by Ronni Kurtz
The news of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the type of news that, once it finds its way into the deepest parts of your soul, it starts to impact every area of your life. This is the way it should be; those of us whose grave clothes have been traded for Christ’s robes of righteousness should feel the joy of gospel implications in all we do. It changes the way we love, think, eat, drink, watch sports, play with our pets, and everything else. Yet, I fear there’s an area of many of our lives in which the gospel has started to trickle in, but that it hasn’t yet consumed. That area is social media.
There are many problems that arise when thinking through the implications of gospel-less social media usage, two of which present themselves as imminent. The first is the sheer amount of social media usage. I don’t have to use any stats or figures to convince you that we use social media a lot, a whole lot. The second is the public nature of social media. Social media is quite possibly the most public aspect of many of our lives and, therefore, it’s vital that the gospel speaks into our use of it.
WHERE I’D LIKE TO GO
Because of these realities, as a pastor, I wanted to write a piece contemplating the gospel's implications on our use of social media. As I started to plan out what to write, I realized that it was going to be more than one blog post could handle. So, a series will have to suffice. This will be a four-part series thinking through social media and the gospel and will work as follows:
1. Social Media and the Gospel | An Introduction
2. Social Media and the Gospel | Three Gospel-Less Negatives
3. Social Media and the Gospel | Three Gospel-Centered Positives
4. Social Media and the Gospel | Social Media for the Glory of God and Good of Others
BEGINNING WITH REPENTANCE
As I thought through where to begin this series, I realized it’s something I didn’t enjoy - I’m fairly terrible at apply the gospel to my social media usage myself. I’m convinced the best place to start is repentance so my cards are on the table.
The other day I was in between meetings sitting in an office waiting for a brother to arrive, so I pulled out my phone and killed time with Facebook. It wasn’t long before I found myself in my usual posture regarding social media – a posture of eye-rolling, scoffing, cynical critic of others. Honestly, I don’t know why I have social media, for I spend most of the time thinking about how much I hate it while using it. I have a propensity for feeling self-justified for not being a certain type of person on social media. This is not a gospel-centered, Jesus-exulting posture. It is at many times sin, and if not directly sin, a pathway that makes it easy to sin. So, consider this a warning for those who would relate to my confession. Your justification and social validation isn’t in the fact that you don’t post selfies or engage in over-the-top political comment streams. It’s in the blood of a murdered Son.
I’m hoping that this series of posts can be a catalyst for loving conversations between brothers and sisters about how each of us can push the gospel deeper into how we think and use every social media platform. I’m praying that together we can see to it that Jesus engulfs every square inch of our lives – even those that only exist in a virtual society.
I confessed in the first post in this series that I’m a cynic. Most of my social media use is marked by eye rolling and scoffing. (Give me grace; I’m working on it.) Therefore, it’s not hard for me to think of three ways individuals use social media that are gospel-less. Indeed, it’s much more difficult for a critic like me to boil it down to only three errors I see pervasively in evangelical social media usage. Alas, we’ve done so. Here are three areas in which the gospel seems to have little impact within social media:
1. Selfie culture.
2. Confirmation bias and meme culture.
3. Pursuits of unhealthy personal platforms.
You might not be alone if you chuckled a bit when you read the first point in the list above. Thinking through the gospel implications of selfies can seem a bit petty and pathetic. Yet, I think our selfies could possibly be ratting our hearts out.
I fear that selfie culture is one of the many negative by-products of a self-absorbed, narcissistic, egotistical, culture that tells us that all things should be pointed at us, including our camera lenses.
Not all, but many selfies are taken for two different reasons, both of which the gospel speaks to. They’re either out of an actual self-centered personality that seeks to celebrate oneself – to which, the gospel would speak a word of humility and remind that Jesus is the hero of our stories, not us. Or they’re out of a position of insecurity, looking for someone on our friend list to affirm the way we look, dress, act, whatever – to which, the gospel would speak a word of acceptance. Christian, your affirmation isn’t in what others think about you on a particular day. It’s in the fact that Jesus is, right now, mediating by his blood on your behalf and has given his righteousness freely to you.
