Technology is everywhere. From the watches on our wrist to Amazon’s Alexa locking our doors, technology is increasing by the day. Americans frequently spend their days switching from their phones to their computers to their televisions to their tablets to any number of other gadgets that we have at our fingertips, sometimes using more than one at a time.
This week on Family Policy Matters, host Traci DeVette Griggs welcomes back Jason Thacker to discuss how Christians should interact with technology in our increasingly digital age. His new book, Following Jesus in a Digital Age, addresses this topic more in depth.
“We can see many of the advantages and benefits of technology, but something I think we need to do is to slow down and ask some . . . hard questions.” Thacker goes on to explain why Christians should take technology so seriously, saying, “As Christians we need to think wisely about technology because it is a good gift from God, and we do use them in very particular ways for good and for bad. But sometimes the ways that these technologies are subtly shaping our understanding of truth or our understanding of responsibility or even our identity as individuals and communities is deeply shaping and forming us and we may not be aware of it.”
Thacker wrote Following Jesus in a Digital Age to help readers think through these questions surrounding technology. He shares that he designed it to be a handbook for the average consumer to utilize, “because we all live in a digital culture.” We all have to navigate what media we consume and how often we consume it, and we all have to deal with the negativity and divisiveness that is so easily spread on online platforms. “Part of cultivating wisdom and discernment is to slow down, to realize our limits, to be humble about what we don’t know, but to then seek God’s counsel and the way He would call us to live is pursuing truth but also doing so with grace.”
Thacker ends with a word of encouragement for those who might be overwhelmed by the negativity of social media and other forums, saying, “The beauty of the local church is that we come from all walks of life to come together as the body of Christ, and we can not only be in community with one another but we can remind one another that we don’t have to perform online . . . We can be reminded . . . [that] our true identity lies in Jesus Christ himself.”
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Thanks for joining us this week for Family Policy Matters. As Christians, we need to ask ourselves if technology is shaping our walk with Christ. Well, Jason Thacker says many believers are actually being discipled by the technologies we use. Well, that’s a pretty startling concept. We’re pleased to have Jason Thacker with us today to talk about this and his new book, Following Jesus in a Digital Age. He is with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Jason Thacker, welcome to Family Policy Matters.
JASON THACKER: Thanks for having me, Traci.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: All right. So in the introduction to your book, you say, “Technology is deeply shaping each of us,” and then, “We are being discipled every day by the technologies we use, whether we realize it or not.”
All right. So talk about this — do you think it’s possible that we as Christians are submitting ourselves to discipleship that we might not even be aware of?
JASON THACKER: Yeah. I think a lot of listeners when they hear something like that, it seems like a pretty audacious claim to say that technology is discipling us, and that’s often because we think of technology — we naturally think of our smartphones or various gadgets as pieces of technology rather than seeing technology as something much larger than that, in many ways even kind of a culture in which we inhabit.
So it’s not just about the specific devices but kind of the overall culture and patterns and habits that we’ve developed with technology use in general. And I think that technology is indeed shaping and forming us in particular ways — our understanding of God, our understanding of ourselves, and even the world around us. It’s shaping and forming us in very particular ways. It always reminds me of Romans 12:2 where Paul says do not be conformed to this world but to have your mind be transformed by the renewal of your mind. And that type of statement is that we are all being conformed to this world, and I think technology is playing a significant role in how we’re being conformed to this world. But as Christians we need to think wisely about technology because it is a good gift from God, and we do use them in very particular ways for good and for bad. But sometimes the ways that these technologies are subtly shaping our understanding of truth or our understanding of responsibility or even our identity as individuals and communities is deeply shaping and forming us and we may not be aware of it.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: So when you say technology is a good gift from God, you mean in the same way that any of the other advances are that it can be used for good or evil, right?
JASON THACKER: Yeah, in many ways. So technology is, indeed, a tool, but it’s also a tool that exists as part of a larger culture. And so we can see many of the advantages and benefits of technology, but some things I think we need to do is to slow down and ask some of those hard questions. So what are the potential drawbacks? What are the things that technology might be shaping us that are at odds with our faith or are not reminding us to treasure Christ and to ultimately as Christ says in Matthew 22 to love God and love our neighbor as ourself. Technology tends to help us to focus inward, to focus on me, my feed, my post, my everything, but as we read about in John 3:30, we must decrease so that He might increase. This is God’s universe. We are His image bearers. We are called to love Him and to love our neighbor as ourself. And so kind of that inward turn of technology, our faith kind of reorients that to be an outward focus — love of God and love of neighbor.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Well, let’s talk about this book, Following Jesus in a Digital Age. I really like the way it’s set up. It’s a smaller book, and it’s kind of almost like a handbook. Is it designed for that?
