The Next Story: Life and Faith After the Digital Explosion, Tim Challies, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011. Hardcover, 204 pages, $21.99.
This book is a must-read for those in leadership positions in our church and school communities. There’s not a lot of careful thought going on about technology and how it relates to a Christian worldview. Technology is often regarded as what theologians used to called “adiaphora” – things indifferent. You say “potăto,” I say “potāto,” you use your Kindle, I read a traditional book – what’s the difference? It may start affecting worship too. Does it really make a difference if a church uses a projector in the worship service instead of hard copy books? What’s at stake? These are the kinds of questions that this book will help us address.
The author is a well-known Canadian author with a widely-read blog at Challies Dot Com. He brings together an interest in technology, a steady set of writing skills, and a good grasp of a Christian worldview. He’s also written The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment (Crossway, 2007) and this newer book can be considered an extension and application of many of the biblical principles found in that earlier volume.
Let me give you a taste of what you’ll find in The Next Story. Sometimes pastors will mention the ancient heresy of Gnosticism and its matter-spirit dualism. The Gnostics taught that physical matter is bad and anything spiritual is good. Challies illustrates how this thought is being resurrected in the digital era with a contemporary twist. Cyberspace now “gives us a place to be apart from our bodies” (101) and this is almost universally seen as a good and desirable thing. Read the book to find out more!
Challies has helpful critiques of Wikipedia and Google in connection with the concept of truth. He notes that Wikipedia represents a model whereby truth is reached via consensus. Google, on the other hand, presents us with truth via relevance. Both present challenges to the Christian view of truth. This is all found in chapter 8 – the most important chapter in the book. We all quickly and mindlessly go to Wikipedia for answers, but we have to be aware that it is sometimes inaccurate (e.g. the article on the Canadian Reformed Churches until recently stated that the merger process with the URC has been called off), yet, more critically, it can subtly influence how we regard the very notion of what is true.
Written in an engaging way with many helpful illustrations and anecdotes, The Next Story ought to be on your must-read list. Most of the chapters also have questions for reflection at the end, a helpful feature for group discussions at book clubs and so on. I’m just going to make one small critical notation in this review. I don’t understand why the publisher put this book out without justified margins on the right side of the page. Challies doesn’t do this on his blog and I’ve never seen a book published by a large house like Zondervan with that feature. It not only looks unprofessional, it’s also distracting. If the medium does relate to the message (as Challies rightly argues), then this should be fixed if there’s ever a second edition.