Tweeting Yourself Into An Identity

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I was struck by an unoriginal thought about Twitter today. It holds for most other forms of social media as well, I suppose. It’s simply this: Twitter is not simply a medium for the self-expression of our given or chosen identity, but for the formative construction of our identity. And not always in a conscious way.

Some of us consciously go onto social media looking to project a particular version of ourselves which is more idealized than real. But Twitter easily turns into this subconscious feedback loop.

First you start tweeting things. Various things. Links, thoughts, jokes, aphorisms, political opinions, insults, or whatever occurs to you. But then, some of those get more responses than others. They get the most favorites or retweets.

Most of us like getting favorites or retweets. So we notice what type of content gets that. Is it the funny jokes? The angry political thoughts? The prophetic word about the Church? The earnest Jesus-aphorisms? The encouraging nuggets of wisdom?

Whatever it is, you begin to think more and more along that groove, posting more in that vein, and getting more positive feedback. So you start adopting that role more and more: inane humorist, earnest preacher-man, prophet, purveyor of wisdom, screen-shot guy, emotive relater, political pundit.

Pretty soon, your “most retweeted self” becomes a stronger feature of your real-world self as you inhabit that identity more and more. It might have always been part of your personality make-up, or skill-set, but it increases in dominance as it is positively reinforced online.

In any case, for some, the positive retweets/likes become a confirmation of my need to be “who I really am”, which is this most-retweeted self. And so you begin living into this more consciously and it’s now a reinforcing cycle.

Now, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes people find their voice online. Others develop a skill-set that plays out positively in their practical career. For myself, I actually got a bit pithier and punchier in my preaching for a while, when I was thinking about how to make my points more tweetable, like proverbs. It’s not all negative.

That said, a friend pointed out online that Twitter tends to reward either generic, positivity or anger. Maybe you have had different experiences, but there’s something to that.

This isn’t awful, but it can have all sorts of negative effects unless we’re careful. Some of us may be influenced to timidity and quietude when we ought to speak up (Eph. 6:19). Others of us maybe tempted to speak in anger, when Proverbs might urge a soft answer (Prov. 15:1). And in either case, it’s forming our hearts.

I bring this up for those of us who dwell online simply to consider the way our tweeting and updating may be forming us for good or ill. In that vein, here are a few questions to consider.

Is this who I really want to be?” I mean, honestly, do I want to be a spouter of inanities? A purveyor of proverbs? An encourager? A prophet? A counselor? A political pundit? A cultural observer? Or even more, “Is this all I want to be?” Am I reducing myself to this role?  Or, “Is who I am becoming online impinging on who I am becoming in real life in positive or negative ways?”

Pastors probably need to think about this more than they do. Some are too scared to speak when then ought. But others should really consider the way their online activity is feeding back into their congregational care.

“Who is giving me this affirmation?” The internet is such that you can find all sorts of people to affirm your thoughts if you’re sufficiently skilled at packaging them, or adopting popular modes of speech. Popularity does not ensure health.

Is your speech receiving affirmation from the people whose judgment you trusted before you went online? Am I becoming someone my loved ones recognize? Am I becoming someone who the wisest people who love me most and want the best for me would encourage me to be?

I suppose I’ll just close with a Jesus-juke and say, “Remember, the only RT that matters most, is the RT we get in our identity in Christ.”  Or, more Biblically, take care not to love “the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God” (John 12:43).

Soli Deo Gloria

Work Unto the Lord, Not Unto the Advocate

elijah-in-the-desertAdvocating for justice is a difficult business at the best of times. This is not only because we are fallen sinners, but because we are finite and the world is a complex place. Moral discernment takes hard-won wisdom, passion, and a great deal of humility. Acting on it takes even greater courage and care. Few places seem require this more than the painful struggles around racial reconciliation and justice, both in the broader culture as well as within the walls of the Church.

Unfortunately, it seems particularly easy for discouragement to set in at just this point.

I do not consider myself an expert in these matters, though I have written on them occasionally. Still, I wanted to briefly speak to one particular sort discouragement: that of the frustrated ally. I have noticed among some of my white friends (especially Evangelicals) who care and speak out on issues of racial injustice and bias (often in the face of opposition), a disappointment and weariness that sets in when it seems that their efforts go unrecognized.