JASON THACKER: Yeah, that’s exactly what it is. This book is intentionally written for everyday believers because we all live in a digital culture. We all live kind of surrounded or inundated by our technology. That type of exposure not only to the content but also these platforms and these devices, it is going to be shaping and forming us in many ways, and so I wrote this book for everyday believers. It’s small. It’s accessible. It’s written to help all of us to kind of re-evaluate our walk with Christ, our use of technology and then what does it look like to follow Jesus in a digital age with wisdom and with clarity.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: It’s simply laid out as well, and you give us four different main topics: pursuing wisdom, pursuing truth, pursuing responsibility, and pursuing identity. And I really want to touch on each of these, but let’s start off first with pursuing wisdom in a digital age. How is this different from pursuing wisdom at any other time say in the history of our world?
JASON THACKER: That’s a really important question to ask because when we think of technology, I think most of us think of our gadgets, devices, social media, iPhones, iPads, etcetera, but reality is we’ve always had technology. Some of the most revolutionary pieces of technology in the history of the world were things like the printing press or the shovel and the hoe. It changed everything about our lives, and, similarly, I think we’re entering into a time in our digital age today where we have a lot of tools that are kind of radically altering the way that we see the world around us, that we even understand ourselves.
And so part of pursuing wisdom and what I tried to do in that first chapter is to not only talk about the ways that technology is discipling us and forming us but to also be thinking about how do we then pursue wisdom because what the Bible talks about with technology, specifically, is not new per se. A lot of the questions we’re asking today in light of technology are the same age old questions we’ve always asked, but they’re in light of new opportunities. So while we didn’t have Twitter, maybe we were dealing with issues of pride and rebellion and wanting to be seen in a certain light by a certain type of people. So while we’re not asking new questions, we’re asking them really in light of these new opportunities, these kind of expanded horizons of what’s possible with technology.
And that’s really what I tried to do in the first book is what does it look like to cultivate biblical wisdom of aligning our beliefs and our actions in a way that is honoring God and helping us to pursue wisdom because the book doesn’t have like a checklist of here’s five ways to change your relationship with technology, partially because everybody is unique, but also a lot of those checklists are something you feel like you can just check off and move on. Well, the nature of wisdom is that it’s not gained overnight just like our bad habits with technology weren’t gained overnight. So it’s going to take us a season of pursuing wisdom and discernment and growing in likeness of Christ so that we might be able to utilize these tools and follow Him better in a digital age.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Great point. Wisdom in regard to the Bible is not attained overnight, right? And it’s just the same idea.
JASON THACKER: Exactly.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Okay. Let’s talk about the second major theme in your book: pursuing truth in a post-truth age. So what do you mean by “post-truth,” and why does the digital age make it even more difficult for us to pursue truth than ever?
JASON THACKER: That’s one of the big ways that I see technology is shaping and kind of discipling us, and I think for some listeners when they hear things like misinformation or disinformation, conspiracy theories, or fake news, we kind of immediately think of someone or something, often very politically driven. But the reality is it’s much bigger than that. Technology, because of the amount of information we’re exposed to each day, just kind of being overwhelmed by information, we simply sometimes don’t know what to trust. And a lot of times it’s not so much that technology is causing that as that technology is aiding that meaning that what once maybe was a false belief or even a conspiracy theory, I could tell it to two or three people. Now, I have the opportunity to tell it to thousands of people, and it could even go viral and it could be shared with millions of people all around the world.
Another example is something happens in our culture or even around the world, and we get breaking news on our phones sometimes without context, which can lead us to have false beliefs or false understandings of the motives or what’s actually going on. We start to fill in those gaps, and so technology in many ways is shaping our pursuit of truth because we don’t really often know what to trust. We don’t know exactly who to trust and where to turn, and that’s where the Scriptures give us very clear guidance about what is truth, that God’s truth is ultimate, that God is true, He is trustworthy, and that we can follow after Him. But it’s going to take being, as James tells us, to be slow to speak, slow to anger, and to be quick to listen. And cultivating that heart of wisdom and discernment I think is really key especially in our post-truth age where truth is more defined by what I want and my desires and my inner realities of my truth rather than God’s truth and how He has designed us in His image.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: So do you think this difficulty in being able to tell what is true is contributing to what we see as a real mistrust in institutions — and tell me if I’m stretching a bit here — but even an increase in depression and the rising suicide rates that we’re seeing, especially among young people?
