Weekend Book Review–The Next Story by Tim Challies

Jesus suffered at the hands of the religious leaders and Romans for hours.  Why?

I don’t think Christ’s alienation from the Father and Spirit and death on the cross had to last a certain amount of time.  Why so long?

I remember asking myself that question when I first read the Bible from cover-to-cover in 1997.  It wasn’t until years later after reading the Gospel accounts several times that it hit me–It took that long to save the thief on the cross next to him and the Roman solider who declared him to be the son of God.  Jesus suffered for hours to save one man (who began the day mocking him) and hours later to save another who assisted in his crucifixion.  Such an ordeal doesn’t just take love (although it certainly takes a lot of it) and it doesn’t just take bravery (although it takes a lot of that too), it takes discipline and focus.  Love and courage without discipline and focus is often ineffective if not foolish.

Uber-blogger Tim Challies argues in his forthcoming book The Next Story: Life and Faith after the Digital Explosion (Zondervan 2011) that the technological tools we surround ourselves with (smart phones, iPads, etc). are impairing our ability to focus.  He doesn’t condemn high-tech devices, in fact he is a bit of a gadget hound, but he worries that we are not approaching these resources with prayerful discernment. He is right to worry. 

Have you noticed over the last decade how difficult it is to have a focused conversation with some one? How often do you check your phone? Has technological advances given you more free time to spend with family or engaging in the spiritual disciplines? Have new device helped to relieve or increase your stress level?  Do you find yourself skimming pages instead of reading them?

Challies writes, “Thinking about technology in a distinctively Christian way means that we consider these three key ideas:

1. Technology is a good, God-given gift.  Created in God’s image, we have a mandate and a desire to create technology.  Technology is the creative activity of using tools to shape God’s creation for practical purposes.

2. Like everything else in creation, technology is subject to the curse.  Though intended as a means of honoring God, our technologies often become idols and compound our sinful rebellion against our Creator.

3. It is the human application of technology that helps us determine if it is being used to honor God or further human sin.  Discerning the intended use of a technology, examining our own use of it, and reflecting on these purposes in light of Scripture disciplines our technological discernment.” 

Challies goes on to unpack what such discernment looks like for a follower of Christ.  In conversational prose, he uncovers the seeming innocuous character of the digital age and then directs us to the wisdom of Scripture.

Challies’ new book is not just a good book (although it certainly an early contender for book of the year in my humble opinion), it is an important book.  I pastor a church in which the average attendee is 24 and they are not “digital immigrants” like me but barely known any other world than one of constant technological access.  Each one of them needs to read (not skim) this book and carefully consider the arguments therein.  In fact, I plan to use it in our church’s small group ministry.  If the church is to be salt and light then we must be prepared to confront not only idols such as sex and greed but the sirens of digital distraction that also can lead us away from radical discipleship.    

If there is a weakness in Challies work (and this borders on nitpicking) it is that he doesn’t seriously interact with a number of recent works that touch on the subject such as Flickering Pixels by Shane Hipps or You Are Not Gadget by Jaron Lanier.  Yet, there is not much else to quibble with in The Next Story

Tim Challies rightly calls us to use technology but not be a slave to it.  If we who follow Christ are to truly bear light into darkness then we must love with discipline and focus as our Lord did lest we squander the talents our God has given us.  We cannot center ourselves on our mission if we are constantly reacting to buzzes, beeps and personalized ring tones.