I’m not willing to say that selfies are intrinsically bad within themselves, and I’m even willing to say that there are times when they can be good. Yet when striving to follow a resurrected savior whose primary message was “selfless,” a constant presence of “selfie” seems hard to justify.
CONFIRMATION BIAS AND MEME CULTURE
To be frank, this is the aspect of social media that makes me cringe the most. Both of these pitfalls come from Christians being careless in their thinking by not allowing for nuance and precision in the life of the mind.
Confirmation bias is the idea that when we have our minds made up about a particular topic, arguments and facts don’t necessarily matter anymore. We see things in light of what confirms our pre-conceived understanding. If I can be so bold as to say, this happens frequently in Christian circles with middle aged, white, American “evangelicals” whose citizenship in a particular political party causes them to share absurd articles from “news sources” that are unaccredited, un-sourced, and unhelpful. Yet, they are not alone. Many of those who call themselves Christians share faulty articles and posts that affirm their already settled minds on a particular issue.
So then, how do memes play into this? I see both memes and confirmation bias as two parts of the same issue – the inability to have nuance in our Christian thinking. Some Christian arguments and doctrines can’t be contained in 140 characters or in two sentences on the top and bottom of a picture, and that’s okay.
Again, I’m not saying that memes are intrinsically bad in and of themselves, and indeed, some are hilarious. What I am saying is that if all of your arguments can fit into memes, you might not be loving God “with all of your mind.”
PURSUIT OF UNHEALTHY PLATFORMS
I can imagine the type of person who will be prone to reading a blog post like this one. Most likely they read the first two points and shook their heads in affirmation. Yet, this one may hit a bit closer to home. I know it does for me.
Given the public nature of social media and the craze to pursue bigger platforms, it’s easy to see social media as our ticket into the land of faux Christian fame. If you are a young guy with strong ministry aspirations (like myself) you are especially prone to this pitfall. If your every post is calculated and subtly manipulative to try to get a particular person/group to notice you, you might be in danger of this.
Remember, a cross and the pursuit of the good of others should mark your Christian life. This must be true for your social media presence as well. We must avoid any self-justification that can come from retweets, followers, and whatever else we might find it in regarding social media.
If you’re anything like me, there is a fairly strong distain for these three items. Yet, hear me, if you’re tempted to write off social media altogether do me the favor of waiting for the next post. Next, we will discuss how social media can be used in gospel-drenched, Jesus-exulting ways.
There is no shortage of blog posts condemning the negative aspects and effects of social media and, in fact, part two of this series aimed to do just that. Yet the creations of Zuckerberg and Dorsey aren’t all bad now, are they? Far from it. As followers of Jesus, there are actually quite a few benefits from participating in the virtual world of social media. While it would be overkill to attempt a description of all of them, here are three gospel-centered positives from social media usage.
Injection of Gospel Reminders
There are days for all of us when it feels like worries and discouragements are overtaking us. Sometimes these seasons last longer than days - weeks, months, and even years. While it might seem like a pebble-throwing tactic in a war of canons, having a gospel-drenched news feed can aid in your joy in Christ.
I’ve experienced this firsthand. I’ve had hard days of ministry or work that were put into gospel perspective by a simple 140-character tweet. There are brothers and sisters who are gifted at mining the “gospel deeps” through social media and I’d recommend giving them a follow.
One of the beautiful things about major social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter is that you have complete control over who you follow. So then, follow those who consistently talk about the wonder of Jesus Christ in a way that stirs your affections. Find and follow those who will inject the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ into your gospel-needy veins every time you log in.
The Pulse of Culture
It’s probably not a surprise to you that most people intake their news primarily from social media. Media outlets, true and false, are quick to spread the latest happenings all over your news feeds. Moreover, everyone – from your uber-liberal college friend who thinks the Church should start giving communion to lesbian puppies, to your small-town uncle who swears that none of the articles he shares are racist – loves to share their favorite bias-confirming articles.
While you might hate the ever-present sharing of current events, news, politics, sports, reviews, etc. on your timeline, the truth is that there is one underlining positive: we know the pulse of culture.
