For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man.” Mark 7:21-23
If you are a Christian, it is not unlikely that you have read an article, seen a blog, post, or Tweet, or even read a book on the dangers of technology – particularly the phenomena of social media. Certainly, we have seen a significant breakdown of interpersonal communication due to the ubiquitous nature of the smartphone as people’s eyes are glued to screens rather than the living, breathing world around them. It’s likely we’ve all seen entire families sitting at a restaurant table ignoring each other as they gave attention to their Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, or Twitter accounts. It is a problem to be sure, and it is worth the good commentary that it receives from concerned Christian leaders.
However, every time we meet a new cultural challenge, we must also be savvy to the opportunities it may present to us as well. Our knee-jerk reaction in the Church is too often to demonize a new innovation that takes the culture by storm. Not only does this make us look reactionary and paranoid, it is also contrary to the scriptures. Proverbs 18:13 says, “He who answers a matter before he hears it, it is folly and shame to him.” Certainly, we need to be able to help believers negotiate sudden changes to our cultural landscape, but we need to do so as informed, thoughtful leaders, recognizing both the advantages and the dangers to emerging cultural developments.
Along with the good Christian commentary and warnings about the possible dangers of technology in general and social media in particular, I have also seen and heard things shared that seemed to reflect personal opinion and bias rather than true fact. Sometimes these reactions simply betray a fear of the unknown by the misinformed. For example, I read almost exclusively on digital devices. This is not because I am a tech-head (which I am), but because of the convenience of carrying one device in my briefcase rather than ten books (I’m never reading less than three or four at any one time). I remember traveling with a forty-pound briefcase in my itinerant ministry days because my various Bible translations, books, and tape series necessitated that I do so. Today, I can have all of that on my smartphone. While some of my more suspicious friends may think that I have somehow taken the mark of the beast by subscribing to the technological conveniences of our present day, I am just thankful that my shoulder doesn’t hurt from the weight of my briefcase strap! Yet, I have heard ministers from the pulpit denounce reading the Bible from a device rather than a physical Bible as though the virtue were in the paper and ink. I cannot see how this is either scriptural or particularly helpful, especially when those outside the Church already see the anachronistic bent of many believers and their fear of innovation.
While I’m having a little fun here, I am trying to get to a bigger issue than one’s preference of tablet or paper. There is a different kind of dialogue going on in our culture today. The immediacy of information, compounded by the availability of an audience through the various social media platforms, has escalated both the amount and the heat of the exchange of ideas we see taking place in our culture today. A “Trump Tweet” or a celebrity’s political post set off a tsunami of responses broadly representing a myriad of reactions across the political spectrum. Jokes on Facebook abound about the dangers of merely expressing one’s opinion on social media, and yet, there has also been a new temerity bred due to the anonymity social media provides the participant. Unfortunately, this temerity often takes on the form of a nastiness and viciousness that would seldom be seen in actual, person to person dialogue. There’s no denying that there has been a deterioration in the health of the exchange of diverging ideas in our society. However, to blame social media for this is like blaming a car company for a drunk driver’s accident.
While the tools of technology may have contributed to a new level of nastiness in social interaction, they are not responsible for our behavior. They were not the potion that created a Mr. Hyde to our Dr. Jekyll, but rather they have simply provided a platform for the Mr. Hyde that was already real and present in man’s fallen nature. Similarly, the misquoted verse, “Money is the root of all evil” masks the real issue, for it is “the LOVE of money” which is the “root of all kinds of evil,” (1 Timothy 6:10), and that is a heart problem – not a money problem. One may be wealthy and have no such idol in one’s heart, while someone else may be poor and yet be a slave to the desire for riches. The same is true with technology. While it has exacerbated the problem of pornography and given it dangerous accessibility to young children as well as adults, it has also provided the means for taking the gospel to the ends of the world at the practically non-existent cost of a friendly Facebook post.
Today, I share my blogs and podcasts and have genuine, edifying interaction with friends I have never met in person. I have had substantive dialogue and disagreements, shared civilly and respectfully, through the very social media platforms that others use to spew hate and vitriol. I have not always been as responsible as I should have been, but I have learned a lot from these exchanges, and I hope my character has grown as I have learned to interact with people – in both agreement and disagreement – respectfully and meaningfully. Relationships I have begun on social media with Christians on the opposite side of the world have produced deep friendships with people who have been my hosts in their homes and who have stayed with me in mine. We have eaten each other’s food and become close to each other’s families. Their sons and daughters call me uncle, and I love it.
For me, the internet has opened possibilities for ministry outreach that I would have certainly never had in an earlier day. In fact, MUCH of what we do today depends upon the availability of connection and communication via the internet, social media and other media platforms. I am thankful that God has given us the tools to reach the world as never before, and while the discussion of the dangers of technology will and should go on, we must not allow ourselves to fall behind in our use of such wonderful means for sharing the good news with others. The key is not focusing on the merits of the tools but on the content of our character. This is where the real Christian finds his voice. Everything else just makes it louder.
Dr. Randy Bunch is the pastor of Connecting Point Church, located at 101 Adkisson Way in Taft, California, as well as a graduate advisor and adjunct professor at Summit Bible College in Bakersfield, California. He is the author of several books, including his new devotional, Immutable: Changeless Truth for a Changing World. For more information, or to purchase your copy, go to randylanebunch.org. For more information on the ministries of CPC, you can go the ministry’s website at connectingpc.org.