to home again. My life had been going through changes as our family had grown from 1 children to 4 children. As a young family, the idea of being able to share our lives online with family and friends was quite appealing: why not post photos for grandparents, great grandparents, aunts, uncles, and other friends we had made while living in multiple states to see?

There was a stretch of time when I was quite happy with Facebook and found its utility to be helpful. My mom would "like" photos of her grandkids, I knew when my uncle or aunt would have a health emergency, and most importantly I would know when new branches were added to our family tree or less-than-close family members would get married.

However, even back then I found that I was using social media to trumpet my opinions and slap people upside the head when I believed that they were wrong. I would open Facebook and feel a chemical rush as I saw that not only did I have "notifications" to check, but somebody thought I was important enough to argue with me (more about that chemical rush later). I don't recall ever changing anyone's mind, but I remember spending a lot of my time quite worked up.

As I moved toward attending seminary and becoming a pastor I decided that my Facebook use needed to be measured and careful. No more shooting from the hip and picking fights wherever I could find a willing participant. I resolved that my Facebook page would be a place of positivity and up building other Christians. I shared helpful articles, interesting news stories, Bible verses, and quotes from theologians that I hoped would help friends, fellow pastors, and parishioners.

As I became more "disciplined" in how I used Facebook I noticed a few issues:

1. Problems With Other people

One of the things that has become apparent to me is that I almost never (with a couple of exceptions) feel my esteem for others grow as I read their Facebook walls. People I heretofore assumed were relatively level-headed Christians would end up:

  • Sharing the cooky-est conspiracy theories I have ever heard
  • Supporting organizations and groups that I couldn't even conceive a rational person being excited about
  • Picking fights with people and arguing illogically and angrily
  • Showing me that they have way more time on their hands than I ever assumed they did.

I had a family member that practically disowned me because she disagreed with my political positions...as expressed on Facebook, of course. If we had spoken in person and I had told her my views, we would probably still be in touch; but, Facebook has a way of helping us speak in the worst possible way and read one another in the worst possible light. Facebook ruined a close family relationship. You might say it was me, or my family member, but I don't think so. The online format is a great way of losing friends and family, but not a very good way of making or keeping them.

Even worse, it turns out that Facebook is a bad place for the work of the church to take place, as well. I have talked to numerous pastors and elders who have joined Facebook groups for their own religious groups only to be filled with tremendous disappointment.

I initially joined a Facebook group for my own denomination soon after being ordained and assumed it would be the one place on Facebook where I would find a refuge from the insanity of our times. Unfortunately (and I can't emphasize this enough) it has actually been the most disappointing place for me on the entire internet.

As a young idealistic pastor I had assumed that my peers were dignified men who would carry themselves carefully and thoughtfully. I assumed they would only speak when necessary and have sage wisdom. I have found this to be true of many elders. However, I also discovered that there are massive quantities of biblical and theological illiteracy within my denomination - men who didn't even seem to understand the basics of our church government. A few times men admitted to bizarre beliefs that are against our church's teaching, but when I confronted them they said they had no intention of ever reporting their odd views.

Worse, it turns out that many elders in churches today are actually deeply immature men who name-call each other, are defensive and childish in the way they speak to each other, and who are very quick to show their dislike for one another. Eventually I left the group because reading it on a daily basis left me grieving for the future of denominational discourse.

I am more convinced than ever that Facebook is the worst possible place on earth for the work of the church to be done.

In time I realized that the only pastors whom I felt a growing esteem for were those who did not post on Facebook at all. Over time I respected their restraint, and I found myself imagining the best about them instead of seeing the worst on Facebook. I started to wonder: if I respect most those who interact the least, what must others think about me if I post daily... sometimes as many as five times a day!

2. Problems with Myself

Facebook is making you unhappy. It's making me unhappy. You see it, I see it. We all see it. The argument made by Facebook is that yes, their research does show that using their product correlates with growing unhappiness, but they do so much "good" in the world that the bad side-effects are tolerable.

