I have been formulating several entries for the blog in recent weeks, along the lines of identifying modern cults and idols. Those posts may yet come, if I have the courage to post them.
2 Timothy 2:1 You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, 2 and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. 3 Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 4 No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. 5 An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. 6 It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. 7 Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.
But as I collected my thoughts about what I see as modern cults, one major theme kept repeating over and over and over, and so rather than recreating the wheel in a bunch of entries where I would be saying, in essence, the same thing, I want to talk about the common thread first.
Modern communication technology has made it so that anyone who is even slightly inclined can have a public platform from which to speak on any topic they desire. The internet, cellular phones, social media, television, etc, have contributed to a world such that by combining any number of these strategies, anyone with an opinion can speak as much as they like about it. If we were looking for a historical analog to this, I think the best analog is the printing press. There was an enormous boom in published material after the printing press became prevalent, and many people who would not have been able to have their opinion in writing for the consumption of others before the invention did afterwards. It is not lost on me that my job consists, at least in part, in taking care of the print work of some of those who made use of this technology who would not have been heard as widely without it, if at all. To put a finer point on it, without the invention of the printing press, it is possible that my denomination never comes into existence. The set of historical circumstances which led to there being Seventh Day Baptists is dependent, in part, on the circulation of minority positions in print. Without the printing press, there is no efficient way for the dissemination of such a historically unprecedented number of perspectives. The same is true with these new information technologies. Some people in my world are fond of calling such things (and many other things besides) “game changers.” I’m not for obliterating the meaning of anything through overuse, but I don’t think it is hyperbole here.
If you want to have a platform now, you can. Whether or not anyone will pay attention is another question altogether, but you can have a platform.
And if we are going to judge on the basis of participation, it seems nearly everyone wants a platform, and of every conceivable kind. This egalitarian approach to free speech and communication is, in some ways, a very good thing. It is the logical end of some of our most closely held principles in the United States: technological advances funding the project of nearly unlimited and unbounded free speech.
There are problems with this brave new world of communication at will, however. The first is that there is now such a volume of information being disseminated that we are buried with it. It is everywhere, and it is inescapable. When you use any of the contemporary communication methods (computer, smart phone, etc), you will be blasted with information in the form of a “timeline” or “newsfeed” or “push notification.” Information stalks you. The second is that in the midst of such a wash of data, it is very difficult to know who to trust. How do we distinguish the ravings of the lunatic fringe on an issue (think 9/11 “truthers” or the tinfoil helmet crowd) from those trained to speak intelligently and deeply about it? There is no warning system for idiocy on the internet. I deliberately invoked Aldous Huxley just now, because it was his thesis in his best known work that people could be washed away in a deluge of information and pleasure. Such is the nature of our times that we have gone a step further: the deluge of information is in itself a means of pleasure-seeking and self-gratification.
You can imagine where I could go from the base I’ve just built–the rant against technology and the narcissism of the age. It’s a diatribe you’ve probably seen before. Maybe you’ve even written one.
But that’s not my primary interest tonight. The dangers of our world in this respect are before you. Ignore them at your peril.
2 Timothy 2:8 Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, 9 for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! 10 Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. 11 The saying is trustworthy, for:
If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
12 if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he also will deny us;
13 if we are faithless, he remains faithful—
for he cannot deny himself.
It’s the final, less obvious implication of all this communication that I want to address tonight: your platform is limited by the volume and quality of the total communication being produced in your world. Your voice, such as it is, has never been freer to articulate whatever view you can conceive of. And the world has never been less interested in hearing what you have to say. People are more interested in creating and consuming content than they are in engaging it and letting it interface with the deep places in them, and for that reason, everything you say is devalued from the moment you express it, and diluted by the volume of people speaking. Your platform is secure, at least temporarily. Your audience is not.
Another principle is at work as well. Your platform, while secure, is very limited, and each time you speak on an different issue, it shrinks. People are simply not willing to hear one person speak on a variety of diverse topics–they want someone who is knowledgeable about one thing or a group of related things. For this reason, when you aren’t specializing in one thing, you are either insignificant or not taken seriously. Most people’s “one thing” they really care about shines through on their feeds/timelines/etc. It is the thing they are always posting about. They can’t help it. If you choose a random friend or contact you follow and then check their profile or what they post, what their platform is about will become immediately clear. It is my opinion this is a function of the era in which we live–fields are very specialized and the proliferation of knowledge across all fields of inquiry has yielded so much information that it is impossible to be knowledgeable about everything. Even the most well-read and intelligent people can’t keep up with everything happening in all the different fields that could be studied. And, as you would expect, our hobbies have taken after our theories of knowledge–we specialize in hobbies now as well.
The sum of all of these factors could be called the Platform Limit Principle–your platform is limited both in terms of its audience and the content it can support.
If the “one thing” your platform is about (the thing that all your communication is rooted in) as a follower of Jesus Christ isn’t your Lord, then you’re doing it wrong.
2 Timothy 2:14 Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers. 15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. 16 But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, 17 and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, 18 who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some. 19 But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.”
If you have one chance to speak and a limited (and constantly shrinking) platform from which to speak from, and you’re not engaging the broader world around you for Jesus Christ through expressing the Gospel and the implications of it, then you probably need to rethink everything. Some Christians are fond of talking about how if they knew they only had one day left, they would spend that day preaching the Gospel. Well guess what? The practical outcome of a shrinking platform in a world drowning in media is not so far from being dead. Irrelevance and death are separated only by a pulse. And to be clear, your platform isn’t limited to your digital footprint–your “one thing” should be showing clearly in your actual human interactions as well.
If you believe that this world is in trouble and that people who don’t know Jesus are going to suffer eternal punishment, why on earth would you use your platform in our communication-saturated era to do anything but convey the most important messages?
Now, before you say that’s not practical because you can’t post a gospel tract every day, let me tell you that’s not what I’m talking about. Obviously, our lives are part of our witness–perhaps even the most important part of it, depending on how you think about it. So I’m not saying that you have to post a Bible verse every day on Facebook and avoid the 124th quiz telling you which character from your favorite obscure movie you are. What I am saying is that your use of the medium should be guided and informed by your convictions. If you think that the Gospel is important, then your feeds should reflect that in the way you talk about sin (it’s not funny, or trivial, or unimportant), culture, politics, health, entertainment, other faiths, etc. Though it’s not a directly analogous situation, I think Paul’s words in Ephesians 5 are a good start if you want to think about this:
Ephesians 5:15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
So, I have a challenge for you tonight.
I want you to go to your feeds. Consider your recent phone conversations. Consider your posts on Facebook, or Twitter, or Tumblr, or your blog, or wherever else your platform may extend. And I want to ask you a question about what you see there: does it point clearly and unambiguously to the hope you have in Christ? If it doesn’t, it is time to repent. Consider a media fast. Devote the time you’ve been spending on all the people around you (real or virtual) to your Savior, and then prayerfully reevaluate how you should be spending your platform.
In the next couple of weeks, I’m going to be posting about idols if I have the stomach. And nearly every idol I will name comes down to a value-neutral or good thing being exalted to a place above the God of the Universe, sometimes even in His name. My prayer for you is that if you take the challenge and discover your platform is coming off all wrong, that you will have the strength to change your platform, starting with the ways you spend your thoughts.
2 Timothy 2:20 Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. 21 Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.
22 So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lordfrom a pure heart. 23 Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. 24 Andthe Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.