Review of ‘The Tech-Wise Family’ by Andy Crouch


The first computer I ever owned was an Apple Macintosh Classic II. Released in October 1991, my Mac Classic boasted a 16 megahertz CPU, 2 megabytes of RAM and 40 megabytes of memory — 80 if you splurged. It weighed 16 pounds. I felt privileged as a graduate student to have such computing power on my desk. Some of my peers had to make do with word processors or, even worse, typewriters.

Today, my iPhone 6SE weighs 4 ounces, has a 1.85 gigahertz CPU, 2 gigabytes of RAM and 128 gigabytes of memory. It wakes me up in the morning, tracks my diet and exercise progress, and handles all my emails, texts and social media. It takes pictures, shoots video and streams movies, TV shows and music on demand. It stores books and magazines that I read, including the Bible. When my kids get bored — or, to be honest, when I get tired of paying attention to them — it entertains them.

My Mac Classic was a tool. My iPhone is (almost) my life. And that’s a problem.

All of us know how useful technology is. We can do things with it that we cannot do without it. In The Tech-Wise Family, Andy Crouch points out what many of us fail to see as we use technology, namely, that it is changing us and our families, and not always for the better.

To understand his point, think of what technology is and what families are for.

First, according to Crouch, the defining characteristic of technology is that it is “easy everywhere.” Think of your smartphone. It is easy to use (my 3-year-old has it figured out) and it can be taken everywhere. Twenty-six years ago, I had a phone (landline, not mobile), a camera, a video camera, cassette tapes, a boom box, a TV, videocassettes, a VHS player, boxes of books, stacks of magazines and a computer. Together, they filled a small room and weighed several hundred pounds. Now all those things are accessible on a four-ounce device that fits in my pocket.

Second, although families have many purposes, Crouch suggests that its key purpose is “the forming of persons.” This has less to do with “being” (what we are) than “becoming” (who we can be). Becoming a person is a matter of virtue formation, and Crouch focuses on two virtues in particular: “wisdom and courage.” Wisdom, he writes, is “knowing, in a tremendously complex world, what the right thing to do is — what will be most honoring of our Creator and our fellow creatures.” Courage is “the conviction and character to act.” Forming these virtues requires loving relationships: “If you don’t have people in your life who know you and love you in that radical way, it is very, very unlikely you will develop either wisdom or courage.”

Anyone with a family knows that long-term, emotionally intimate relationships are the exact opposite of easy everywhere. The phrase, “There’s an app for that,” applies to many routine tasks, but not to cultivating intimacy with your spouse, rearing your children to be responsible adults, contributing to the wellbeing of society or leaving a legacy for your descendants. These require hard work at specific times and in specific places. Technology and family, in other words, point in different directions.

The question Crouch seeks to answer in The Tech-Wise Family is how to put technology in its proper place. How can we use it without our families being overcome by it? Crouch offers 10 principles that his family has tried to live by — not always successfully, he admits.

  1. We develop wisdom and courage together as a family.
  2. We want to create more than we consume. So, we fill the center of our homes with things that reward skill and active engagement.
  3. We are designed for a rhythm of work and rest. So, one hour a day, one day a week, and one week a year, we turn off our devices and worship, feast, play and rest together.
  4. We wake up before our devices do, and they “go to bed” before we do.
  5. We aim for “no screens before double digits” [i.e., age 10] at school and at home.
  6. We use screens for a purpose, and we use them together, rather than using them aimlessly and alone.
  7. Car time is conversation time.
  8. Spouses have each other’s passwords, and parents have total access to children’s devices.
  9. We learn to sing together, rather than letting recorded and amplified music take over our lives and worship.
  10. We show up in person for the big events of life. We learn how to be human by being fully present at our moments of greatest vulnerability. We hope to die in one another’s arms.

To be honest, I found many of Crouch’s suggestions radical, especially when compared to how I and members of my family actually use technology. Crouch jokes that he’s suggesting people become “almost Amish.” He also insists that his family’s commitments need not be your family’s commitments. Still, these commitments and the rationale behind them should spark some new ideas in you, your spouse and your kids, hopefully leading to a chastened use of easy-everywhere devices and a wiser, more courageous home.