This discouragement sets in especially when some POC (people of color) advocates speak as if there are no white allies trying to stand alongside them. Or as if the efforts of certain allies still aren’t good enough—or indeed shouldn’t be seen as true efforts at all.

At that point, for some the question can become, “Why even bother?” And I get that. I’m not white (Arab and Hispanic), so I don’t typically struggle with white-guilt about these sorts of things. But I can imagine a bit of the frustration, especially if you felt you’d sacrificed and were doing your level-best from the heart.

To that frustration I would speak a few quick points and one major encouragement that might be summed up as, “Work unto the Lord, not unto the advocate.”

First, if you’re aiming your efforts in part to please the loudest voices for justice out on social media you’re setting yourself up for frustration. Prophetic voices are not often looking to hand out praises to those who are doing work that is the basic responsibility of Christians anyways. Also, the prophetic mindset is often more keenly attuned to what is wrong, what is still broken and needs to be alleviated, than applauding what is going right with some. Third, they are humans as well, who cannot see all and speak to all things. Finally, you should consider that they might not even be talking about you.

Second, I’ll be very Calvinistic and say that, as sinners, we often tend to evaluate our efforts more highly than we ought to anyways. I know I do that myself. In which case, there is likely more to forgive in our best works for reconciliation than we’d like to admit in the first place. We need to not rob ourselves of the opportunity to learn from these voices and to grow in our work unto the Lord, by letting our first instinct be that of self-vindication. They are not perfect, and they may be missing some of the good in your work, but the Lord can use them to sharpen us nonetheless.

Third, following this, we need to remember that all of our work is done unto the Lord anyways.  As Jesus puts it in his brief parable, at the end of all of his hard work, all any faithful servant can really say is, “‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” (Luke 17:10). God does not owe us for our hard work for justice. We are to work, sweat, struggle, cry, pray, and go to bed only to wake up and go through the same cycle over again, simply because it is the proper obedience due to our Lord who wills justice.

Fourth, and this is probably the most important point, it is to the Lord that we work. And this is the forgiving, saving Lord who is our Righteousness. It is unto the gracious One whose eyes behold heaven and earth, who judges the living and the dead that we turn our efforts. In which case, we know that even if others do not see our efforts for what they are, he does. And on the right day, he will vindicate them and reward them.

What’s more, even our most impure efforts he will forgive and accept, for (as Lewis says) he is a gracious Father who is never satisfied, but quite easily pleased by the stumbling first steps of his children. Indeed, Jesus says there is a special blessing from the Father for those good works done without any public recognition (Matt. 6:4). This is a special encouragement to work from a pure heart unto the Lord alone.

That said, we should recall we have already been vindicated in Christ. In which case, our efforts for justice in the world are no longer part of our project of self-justification. They are carried out in the power of the Spirit because we have been united by faith to the Just One, Jesus Christ. And he is the one who is at work in us, giving us the energy to do what is right whether or not the voices whose approval we seek give it or not. We love them and we serve them, but we serve them because we work unto the Lord.

Take heart, then. “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Gal. 6:9).

Soli Deo Gloria

Faith Speaking Understanding by Kevin Vanhoozer (TGC Review)

Kevin J. Vanhoozer. Faith Speaking Understanding: Performing the Drama of Doctrine. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2014. 298 pp. $22.42.

“The drama is in the dogma,” Dorothy Sayers once said. It seems no evangelical theologian has more enthusiastically taken to heart her statement than Kevin Vanhoozer, research professor of theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School outside Chicago.

Building on the foundation laid by H. U. Von Balthasar in his multi-volume series Theodrama, over the past 12 years Vanhoozer has put forward and developed his own “theatrical” approach to doctrine and theology.

