“The whole little world of man is so overflowed with a deluge of self.”
–Stephen Charnock, “On Practical Atheism,” in The Existence and Attributes of God, in The Works of Stephen Charnock, Vol. 1 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1681/2010), 1: 225.
“The world is a sea of glass: a pageant of fond delight, a theatre of vanity, a labyrinth of error, a gulf of grief, a sty of filthiness, a vale of misery, a spectacle of woe, a river of tears, a stage of deceit, a cage full of devils, a den of scorpions, a wilderness of wolves, a cabin of bears, a whirlwind of passions, a feigned comedy, a delectable frenzy, where there is false delight, assured grief, certain sorrow, uncertain pleasure, lasting woe, fickle wealth, long heaviness, and short joy.”
–Arthur Dent, “On Covetousness,” in The Plain Man’s Pathway to Heaven Wherein Every Man May Clearly See Whether He Shall Be Saved Or Damned, Set Forth Dialogue-Wise, For the Better Understanding of the Simple (Belfast: North of Ireland Book and Tract Depository, 1601/1859), 69-70.
“The more the Church is distinct from the world in her acts and in her maxims, the more true is her testimony for Christ, and the more potent is her witness against sin.
We are sent into this world to testify against evils; but if we dabble in them ourselves, where is our testimony? If we ourselves be found faulty, we are false witnesses; we are not sent of God; our testimony is of none effect.
I do not hesitate to say there are tens of thousands of professing Christians, whose testimony before the world is rather injurious than beneficial. The world looks at them, and says, ‘Well, I see: you can be a Christian, and yet remain a rogue.’
‘Ah!’ says another, ‘you can be a Christian, I perceive; but then you will have to be doleful and miserable.’
‘Ah!’ cries another, ‘these Christians like to drink sin in secret behind the door. Their Christianity lies in not liking to sin openly; but they can devour a widow’s house when nobody is looking on; they can be drunkards, only it must be in a very small party; they would not like to be discovered tipsy where there were a hundred eyes to look at them.’
Now, what is all that? It is just this,—that the world has found out that the Church visible is not the unmixed Church of Christ, since it is not true to its principles, and does not stand up for the uprightness and integrity which are the marks of the genuine church of God.
Many Christians forget that they are bearing a testimony: they do not think that anybody notices them. Ay, but they do. There are no people so much watched as Christians.
The world reads us up, from the first letter of our lives to the end; and if they can find a flaw—and, God forgive us, they may find very many—they are sure to magnify the flaw as much as ever they can.
Let us therefore be very watchful, that we live close to Christ, that we walk in his commandments always, that the world may see that the Lord hath put a difference.
But now I have a very sad thing to say—I wish that I could withhold it, but I cannot. Unless, brothers and sisters, you make it your daily business to see that there is a difference between you and the world, you will do more hurt than you can possibly do good.
The Church of Christ is at this day accountable for many fearful sins. Let me mention one which is but the type of others.
By what means think you were the fetters rivetted on the wrist of our friend who sits there, a man like ourselves, though of a black skin?
It is the Church of Christ that keeps his brethren under bondage; if it were not for that Church, the system of slavery would go back to the hell from which it sprung.
If there were no slave floggers but men who are fit for so degrading an office, if there were not found Christian ministers who can apologise for slavery from the pulpit, and church members who sell the children of nobler beings than themselves, if it were not for this, then Africa would be free.
Albert Barnes spoke right truly when he said slavery could not exist for an hour if it were not for the countenance of the Christian Church.
But what does the slaveholder say when you tell him that to hold our fellow-creatures in bondage is a sin, and a damnable one, inconsistent with grace?
He replies, ‘I do not believe your slanders; look at the Bishop of So-and-so, or the minister of such-and-such a place, is not he a good man, and does not he whine out ‘Cursed be Canaan?’ Does not he quote Philemon and Onesimus? Does he not go and talk Bible, and tell his slaves that they ought to feel very grateful for being his slaves, for God Almighty made them on purpose that they might enjoy the rare privilege of being cowhided by a Christian master. Don’t tell me,’ he says, ‘if the thing were wrong, it would not have the Church on its side.’
