Have you noticed that as social media have become more commonplace that people seem to have gotten nastier? I know I’ve seen it. And, if I’m honest, there may have been a few times where I participated in it. Some people make it their life’s goal to call people to correctness – or to their opinion, at least – and hiding behind the computer monitor allows them to do so with a greater degree of vitriol than they probably would use in face-to-face conversation.
Sadly, Christ-followers have not been immune to being sucked into the vortex of ugly online conversation.
Dr. Ed Stetzer, who holds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair for Church, Mission and Evangelism at Wheaton College in Illinois, is a prolific participant in social media conversations. Having worked for LifeWay Research before heading to the Windy City, he understands how to gather and communicate statistics in ways that will help build up the church. And he has done so once again in Christians in the Age of Outrage: How to bring our best when the world is at its worst (Tyndale House, 2018).
I was provided an advance reader copy (for my Kindle app) of this book by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., and had high hopes of completing the book and churning out a review much sooner than this, but better late than never, here it is.
To be sure, this book is aimed primarily at an American audience, and given the proliferation of tweeting taking place at the hand of the sitting President of that nation, and the likes, retweets and replies that come with them, it is not surprising that Stetzer would tailor the book to his home country. That said, the principles apply to users of social media throughout the world.
Stetzer’s goal is to encourage people who love and serve Jesus to carry their faith not only into their face-to-face dialogues, but into their digital conversations, too. Unfortunately, Stetzer has observed that the online outrage that has emerged over the past several years has Christians caught up in it, too.
Each disciple of Jesus has a sphere of influence, and we are called to remember that the world is watching not only how we act at work, and how we respond when our kid doesn’t get put in the game by the coach, but also how we respond when someone posts something to social media with which we may disagree. As Stetzer notes in the second part of the book, “Outrageous Lies and Enduring Truths”, “in a culture where everyone’s default response seems to be indignation, we can justify our outrage as righteous anger.” That’s one of the outrageous lies he mentions. Followers of Jesus are called to ‘turn the other cheek’, as Jesus says. That doesn’t mean we should just let bad theology and the misrepresentation of the Christian faith simply float away; it means we should avoid using unhelpful language and tone in our online discussions, while also helping people to see that there is another side to the story.
We often don’t do this, because it takes work. There’s researching the topic at hand in such a way that we have our facts straight, and then taking the time to present the more accurate, cogent argument in a winsome manner.
As a pastor, I took some great advice from this book on how I should handle my social media presence. (I also got some great sermon ideas, though I’m sure that’s secondary to the main point Stetzer was trying to make!)
Stetzer’s heart, as a church planter, teacher and mentor, is to see the church fulfill its core mandate: to make disciples. In order to do so, we must first be discipled ourselves, so that we can go and make disciples. This is foundational to everything Stetzer writes in the book. To that end, he writes about some of the idols that we demonstrate we hold, as expressed in our use of social media, such as politics, identity, and personality. When any of these takes the place of God – which is what an idol does – it shows in what we write and how we write it. And those idols keep us from being the ambassadors of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
I could go on at length, as the book is quite lengthy (perhaps my one criticism of the book). However, nothing Stetzer writes in Christians in the Age of Outrage is superfluous to his main focus or his undergirding principle. I would call this “recommended reading” for pastors who use social media, and even for those who don’t, that they might (a) counsel congregants who do use social media (and that’s most of them) and (b) consider engaging in social media themselves. Stetzer doesn’t recommend hiding from social media, since it’s not going away anytime soon. I would also recommend this book for Christians who would consider doing a gut check on their own social media “tone of voice”, as well as to help them understand the current phenomenon of outrage that exists at the click of a mouse.
Christians in the Age of Outrage, by Ed Stetzer, published by Tyndale House. ISBN 978-1-4964-3362-6.