The Dangers of Online Christianity

chris craneChris Crane has formerly served as both a college intern at First Baptist Church in Irving, TX and in leadership of Dallas Baptist University’s Encounter Ministries. He holds a B.A. in Biblical Studies with a minor in Philosophy from DBU. Currently, he is a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, pursuing his M.Div. in Biblical Spirituality. Follow Chris on Twitter: @cmcrane87. ___

computersLiving in the 21st century, we have become overwhelmed with the advances of technology and how literally every part of our lives now seems to be using some sort of technology that wasn’t available 10 or 20 years ago. Many of these things have been quite helpful and I’m thankful that God has given them to us. However, like any good gift, it can become a danger if we let it. This is especially true when it comes to the gospel and our lives as followers of Jesus. There are countless podcasts, books, videos and websites dedicated to our favorite pastor/theologian and that feature countless theological topics. While I celebrate the diverse availability of the gospel, I also find some dangers that I think we need to be mindful of and fight against.

Before I get into these issues, let me make a clarifying statement about what I am not saying. First, I am not calling for some boycott of the Internet. I am not a fan of boycotts and they usually do more harm than good. Neither am I calling for a legalistic, shame-centered guilt trip about it. Online resources can be helpful if used properly. Secondly, I realize that unexpected things happen and so sometimes we have to miss church on a Sunday and we watch the live-stream of the service online. I’m not telling you to stop that, as long as it doesn’t become a habit. What I am trying to accomplish here is to show that neither our lives nor our spiritual growth can simply be lived online. Third, and lastly, I am not claiming I do all of this perfectly. In fact, I struggle with some of these issues myself and daily pray for the grace to recognize when my use of social media is getting out of hand, asking the Holy Spirit to show me my heart and reveal any areas I need to repent of. I’m on this journey with you all. So, with that being said, let’s examine some of these issues that I think can be harmful if we’re not careful.

Podcast Commitment

We lose something when we live off of podcasts: community. Living vicariously through the Internet is emotionally unhealthy and neglects the reality of our need for community. In fact, being in community in a local church reflects the eternal fellowship and community the Trinity has as Father, Spirit and Son. Furthermore, the author of Hebrews speaks to the importance of community, exhorting us to, "consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day [of the Lord's return] drawing near.” If you are living off of the preaching of your favorite podcast, not only are you living the Christian life in the opposite way intended for Christ followers, but you’re doing yourself harm in the process.

This sort of lone wolf, individualistic Christianity is opposite of God’s desire for you to be in true, biblical community. We need to learn how to sit under the authority of God’s Word as it’s preached from the pulpit, to realize that the gospel frees us to be open and honest about our weaknesses with other believers so that they may help us flee sin and pursue righteousness, and for us to use our spiritual gifts to build up the body (see 1 Cor. 12:12-26). To speak frankly, it wouldn’t surprise me if a person living off of podcasts and not being faithful to a local church was also living in some sort of secret sin, since they are neglecting one of God’s means at growing us in our hatred for sin. Additionally, it can be really easy to judge all pastors – yours included – by the standard of the pastor you podcast. Your pastor is not [insert favorite pastor]. Don’t expect them to be. It’s not healthy for you or them.

Time Consumption

Social media is a time consuming endeavor. It can be a great resource in staying informed, but trying to keep up with the latest online skirmish can be exhausting work. If we find ourselves spending more and more time online, we can slowly run into some potentially serious problems. First, we can become consumed with who likes our Facebook posts and re-tweets/favorites our tweets. We chase our online popularity more than we chase after holiness. We take on personas that fuel our pride and harden our hearts. Secondly, the longer we spend online, the more opportunity there is to look at unrighteous material online, especially pornography. How easy it is for our minds to wander! At first, we can be reading an article on discipleship and in the next moment, spending the next hour looking at filth.

Remember, pornography is adultery (see Matt. 5:27-28). In 1 Corinthians, Paul entreats us to "flee from sexual immorality" (6:18). Commenting on this verse, Kevin DeYoung adds, "Don't reason with sexual sin, just run. Don't dabble. Don't peruse. Don't experiment. Don't "find yourself." Don't test your resolve. Don't mess around. Just flee."[1] It would be wise of us to heed that exhortation and guard against sin and temptation by not spending so much time online. There’s more to life than your news feed.

Real People Exist

This point is kind of an extension of the previous one. The problems we run into with social media and other forms of online interaction is the effect it can have on our real life relationships. We can appear to be one type of person online when, in reality, we are the exact opposite offline. We can simply click on a button and we have a new "friend", despite the fact we may never have interacted with them, or for some, may not even know them.

What happens, if we're not careful, is we damage our ability to have healthy relationships with people in real life. It's so easy to argue with people online that we lose our ability to resolve conflict in real life. It can be so easy to be a flirt online with no accountability that it becomes more and more difficult to have healthy, romantic relationships with the opposite sex. Men are clueless as to how to "treat their sisters with absolute purity" (1 Tim. 5:2) and woman become blind to the beauty of aspiring to be the woman of Proverbs 31 and Titus 2. Spend time getting to know and grow with real people. It will humble us and give us opportunities to be obedient in areas we haven’t been.

Plenty of Talking, Not Much Walking

This may be the area that young Christians are notoriously guilty of, especially if you happen to be a 20-something male studying theology. I know I am guilty of this. More often than not, it’s easier for us to get a group together and debate Calvinism or spiritual gifts than it is to “put our money where our mouth is” and help a single mother mow her lawn and take care of her kids or invest our time in a coffee shop so that we can share the gospel with the people there. Our communities need that more than your countless hours of Facebook debates. And we fool ourselves if we think we are glorifying God with our doctrinal precision without obedience to Christ’s commands. For starters, that’s not obedience. Additionally, a biblical view of knowledge is not one that only dwells in the head, but makes its way to the heart and, in turn, is lived out by keeping Jesus’ commands. In other words, we can spend a lot of time debating and studying Jesus, while neglecting to follow and believe what He says.

Concluding Thoughts

Social media can be a great way to glorify God. However, it can quickly become an addiction and feed our narcissism. It can choke out healthy relationships and can cause envy and jealousy to take root in our hearts. For some of us, we may need to get rid of our Facebook or Twitter if it has become a disruptive idol in our lives. Others may need to take a break for a certain amount of time. I’m sure all of us could benefit from that. Still some may not have a problem and have been able to retain that healthy balance with using social media. Whichever group we find ourselves in, let us use God’s good gifts to grow into healthy, mature disciples that love each other and love the local church. And in turn, encourage others to do the same.

[1] Kevin DeYoung, The Hole In Our Holiness (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 111