And so Christ’s free Church bought with His blood, must bear the shame of cursing Africa, and keeping her sons in bondage.
From this evil, good Lord deliver us.
If Manchester merchants and Liverpool traders have a share in this guilt, at least let the Church be free of this hell-filling crime.
Men have tried hard to make the Bible support this sum of all villanies, but slavery, the thing which defiles the Great Republic, such slavery is quite unknown to the Word of God, and by the laws of the Jews it was impossible that it ever could exist.
I have known men quote texts as excuses for being damned, and I do not wonder that men can find Scripture to justify them in buying and selling the souls of men.
And what think you is it, to come home to our own land, that props up the system of trade that is carried on among us?
I would not speak too severely of Christ’s Church, for I love her; but because I love her I must therefore utter this.
Our being so much like the world, our trading as the world trades, our talking as the world talks, our always insisting upon it that we must do as other people do, this is doing more mischief to the world, than all our preachers can hope to effect good.
‘Come ye out from among them; touch not the unclean thing, be ye separate, saith the Lord, and I will be a father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters.'”
“Figuring out the proper place for technology in our particular family and stage of life requires discernment rather than a simple formula. Even the ten commitments in this book are meant to be starting points for discussion– and as you will read, they are ones my own family has kept fitfully at best.
But almost anything is better than letting technology overwhelm us with its default settings, taking over our lives and stunting our growth in the ways that really matter. And I think there are some things that are true at every stage of life:
Technology is in its proper place when it helps us bond with the real people we have been given to love. It’s out of its proper place when we end up bonding with people at a distance, like celebrities, whom we will never meet.
Technology is in its proper place when it starts great conversations. It’s out of its proper place when it prevents us from talking with and listening to one another.
Technology is in its proper place when it helps us take care of the fragile bodies we inhabit. It’s out of its proper place when it promises to help us escape the limits and vulnerabilities of those bodies altogether.
Technology is in its proper place when it helps us acquire skill and mastery of domains that are the glory of human culture (sports, music, the arts, cooking, writing, accounting; the list could go on and on). When we let technology replace the development of skill with passive consumption, something has gone wrong.
Technology is in its proper place when it helps us cultivate awe for the created world we are part of and responsible for stewarding (our family spent some joyful and awefilled hours when our children were ill middle school watching the beautifully produced BBC series Planet Earth). It’s out of its proper place when it keeps us from engaging the wild and wonderful natural world with all our senses.
Technology is in its proper place only when we use it with intention and care. If there’s one thing I’ve discovered about technology, it’s that it doesn’t stay in its proper place on its own; much like my children’s toys and stuffed creatures and minor treasures, it finds its way underfoot all over the house and all over our lives. If we aren’t intentional and careful, we’ll end up with a quite extraordinary mess.”
–Andy Crouch, The Tech-Wise Family (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2017), 19-21.
“The age in which believers live is already ‘the age to come.’ It is totally different from the culture in which they also live.
All believers live in both of these worlds. They cannot escape the one to live in the other. That is the miscalculation that both mystics and monks have made.
Nor yet can believers simply curse the darkness in this world, for they can still see all the marks of its divine creation. They must live in this world and light a fire for it because it is cold and dark.
They live in the midst of their culture but, to change the image, they live by the beat of a different Drummer. They must hear the sounds of a different time, an eternal time, listening for the music from a different place.
For that world is theirs. It is Christ’s world. It is the ‘age to come.’ They have been received into this world.
It penetrates their existence even now. They live in their own culture in order to be the outposts of this other world.
In the one world, they are but sojourners and pilgrims. In the other, they are permanent residents.
But how are we to do this? How are we going to hear this music? How are we going to hear the divine Drummer whose beat gets lost in all of the noise of our modern world?
We are constantly distracted, always under pressure, constantly bombarded by e-mails. We have unwanted telephone calls.
We are alerted to the arrival of text messages. Families have music lessons and football games, and there are hikes to be organized.
Parents have demanding jobs; some have endless traveling to do. And we are all besieged by the world into which we are wired.
