Join us sundays at 9:00 or 10:45am

Book Review: The Next Story

Earlier this year, a story ran about a father who put his family on the “1986 Technology Plan.” He, his wife and two small children only use technology if they could have acquired it in 1986. So, they have a telephone, cassette tapes, videos and a television, but no cell phones, DVDs, cable TV, or internet-capable computer. His motivations were simply to “reunite the family,” certainly a worthy goal. But his actions also highlight many people’s confusion with how to function in a technology-obsessed culture in the here and now. Even those who see technology’s negative effects on themselves and their families and think this man’s project noble would probably have a hard time agreeing it’s really practically possible. So how should we respond to technology and its increasing negative effects? More importantly for Christians, what does God think about all this? (Or maybe technology doesn’t seem like a problem at all; you too should still read on!)

This is exactly the issue Tim Challies attempts to evalute in his book The Next Story: Life and Faith After the Digital Explosion. There are many books now about technology and how it changes us, but Challies’ goal is to explore technology from a distinctly Christian perspective (15). The title of Challies’ book comes from the idea that many Christians have been so caught up in the digital explosion’s wave of change over the past few decades, they haven’t seriously contemplated “what’s next.” Technology has progressed so consistently and quickly, many haven’t meditated on how these technologies have reshaped our lives, “our understanding of ourselves, our world, and most importantly, our knowledge of God” (12). Challies argues that Christians have much experience with technology, but few (if any) theoretical or theological tools to make sense of the consequences of those experiences. He challenges readers to find the place where experience, theory, and theology converge so we are biblically thoughtful about our technology use.

This is especially important because even if it were possible to run from technology, this is not necessarily the best Christian response (“there is no biblical reason to utterly separate ourselves”). We can’t simply embrace technology, however, because that “lacks appropriate discernment and is unwise.” Instead, Christians must find a way to “live virtuously, immersed in this strange new digital reality” (14, 16). We neither avoid nor embrace; instead we “carefully evaluate [technology], redeem it, and ensure that we are using it with the right motives and for the right goals” (32).

Challies roots his evaluation of technology in an exploration of Genesis 1-3, helping readers to understand how to reconcile what he calls the “mandate of technology” with the curse that resulted from Adam and Eve’s sin. Challies connects our being made in the image of God as our being made as mini-creators: “God’s basic instruction to mankind is to develop the resources of the natural world and use God-given abilities to bring glory to God”: “Technology is the creative activity of using tools to shape God’s creation for practical purposes.” Ultimately, Challies says,“obedience to God requires that we create technology” (22-23).

But we live in a sin-cursed world, so Christians must recognize technology’s “power ,” both positive and negative. First, technology allows us to “regain some control over [our] lives and to fulfill [our] God-given dreams and desires.” That is, technology is a gift from God to keep us from living in “abject misery” in this cursed world. On the other hand, the “things we create can – and will – try to become idols in our hearts.” Challies maintains that while technology itself is amoral, it isn’t “morally neutral,” meaning the things we create “seek to dominate us drawing our hearts away from God.” To understand technology’s effects on our lives, Christians must understand both the “inherent good in creating technology” and the “inherent evil in abusing it or assigning it to a godlike prominence in our lives (24-25).

After this theological groundwork, Challies provides theory and history. He quickly catches the reader up on some of the larger ongoing conversations about technology and provides some broad themes to help readers consider the theoretical implications of technology. Significant in this section is Challies’ assertion that as Christians we can rest in God’s sovereignty. Of course we ask thoughtful questions about consequences, but theoretical considerations are also less complicated for Christians. While the world is trying to figure out why and how things happen in history without acknowledging God, “we can affirm that God is in control, firmly ordaining the course of human progress and societal transformation” (38).

Having established the theology and theory, he gets more practical. In the second part of the book (which is most of it: chapters 3-9), he applies the theology and theory he established in the first sections to some more specific areas: 1) communication, 2) mediation/identity, 3) distraction, 4) information, 5) truth/authority, and 6) visibility and privacy. Rather than prescribing action in these areas, though, Challies describes the issues and challenges we may face as we try to discern God’s will. For instance, in the communication chapter, he doesn’t tell you to close your Facebook account or get rid of your smart phone. Instead, he contrasts how communication has progressed in our culture with what God intends for communication. He does make specific observations, such as how easy it is to communicate unlovingly through social media, but he opposes easy, moralistic, or legalistic answers: the question is always how you are carefully evaluating how technology may be an idol in your life. At the end of each of these chapters, he walks through the already-established experience/theory/theology model, then asks personal reflection questions, making this an excellent book for Christian friends or a small group of believers to work through. His thorough exploration in these chapters is worth simmering over and prayerfully applying to real life.

Challies has obviously thought through this topic, attempting to find helpful applications. You cannot help (if you read thoughtfully and prayerfully) to examine the motives of your own heart. Most cannot practically rid themselves of all technology. Where does one draw the line after all? But Challies’ book challenges us to consider the seriousness of idolatry: what are you willing to do to rid your life of the hindrances of a deeper walk with Christ? Challies’ theology/theory establishes a good foundation for future application as well, important since Challies can hardly foresee how further technological advancement will continue to challenge Christians. Challies’ serious yet practical and encouraging discussion will provide you with great motivation to engage with our technological culture in a uniquely Christian way rather than being swept away by it.