In But Not Of the (Internet) World

Tim Brister —  August 24, 2007 — 18 Comments

A week.

That’s how long Josh Harris was plugged into Facebook. This morning, Josh shares why he has decided to leave Facebook after having joined it about a week ago. His reasons are as follows:

1. I just don’t have enough self-control not to check my page constantly. In one week I saw what many of you warned me about: it’s addictive. I found myself tempted to update my “status” every five minutes. “Joshua Harris is walking across his office. Joshua Harris sitting in his office chair. Joshua Harris is wasting valuable time describing what he is doing.”

2. This year I’m starting work on a new book and when I’m writing I am looking for any excuse not to write. When I’m supposed to be writing I am so easily sidetracked. I want to clear my inbox, weed the garden, answer emails that I’ve already answered, trim my nails…you name it, I am looking for distraction. If I had the temptation to check my Facebook during a writing project, I’d be a goner. The book would never get written.

3. The other reason I feel right about making my time with Facebook just a visit is a little harder to explain. How do I put this? I found that it encouraged me to think about me even more than I already do–which is admittedly already quite a bit. Does that make any sense? Without any help from the internet I’m inclined to give way too much time to evaluating myself, thinking about myself and wondering what other people think of me. If that egocentrism is a little flame, than Facebook for me is a gasoline IV feeding the fire. I need to grow in self-forgetfulness. I need to worry more about what God is thinking of me. I need to be preoccupied with what he’s written in his word, not what somebody just wrote on my “wall.”

4. I need to read more. There are so many good books I want to read and so little time. If I added up the few minutes here and there that I spent checking Facebook this past week it wouldn’t be an insignificant amount of time. I’d rather give that time to reading.

I don’t know about you, but I can really relate to what Josh has mentioned here about the potential (and real) effects Facebook can have on a person. I remember the first week I joined Facebook, I created photo albums, developed my “profile,” and made numerous friend requests. But the Facebook program is but one of many potentially addictive things in our Internet-hyped age. Inboxes, blogs, online forums, and other forms of social networking like MySpace and Twitter have also contributed to the case where people have the computer glow on their faces.

I am not a pastor. However, I am a husband, soon-to-be father, full-time seminary student (15 hours this semester), part-time employee (working 3rd shift at UPS), and developing The Protos Fellowship (an evangelistic effort to reach 3rd shifters with the gospel). I also happen to enjoy photography, backpacking, and exercising on the side. One of the constant challenges is finding ways to balance all these aspects of life, keeping priorities in their appropriate place, and examining my heart and life so as to not avoid burnout.

With all that said, I try to be conscious and sensitive to my time management, productivity, and spiritual disciplines. I am really interested in hearing from others how they balance time on the Internet–particularly with those of you who blog, read blogs, and/or have Facebook or MySpace accounts–with other, more important, aspects of life (personal devotion, family, ministry, church, work, etc.).

In other words, how can Christians be “in but not of the Internet world?” If you’ve got a moment, I’d like to hear your thoughts. 🙂

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  • I’d love to answer this question right now but I have laundry to do, a kitchen to clean and bills to pay. No, I’m not being funny, and yes I will return to address this from the perspective of someone who’s been part of the online community for the last 14 years. It’s a great question and one we should each consider seriously.


  • It is a balancing act, that is for sure. Reading Joshua’s explanation made me want to go and delete my Facebook account. Yet, even if I did, does that help me become a better time manager? Does that act in and of itself cause me to keep my priorities in place?

    I want to do those things, but I don’t know that (for me) simply 86’ing an account on a website would be the answer. I hope that I can accomplish them and still be able to enjoy Facebook while it is enjoyable.

  • Abraham

    I’ll just go ahead and admit it: I’m in and of the internet world.

  • In a sense, I truly believe the internet and blogging are like anything else. The issue is how we are relating to it. For some of us, we may need to check out. Like Jesus said, if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off. Period.

    But I think it’s important to remember that sin is not so much “out there” as it is “in here.” That is, the problem is not so much the internet or blogging, but how I engage in those things, how my heart relates to those things. The glorious thing is that God has created a world for us to enjoy. The wretched thing is that we serve and worship the creation rather than the creator, who is forever blessed. So which side of that dividing line are we on?

    I tend to walk on that wretched side a little too much. So I’m asking myself, am I reading the web before I’m reading the word? Do I find a greater urge to post or to pray? Is what I have to say so important that it must come before communion with God that morning? For the eyes that are presently rolling, that kind of approach might sound cliché, but it’s cliché for a reason. I think it’s helpful. Or at least it’s a safeguard for me.

  • The “internet world” is the world. It has dramatically changed and continues to shape our world and culture. So it must be approached the same way we do everything else. We (I) must ask ourselves the very same questions we do when we approach anything thing in life. I have grown and been challenged by so many post and sites to grow, learn, read, and walk in holiness. But I must also guard against becoming consumed by it. The same could be said for any library or book store or conversation for that matter. We (I) must learn to judge ourselves and then discipline ourselves accordingly. Learn when to continue and when to stop.

  • Thanks for the input, everyone. I do think that the more prevalent and influential the Internet becomes, the more tempting it will be to go into excesses. I want to use this medium in every way possible to advance the cause of Christ and His Church, but I don’t want to become a casualty in the meantime.

    Abraham, I think if we are brutally honest with ourselves, your confession would be quite common. With that said, the work you are doing there with the DG Blog is wonderful. Thank you for your labors and ministry to others like me.

  • Nathan

    How many of your friends on Facebook are actually friends?