It has become a great temptation even as it is a great fascination to us. Indeed, in 2013, almost half of the American adults surveyed acknowledged this.
Like everything in the modernized world, our information technology has two sides to it. It blesses with one hand and then takes away with the other. And, most importantly here, what it takes away is our capacity to have a functioning worldview.
Without that, our doctrine of God becomes emasculated. An emasculated view of God will never be able to sustain the life of sanctification to which we have been called.
Information and entertainment technologies have annihilated distance, enlarging the circle of our knowledge and, indeed, of our presence. Or, would it be truer to say that the entire world with all of its events, movies, and music has entered our homes?
Once we had to be where the events were happening, where the music was being made, to know about it. Now, all that is needed is a camera and it is splashed across the whole world.
This instant access to information worldwide, to all of its sights, sounds, and happenings is an extraordinary benefit. It has made us citizens of the entire world with an ability to communicate with any other citizen in this world instantaneously.
It has the capacity to lift us beyond our naturally parochial boundaries. At the same time, though, as our knowledge of the world grows— indeed, at an exponential rate— our capacity to have a worldview becomes much diminished and our ability to pay attention to God and His truth is often undermined.
God, we need to remind ourselves, is not just an experience or an idea. The saving knowledge of God comes within a framework which God Himself has disclosed. It is a framework of ideas that corresponds to what is there in the world, in reality, in God Himself.
If this worldview breaks down under the bombardment of news, e-mails, videos, blogs, and music, then what is lost is also what is at its center. It is God Himself, or I should say, it is our understanding, our ability to make sense of who God is that breaks down. And that is where our sanctification breaks down, too.
Technology greatly expands and enlarges our abilities and it mightily expands what we can know. But this is a two-way street.
If it enables us to be everywhere, it is also the case that the whole world– at least its sounds and sights— can enter our minds, too and, once in, it can then enter our souls.
This potentially imperils any functioning worldview. Why is this so?
It is partly because of the sheer volume of what is coming in. It overwhelms us. Since 1960, the amount of data and information individuals are absorbing, because of all of our new technology, has tripled.
If this technology expands our capacity to know things, it also multiples the things that are thrown at us to know. When all of this was just taking shape, Neil Postman warned about ‘information glut,’ and a little later David Shenk spoke of ‘data smog.’
They were right. That is what we now have. Our minds are choked with too much to know. And things are only intensifying.
What allowed all of this to happen only keeps expanding. The iPad and iPhone now massively increase our capacity to access media while we are on the run. The iPod and MP3 massively increase the amount of music we can consume.
With the ability to multitask, American teenagers are now packing in an additional two hours of media consumption per day, bringing their total to more than ten hours.
In addition to the sheer volume is the rapidity with which the whole of the media-filtered, technology-delivered world is changing.
It never stands still long enough for us to take our bearings on it. What is important and what is not, what is weighty and what is ephemeral, what is tragic and what is trivial, meet us with about the same intensity.
It becomes hard, sometimes, to tell which is which. Our world blurs amid the rapid flow of facts, factoids, images, voices, laughter, entertainment, and vapid commentary.
We slowly lose the capacity see the connections between things. Life seems to have no shape.
It looks like a sequence of fast-moving but random experiences with no center and little meaning. Not only does a Christian worldview disappear; the very capacity for such a thing becomes tenuous.
How, then, will we hear this other music from another place? How will we hear that Drummer’s beat above the sounds of this world?
I will say only this. There are no easy answers and there are no painless ones. But, at the same time, it is not impossible.
It is not impossible for us, if it is important to us, to choose what we are going to do and then to focus on doing it. The real question is how deep—or how shallow— is our desire to know God?
We need to begin by asking what is at stake. What might we be in danger of losing amid the noise and frenzy of our modernized societies here in the West?
We are in danger of being squeezed into the mold of the modernized world with its low horizons of knowing, its relativism, and its superficiality.
This threatens our identities as knowers of God, those for whom he is the center, for whom his holy-love defines what moral reality is, and before whom we stand.
It threatens how we see life and how we live in the world. It threatens all of that.
