Deep Communion vs. Digital Communication

This is an excerpt of an article by Drew Hunter over at Crossway.


Modern technology is a great tool for keeping up certain aspects of our relationships. Writing emails, sending texts, scanning posts—all of these helpfully complement true companionship. But they cannot fully replace it. These are the shallow ends of relationships. We find these tools convenient, but then we’re tempted to neglect the deeper waters of shared experiences and face-to-face conversation. Very often the way we use technology leads away from, rather than in to, stronger friendships. We often trade deep communion for digital communication.

Technology can hinder friendship in four ways. First, it often depersonalizes communication. We use it to connect, but over time, we feel less, not more, connected. We use it to move closer, but we end up farther away. We trade conversations and experiences for details and updates. We’re more connected to more people more often than ever before, but many of our relationships become more superficial and less satisfying.

Second, technology can disengage us from real communion. Sometimes when we connect with people through technology, we disconnect from those who are sitting right around us. Friends sit across the table at a coffee shop and enjoy friendship, but not with each other—with the friends on the other end of their phones. Once when I visited a workplace, I stepped into a break room and saw six coworkers sitting around a lunch table. The room was silent. Five of them stared at their phones while the sixth looked at her food. She sat at the table with them, but she ate her lunch alone. Surrounded by peers, she had no one to talk to.

Third, technology disembodies conversation. When we engage in person, we experience our friends in unrepeatable and holistic ways. We notice her expressions, intuit her moods, and learn her quirks. Embodied friendship is full of dynamic, realtime, give-and-take interaction. In contrast, digital communication doesn’t demand much more than fingers to flit around a keyboard. This has a place of course, but it doesn’t match experiencing a person’s real presence. For me to see Dane’s head roll back and hear his laugh, to talk through personal challenges across the table with Taylor, to see the romance in Christina’s eyes, to sense the sincerity in Bill’s encouragement, or to pick up the witty humor in Trent’s tone—there is simply no digital equivalent.

Finally, technology creates dependence on less personal ways of addressing personal issues. Confessing sin and admitting failure, or on the other hand, addressing sin and confronting failure—each of these is challenging, and digital communication seems easier. We take time to craft a statement, and we don’t need to worry about immediate reactions. But then we soon prefer to replace a personal meeting with a phone call; a phone call with a voicemail; a voicemail with an email; and an email with a text. Each step smooths the path for the next. Soon we can hardly muster the courage to say anything difficult in person. And without the reassuring eye contact, gentle tone, and responsive clarifications, we often end up adding complications rather than clearing things up.

Racism and Our Need for Repentance

At the T4G Conference this month, David Platt preached a sermon based on Amos 5:18-27 titled, “Let Justice Roll Down Like Waters: Racism and our Need for Repentance.” Be sure to read the verses in Amos before moving on.

Though he would prefer to talk about ethnicity instead of race, Platt spoke specifically about the white and black divide in America. According to one conference attendee, reactions were mixed. Mine was not. Platt simply called himself, his church, and evangelicals to live lives worthy of the gospel we have received (Philippians 1:27).

He asked long-overdue questions like, “Why is my church so white? Why is the missions organization I lead so white? … Why is this conference so white?”

Platt’s exposition (or interpretation of the text), indictments against and exhortations for the church are worth examining.

3 Indictments Against God’s People in the Face of Injustice

Amos, a shepherd-turned-prophet, indicted Israel, God’s people, on three primary offenses, according to Platt:

  1. They were eagerly anticipating future salvation while conveniently denying present sin.
    • It is possible to anticipate salvation tomorrow while turning a blind eye to sin in your life today.
  2. They were indulging in worship while they were ignoring injustice.
    • People who truly worship God above them will sacrificially work for justice around them.
  3. They were carrying on their religion while they were refusing to repent.
    • God is not honored by mouths that are quick to sing and hands that are quick to rise in worship when those same hands and those same mouths are slow to work against injustice.

These indictments led Platt to ask if we have been slow to work for racial injustice around us. His answer is “yes.” (Note: Platt was speaking directly to pastors.)