I have had a lot of conversations lately about Facebook, and probably 90% of the people I have spoken to hate Facebook but still use it. They know it's poisoning public discourse. They know face to face conversations (or at least well thought articles and opinion pieces) are a healthier way to hash out disagreements. They know that the negativity and anger of other people online is rubbing off on them, and yet they are still using it. The question is why? I'll offer some thoughts toward the end on why I think Facebook still persists in spite of its negative impact on our hearts and souls.

3. An addiction to feedback

Jaron Lanier, in his book Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now talks about the chemical rush that comes from opening your social media and seeing notifications. The truth is, we all feel an affirmation of our existence each time we open Facebook and see that red number in the corner. Lanier says that we become so addicted to seeing it that we will write for no reason at all, just in hopes that we'll see the feedback that we are becoming addicted to.

How do I know we're addicted? Well I don't know that you are addicted, but I know that I am. It's been two weeks since I deleted my Facebook account and deleted the app from my phone, and for the first week I was incessantly opening my phone and staring at nothing. And I know what I wanted... I wanted Facebook. What did I want on it? Nothing. It wasn't there. I had seen how unhappy it was making me. Why would I want to look at that awful app?

I may not have been wanting anything from Facebook, but telling my body that was something else. My body had become accustomed to the physical act of opening, looking, and seeing the red number for over ten years. After about three days I was admitting to others that I thought I was feeling physical withdrawals from the ritual and the experience. Where would I go to share my little thoughts? How would I know what is going on around me?

Well that leads to the next point, which is this: I should call them. Text them personally. Talk to them. Visit with them. Catch up with them at church.

4. Facebook Relational Laziness (FRL)

I've had more than one conversation in person with someone where I start to share a thought and realize that I already said it on Facebook as a status. And so I'll say something else instead. My Facebook usage was affecting my personal interactions. I found myself saving my best thoughts and ideas for social media instead of putting them into sermons or sharing them with a hurting person in person.

When people would say, "How are you doing?" I found myself not saying as much because I had assumed they saw my Facebook feed already and I didn't want to be redundant. I haven't called my mother in a very long time, and I would suggest it's because I haven't felt the need. After all, I can see what she's up to, and she can already see what I'm up to: why call each other when we can see all the necessary information? The answer: FRL.

A decade of using Facebook has reshaped how some of us do relationships, and not for the better.

Why Are We Still Using Facebook?

For some, it's a matter of necessity. It's hard to be a public official in 2018 and not have some sort of social media presence. I even told myself that I had to keep social media so I could manage our church Facebook page (I figured out an annoying work-around). One family member owns a business and tells me she would drop Facebook in a heartbeat if she didn't need it to stay in business.

But truthfully, I suspect the greatest reason why we still use Facebook is loneliness. Some people truly wouldn't know what to do with themselves if they didn't have Facebook. They'd probably get so lonely that they might go out in public, join a club, invite a friend over... visit a church... do something to combat that feeling of alienation.

Hugh Laurie played the titular character of the TV show House for about ten years. His character on the show walks with a limp. In real life he has no limp, but the actual actor started to be impacted by his use of the cane and the need to affect a limp for his character. Eventually he persuaded the show's writers and producers to find a way to fix his character's limp. Using an unnecessary crutch or cane can begin to ruin us, and I want to suggest that Facebook has been a relational crutch for us, and it has affected how we walk and live and talk now.

Loneliness is an epidemic in our day, and the younger you are, statistically the more lonely you are likely to be. Isn't it ironic that the most "connected" generation is the most alienated and lonely? Just a few weeks away from Facebook has shown me how dependent I've been on the feedback and affirmation that comes from being clever, liked, and followed by others on Facebook. I may not have spent time with more people, but I've done something close enough to a "relationship" that I persuaded myself that I wasn't lonely. Facebook becomes "good enough" as a substitute.

Why use Facebook when it makes us so unhappy? Many would rather be angry and unhappy than lonely. Even if you're mad online and surrounded by people you don't like very much, you're still not alone. Another reason they use this monster that they don't like is Fear of Missing Out. What if something happens and you find it out later than everyone else? What if someone has a baby and they never tell you?

I would suggest that an open-minded evaluation of social media's effect on our own hearts and lives will show that it is slowly draining us of our immediate experience of the real world. It is making us people who perform for others, but do not really live. It's making us more isolated, but at the same time making us think that knowledge about others is the same as knowing others. It's making us confused about what a "friend" really is.

