Book Review: The Next Story, by Tim Challies (Zondervan, 2011)

This is a book that I was eager to read.  I’ve had a very critical attitude about where technology is going, and how it is shaping us before I curmudgeonly surrendered to blogging and all (well, really only some of) its associated networking.   Now that I confess to its necessities and benefits, I still hold dear all my original reservations.  Timely entering the scene—Tim Challies’ new book with the subtitle Life and Faith after the Digital Explosion.  For those of you Christians on the internet who may be living under a rock, Challies has one of the most read Christian blogs in the cyber-hood.  So I was looking forward to gleaning some wisdom from a Christian who is seasoned and well-experienced in digital explosions.  Although, the title had me a little scared.  The next story?  I haven’t even jumped on the happy wagon with the right now story.  I was afraid that Challies might be a little too gung-ho in his technological prowess. As I began reading, it was relieving to notice Challies held many of the same concerns.  I was very encouraged to see someone whose whole career is based on media devices (web design, two blogs, publisher, and author) to be discerning about how they impact his life as a Christian.  Instead of giving us a moralistic mandate, Challies offers up riveting questions for reflection, and later honestly relates how these thoughts have challenged his own relationship with technology.  The purpose of his book is stated in a question: How has the digital explosion reshaped our understanding of ourselves, our world, and most importantly, our knowledge of God?  And what is “the next story” that will form and direct the way we live (12)? He gives us historical background of the different technological ages we have lived in and their effect on culture.  There’s no calling technology evil or acting like everyone better get with the program and update to all the latest digital toys.  Rather, we are challenged to find the “sweet spot” where experience, theory, and theology overlap in our technological lives.  He explains that technology is actually mandated by God in the sense that we create tools in order to fulfill the cultural mandate.   It’s always refreshing to read a book that causes us to meditate further and challenge ourselves on the matter at hand, rather than offering a marketable formula.  Challies aims at the heart, rather than just the outward behavior. If I were to draw you an infographic book review, I would have an image symbolizing our technological age that passes through a strainer, symbolizing the gospel.  The Next Story takes us on that journey.  Challies book strains out many gritty subtleties that we may have missed if the gospel light hasn’t been shining.  He addresses some of the cultural idols in our lives such as productivity, significance, and desire for information by asking the question, Is it possible that constantly communicating with others is not always good (74)In this, he pushes us to look at the quality and motivations of our immediate accesses in communication.  Now that we do have direct access at our fingertips, are we using it to serve God better, or do we in turn end up serving the devices to feed our own idols?  Later in the book, Challies warns us against recreating ourselves in the images of our own devices.  Have we confused our tools of technology and their functions with our own calling and capabilities?  Christians are called to be a covenant community, worshipping together, and serving their neighbor throughout the week.  Instead, many are falling into what Challies calls networked individualism, communicating primarily through mediated devices, and even trying to have virtual church.   And now that we have computers to store all of our information for us, we think of our own minds in the same manner—information holders.  He reminds us that collecting mass quantities of data is not the same as gaining knowledge.  And if we continue in our habits of scanning for information, we abandon the qualities to actually learn, such as reflection and meditation.  As we are gorging ourselves on information, we lose true wisdom.  Also associated with networked individualism is the authority of truth.  Challies demonstrates how the wiki model of research has fashioned us to hold the idea of truth as a democracy.  Truth in this model is nearly indistinguishable from consensus (166). This book challenged me as the reader to meditate on the world’s progress—which seems to be defined as mediation through disembodied technology, and God’s progress—through the True mediator Jesus Christ.  God’s purpose is to make us become like our Mediator, which truly is glorious.  We need to be watchful that we are not becoming like the world’s mediators.  As we use these tools, Christians need to be constantly aware of the idolatrous allure of our devices.  Our goal is not to be disembodied, data exchangers.  Jesus Christ’s resurrection secured for us new, glorified bodies on a new earth.  Our hope in communication is nothing less than a face-to-face relationship with the One who made us.  Let us treat those made in His image with the same standard. The Next Story is a great, discerning book that I would recommend to any friend.  It even serves as an apologetic to an unbeliever for what challenges a person made in the image of God has to face in their ever-changing technological cultures.  Maybe Tim will write about this in his next book, but I was hoping to see a chapter that dealt more specifically with how this digital age has affected the actual worship service, particularly a pastor’s delivery of his sermon and the congregation’s ability to focus on it.  Pastors have new challenges with the short attention spans they are preaching to, and many have turned to entertaining, digital aids.  What does this say about the authority of truth?  What does it have to say about our True Helper, the Holy Spirit? I realize this would be speaking more about the spiritual kingdom, rather than the common kingdom, so a separate book may be appropriate. *Disclaimer: Zondervan sent me a free copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review on my blog.