Christians in the Age of Outrage | Book Review


Google the word “outrage,” and this definition appears: “an extremely strong reaction of anger, shock, or indignation.” Not just anger, shock or indignation, mind you, but an “extremely strong reaction” of those things. Outrage is anger kicked up to 11.

Contemporary Americans live in the Age of Outrage. We are outraged by what those on the “other side” of just about any political, cultural or religious issue say and do, and we take to social media to “destroy” them. Not dialogue civilly, let alone rebut or refute, but destroy.

Outrage destroys.

In Christians in the Age of Outrage, Ed Stetzer shows “how to bring our best when the world is at its worst,” as the subtitle puts it. The book is a tract for our times, and its author is the right person to share it. Stetzer holds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College. Like Graham — known to many as “America’s Pastor” — Stetzer wants American evangelicals to be “unifying forces in American life,” bringing people together around the gospel. The purpose of his book is “to help Christians move from contributing to the age of outrage to effectively engaging it with the gospel.”

To accomplish that purpose, Stetzer looks at three broad topics. In Part 1, he examines “the two primary catalysts for our outrage”: “cultural forking” and “the technology discipleship gap.” Whereas American culture used to be nominally Christian, so that evangelicals found themselves in its mainstream, it is increasingly becoming post-Christian. Culture forked, in other words, and evangelicals now find themselves outside the mainstream. The new mainstream and the old mainstream eye each other distrustfully across the gap that divides them.

Social media exacerbates that distrust. Face-to-face encounters usually keep things civil, but online, you can abstract your opponents’ ideas from the totality of their lives and then reduce them to that abstraction. Social media use too often succeeds in reducing people to straw men and then providing the match to light those straw men on fire. This results in a vicious cycle of caricature, outrage, counter-caricature, counter-outrage, and so on and so forth.

In Part 2, Stetzer examines “four lies that reinforce and deepen our world’s anger.” They are:

  1. Christians are the worst!
  2. My outrage is righteous anger.
  3. _____ will save me from the outrage!
  4. Mission is optional.

Some of these are lies that post-Christian America tells about Christian America. The others are lies Christians tell themselves. These lies distort clear thinking and rationalize bad behavior.

Stetzer’s debunking of each of these lies is good, but I especially appreciated the distinction he drew between “righteous anger” and “outrage.” He writes:

Outrage exhibits few if any of the short- or long-term characteristics Scripture associates with righteous anger. Righteous anger is aimed at the glory of God,, but outrage is an angry reaction to personal injury or insult. Where righteous anger is purposeful and designed to advance specific objectives and ends, outrage exhibits little critical thought as to its underlying focus, motivations, expressions, or ends.

Outrage is motivated by a desire to punish or destroy rather than reconcile or refine. It is frequently accompanied by hubris and a confidence in its judgment, categorically rejecting any nuance. Outrage is fast and decisive rather than reflective, choosing to exhibit God’s retribution rather than reflect his persistent, steadfast love.

Yes, there are any number of sins and injustices in the world to be righteously angry about. Stetzer’s not denying this. But in the Bible, righteous anger is the prelude to repentance, reform and redemption. It is a means to a greater end. In our culture, outrage is its own reward.

The connection between righteous anger and redemption reminds us that God’s mission to redeem humanity is the purpose for which Christ came into the world. “For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10). When we let our anger get kicked up to 11, we forget that we are Christ’s ambassadors, carrying the message: “Be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20). When we keep our mission in the forefront of our minds, however, a different strategy emerges.

Part 3 outlines “ways that Christians can counteract the outrage in their lives and this world by being intentional about developing a Christ-centered worldview, living as God’s ambassadors, loving others in a winsome way, and engaging thoughtfully with others, both online and face-to-face.” I like the way Stetzer summarizes the strategy this way: “Instead of Outrage, Engage.”

There’s so much wisdom in Stetzer’s recommendations that it’s hard to summarize them all. So, let me just highlight his “Principles of Digital Discipleship.” They are particularly helpful, especially given the outsized role that social media play in fomenting our culture of outrage. When online, Stetzer advises:

  1. Remember that everyone is watching.
  2. Choose investment over consumption.
  3. See people, not avatars.
  4. Make grace the default mode.
  5. Resist the urge to fight every battle.
  6. Value authority over freedom.

Regarding that last point, Stetzer writes: “Just because we cansay something doesn’t mean we should. There are ways of confronting abuses of power, and I am certainly not condoning a mindless obedience. But Christians need to understand that the best place for difficult conversations is usually not online.”