It's time for all of us to rethink relationships. It's time for us to rethink Facebook.

Before You Post...

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Criticism is usually given much more freely on the internet than in person. It is one of the chief reasons why the internet seems to generate more heat than light. It is so easy to hit that "post" button when you don't have to face that person's reaction. In some ways, the internet can reveal our hearts better than personal interactions. This is why it is very important that we meditate on how to give and receive criticism. Proverbs tells us that the way we receive criticism marks us either as foolish or wise people.

Proverbs 9:7-12 occurs in a context of the choice between Lady Wisdom (verses 1-6) and Lady Folly (verses 13-18). The passage itself forms an envelope with chapter 1, especially since the fear of the Lord being the beginning of wisdom is located in both places (1:7 and 9:10). The key verse for my purpose here is verse 8 (in the ESV): "Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you."

The first (and rather obvious) point is that the wise one responds to criticism in exactly the opposite way to the fool. The wise man loves the one who reproves him. The foolish person responds with hatred and scorn for the messenger. The contrast is explained in the enveloping verses. The scornful person's response is laid out in more detail in verse 7. Abuse and injury are the results that the reprover can expect from trying to correct the scornful. Verse 9, however, shows that greater wisdom and learning will be the result from reproving the wise man.

This shows us the underlying attitude towards correction and rebuke that the foolish and the wise have. The foolish person believes that he cannot improve anywhere, and that he is perfect just the way he is. He has enough experience in the ways of God, or he has enough letters after his name, in order to be someone of importance. That means he has arrived. The wise man, however, realizes that he is so far from God's standard that he always has room for improvement, no matter how mature he is in the Christian faith, how old he is, or how educated he is.

How is this possible? What is the logic here? The answer is in verse 10. If a person fears God, he will not fear man. Fear of God and fear of man is a zero-sum game. They cannot co-exist peacefully. The wrong reaction to criticism stems from the fear of man. Read that last sentence again. So, if a person fears God, he will react quite differently to criticism, because he is not trying to look good in front of men, but is instead seeking to please his God. It will be a perception of iron sharpening iron, rather than personal attacks. The person who fears God does not wrap up his identity in how other people think of him. Instead, his personal worth is entirely dependent on what God thinks of him. The wise man would rather look foolish to the whole world, rather than be foolish in God's eyes.

Our reaction to criticism, therefore, shows us the degree of pride and arrogance in our hearts, especially when the criticism has a mixture of truth and error in it, as is often the case. Do we focus on the incorrect part of the criticism, or do we seek for what is true in the criticism? If we are honest, we will have to admit that criticism is not our favorite way of gaining wisdom. We would rather get it from a book that isn't directly attacking us, or from someone who always phrases things in a positive way. Here, however, the proverb is plain: we are fools to hate the messenger who criticizes us, especially if that criticism has any validity whatsoever. Instead, we should thank the messenger for pointing out our blind spots.

When reviled, Jesus did not revile in turn. With Jesus, of course, all criticism is wide of the mark. He was actually perfect. There is no valid criticism of Him whatsoever. So, did Jesus blow up when people reviled Him? He was as a lamb silent before its shearers. This kind of thinking is quite foreign to most of us. If even the slightest criticism comes our way, we start World War III, even if the criticism is true! But if a calm reaction is Christ's response to wrongful criticism, then how much more positively should we receive criticism that has any truth in it?

So, our reaction to criticism should be much more humble. When criticism comes our way, we should analyze the criticism to see if there be anything true in it. If there is, we should be glad of that, and take it to heart. Anything that is not true should simply roll off our backs. We do not need to defend ourselves from every attack that comes our way.

Furthermore, we do not need to correct everyone on the internet who is wrong. A little application of the golden rule would greatly improve internet culture. Ask yourself if you would want to receive the criticism you are about to dish out. Ask yourself if you are writing in anger (don't do that unless you are absolutely convinced that it is a righteous anger, and even then you might want to ask someone you trust if it is so) or from love. If you are angry, you should be extremely hesitant to write anything. Ask yourself if you would say the same thing to that person if they were standing right in front of you. Use some imagination and seek to discern how the other person will perceive what you write. Pray about what you write. It is not a bad idea to pray over every comment and post that you write. Stick to the issue at hand, and do not attack the person. Insults immediately close people's ears.