Project Continues

Beginning with The Drama of Doctrine (Christianity Today’s 2006 book of the year in theology), Vanhoozer argued that the category of “drama” is well suited to conceptualizing a theology that takes its cues from the gospel. Doctrine, on this model, is the stage direction that enables disciples to participate rightly in the drama of the gospel. Doctrine does this by rightly identifying the dramatis personae (God, Christ, Israel, and so on), the shape of God’s (theos) actions (drao = to act, drama) that come before (creation, election, Jesus, church, consummation), and in that light, our role in local community performances as the company of the church on the stage of the world.

Vanhoozer followed that up a few years later in his groundbreaking Remythologizing Theology (2010), putting his theory into practice by engaging in some 500 pages of theology proper. Essentially it was a call for theology to reorient itself to speaking of God’s being on the basis of his dramatic doings revealed in Scripture.

Despite their wide acclaim, however, the size, complexity, and price tag of these works has prevented many pastors outside the academy from been exposed to Vanhoozer’s work. This is a shame because—and I know this is a bold statement—these are two of the most important works of evangelical theology written over the past 15 years. The Drama of Doctrine saved my theology of revelation and Scripture in the emergent years, and Remythologizing Theology did the same for my doctrine of God. If I could force every seminary student to closely read and digest those two books, the church would be saved a lot of theological grief.

Enter Vanhoozer’s newest work, Faith Speaking Understanding: Performing the Drama of Doctrine. Let me put it this way: if Drama of Doctrine and Remythologizing Theology had a child, it would be Faith Speaking Understanding. Though intended as briefer, less intimidating introduction to and practical application of his theodramatic theology for pastors and serious students, it isn’t a mere rehash of the last two works. As Vanhoozer explains, Faith Speaking Understanding is “an upstart sibling with a swagger of its own, namely a full-fledged proposal for the role of theology in the church’s task of making disciples” (xv)

Please go read the rest of my review over at TGC and then go buy the book. It’s that good. 

Soli Deo Gloria

Somersaulting for Jesus

somersaultThe metaphor of “walking” features prominently in the Bible as a way of describing our life with God. It’s also a key theme in Tim Keller’s new book.  Keller gives a great little description of what it means to “walk with God” towards the middle of the book:

Walking is something nondramatic, rhythmic–it consists of steady, repeated actions you can keep up in a sustained way for a long time. God did not tell Abraham in Genesis 17:1 to “somersault before me” or even “run before me” because no one can keep such behavior up day in and day out. There are many people who think of spiritual growth as something like high diving. They say, “I am going to give my life to the Lord! I am going to change all these terrible habits and I am really going to transform! Give me another six months, and I am going to be a new man or new woman!” That is not what a walk is. A walk is day in and day out praying; day in and day out Bible and Psalms reading; day in and day out obeying, talking to Christian friends, and going to corporate worship, committing yourself to and fully participating in the life of a church. It is rhythmic, on and on and on. To walk with God is a metaphor that symbolizes slow and steady progress.

Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering, pg. 236

So what is walking with God? The slow rhythms of a live built around him. It’s not the flashy, quick-result, 7-day diet fads we’re all about, but the regular, steady patterns of wisdom that develop health. It’s not just the romantic weekend getaway, but the daily chats, kisses, date nights, and time spent in the ordinary that keeps marriages strong. “Walking”, in this sense, consists of the lovely, but ordinary disciplines of grace.

Soli Deo Gloria

Living the Epic Drama in Short Stories (CaPC)

munroAlice Munro won a Nobel Prize in Literature this week. Aside from being the first Canadian, and thirteenth woman to do so, this is significant because she won it, not for a novel, but for being a “master of the contemporary short story.” That’s pretty cool.

When asked why she writes short stories instead of novels, Munro told The Atlantic:

So why do I like to write short stories? Well, I certainly didn’t intend to. I was going to write a novel. And still! I still come up with ideas for novels. And I even start novels. But something happens to them. They break up. I look at what I really want to do with the material, and it never turns out to be a novel. But when I was younger, it was simply a matter of expediency. I had small children, I didn’t have any help. Some of this was before the days of automatic washing machines, if you can actually believe it. There was no way I could get that kind of time. I couldn’t look ahead and say, this is going to take me a year, because I thought every moment something might happen that would take all time away from me. So I wrote in bits and pieces with a limited time expectation. Perhaps I got used to thinking of my material in terms of things that worked that way. And then when I got a little more time, I started writing these odder stories, which branch out a lot. But I still didn’t write a novel, in spite of good intentions.