The vicious cycle of outrage and counter-outrage has got to stop, for the good of our culture and for the sake of the gospel. Christians need to demonstrate a better way. After all, if the Church is “the hermeneutic of the gospel,” as Lesslie Newbigin put it, then our unrighteous outrage may lead people away from God, giving Him a bad reputation in the process. You can be outraged or you can fulfill the Great Commission. You can’t do both.

In sum, I highly recommend both Christians in the Age of Outrage and its author. If you’d like to see how he deals online with controversial issues in a Christian manner, follow @EdStetzer on major social media. Or check out his blog at ChristianityToday.com.

Book Reviewed
Ed Stetzer, Christians in the Age of Outrage: How to Bring Our Best When the World Is At Its Worst (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale Momentum, 2018).

P.S. If my review helped you form an opinion of this book, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

P.P.S. This review is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com with permission.

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Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now | Book Review


Like many others, I find it difficult to imagine life without social media. I use Facebook and Twitter at work to share articles fromInfluencemagazine, the Christian leadership magazine which I edit. They account for a large percentage of the traffic on the magazine’s website. I ignore them at professional peril.

I use Facebook and Instagram at home to share information and pictures with my family and friends. They help me keep in touch with people who are important to me but don’t live close by. Although I get most of my news from websites, I also click on the links to news articles and op-eds that these people share in Facebook and Twitter.

These professional and personal uses of social media sound benign, so why does my wife complain that I’m on my phone too much? Why do I feel compelled to check it compulsively throughout the day? And why do I so often feel negative emotions like sadness, anger and jealousy after spending time on Facebook?

Technology always begins as a tool to help us exercise control over nature. After a while, however, it becomes our master, in effect exercising control over us. If you don’t believe me, try replacing your smartphone with a dumbphone, or try giving up social media for Lent. If you can do so, great! If not, then perhaps you have a problem.

Jaron Lanier stakes out a radical position on social media in his new book, Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now. Here they are in his own words:

  1. You are losing your free will.
  2. Quitting social media is the most finely targeted way to resist the insanity of our times.
  3. Social media is making you into a [jerk].
  4. Social media is undermining truth.
  5. Social media is making what you say meaningless.
  6. Social media is destroying your capacity for empathy.
  7. Social media is making you unhappy.
  8. Social media doesn’t want you to have economic dignity.
  9. Social media is making politics impossible.
  10. Social media hates your soul.

Lanier is not an anti-technology Luddite by any stretch of the imagination. He is a computer scientist — a founding father of virtual reality, in fact — and is well regarded throughout Silicon Valley.

Nor is he writing from a religious perspective, despite his usage of terms like free willand soul. He’s not religious in any conventional sense, as far as I can tell. His political opinions are far to the left of mine and those of the readers of my magazine. And his occasional use of profanity — I had to come up with a less offensive term for Argument 3 above — can be distracting.

So, why would I recommend Christian leaders — pastors, educators, etc. — to read this book? I can think of at least three reasons.

First, Lanier is concerned with issues related to the common good. Lanier’s ten arguments are morally fraught. They deal with the character of the individual in relationship to others, especially on matters of public importance. No one wants to live in a society overrun with unempathetic jerks who twist the truth and tell lies, robbing workers of their economic dignity and politics of its effectiveness, all the while making everyone deeply unhappy. Right?

Second, Lanier’s sixth arguments is that social media destroys people’s capacity for empathy. It does this by cocooning users in a “filter bubble” where they are increasingly exposed only to others whose viewpoints expressly match their own. This exacerbates the tendency to lump people into “us” and “them,” where “we” are always on the side of righteousness and “they” are always on the side of wickedness. When we break out of that bubble and deal with real people and their actual arguments, we realize that reality is more complex that social media lets on. Because “they” also are concerned with the common good, “we” can make common causeon issues where we agree, even as we realize that we will continue to disagree (strongly, even) on other issues.

Third, as a tech “insider,” Lanier has unique insight into the business modelthat drives social media and leads to such negative results. He calls his explanation “the BUMMER machine,” where BUMMER is an acronym for “Behaviors of Users Modified, and Made into an Empire for Rent.”