JASON THACKER: Yeah, I think a lot of these things are connected, I mean especially what you mentioned with institutions. Many times institutions have failed us, and we can’t exactly trust because it seems like things are not being as clear and open as they once were. Or there’s so much information, so many different people, that we feel like it’s all, well, I’m just going to have to navigate this on my own. And some of that pressure of feeling like I have to kind of do battlefield triage. To kind of understand what’s going on, I have to always be on, I have to always be connected, I have to know — especially for ministry leaders and pastors feeling like they must be able to either comment or know about every single thing the moment it’s happening and have some kind of informed opinion, that can be really debilitating. It can make us kind of anxious always. It can be very much isolating and make us lonely. I think there’s a lot of contributing factors there. It’s not just technology.
It’s some other factors as well, but I think that’s one of the ways that technology is shaping and forming us is to feel like we always have to be on, we always have to know everything, and we always have to be kind of processing this information as it’s happening. And so I think part of that cultivating wisdom and discernment is to slow down, to realize our limits, to be humble about what we don’t know, but to then seek God’s counsel and the way He would call us to live is pursuing truth but also doing so with grace.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Right. So the third of four major themes in your book is pursuing responsibility in a curated age. Explain what you mean by, “curated age,” and why pursuing responsibility these days can be so difficult.
JASON THACKER: One of the things that’s interesting about social media is a lot of people assume that the things you see on social media feed is just the information, it’s the people you follow or whatever is going on in the world right now. In some sense that’s true, but, also, they’re being carefully curated or personalized. This is utilizing technology’s artificial intelligence and algorithms and such where they’re shaping the content we see. So maybe just because we see it doesn’t mean — my feed may be very different from your feed. Even though we have similar beliefs, we don’t live in the exact same places, we don’t have the exact same interests, so our online experiences are personalized or curated for us.
What that can do is not only focus us inward, we can also get in a habit of not taking responsibility for the things that we do see, for the things we do read, the things that we are exposed to where we start to blame either the algorithm or tech companies or the government to say it’s their fault, they need to fix this, and not kind of scapegoating some of our own responsibility. We do need to have those conversations about the role of government in these conversations and the role of tech companies, but we also need to be able to take responsibility as God’s image bearers to say we have a responsibility not only for ourselves but also for our families to guard what we see, to guard our hearts, to pursue truth, and there’s that kind of personal responsibility that comes with being an image bearer and being a Christian transformed by the Gospel. It’s taking responsibility for the things we see and do and then not just kind of blaming other people for those things.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Great point. So we’re discussing the four major themes in your new book, Following Jesus in a Digital Age. We’ve talked about pursuing wisdom, pursuing truth and pursuing responsibility. The final major theme in your book is entitled, “Pursuing identity in a polarized age.” So tell us why this is important for us to be thinking about.
JASON THACKER: Yeah. I don’t think it’s a shock to anyone today that we live in very tense and very divided times, and this isn’t just on political differences. This is kind of a host of social and cultural issues. We at times feel like we’re more divided than we’ve ever been, and part of that is that technology has a role to play in that, especially with the rise of social media and digital communities. I can know more about people across the world and “have a deeper relationship with them” or know more about them than I may know about my neighbor next door. And so part of that is that we have these very online, niche communities where there are a lot of benefits to that, but there are also some drawbacks where we don’t have that rich community where we start to define ourselves by particular ideas. While that can be good, it can also be very damaging to not be able to deal with conflict or not to be able to deal and be exposed to various ideas that we may not agree with and how do we navigate that as a community. And that’s kind of the beauty of the local church is that we come from all walks of life to come together as the body of Christ, and we can not only be in community with one another but we can remind one another that we don’t have to perform online and we don’t always have to Tweet or share or post. We can be reminded of the body of Christ where our true identity lies in Jesus Christ himself.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Well, we’re just about out of time for this week, but before we go, Jason Thacker, where can our listeners get a copy of your new book, Following Jesus in a Digital Age, and follow a lot of your other very good work?
JASON THACKER: The easiest way is most major retailers are selling the book right now. You can also go to my website at JasonThacker.com. There’s a host of resources as well linked to the books and my podcast and just ways that I hope to help serve the local church, especially ministry leaders who are navigating these big questions that we’re facing today in the digital age.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Jason Thacker with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, thank you so much for being with us today on Family Policy Matters.
JASON THACKER: Thanks, Traci.
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