Munro, basically: “I had novel ideas and I’d start them, but…yeah, life, so short stories.”

You can go read my reflections on what that means for our short stories over at Christ and Pop Culture.

The Difference Between Knowledge and Wisdom and What That Means for Ministry

Paul David Tripp explains the difference between insight and application, or knowledge and wisdom, and why that matters for personal ministry:

Most of us are tempted to think that change has taken place before it actually has. We confuse growth in knowledge and insight with genuine life change. But insight is not change and knowledge should not be confused with practical, active, biblical wisdom. In fourteen years of seminary teaching, I have met many brilliant, theologically astute students who were incredibly immature in their everyday life. There was often a huge gap between their confessional and functional theology. Students who could articulate the sovereignty of God could be overcome with worry. Students who could expound on the glory of God would dominate classroom discussions for the sake of their own egos. I have counseled students who could explain the biblical doctrine of progressive holiness while nurturing secret worlds of lust and sexual sin. I have seen many men who were months away from ministry who had not yet learned how to love people. Students who could explain the biblical teaching of God’s grace were harsh, judgmental legalists.

In short, we must not confuse insight and change. Insight is a beginning, a part of the whole, but it is not the whole. We do want people to see, know, and understand, but we also want them to apply that insight to their daily life. God opens our eyes so that, in seeing him we would follow him more closely. This means that personal ministry should not end too soon. If holiness is God’s goal, we must be willing to help others through the process of change.

For many people it is much easier to know what is wrong than how to change it. I may have confessed a selfish, idolatrous heart and seen its fruit in my relationship with my wife. But it will be harder for me to think clearly and creatively about how to repent and love her in specific ways. I may understand the major themes in Scripture, but I may not know how to use them in certain situations and relationships. We all need people to stand alongside us as we apply God’s Word to our lives. –Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, pp. 242-243

Soli Deo Gloria

Jesus Went to the Cross For Me–Now What?

crossI’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the Cross–what did it accomplish, why did it happen, was it planned, what should we think about it, etc. I don’t regret any of it. A good atonement theology is at the core of any good understanding of Jesus and the Gospel. If your understanding of the atonement is narrow and weak, so will be the salvation Jesus offers. The more efficacious, broad, bold, and beautiful you see the Cross to be is the measure of how efficacious, broad, bold, and beautiful you will find Jesus. And that, of course, will determine the character of our discipleship and our churches.

Often-times we don’t get to that second part. We stop at theory and don’t move to practice–to response. We pour over all the verses that talk about what Jesus did, and we don’t think about what the Bible says our response should be to it. So how should we react to Christ’s love-provoked, justice-satisfying, holiness-creating, devil-defeating, guilt-blotting, righteousness-fulfilling, self-giving on the Cross?

Leon Morris helpfully lays out 8 New Testament responses to the Cross:

  1. We have faith in the efficacy of his blood, Romans 3:25
  2. We are to glory alone in the Cross of Christ, Galatians 6:14
  3. We should determine to know nothing save Jesus Christ and Him crucified, 1 Corinthians 2:2
  4. We are to look upon Christ’s offering of Himself as an example, and to follow in His steps, 1 Peter 2:21
  5. We are to overcome by the blood of the Lamb, Revelation 12:11
  6. We are to reckon ourselves crucified with Christ, and continually seek to be made conformable to His death–Romans 6:3, 4, 5, 8; Galatians 2:20; Philippians 3:10; Colossians 2:12; 2 Timothy 2:11; 1 Peter 4:13
  7. We are to preach Christ crucified, 1 Corinthians 1:23
  8. We are to “proclaim the Lord’s death till He come.” in our observing the Lord’s Supper, 1 Corinthians 11:26; cf. “a communion of the blood of Christ,” 1 Corinthians 10:16

–Leon Morris, The Cross in the New Testament, pg. 426

We could easily find more, but that should be plenty to keep us, both as individuals and as churches, busy for a while.

Soli Deo Gloria