Think of it this way: Facebook and other social media provide its services free to billions of users. How can it afford to do that? Because its users are not its customers, they are its products. Social media sucks up an enormous amount of data about you — birthdate, address, location, workplace, political interests, searches, friendship networks, etc. — repackages it and sells it to others. Some of these users, social media’s actual customers, have largely benign goals, i.e., marketing and selling affordable products you’re interested in. Others — Lanier cites the Cambridge Analytica particularly — have less benign goals.

To make money, social media have to figure out ways to keep you coming back for more, which it does through constant surveillance and subtle manipulation.  This is the point of argument 1 about the loss of free will. As Sean Parker, the first president of Facebook, once explained it: “We need to sort of give you a little dopamine hit every once in a while, because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever…. It’s a social validation feedback loop…exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with, because you’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology….”

Some things, once you see them, cannot be unseen. For me, Lanier’s book had that quality. It made me think about social media, my use of them, and what widespread usage of them are doing to us in a new and disturbing way. I haven’t been fully persuaded to delete my social media accounts, obviously, since you’re reading this on one social medium or another. But perhaps drawing attention to Lanier’s arguments will help in some small way to resist social media’s BUMMER tendencies and contribute to a happier, healthier, and more humane common culture.

Book Reviewed
Jaron Lanier, Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now(New York: Henry Holt, 2018).

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

Trending Up | Book Review


If it weren’t for Johannes Gutenberg, the Protestant Reformation might not have happened. Why? Because Gutenberg’s movable type press made it possible to print and distribute Martin Luther’s spiritual broadsides quickly and inexpensively. The medium facilitated the movement.

Today, we are witnessing a communications revolution even greater than Gutenberg’s. Information technology has made it possible to communicate the gospel instantly, globally and personally via social media. Christians need to harness these media for Great Commission purposes.

Trending Up shows how. Written by social media professionals from a variety of denominations, churches and nonprofit ministries, the book outlines social media strategies for churches and other ministries under five headings:

  1. Why Social Media?
  2. Content Strategy
  3. Story: Your Church’s Story and God’s Story
  4. Connecting with Your Church
  5. Reaching Your Community

If the ministry you lead is looking for a primer on social media, start with this book. Case studies of social media campaigns appear throughout, showing how content strategy plays out in real-life settings. Additionally, the book contains an appendix of books, websites, blogs, platforms and other resources for further investigation.

Near the end of the book, Mark Forrester writes: “Social media is equal parts art and science — and zero parts magic. Don’t let anyone tell you different. As with any form of communication, we must give painstaking attention to make sure our choice of words and images are appropriately reaching our community and resonating in our specific context.” In other words, Gutenberg facilitated Luther, but Luther had something to say that was worth facilitating in the first place.

The same must be true of us. Technological innovations have made it possible to amplify our message. Let’s make sure people hear the gospel loud and clear on our social media.

 

Book Reviewed
Mark Forrester, ed., Trending Up: Social Media Strategies for Today’s Church (Springfield, MO: Salubris Resources, 2017).

P.S. I wrote this review for InfluenceMagazine.com. It appears here by permission.

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

The Church and Social Media | Influence Podcast


In today’s #InfluencePodcast, Mark Forrester and I talk about how the church can leverage social media for the sake of the gospel.

For me personally, the most thought-provoking part of the podcast was when Mark talked about how to know what to post on social media. Just ask two questions about your audience: (1) Will they care? And (2) will they share? (These questions evidently come from Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg.)

Good stuff! Take a listen!

Thursday’s Influence Online Articles


Today, over at InfluenceMagazine.com:

  • In today’s #InfluencePodcast, Mark Forrester and I talk about how the church can leverage social media for the sake of the gospel. For me personally, the most thought-provoking part of the podcast was when Mark talked about how to know what to post on social media. Just ask two questions about your audience: (1) Will they care? And (2) will they share? (These questions evidently come from Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg.) Good stuff! Take a listen!
  • Josiah Kennealy talks about how church leaders can help students avoid financial disaster. Based on research published in his book, Debtless, Josiah writes: “over 39 percent of current college students have no idea how much they owe in student loans. Based on our research, current students have taken on an average of $26,659 in debt — and haven’t graduated yet! Nearly 40 percent of students surveyed said no one informed them about alternatives to student loans.” Yowza!
  • Claude Black reviews a new biography of J. H. King, who served as general superintendent of the Pentecostal Holiness Church from 1917 to 1946. I’m Assemblies of God, not PHC, but I love reading Pentecostal history and biography because it reminds me how much the present generation stands not he shoulders of giants from the previous generation.

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