Thursday, June 5, 2014

What Would Jesus Post?

Evangelicalism today appeals to people on the basis of what they want. The contemporary church for decades has been more interested in meeting the needs of its members than urging them to follow the commands of Christ.

Neil Postman, a Jewish humanist from the 1980’s wrote a book entitled, “Amusing Ourselves to Death.” He felt back then that there was a tragic loss of serious thinking in Western civilization which he attributed to television. He could not have possibly imagined the big screen going to a small screen – from being a group experience and public experience to being an intimate, personal, private experience. 

The iPhone and other small screen devices enable every person to become a creator of his own private world. “It is a secret world,” explains pastor and acclaimed Bible expositor John MacArthur. “It is a secret world of preferences. It is a secret world of temptations. It is a secret world of relationships. It is a secret world that has a force and ubiquity that is unparalleled in human history. Unparalleled.”

The small screen is the most selfish necessity ever devised. Once, you had a phone to talk to someone. No more. Technology has put in the hand, and soon, on the ears and the nose, of everyone, the most constant, incessant, accessible, visual, private world of self-centered indulgence, temptation, and entertainment ever conceived.

“You choose everything,” MacArthur continues. “Choose your entertainment, and no one knows. You choose your music. You choose your relationships. You become God in your little world. And on your little screen, you create the world that you want. You are the creator of your own private universe.  And outside your own private cyberspace, and your Facebook friends, is the outer darkness of whatever and whomever you reject.”

Theologian Carl Trueman writes, “The language of friendship is hijacked and cheapened by the internet social networks. I don’t know what friendship is anymore.  The language of Facebook both reflects and encourages childishness. Childishness, he writes, “has become something of a textually transmitted disease.” 

A very astute comment by Trueman as the number one characteristic of a child is complete self-centeredness. He goes on to say that relationships play out in the disembodied world of the web. The latest statistics indicate that on average high school students look at a small screen nine hours a day. Nine hours. Trueman further writes, “Such are human amoebas, subsisting in a bizarre non-world that involves no risk to themselves, no giving of themselves to others, no true vulnerability, no commitment, no sacrifice, no real meaning, and no value.” 

Real fellowship cannot exist in a world of self-created avatars. It requires real persons.  Christianity is not an individual or private experience. We were not meant to live by ourselves in a world of isolation where we control everything without anyone else’s knowledge. That’s a recipe for disaster.

“The current trend is for people to create their own virtual world of virtual self,” observes MacArthur. “They recreate themselves as wonderfully as they would like themselves to be, and then project themselves that way. You can upload your self-creation into the Eden of the internet, the perfect you. Beautiful, indomitable, intelligent, wise, cool, self-actualized like some technological form of science. You can create a digitized self-projection of your idyllic design. I tweet, therefore I am.”

The culture of this is becoming more isolated, more narcissistic, more self-absorbed, more individualistic, more morally relative, more entitled. Deadly.

This might be tolerable and maybe understood if it stayed outside the church, but it doesn’t. According to MacArthur, the evangelical church has been trying to give the culture what it wants. And what is it that people want? “They want privacy,” he says, “They want convenience. They want low commitment. They want anonymity. They want unaccountability. And mostly, they want self-promotion and self-actualization. Church life is falling victim to this seductive self-design. People say, oh, it’s so hard to find a church. Well, of course. You have created the first church of my personal iTunes.  You’ve created your own music. You have your own playlist. You’ve created your own messengers. You know who you want to hear. You’ve created your own friends. You don’t feel comfortable at a church because you might run into an enemy.” 

And at the same time, there’s pressure from church growth experts saying, “What are you doing with social media? What are you doing with technology to help people know your church?” Of course the church has to embrace technology and social media on one level and use the tools for good – to connect and inform. But, as with everything, they can also be a source of isolation, disconnection, and ultimately temptation if not properly handled and monitored.

As a church body, we have to keep fellowship at the forefront. True, personal fellowship is the foundation of the church as underscored in the Book of Acts which details the early church and its ability to sustain its existence largely because of the strength of its fellowship. Everything about Christianity fights against privacy, and yet, we live in a world where privacy dominates. If we are not actively fighting against it than we are being pulled into it.

As ambassadors of Jesus Christ, it is our mandate to share his gospel – the forgiveness of sins at the cross of Calvary. It is a personal relationship that Christ beckons and then bids us to share with others. Fellowship at its essence.


Unknown said...

Amen. Well said. The early church shared everything and lived in a communal community.They needed each other because the Roman government was no help.Today the state has taken the place of family and the community living.Widows are supported by social security checks not other church members of St. Peter's
early church. A true relationship with Jesus will lead one with the promptings of the Holy Spirit to
follow Him.The distractions of society will always
Be with us.

Anne Marie Donadio said...

Good points Vincent. The early church was the embodiment of fellowship but they too had the distractions of their day to deal with and overcome. I think the technology age is Satan's greatest attempt at isolation because the privatization of one's life is secret and contained on a small device without the knowledge of anyone. It really is a master stroke. Social media comes in the guise of connecting people but it is really at its core disconnecting interpersonal relationships. If Satan can isolate the church and break down unity then he can more easily cause disruption and slow down the progress of the gospel. But as you say, those who are following Christ, are led by His Spirit to follow Him. The church will prevail in the end.