Be wise about criticism, and not foolish. One has to think about these things in advance. There is no time to develop wisdom on the spot, in the middle of a cat fight. Think these things through in advance. Learn from your mistakes, and grow.

I mean, once Trueman refused to give up the black shoes and socks when at the beach of Harvey Cedars NJ, it was clear some things were settled! But there is still hope...

Reformation21.org is the flagship of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals online flotilla. It is joined by PlaceforTruth.org which offers biblical theology with a large dose of exegete and ChristwardCollective.org parsing out solid biblical doctrine from younger contributors not afraid to stand on the theological shoulders of the Reformers. These great resources are central to the Alliance's mission of proclaiming biblical doctrine in order to foster a Reformed awakening in today's Church.

So it would be very hard to improve those things. But we did improve some of the technical aspects of the site (with a view to rebuild it entirely in early 2015). So look around, try them out, and let us know what you think of:

- Printable pages on the articles, blog posts, and reviews. No longer will those pesky (but I advocate interesting) side bars be printed with the content you are wanting to share.
- Social sharing buttons have long been needed. Now you can share a post with friends through social media or email it to your 'socially challenged' Uncle Bob!
- Better contributor access can be found on the contributor page. This will allow you to fit any and all contributors to r21, and find all of their submissions as well.
- A lot of clean up of those aforementioned side bars. There we removed some dated sections and incorporated it right into the blog. We also right sorted the previous devotions so you can start reading and using them from the top down.
- And we improved the navigation. You can move back and forth between pages in any section easier (who thought a list of prior years and months was a helpful system?). And you can also find across the top common navigation across the entire Alliance, moving from one site to another, and back again.

So, while it's the reformation21 you have trusted and used for years, I hope these small changes will increase its function and encourage its use. And should you have other ideas or needs, we would love to hear from you. Please email me at rbrady@AllianceNet.org and share your ideas and I would also love to hear how r21 has been helpful for you and your Church too!

Book bites

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A couple of bits and pieces to recommend, either of which you might already have sampled, I hope to your edification.

First, Antinomianism by Mark Jones (Amazon.com/Amazon.co.uk/Westminster). We are not lacking expressions of the blunter forms of antinomianism in our day, but the phenomenon is actually far more subtle than a rejection or amelioration of the abiding relevance of the Ten Commandments as a binding code on the conviction and behaviour of regenerate men and women. Jones plunges into the seventeenth century to bring out some of the very fine distinctions and seemingly slight but vital shifts of emphasis that expose antinomianism as a system both in its older and more modern forms. Here you will find something of the breadth of the heterodoxy involved, and also the breadth of the orthodox response (in which there were also some differences of opinion). Particularly helpful are Jones' pastoral concern for those exposed to this kind of ministry and his determination to offer a thoroughly Christological corrective. This is a cracking little volume, though if you cannot even spell the word newance you are likely to have some issues with it. You might yourself wish to massage a few of his conclusions but the book is a timely reminder of what Jones suggests is "Reformed theology's unwelcome guest." As a historical and theological frame of reference for issues that we are facing again today, this slim but thoughtful work should prove extremely useful.

Second, The Shallows by Nicholas Carr (Amazon.com/Amazon.co.uk). This is the gent who wrote the famous essay asking whether or not Google is making us stupid. This is not a Christian book, nor is it a diatribe against technology. Thoroughly naturalistic in its approach, with no real room for the spiritual or supernatural, it is nevertheless a penetrating volume. Carr considers the potent effect of the interweb on our brains, its effective training of us into certain patterns of thought, its profound and even deliberate impact on our assimilation and assessment and retention of data. Stimulating in style, broad in scope, balanced in approach, pointed in warning, I think that Christians who act and interact in large measure online would do well to read this book, put it in the context of their Scriptural convictions, and carefully examine the extent to which we are being formed and influenced by the media through which we now access and receive so much of our information, let alone our theological instruction.