Recognizing this danger, we need to carve out space for ourselves in which we can daily attend to God’s Word, to study it, mark it, learn it, and inwardly digest its truth.
This truth must shape our whole understanding of life as we recognize from whom this truth comes and why God has thus given it to us. This must take precedence.
It must take precedence even at the cost of phones, e-mails, the Internet, texts, TV, Facebook, music, and all of the other ways that our technology wires us into a major competitor for our time and attention.
Innocent though these things may be, they stand in the way of our knowing God if they steal from us the time that we need for that pursuit. And we do need time.
This kind of daily discipline used to be an undisputed part of Christian practice. But it appears to have fallen on hard times. And the result will be, once again, that we will be in danger of ‘forgetting’ God.
In the Old Testament, as we have seen, this had to do with the disobedience of not paying attention to God and His truth. And today, we are in danger of reaching the same end, though by a different route.
Now, we are simply too preoccupied, too frenzied, living simultaneously on too many fronts, so that we just do not have time. We are not able to find this central space in our lives.
When David spoke of the ‘Meditation of my heart’ (Ps. 19:14; 49:3 cf. Ps. 119:15, 23, 99), he was speaking of being in God’s presence, reflecting on His truth, learning how to walk with God, being before the face of God.
This Word he stored up in his heart ‘that I might not sin against you’ (Ps. 119:11). That is what we need to do and where we need to be every day.
This will happen only if we are deliberate about it and are willing to give up whatever stands in our way to this end.
Let us make no mistake about this. If we do not do this aright, if we are not daily seeking God’s face, if we are not pondering the truth he has given us in his Word, if we are not daily being nourished in our souls by it, and if we are not daily repenting of our sin where we need to, our faith will wither and our walk with God will disappear.
If, however, we carve out this center for our lives, we will be in the place where Paul’s prayer for the Thessalonians can be realized in us despite our very modern lives:
‘May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God,’ he wrote, ‘and to the steadfastness of Christ’ (2 Thess 3:5). That is what God, the Holy Spirit, will do.”
–David F. Wells, God in the Whirlwind (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014), 182-186.
“In speaking of this desire for our own far off country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency.
I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you—the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves; the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both.
We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it, and we betray ourselves like lovers at the mention of a name.
Our commonest expedient is to call it beauty and behave as if that had settled the matter. Wordsworth’s expedient was to identify it with certain moments in his own past. But all this is a cheat. If Wordsworth had gone back to those moments in the past, he would not have found the thing itself, but only the reminder of it; what he remembered would turn out to be itself a remembering.
The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things– the beauty, the memory of our own past– are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself, they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers.
For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.
Do you think I am trying to weave a spell? Perhaps I am; but remember your fairy tales. Spells are used for breaking enchantments as well as for inducing them.
And you and I have need of the strongest spell that can be found to wake us from the evil enchantment of worldliness which has laid upon us for nearly a hundred years.”
“As in every age, God calls His children to stop, study what captures their attention in this world, weigh the consequences, and fight for undistracted hearts before Him. To that end, here are ten diagnostic questions we can ask ourselves in the digital age:
1. Do my smartphone habits expose an underlying addiction to untimely amusements?
2. Do my smartphone habits reveal a compulsive desire to be seen and affirmed?
3. Do my smartphone habits distract me from genuine communion with God?
4. Do my smartphone habits provide an easy escape from sobered thinking about my death, the return of Christ, and eternal realities?
5. Do my smartphone habits preoccupy me with the pursuit of worldly success?
6. Do my smartphone habits mute the sporadic leading of God’s Spirit in my life?
7. Do my smartphone habits preoccupy me with dating and romance?
8. Do my smartphone habits build up Christians and my local church?
9. Do my smartphone habits center on what is necessary to me and beneficial to others?
10. Do my smartphone habits disengage me from the needs of the neighbors God has placed right in front of me?
Let’s be honest: our digital addictions (if we can call them that) are welcomed addictions. The key is to move from being distracted on purpose to being less and less distracted with an eternal purpose.
The questions sting, and they touch every area of life—God, spouse, family, friends, work, leisure, and self-projection. But this sting can lead us to make healthy changes.”