The Church Has Been Slow to Work for Racial Injustice

On a whole, Platt said, pastors and churches in America have widened and are currently widening, instead of bridging, the racial divide in our country. Here’s why he says that:

  1. It matters whether you’re black or white in America today.
    • “Why is it that I would say that Arthur Price is an African American pastor in Birmingham, instead of just saying that he is a pastor in Birmingham? I have never introduced John MacArthur as a caucasian pastor.”
    • Black Americans are much more likely to be unemployed than white Americans; income inequality today is 50% wider (worse) than it was 40 years ago; African American babies die at over twice the rate of white babies; African American mothers are 4 times more likely to die giving birth than are white mothers; young African American males are 6 times more likely to be murdered than young white American males.
  2. Over 95% of white Americans attend predominantly white churches; over 90% of African Americans attend predominantly African American churches.
    • Could it be that as much as we like to think about the church as a force for countering racism, right now the church is actually a force for continuing it?
    • “We cannot be comfortable as the people of God with a clear white/black divide in our country, and we can’t be content with deepening that divide in the church. It is not just, and it is not right. And we will not be found to be worshiping God if we ignore injustice, or far worse, increase it.”

6 Exhortations for Repenting of Racism in the Church

Based on his understanding of Amos 5 and the cultural analysis above, Platt offered six exhortations for the church.

  1. Let’s look at the reality of racism.
    • (The section above is what Platt covered here.)
  2. Let’s live in true multi-ethnic community.
    • I look at my life and ministry and in so many ways my world has been so white. … Why have the churches I’ve been a part of and led in been so white? Why is the missions organization I lead so predominantly white? How can I, with supposed zeal for the nations, be so blind to such injustice among peoples in my own nation? These are questions that I have, for far too long, ignored.” (Really appreciated his transparency here.)
    • “We all hate slavery. We all hate Jim Crow laws. Certainly, we cannot be content, then, with churches, seminaries, missions organizations, and conferences that look like time capsules preserving the divisive effects of the past.”
  3. Let’s listen to and learn from one another (in the context of true multi-ethnic community).
    • Most white and black people in the church disagree on what they think the causes of racism are, and Christians are farther apart in their understanding than non-Christians.
  4. Let’s love and lay aside our preferences for one another.
    • We want the kind of churches that cause people to say, “How are those people together?”
    • We can’t prioritize church growth over ethnic diversity.
    • Most multi-ethnic churches in the U.S. are still dominated by white cultural norms.
    • “We will not be found faithful before our God if fear of man and fear of losing the crowd keeps us from proclaiming the totality of God’s Word.”
  5. Let’s leverage our influence for justice in the present.
    • On a whole, white churches have been complacent during every stage of racism (slavery, the Civil Rights Movement, etc.).
  6. Let’s long for the day when justice will be perfect.

Reflections on Racism and the Church

Here are, in no particular order, some of my thoughts on Platt’s sermon and the concerns it raises. (Note: I’m a white male, so I’ll be speaking from that perspective, and for that reason, will only touch on what white Christians can do to repent of racism in the church.)

I think Platt was spot-on in his indictment of evangelical churches. For too long, our churches have furthered the divide between white and black brothers and sisters. White ignorance of the black experience has fueled the chasm between cultures.

Building a church culture that prizes diversity requires radical grace without losing the truth. I have been blessed to be at a church that’s far more diverse than many of the others in my area. The diversity stems from a culture saturated in the knowledge and practice of grace that accepts everyone who walks through the doors. Crafting a culture like that takes a relentless focus on grace, but in a way that doesn’t lose the truth in the process. An overemphasis on grace at the expense of the truth (or the commandments of Scripture) leads to what Bonhoeffer called cheap grace: “the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline. Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.”

White evangelicals must be shepherded through engaging their black brothers and sisters by servant leaders who will show them how. To Platt’s credit, he said that the final verdict on what white Christians in America do with the knowledge that we live in a culture of systemic injustice against people of color is not how loudly we clap or how many “amens” we shout, but how we sacrificially work for injustice around us.

But here’s the thing: most people have no idea what that means or what it looks like to work against injustice. They think that’s something for a professional or legal organization to do. What is needed are servant leaders who will display what it looks like to work against injustice by living it out in everyday life. We need white pastors who are willing to plant churches in non-white areas or to partner with black pastors and leaders to plan and fund their church plants. We need white families to open their homes and live out radically ordinary hospitality that gathers people of all sorts of backgrounds and colors around the table and the Word of God. We need young white men to seek out older, wiser African American mentors, and older white men to seek out young, African American men to mentor.

