Tim Challies is an author who needs no introduction. His blog, Informing the Reforming (www.challies.com) boasts thousands of readers, most of whom appreciate Challies’ thoughtful posts, penetrating book reviews, and his heart for the things of God. Challies not only has a deep understanding of God’s Word and culture; he has an ability to communicate truth in a witty, yet serious way. His latest book, The Next Story: Life and Faith After the Digital Explosion is no exception.
Part one is a look at technology and its relationship to the Christian faith. Challies is especially concerned to demonstrate how theory, experience, and theology intersect. The author begins by arguing that technology is good gift from God; indeed it is part of the original creation mandate: “Technology is the creative activity of using tools to shape God’s creation for practical purposes – obedience to God requires that we create technology.” To do any less, is tantamount to sinful behavior.
However, the author rightly notes that “technology is subject to the curse.” The tools of technology (computers, iPhones, internet, etc.) have a propensity to attract the human heart in an idolatrous way and lure Christ-followers into a relationship that fails to honor God: “The things we create can – and will – try to become idols in our hearts. Though they enable us to survive and thrive in a fallen world, the very aid they provide can deceive us with a false sense of comfort and security, hiding our need for God and his grace.” The link between technology and idolatry is clear. But there is more to the story.
The author includes a fascinating summary of technology, which he maintains involves both “risk and opportunity.” This summary helps set the stage for part two which contains a host of practical imports, especially is it relates to the Christian life.
The author begins part two by demonstrating how the freedom of technology can actually enslave its adherents. The idolatry of communication is addressed: “When our words serve an idol, they try to distract us from what matters most.” Calvin’s claim that the human heart is an “idol factory” is vividly painted in this book.
Challies alerts readers to the danger of ungodly communication: “The words that come out of a person’s mouth or are typed on his keypad and texted to a friend are an expression of what is in his heart. When angry words spill out of his mouth, he cannot plead ignorance or circumstance. His words prove that there is an internal corruption … The caution that marks our speech must also mark our texting, our emailing, our commenting, or blogging, and our tweeting.” Readers are encouraged to speak the truth in love and strive for maturity.
The author warns readers to steer clear from shallow thinking, a danger that poses a serious threat to Christians: “The challenge facing us is clear. We need to relearn how to think, and we need to discipline ourselves to think deeply, conquering the distractions in our lives so that we can live deeply.” Several helpful suggestions are offered; suggestions that will help readers to think and reason more clearly and exercise Christian discernment.
Challies helps readers sort through the massive amount of information that confronts them on a daily basis. He encourages five practical steps for dealing with this challenge:
1. Get wisdom.
2. Measure input.
3. Choose quality over quantity.
Chapter eight is worth the price of the book. The author discusses how truth is determined in the digital revolution – by consensus and relevance. He reveals how Wikipedia measures truth by consensus, while search engines such as Google measure truth by relevance. However, he does not recommend Christians throw the baby out with the bath water. Rather, he waves a much-needed banner of caution: ” … We need to be exceedingly careful that we know and understand and defend not just what is true but the very idea of truth, the very understanding that all truth flows out of the character of God. Truth is not what is relevant or popular, but what God thinks.” Users of technology must be aware of the dangers that lurk in the shadows; but they are also free to use technology for the advancement of kingdom purposes.
The Next Story should be applauded for its clarity, depth, breadth, awareness of culture, and clear biblical encouragement. Six additional items mark the book – marks that should lure potential readers in:
1. This book is honest and transparent
Unlike so many other books, the author is quick to point out his weaknesses and propensities. As one who appreciates the goodness and benefits of technology, he identifies with readers who struggle with improper priorities and idolatrous tendencies.
2. This book is biblical
The Next Story is firmly grounded in sacred Scripture. It is both descriptive and prescriptive. Readers walk away from this book and have no doubt that the author is committed to the authority of Scripture.
3. This book strikes the right balance
It would be easy to lash out against technology and foster a condemning spirit in a book like this. The author strikes an important biblical balance. The book is neither legalistic, nor is it oriented to license.
4. This book strikes at the core of idolatry
The Next Story is a vivid reminder that idolatry is closer to home than we think. It challenges readers to utilize technology but not at the expense of one’s relationship with God.
5. This book is useful and practical
I anticipate that many youth pastors and para-church ministries will be utilizing the principles in The Next Story for years to come. Parents would do well to read this work and put the principles into practice, especially with teens.
6. This book celebrates God’s truth
While I greatly appreciate the work that Tim put in to this book, his approach to truth is the most commendable aspect. He tackles the difficult and timely subject of epistemology (while never using the word). In many ways, I see his approach as somewhat of a backdoor approach to epistemology. This is a high compliment because many tune out when confronted with absolute epistemological claims. But this book is full of them! And the author makes his case in clear, loving, and decisive terms. At one point, I thought to myself, “Carl Henry is back!”
I consider The Next Story a gift to the church. It is a gift that should be read and re-read. It is a gift that should be imported into the very fabric of the church. Thanks to Tim Challies for his labor of love.
Soli Deo Gloria!