The reality is that social media, for good and bad, is a window into what our society finds important and pressing. While this is mostly a depressing reality, it is helpful for those of us who happen to be ambassadors of reconciliation. We are not called to proclaim the treasure of Jesus to a hypothetical people or culture. Rather, we are called to take the grandeur and grace of the gospel into a world with actual people, with actual pains, in an actual culture. Social media allows us to keep our thumb on the pulse of culture in a way that not much else can.
Your Most Public Platform
Memes and posts with painted Jesus holding lambs and naked babies with captions that say, “Share this and if you don’t God will smite you with a thunderbolt,” have all but ruined the Church’s public witness, but there is still good in the public platform of social media.
The blessing and curse of social media is that it gives anyone a platform to say anything. And let’s be honest, there are enough people saying tremendously annoying and unhelpful things all day long. Don’t join in. In a thread of confirmation bias, hate, uncareful thinking, narcissism, and over exaggerations, be the voice of gospel reason. Along with the responsibility of believers to post gospel truth also comes the responsibility of posting with gospel love. See to it that your social media streams neglect neither.
A reality that you need to be aware of when using social media is that when you post stuff, people read it. So post things worth reading. Leverage your ability to push a few buttons and send a message to the world for the glory of God and the advance of his life-giving gospel.
Though the negatives of social media seem to justify abstaining from using it (and for some, it should) there are some gospel positives that come along with our virtual societies. If social media users can press into these realities while straying from some of the pitfalls, social media can actually act as a gospel well we should drink from often.
There are few things more frustrating than to have someone point out a problem and fail to present any sort of solution. Therefore, as we come to the end of this four-part Gospel and Social Media series, I wanted to present a few helpful questions that can aid in a gospel-centered filter for social media use. The questions will be divided into two different sections. The first will be overall questions to assess your social-media presence as whole. The second will be specific questions to think through before posting individual posts. Obviously, it would be overboard to think through each of these questions with every status update. Yet, thinking through these questions often can help identify your stream as a gospel-filled well your followers should drink from often or a gospel-less pit followers should avoid.
Questions to consider for overall social-media presence:
1. Does my social media presence seem to concern itself more with God’s glory or my own?
2. Would the majority of things I post still be true if Jesus never went to the cross?
3. Overall, will my followers be more encouraged to revel in the gospel and treasure Jesus because of my social media usage? If not, what would their primary take away be?
4. Does my self-validation come from any aspect of social media usage?
5. What does my social media usage communicate about the Kingdom of God to any non-believers that follows me?
6. Do the words I use in this virtual society validate or discredit the gospel I proclaim in the actual society?
7. Does social media enhance or take away from my joy in Jesus?
Questions to consider for individual posts:
1. Will this post build up my brothers and sisters or tear them down?
2. Does this response or post treat those I’m engaging as gifts - created in God’s image - worthy of love and respect? Or am I more concerned with being correct, or seen as correct publicly, than the soul of the other party.
3. Is what I’m saying untrue, over-simplified, over-exaggerated or unhelpful in any way? (With this you should ask if any article you are sharing is from validated sources and isn’t a gross oversimplification of the issue.)
4. Is this post primarily targeted at selfish gain?
5. Do I feel motivated to post this particular post because I’m trying to gain the attention of someone in an unhealthy way? Is my primary purpose to gain either a platform or an audience?
6. Is this post fishing for social validation through social media? Am I posting this so others will notice me or feel the need to compliment me?
7. Does this post make liight of a serious situation or a group of people in any way?
8. Does this post reflect well on my Church? Would my fellow members be embarrassed because of this post?
Christian, the gospel should find its way into every corner of your existence. Your marriage, finances, family, passions, vocation, hobbies, eating, thinking, and everything else about you should give off the precious aroma of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Don’t allow social media to be the exception to this vital truth. Lay your timelines, newsfeeds, stories, and posts out and see to it that they take a cross shaped pattern. In eternity, we will proclaim the wonders of Jesus Christ and rest in the freedom of the gospel forever – let’s partake in that glorious task today in our social media use.
This post is originally from a 4-part series on the website For the Church