  • A Pastor

    Personally, I have a Facebook page. Yes, I spent a lot of time at first setting it up. But my goals were/are to keep up with my own kids at college… what they’re posting… what others are posting on their page… what’s being said. I also use it to encourage and keep up with kids from the church I pastor who are at college. They check it often and this is a way to stay connected with them.

    Now I check my page every couple of days. It takes about 15 minutes and I count it time well spent. I don’t see it much different from writing a blog… or reading one of the several other blogs I keep up with to stay current on a number of thoughts and issues.

    Another question might be are we… “In the blogasphere but not of the blogasphere?.” Hmmm…

    The problem would be if I checked it several times a day and spent a lot of time when I do check it. “Let every man be fully convinced in his own mind” is kind of where I am. Like anything else, it can become an idol, so we must be careful.


  • Abraham, could you be enticed to elaborate more? Let’s be realistic. We’re talking about two prepositions and we want to be “in” and not “of.” Fair enough. But is this a matter of time spent on the internet? Or a matter of content viewed? Or a matter of priority? I like Ron’s remark about each being fully convinced in his own mind. Anything can become an idol. And ironically, avoiding things can also set oneself up as an idol.

  • Nathan,

    My “friends” list consists of people I have known either from family, high school (Athens), college, (Mobile), seminary (Louisville), and friends from the blogosphere (and readers). Granted, I know some better than others, but I consider them people for which I am grateful to have in my life, and, therefore want to keep in touch.


    I haven’t thought about how pastors and ministers can use Facebook to engage the younger generation in conversation. Perhaps this subject could be fodder for another lunch at Ricatoni’s. 😉

  • David Sullivan

    I agree, the internet as a whole can be a great evil if we do not control ourselves. I have a Facebook account and I see where it can be very addictive. I check mine once a day just to see what is going on. My reason for getting an account is to keep up with family back in Alabama and to keep up with friends that we have been able to serve in other ministry opportunities. Maybe a helpful way to combat this temptation is for people to invest in a internet accountability software such as Covenant Eyes. I have this on my computer and it sends all my internet usage to a couple of accountability partners. It tracks every site I visit and how many times I visit them. This way, if I am spending too much time online, there are a couple folks who see that and are able to call me on it.

  • Facebook is the internet’s version of “the personals” that used to run in newspapers. It’s better, easier, and safer than MySpace. But, it is designed for younger people (high school/college). So what’s a pastor doing with a Facebook account anyway? Really kind of silly.

    However, the internet being used as a tool for discussing reformed theology, biblical study, doctrinal discourse, proclaiming the gospel, fostering a biblical world-view, hosting sermons, featuring great Puritan works, etc. is quite another thing altogether; and is a great tool for us to use.

    However, in response to Facebook, here is an interesting quote by Josh to the men in his church: “Enjoy Facebook. And if you’re a godly single man, receive it as a gift from God to assist you in nonchalantly building a friendship with a godly Christian woman. I’m serious, men! If you’re mature enough to pursue marriage, Facebook should be “Courtbook” for you. Don’t just sit there, get on the ball and go “poke” a godly girl.”

    Say what? And this is to be considered good, biblical, godly advice for “finding a wife?” Facebook is a gift from God? Why not too? :-). Wait, I don’t think they have a “”poke” a godly girl” category in the interview questions.

    Solid reformed, biblical blogging is an art and shouldn’t be gone into lightly.

    Sola fide,
    2 Cor. 4:5-7

  • David,

    Thanks for bringing up various ways of internet accountability, especially with Covenant Eyes. Here’s to something totally random, but have ya’ll been to Huber Orchards lately? 🙂


    While Facebook is an application originally geared to the younger generation, it has evolved into an interface for all people. I know of many pastors who have a Facebook account, not the least of which is my friend and mentor Tom Ascol. Furthermore, seminary and university presidents use it as well, as in the case of David Dockery. For them and for Ron, I will venture to say that Facebook is a medium to engage young people where they are and listen and learn. Knowing your audience and the condition of your sheep (if you are a pastor) is not only not silly but rather wise.

    Regarding Josh’s words, I think is main point was to balance out the conversation which has having a predominant slant against Facebook as inherently evil. While his words reveal a sort of light-hearted tease, I think it would be unfair to characterize him without giving context to what he has previously said both on his blog and in his books. As an anecdotal afterthought, here at SBTS my wife and I are in a “marriage enrichment” class where more than one couple originally met through the Internet.

  • I think you said it well: “his words reveal a sort of light-hearted tease.”

    Grace and peace,

  • Here’s a link to a current Facebook article for those who are interested.

    The demographic analysis is very interesting. Oh to be in college again…

  • It’s for this primary reason that I refuse to have a computer in my home. I only have one at my office and that’s still too much internet for me!

  • Thanks for outting me, Timmy! My first week on Facebook I poked everbody I knew because I thought that was the way to sign them up as friends. 🙂 Fortunately, my more tech savvy daughter issued a universal apology for her not-quite-up-to-speed dad. It has been a great way to keep up with young people in my church and that I have met around the country and even in other countries.

    I only spend 20 minutes or so every couple of days on it. I have already had some wonderful opportunities for personal ministry as a result. I have another idea brewing that I hope will result in some opportunities for personal evangelism, as well.

    So, Campi, come on in! My kids and I will be first in line to be your friends!

  • Tom,

    Lest we forget, we need to mention that Founders has a nice Facebook group too. 😉

    I must say, I think you have the most photos tagged of any “friend” I know on Facebook! Speaking of evangelism, one of the things I have realized about Facebook is that many of my friends from high school and hometown who are unbelievers will never come across my blog but often read my Facebook. It seems like there is a more direct connection with folks through that intentional social networking medium than the blogging format.