“American society has a knowledge crisis, and the American church is no exception,” writes Bonnie Kristian in Untrustworthy. Her book details the origin, consequences, and resolution of the crisis. Its message is timely.
What is the crisis? “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble,” an adage misattributed to Mark Twain states. “It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” Our knowledge crisis is strong belief in evident falsehoods.
Proof of it is as close as your social media feeds. If yours are like mine, they are filled with bad information. People like, comment on, and share that information anyway.
Media isn’t the only problem, however. The knowledge crisis interacts with social phenomena such as cancel culture, conspiracism, and distrust of experts (which Kristian concedes is sometimes earned).
The crisis also crops up in statements like, “In my heart, I know what’s right,” though the facts point contrariwise. And it is apparent in identity politics. Kristian explains that “if you don’t have a given identity or experience … your understanding of related issues is fundamentally limited — maybe totally precluded.”
The consequences of the knowledge crisis are dire. To rephrase the book’s subtitle, the crisis breaks our brains, pollutes our politics, and corrupts Christian community.
Kristian traces the origin of the crisis to the information revolution. “In the span of a few decades we massively increased the quantity of information the average person encounters daily, much of which makes or assumes major truth claims,” she writes. “But we didn’t equip ourselves for those multiplying encounters.”
To fix the crisis, then, we need to equip ourselves with virtues that help us discern truth. These include humility, studiousness, honesty, wisdom and love. Believers develop them, in part, through a hermeneutic of obedience. As Kristian explains, “we gain understanding of Scripture when we are prepared to obey it.”
We also need to develop habits that train our attention on truth, goodness and beauty. Kristian confesses that for her, “the chief risk is overuse of the internet, particularly via my phone, at times when I should be attending to something different and better.”
That risk seems widespread. Many of us need to develop healthier habits of device usage, social media interaction, and news consumption.
Kristian closes Untrustworthy by acknowledging that “argument is a tool of limited uses” in the knowledge crisis. She cites G.K. Chesterton: “We should be chiefly concerned not so much to give [the foolish mind] arguments as to give it air.” For Kristian, that air is “a relationship, ordinary and grounded in love.”
In short, the solution to our knowledge crisis is — and has always been — speaking the truth lovingly (Ephesians 4:14–15).
Bonnie Kristian, Untrustworthy: The Knowledge Crisis Breaking Our Brains, Polluting Our Politics and Corrupting Christian Community (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2022).
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P.P.S. This review is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com by permission.