 

Book Reviewed:
Andy Crouch, The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2017).

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P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

P.S.S. This review was written for InfluenceMagazine.com and appears here by permission.

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Friday’s InfluenceMagazine.com Articles


Today, over at InfluenceMagazine.com:

  • Chris Railey offers three helpful insights about the importance of delegation.
  • We interview Brian Schmidgall about how MiddleTree Church is building bridges between racial and socioeconomic divides in North St. Louis, Missouri.
  • I review Andy Crouch’s new book, The Tech-Wise Family.
  • And Christina Quick notes Pew Research about faith commitment and levels of education.

Please make sure to follow and like InfluenceInfluence magazine on Facebook, Twitter, and iTunes!

Review of ‘Strong and Weak’ by Andy Crouch


Strong-and-WeakThis review first appeared at InfluenceMagazine.com.

Andy Crouch, Strong and Weak: Embracing a Life of Love, Risk and True Flourishing (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2016).

“Two questions haunt every human life and every human community,” writes Andy Crouch. “The first: What are we meant to be? The second: Why are we so far from what we’re meant to be?” (emphasis in original). Strong and Weak offers an answer to that question which focuses on “the paradox of flourishing,” the necessity of pursuing “greater authority and greater vulnerability at the same time” (emphasis in original).

Crouch defines authority as “the capacity for meaningful action” and vulnerability as “exposure to meaningful risk.” Most people—including many Christians—view authority and vulnerability in either/or terms. To the degree that we exercise authority, we insulate ourselves from meaningful risk. To the degree that we experience vulnerability, we lack capacity to take meaningful action. Given the choice between being a millionaire and a homeless person, who in their right mind would choose the latter?

This choice is a false one, however. Without vulnerability, authority becomes exploitative. Indeed, Crouch argues that “the real root of the problem,” the answer to the question of why we are so far from what we’re meant to be, is “the quest for authority without vulnerability.” Without authority, on the other hand, the capacity for meaningful action, vulnerability reduces simply to suffering. The real choice we face is whether to withdraw from lives of meaningful action and risk or to embrace them both. Authority and vulnerability together lead to flourishing, “the life that really is life” (1 Timothy 6:19).

“No human being ever embodied flourishing more than Jesus of Nazareth,” Crouch writes. “And precisely for this reason, no other life brings the paradox of flourishing so clear into focus.” Christ “humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name” (Philippians 2:8–9, emphasis added). Whether in Christ’s life or in ours, flourishing = authority + vulnerability.

Why did Christ live in such a way? For the sake of others, and this fact has a special application for Christian leaders. “Leadership begins the moment you are more concerned about others’ flourishing than you are about your own.” After all, even Christ refused to “consider [His] equality with God something to be used to his own advantage,” choosing instead to make himself “nothing,” taking on “the very nature of a servant” (Philippians 2:6–7).

Crouch goes on to note that Christlike leadership carries two burdens: “If we want to be agents of transformation in the world, we must be willing to bear the burden of visible authority with hidden vulnerability.” A leader’s visible authority is what everyone sees, but hidden vulnerability means “to bear the risks that only you can see.” Christ’s visible authority was heard in His teaching and seen in His miracles. His hidden vulnerability, borne by himself alone throughout His public ministry, was His foreordained march to the Cross. Crouch notes the challenge of simultaneously exhibiting visible authority while bearing hidden vulnerability: “This will expose us to the temptation to become idols or tyrants ourselves—and yet without learning to bear hidden vulnerability, we will never truly be able to serve the flourishing of others.” Instead, we will use our manifest vulnerabilities to garner sympathy and manipulate allegiance.

Strong and Weak is a small book—approximately 175 pages. But for me, it packed a large punch, almost with the force of a revelation. As a Christian and as a leader, I try so hard to insulate myself, my family, and those around me from risk, all the while enlarging the scope of my effective action and theirs. Far from contributing to my flourishing, however—or theirs—this effort makes it impossible to grow spiritually or to minister effectively. To do either, we must like Jesus descend from privilege into pain, for only by accepting meaningful risk can we also develop capacity for effective action. To borrow’s Paul’s phrase, when we are weak, then we are strong (2 Corinthians 12:10). And only then.

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P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.