The Navigators invited me to lead a breakout session at their Main Event conference in Ames, Iowa on October 6, 2018. They asked me to help college students think through the subject of social media use. This series of posts contains the material I presented. They develop a biblical theology of social media moving from Genesis through Revelation.
I’ve used social media since junior high in the late 1980’s. Friends and I explored the internet, visited newsgroups, and participated in chat rooms via dial-up modem. Social media use, platforms, and technology have exploded in the decades since, far beyond what we ever dreamed in our school computer lab. Social media are an almost inescapable part of life in the 21st century.
Social media bring blessings. I’ve made friends across the country and around the world. I am to listen to, watch, and read great authors and speakers. I partner with wonderful people in songwriting, book-writing, and ministry. Others read and listen to my work. All this is made possible through social media.
Social media have brought burdens. I hurt people through social media. Others hurt me. Virtual mobs are formed. Reputations are ruined. Lies are spread. Cyberbullies drive the vulnerable to suicide. Mental health issues develop—addiction, depression, anxiety.
How Do We Think of Social Media as Christians?
How do we approach the use of social media as Christians? In particular, does the Bible inform our use of social media?
The first recorded use of the term is in 2004, though social media have a history dating back to mid-1970’s (depending on how it is defined). The Apostle John wrote the last book of the Bible over 1,900 years ago. How can the Bible speak to the use of online, electronic technology that is less than 50 years old?
As a Christian, I seek to understand and define every area of life through the lens of Scripture. This does not mean that every phrase (e.g., “social media”), activity (Tweeting), or technology (the internet) is mentioned in the Bible. What it does mean is that all these things fall into basic categories to which Scripture speaks.
What exactly are “social media?”
Before we can examine social media through the lens of Scripture, we need to define the term. Consider a few definitions:
Merriam-Webster — “forms of electronic communication (such as websites for social networking and microblogging) through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content (such as videos)”
Marta Kagen — “Social media is an umbrella term that defines the various activities that integrate technology, social interaction, and the construction of words, pictures, videos and audio.” / “More simply put: Social media is people having conversations online.”
Wikipedia — “Social media are interactive computer-mediated technologies that facilitate the creation and sharing of information, ideas, career interests and other forms of expression via virtual communities and networks.”
These definitions have three elements in common. Social media involves…:
…human beings in community (networking, virtual communities, etc.)
…communicating (as consumers and producers) through various media (words, images, audio, video)
…using electronic and online technology.
To develop a Christian approach to social media, we’re going to examine each of those categories through these questions:
— What does it mean to be a human being in community?
— Does our understanding of being human inform how we communicate?
— How does our understanding of being human inform how we create and use technology?
We’ll answer those questions by taking a journey through the storyline of the Bible.
We’ll start with Creation, the world as God intended it to be.
We’ll move to the Fall, seeing how sin and death influence these things.
We’ll look at Jesus, seeing how he lived with these things as both the Perfect Human and our Savior.
Then we’ll look at the Church, seeing how they were to live in light of this Savior.
Finally, we look ahead to the New Heavens and the New Earth and think about social media in light of what is to come.
Continued in Part 2—”Social Media in Creation.”
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