Saturday, November 14, 2009

Twitter and Facebook – Help Me Again: Why Should I Do It? Dangers to the Gospel from Social Media

Let me state up front I am not a Luddite. I love technology, sometimes a bit too much. But in my work for The Navigators we spend a lot of time thinking of how to communicate with and transfer concepts, ideas and meaning to people under the age of 40 (which blessedly, I am still a member of for another 9 months). 

One of the key things that all the best thinkers say is that you have Twitter, you have to FaceBook and MySpace.  In other words, the Church (by which I mean all Christians but especially leaders) is failing the Gospel if it is not actively working through these media. 

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The Church was an early adopter of technology.  Radio was tailor made for church sermons.  Movies, while viewed as moral cesspool by some (yes, even back in the early part of the 20th century, before Hollywood became Hollywood).  But other saw the chance to use film to communicate “the Gospel” (this post is not about defining the Gospel, but I am long over due for that discussion).  The railroad and latter cars and airplanes helped the idea of roving revival meetings.  The “Big Tent” model was popular for evangelism at the end of the 19th century.  Later we would see churches embrace overheads then Powerpoint (perhaps the worst adaptation in the history of the Church, but that is only an opinion).  As we moved into the 21st century many churches still didn’t have a website, and today many church websites are still a disaster, but then again, they are primarily serving as active phone book pages (and there is a role for that). 

But what about Twitter and Facebook?  Do they make sense for the Church and for those who are involved in evangelism or discipleship work?

For a really interesting take on the uselessness of both technology see these two articles:

On Facebook:  http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/016/256implp.asp?pg=1

On Twitter:  http://www.denverpost.com/harsanyi/ci_13774550

Here is my deep concern.  First, on Twitter, as Rob Bell, one of the “it” pastors in the Emergent or New Wave Evangelicals, has discovered, it is not possible to do a good job of communicating “the Gospel” in 140 characters.  What is more, in a world that has increasing reduced itself to more and more short concepts (with no overriding meta-narrative, proving that even if postmodernism is wrong, it is ultimately winning).  There is a pull between “reaching” people and at the same time making it impossible to live out the Christian faith because we never help people to develop a full-orbed way of seeing and understanding the world.  Can you ever get there in 140 characters?  Is not the very underlying “philosophy” of Twitter is that you should be able to say it in 140 characters?  I reject that philosophy.  Things worth saying can sometimes be said in short way – like I love you – but even those short ideas have to have larger stories built into them or they ceases to have any meaning.  And a meaningful story in 140 characters?  I don’t think so.  Twitter as a tool of the Gospel ultimately encourages the very reduction of the Gospel that has caused so much angst among a lot of Evangelicals and Emergents.  If you start with a 140 character philosophy, can you ever get to a worldview that integrates everything from grace to suffering to worship to creation care? 

As for Facebook, it points to one of the great challenges of this current age – self-absorption. Now, I do think there is more to be said for Facebook.  I do have a “page” but I rarely do anything with it. But if is nice for keeping up ever so briefly with friends I have made around the country and world.  But it puts so much emphasis on the self that I do worry that it encourages narcissism and its Christian sister, therapeutic theology.  Look, as a Christian theologian I had better begin and end with God.  Now in between there we find us.  But when we start with ourselves?  Well as Jesus tells us in Mark 8:35, “For whoever wants to save his life[a] will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.”

I know it is hard not to talk about the “us” part of the Gospel.  But true perspective comes from focusing upon God in Christ Jesus and then seeing ourselves in light of his grace, seeing ourselves as God’s beloved children, rather than God as the lucky recipient of our love.  Now I am being a little unfair, but I must confess that even I when I teach and preach easily fall into the “what is in it for you” part of the biblical picture and take my eyes off of God’s greatness.  Facebook can easily (and yes, I know people for whom it becomes an idol) make us think that we are more important than we really are.  We are infinitely valuable, but because of God’s love for us, not because we are infinitely interesting people (trust me, I am not really that interesting, except maybe to my dog).

The other deep concern about Facebook is that it can easily take the place of the hard work of real relationships.  Giving someone a quick update on what has happened is good, but inviting people to share you life in person…well that is what we really need. And yes, all of us are busy – very busy.  Too busy for deep friendships.  But that speaks to our need to prioritize our lives (big hint – you cannot have it all, whether you are a 1950s man or a liberated woman – you are finite and have to choose wisely how to spend you hours, your energy, your wealth, your love).  Facebook can serve the concept of friendship, especially spiritual ones that are necessary for growth.  But it cannot replace them.

Some time back Hugh Hewitt, author, lawyer, radio talk show host, and Christian thinker.  I love Hugh and have said so many times.  He has asked the question some time back about how the Church is using technology tools for the movement of the Gospel.  That has had me thinking about this question ever since.  I think his baseline assumption was that we who are passionate about the Good News of Jesus need to embrace these technology advances.  The pragmatist in me thought “yes, and quickly” but I am beginning to wonder if we need to think this through much more carefully and not make mistakes that will lead to a focus on self and to further reductions of the Gospel (aka, when you die you go to heaven – it is true but that is really a reduction of the biblical call to faith).  Technology can serve the Gospel or it can make it all about us and cause the Gospel to bend to the technology.  Is it worth it? For Facebook, yes with careful consideration. But Twitter?  Like the author at the Denver Post said, ultimately it really is useless…and maybe dangerous for culture!

Comments?  Questions?  Think the idea of two page article is proof I don’t get it about the postmodern age?  Email me at

Posted by Christopher on 11/14 at 02:08 PM
Theological Musings on Important TopicsPermalink

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Quote "Jesus does not give recipes that show the way to God as other teachers of religion do. He is himself the way." Karl Barth.

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