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Author: Ben Smith

The Tech-Wise Family

Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place.

We live in a world saturated with technology. From the moment most of us wake to the moment that we go to bed there is at least one screen calling for our time and attention. While there are many good things about technology, in The Tech-Wise Family Andy Crouch encourages his readers to consider the impact that these devices have on our lives, our families, and our children. Now before we get too far, it must be made clear that Crouch is not anti-technology. In fact, early in the book he refers to himself as “a certified geek” so this book is not about getting rid of technology from our lives but merely putting it in its proper place so that it is a benefit to our families rather than something that damages them.

“If we don’t learn to put technology, in all its forms, in its proper place, we will miss out on many of the best parts of life in a family.”

The core of the book consists of “Ten Tech-Wise Commitments” that Andy and his family have made. In each chapter, he looks at one of these Commitments, outlining the issue that it aims to solve, and he provides statistics from Barna group that show the impact and extensiveness of the issue. Finally, Crouch provides a practical way of living out that Commitment. The Commitments provide a shift of focus from our devices to our families in a way that is challenging (at times) but with attractive benefits. The Commitments range from Filling the House with Things That Encourage Creativity Rather Than Consumption to Making Car Time Conversation Time to Intentionally Turning Devices Off Regularly.

The Ten Commitments are not designed as a be-all-and-end-all list that every family should adhere to. Instead, it is a starting point for us to consider how much technology is, and should be, ingrained in our lives. In fact, there is even the understanding that we aren’t going to keep the Ten Commitments perfectly. Every chapter concludes with a “Crouch Family Reality Check” where Crouch looks at how well his family has actually done in keeping them. He reports that some they have done well, but a lot of them have been kept imperfectly at best. By presenting this reality check he stands not as an Expert (with a capital E) giving direction on how we should live our lives but as a fellow parent and husband trying to do the best he can.

I haven’t come out of this book with a determination to keep every one of these Commitments but it has definitely made me think about how much I engage with devices in my day-to-day life. It has also made me consider the impact and example of that engagement for my daughter as she grows up. I’m not about to pull the plug on all of the electronic devices in my house all at once but I am going to start with walking away from my phone a bit more and just being in the moment. I think that’s the point.

Christless Christianity

Early on in Michael Horton’s 2008 look at the state of Evangelical Christianity in America he states his case clearly by saying “My argument in this book is not that evangelicalism is becoming theologically liberal but that it is becoming theologically vacuous.” From this beginning he takes the reader on a journey through mainstream evangelicalism and shows where Christ has not been explicitly denied but simply ignored.

The first stop is to look at what has replaced Christ-centred Christianity, namely Moralistic, Therapeutic Deism. This is essentially the belief that there is a god who wants us to be good people and wants for us to be happy. While this is an attractive belief system – after all who doesn’t want a god who just wants us to be happy – Horton shows that it is a belief system that doesn’t have Jesus as its focal point. Instead the focus is the consumer.

So instead of introducing people to a majestic God who nevertheless condescended in mercy to save those who cannot save themselves, these sermons— even with the parable of the prodigal son as their text— proclaim a message that can be summarized as moralistic, therapeutic deism. As a product, the God experience can be sold and purchased with confidence that the customer is still king. Therefore, statements that would have appalled previous generations of mainline Protestants are assumed as a matter of course even among evangelicals today, such as George Barna’s defence of “a fundamental principle of Christian communication: the audience, not the message is sovereign.”

Having identified the problem we are now led through an in-depth look at a few specific examples. We see the gospel of Joel Osteen where we are essentially good people who just need to do the best we can, but “Who needs Christ if this is the gospel: ‘You’re not perfect, but you are trying to live better, and God looks at your heart. He sees the inside, and He is changing you little by little’?” We see the message of Joyce Meyer where we “live the gospel” by loving people but “love is actually the summary of the law. God’s commands stipulate what love of God and neighbour means. In the Bible, the law simply nails down what it means to love God and our neighbour.” Finally we look at the message that Willow Creek sent by their response to a survey on the health of the church which found that a large number of members described themselves as stalled spiritually. As Horton says “What I find remarkable is that those who identified themselves as “stalled” said, “I believe in Christ, but I haven’t grown much lately,” and the dissatisfied said, “My faith is central to my life and I’m trying to grow, but my church is letting me down.” These highly committed respondents even said they “desire much more challenge and depth from the services” and “60 percent would like to see ‘more in- depth Bible teaching.’” The take- away for the authors, however, was not that Willow Creek should provide a richer ministry but that the sheep must learn to fend for themselves— to become “self- feeders” who need to be more engaged in private spiritual practices.

Fortunately we are not shown the problem without an answer being provided. The answer is simple: we can never outgrow the gospel. We should never assume that everybody knows it and we can move beyond it.

When our churches assume the gospel, reduce it to slogans, or confuse it with moralism and hype, it is not surprising that the type of spirituality we fall back on is moralistic, therapeutic deism. In a therapeutic worldview, the self is always sovereign. Accommodating this false religion is not love— either of God or neighbour— but sloth, depriving human beings of genuine liberation and depriving God of the glory that is his due. The self must be dethroned. That’s the only way out.

This isn’t a book that all church-goers are going to enjoy. The people that it looks at are admired by many but unfortunately that is the point. It has been nearly a decade since the book was published and if anything the problem is now worse. I’m convinced that this should be required reading for anyone in the western church. “As heretical as it sounds today, it is probably worth telling Americans [and Australians] that you don’t need Jesus to have better families, finances, health, or even morality.” If that is true then we need to understand why we need Jesus and that’s not something that’s talked about enough these days.
 
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Joy: The Third Sunday of Advent

Having spent the last two weeks considering that Jesus is both our hope and our peace, we come to the third Sunday of Advent and remember that Jesus is our joy. We live in a society that is pulled between two poles when it comes to joy. Either life and the world pull us down so much that we have no joy or we find our joy in our life and the world. To both of these positions Christmas reminds us that Christ is our joy.

For many people this year has been tough; it seems like everything has gone wrong and to top it off the world around us is becoming increasingly unstable. Culturally the Church has become largely irrelevant at best and hated at worst, standing against the oncoming moral revolutions. In the midst of this turmoil God reminds us through Christmas that Jesus is our Joy.

(Although everything is going badly…)
“yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.”
(Habakkuk 3:18)

When the world is crumbling around us we can rejoice that we have a God who isn’t content to leave us in our turmoil and our sin but actually chose to come and save us.

To other people – and sometimes the same people on different days – the world can bring us so much pleasure. Whether it be music, sport, a good book, the latest Marvel movie, friends and family, there are many things in life that bring us pleasure. When everything is going well for us God also reminds us through Christmas that Jesus is our Joy. The little pleasures in this life are not bad (mostly) but they are temporary. Paul says in Philippians 3:8

“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ”

Christ is so much greater than the little pleasures that we experience here on earth. It is not for nothing that the Westminster Shorter Catechism opens by saying that “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.” In Christmas Christ opened the way for us to truly fulfil our purpose in glorifying God and in doing so we can and will have eternal joy. Hear the words of Psalm 100:

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!
Serve the Lord with gladness!
Come into his presence with singing!
Know that the Lord, he is God!
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise!
Give thanks to him; bless his name!
For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.

This advent, let us not get bogged down by the troubles of the world or distracted by the pleasures of the world but let us fix our eyes on the true source of joy.

 


This post comes from Ben Smith, who shares a deep conviction of Scripture as the infallible counsel of God, and that aided by the Holy Spirit we can arrive at a coherent understanding of what it teaches as a whole.