The Social Media Debate: To Use or Not to Use

Tim Brister —  November 19, 2008 — 12 Comments

Earlier this morning, I watched a portion of Aaron Marshall’s presentation (via live-streaming) at Southern Seminary entitled “How to Use Social Media for Ministry WITHOUT Overloading, Burning Time, and Losing Your Religion.”  In the introduction of his post, Marshall writes,

Social Media is said to be the biggest change in communications in the last 50 years. These social technologies are revolutionizing the way people are conversing, collaborating and connecting. If your goal is to reach people and bring glory to God than this is something you cannot ignore.

I wrote last week why I use Twitter, and I am fairly networked on the internet with several blogs, Facebook (and groups) and a couple of Twitter accounts.  On the same morning that Aaron Marshall gave his presentation advocating social media for ministry, I checked out what my good friend Owen Strachan had to say and the questions/challenges he presented in his blogpost, “Questioning Twitter and Status Updates: Or, How to Become Unpopular with Everyone in a Few Short Paragraphs.” Here is the latter portion of his well-articulated argument:

I also wonder about the danger of narcissism with this new method of communication.  Why do we need to tell each other what tv show we’re watching?  Why do we constantly change our Facebook profile pictures?  Why do we blather on forever on our blogs about what we’re doing, liking, missing, and hoping?  Ours is a narcissistic, self-focused generation, and the level of this narcissism boggles the mind.  We know so little in the way of self-control and modesty and are so skilled in the ways of self-promotion and impulse-gratification.  I fear that our Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, and blogs all too often represent a shallowness of soul that cries out for attention we do not need and should not want.

Look: all the cultural momentum points away from self-control, modesty, and the pursuit of a significant life.  We are encouraged by culture to be self-promoters, shallow, technologically obsessed, and unconcerned with the larger things and bigger questions of life.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen all of these problems cohere in a student in a class on some important Christian doctrine updating their Facebook page.  This, I would argue, is our generation’s constellation of problems captured in a single picture.  One is self-promoting (oftentimes), frequently posting a silly picture or comment, surfing the web, and ignoring complex instruction that requires concentration and that will almost certainly stretch and bless one’s mind and soul.  Such behavior is too frequent almost to notice and frighteningly bankrupt.

Many of us can make a quick sarcastic remark, but how many of us can follow a philosophical or theological argument?  Or, better yet, how many of us would want to?  Wouldn’t we rather Twitter, or check our email, or our Facebook page, or play a fun electronic game?  Most of us.  And most of us are becoming spiritually and intellectually thin, even as our narcissism grows bloated and our instincts for self-promotion wax hot.

I would challenge readers: speaking generally, don’t use Twitter.  Cultivate deep thinking even as you use technology.  If something smells strongly of self-promotion, give it a pass.  Be a part of Facebook, of other media, but do so thoughtfully, responsibly, edifyingly.  Glorify Christ not simply in how you use media, but in what media you use.

What are your thoughts?
(you can say it in more than 140 characters if you want)

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12 responses to The Social Media Debate: To Use or Not to Use

  1. Anecdotally speaking, here’s a response this morning from Abraham Piper (on his Twitter):

    “tired of the reformed blogosphere getting off on “warning” about the “dangers” of new media. The arguments are tired and mostly unfounded.”
    Source: http://twitter.com/abrahampiper/status/1012978289

  2. Thought provoking…..media can be over used and can be under used.

  3. Strachan seems to presume that we would have time for weightier matters if we did not spend time on Twitter or Facebook. For some, I am sure he is right, such as the student updating Facebook in class. But what about those who do not have time for lengthy discussions but can sneak some Facebook or Twitter time in. I can sometimes Twitter between patients at my job as a dentist. I can Facebook after 10:30 or 11:00 at night when most of the responsibilities of family and work are done for the day. I can Facebook or Twitter while still answering questions from my wife or with commotion in the background. I can’t even study Scripture effectively in such environments. For people with lifestyles where there is quiet time in their day, then perhaps he is right. But for the rest of us with families, jobs, and various responsibilities, I am not convinced that it plays out like Strachan says.

    I can remember one day when I was driving home from work to help take care of my foster children or other responsibilities and seeing people out jogging. I thought to myself, what a selfish, narcissistic group of people who would rather take care of their physique than help other people. In some respect, and for some people, I was probably right, but in general, I think this illustrates the same trap that Stracham is falling in to. There is certainly a call to be more responsible with every aspect of our lives, but I think a broad statement against social networking would be as foolish as my thoughts against exercise. I can certainly point to irresponsibility and narcissism in some of my social networking, but I can also point to evangelism and to being edified by others.

    Well, I was going to skip lunch to do some Scripture reading, but my wife just showed up and has to ask me questions and employees have to be dealt with, etc, etc.,etc.

