Today’s article is a continuation from yesterday’s post, as Dr. MacArthur concludes his discussion on how Christians engage with social media. You can find the previous posts in this series here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.
None other than National Public Radio recently lamented the growing trivialization of values in American society. In an NPR web-article entitled, “Trivialization Nation” (Feb. 2010) Linton Weeks writes, “The wide-spread trivialization of meaningful things is indisputable. Sound bites and silliness reign supreme. . . . Perhaps the tendency to trivialize is born of band-wagonism or laziness. . . . Trivializing large ideals is easier than living up to them. And it’s less scary.”
Elsewhere, the article cited an interview with the president of Harvard, Drew Faust, in which she was asked to respond to the dumbing down of American culture. “I worry about attention span,” Faust said, “because people will not listen to more than a couple of sentences or read more than a couple of sentences. Does everything have to be a sound bite? Is everything to be digested into something brief? And aren’t there complicated ideas that we ought to have the patience to give our attention to?” (Source)
One novelist-turned-blogger provides firsthand testimony of that trivialization in his own experience. He writes:
This is, I think, the real danger of social media and Twitter. . . . It changes the way I process information. Or to be more precise, I no longer process information—I merely consume it. I speed read hundreds of bits of articles a day, absorbing lots of information, but rarely actually thinking about it. . . . The difficult thoughts, the ambivalent thoughts, the repulsive thoughts, the thoughts too complicated to be reduced to a tweet. They are labeled low priority and sent to the back office of my mind.
Geoff Dyer, writing in The Guardian, echoes that concern: “Sometimes I think my ability to concentrate is being nibbled away by the internet; other times I think it’s being gulped down in huge, Jaws-shaped chunks.”
A CNBC article entitled, “Is Twitter Making You Stupid?” concludes with this sobering assessment: “It seems that we’ve managed, in the words of playwright Richard Foreman . . . to transform ourselves into ‘pancake people’—spread wide and thin as we connect with that vast network of information accessed by the mere touch of a button.”
While scientists and social critics debate the effects of social media on how we think, one thing remains clear: Christians must guard themselves against becoming theological pancakes. Thanks to the market-driven methodologies of the seeker-sensitive movement, the dumbing down of doctrine has characterized American evangelicalism for decades. In many ways, sites like Twitter and Facebook only exarbate that problem because they provide a venue in which reductionism and extreme brevity simultaneously coincide with information overload and infinite distraction.
But not every theological truth can be adequately summarized in just a phrase or two. And not every debate can be resolved in just one blog article. Many doctrines require extended time and thought to properly process. Mature believers reflect deeply on the things of God and the truths of His Word. They are not a mile wide and an inch deep. Instead their lives are marked by rich devotion, focused study, prolonged prayer, and careful mediation. Cultivating those kinds of spiritual disciplines takes time and effort—traits that are rarely prized in the information age.
In light of that, believers must not allow blogs, tweets, and status updates to become their primary source of theological education or spiritual input. If they do, they will inevitably become doctrinally shallow and spiritually malnourished.
God’s Word repeatedly calls us to use our minds wisely. We are to think on things that are right and true (Phil. 4:8) as we test all things carefully (1 Thess. 5:21) and bring every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:5). Our minds are to be renewed (Rom. 12:2) as we allow the Word of Christ to dwell in us richly (Col. 3:16). We are to be sober-minded (1 Cor. 15:34) as we set our minds on things above (Col. 3:2) and prepare them for action (1 Pet. 1:13).
Clearly, God cares how we think and what we think about. Insofar as social media websites cultivate the trivialization of profound truths, while simultaneously fostering shorter attention spans, believers would do well to proceed carefully.
Something to Think about
At this point it is important to reiterate what I said at the beginning. Social networking can be a useful tool when it is used in moderation and for the right things. At the same time, however, pitfalls and temptations do exist; and believers need to arm themselves accordingly. Social media are obviously not going away any time soon. But that doesn’t mean we can be undiscerning in how we approach them.
For me, as a pastor, this issue is particularly important from a shepherding perspective. Christian leaders are called to equip their people to think through every area of life with biblical wisdom. And this is no exception.
Moreover, believers (and especially pastors) need to be careful what they communicate to the world about their lives. Once something is posted online it can be seen by anyone else. Once it’s cached, there is a permanent record of it. That means every status update and every tweet is part of the believer’s public testimony as a Christian.
As Paul told the Galatians, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (2:20). Like Paul and every other believer, my life is no longer my own. The focus must not be on me, but on Christ. When someone hears from me publicly, I want it all to point to Him.