    Bryant King

  4. Timmy,

    Challies posted a link to a post at Christ and Pop Culture on Theology of Twitter – http://tinyurl.com/thtwit. I read that and listened to Aaron’s talk.

    I disagree with Owen. I’ve read “Amusing Ourselves to Death” several times and see in Owen’s argument some of Postman in what Owen is saying – with a few significant differences.
    Owen is also echoing the article “Is Google Making us Stupid“. No doubt Facebooking in class, flitting from site-to-site on the web – is damaging. In these ways I agree with him, Postman, and “Is Google Making us Stupid”. But here are my differences:

    I contend that Twitter/FB/Social Media in not narcissistic, but outward facing. Using social media is interaction and you will soon fail at it if you are narcissistic. If people are twittering to puff themselves up, promote themselves or to sell us something – it becomes clear. Not only are they narcissists, they are boring. If we are using Social Media for the glory of God – we are engaging, sharing Christ, befriending, caring and helping. We are also being transparent, authentic and getting to know people on a deeper level then one does at Church coffee hour or chatting in the parking lot.

    Abraham Piper, you (Timmy Brister) and others are pointing the way for Christians in using social media. The City that Zondervan just acquired is also braving the way for Christians and social media.

    Churches use email and websites – it’s one-way, or one-to-one. Social media allows the body to reach out to each other, be a light in their community (virtual and real) and engage others for Christ.

    Thanks for the provocative post.

  5. I will interact in a bit; I just wanted to let you all know that I lifted the “moderation” control for the time being (until I have problems again with the SPMers). So once you hit “submit comment,” it will be live.

  6. I think Owen may be on to something.

  7. I actually found myself agreeing with what both said-Social Networking online etc can be God glorifying but also holds many dangers.
    Like many areas of life there’s truth in what both these guys are saying & we need to find a prayerful balance.

  8. The narcissism and self-promotion has always been within us…..This is just a new way of glorifying Self for those who are so inclined. Let’s not blame the medium. Man was self-centered for a long time prior to Twitter…….:)

  9. Alright. Sorry for the delay in responding, but here’s a couple of thoughts I had:

    1. Facebook and Twitter has allowed me to interact online with some of the most intelligent people I know, offering creative ideas and helpful insights into things going on in my life.

    2. They have also been a good means of encouragement and prayer support when I mention things of that nature which those things might be appropriate. I can always benefit from more people praying for me! Likewise, I am informed on how I can pray for my friends and those I have come to know through the internet.

    3. Social media applications are multi-faceted. I call them “leverage applications.” Sure people can use them to make a name for themselves and further illustrate the spirit of the age, but that is not necessarily true in every case and should not be so in the case of a Christ-follower. Instead, we should be using the means and medium provided to leverage them for the gospel and glory of Christ.

    4. Because I recently moved and unable to make multiple phone calls to dozens of people, Twitter is a simple, short, and easy way to let my family know what is going on in my life as well as see pics of the fam (especially my son!). I have a good network of friends, former coworkers and seminarians in Louisville, and of course my fam in Alabama. Twitter, especially when synched with Facebook has generated a lot of correspondence with them that I otherwise would not be able to do.

    5. I recognize that there are some intellectual, physical, and spiritual effects Twitter and Facebook can have in a person’s life. Certainly we should have serious reflection on this issue. But one of the concerns I have come to see is that Christian intellectuals (I am thinking of Mars Hill audio for example) often analyze and opine on potentiality and not actuality. In other words, they often mine far deeper in their pontifications than what the typical user experiences in their application. That’s not a tacit admission to anti-intellectualism but simply to say that we need to be careful not to read too much into things when they may not necessarily be warranted. Does that make sense?

    I think the challenges presented by Owen do need to be considered and reflected upon. I also believe that what Aaron said about social media is also true–that we can and should use this medium for the glory of God and advancement of the gospel. And, I suppose, it doesn’t hurt that I am able to tell my son’s grandparents what he is up to every now then as well. :)

  10. It depends on your purposes. It’s a tool and tools are generally not intrinsically good or evil. It matters why you use a tool. I’m networked with many from my church on Facebook. I don’t spend much time on there but we’re a large and busy church, often not having significant enough time to spend together while we’re actually at church, and it has really helped to keep up with each other in the off hours.

    I am able to keep challenged theologically scanning some blogs, but with the realization that there is a multitude of people out there who journal because they have spiritual needs that aren’t being met, I have been able to make a difference in some of their lives. It’s almost like a virtual mission field. People have needs and they are asking for help where I can offer some counsel, encouragement and even the hope of the gospel. Few do this and I don’t know why. There are plenty of people crying out for help on their blogs and we have the answer.

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