I have been working to address my white-washed experience for the last two years. The Lord has blessed my family the last couple of years as we’ve sought to diversify our life and relationships. For over a year, I walked through the truths of Scripture and a bible study curriculum with an African American brother who I count among my dearest friends. I learned how he fears for his son to be pulled over or questioned by police, a fear I have never felt. My wife and I attended an anniversary party with his wife, family, and friends where I was maybe for the first time in my life the unquestionable minority. It was an unequivocally good experience that left me with a deeper understanding of my brother and his background. I’ve been to his home, prayed for his kids, and texted him with running questions.

Around the same time, I sensed the need for a spiritual mentor in my life, and the Lord was good to send me to an older, wiser African American man who turned out to be my middle school guidance counselor. We’ve been connecting every other month or so for about a year. He walked with me through a career change, which was one of the most stressful periods of my life.

In our neighborhood, we’ve befriended an Indian family and shared meals in each other’s homes, and have learned how similar we are despite our differences. We’ve had a mother from Puerto Rico and her three children live in our home for a few weeks, which opened our eyes to the discouraging, bewildering worlds of public and social services.

I’m not holding myself or my family up as an example. I only share this to encourage others to pursue diversity in their own lives, because it’s a pursuit God will bless. Pray specifically for opportunities to diversify your life and for God to open your eyes to the opportunities that already exist.

Like Platt, I long for the day when justice is no longer a trickle but a torrent rushing through our lives and nation. Even more than that, I long for the day when people from every nation, tongue, and tribe gather around the throne of the Lamb as one race—the human race—worshiping our Creator in perfect peace.

Justice Will Roll Down

Sandra McCracken wrote a beautiful song from the same verses in Amos 5 called “Justice Will Roll Down.” I’ll leave you with the lyrics:

Oh my love, you have grown so cold
To the world outside, to the house next door
She who has been loved much, has so much to give
Mercy is the fragrance, of the broken

Justice will roll down, oh justice will roll down
From high upon those mountains with a mighty river sound
It will roll down
It will roll down

Oh my child, I will be your light
In your secret pain, in the dark of night
No enemy, no conqueror, will steal your life from me
I am your salvation, and your victory

Justice will roll down, oh justice will roll down
From high upon those mountains with a mighty river sound
It will roll down
It will roll down

Soon oh soon, when the trumpet sounds
Every knee shall bend, every heart will pound
I have made a new world, where the servant is the King
Oppression will be over, and the slave set free

Justice will roll down, oh justice will roll down
From high upon those mountains with a mighty river sound
It will roll down
It will roll down

 

[Interview] A Long Obedience in an Instagram Age

I was recently interviewed by Bill Feltner for the show His People on Pilgrim Radio. It was a great conversation based on an article I wrote a few weeks ago called “A Long Obedience in an Instagram Age.” Bill and I discuss how to approach discipleship in a distracted age.

Listen Now

(Interview length: 27 minutes)

[Podcast] The Most Important Thing You Can Do for Your Group Members

As a group leader, does it feel like you give the same advice to the same people and nothing ever changes? Maybe you’re doing a lot of good things, but not the most important thing. Listen to this week’s episode to find out what that is.

(Episode length: 17 mins)

Show Notes

Main idea: The most important thing you can do for your group members is pray for them.

Only God has the power to change the human heart

  • Ezekiel 37: Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of bones

Paul’s prayer for the Ephesian church

  1. Difference between knowing and tasting
    1. You can read about a relationship with Jesus in a book without actually tasting what that relationship is like
    2. Lives are not changed when people know about a relationship with Jesus; lives are changed when people taste a relationship with Jesus
  2. Paul prays for the Ephesians to have the eyes of their hearts enlightened to the taste of three flavors of a relationship with Christ…
    1. The hope to which God has called them. If people get that they will spend eternity with Jesus and that he came not only to redeem their future but to redeem their present, they will live differently.
    2. The riches of God’s inheritance in the saints. Paul prayed that the believers would know the riches of God’s glorious inheritance in the saints. God’s inheritance is the people who believe in Him (the “saints”).
    3. Knowing that God is giddy to spend eternity with you changes how you live and think.
  3. The immeasurable greatness of God’s power towards those who believe
    1. The power God gives to each believer is the same power that raised Christ from the dead, and the same power that ascended Christ into heaven and seated him at the right hand of God

Download a full transcript of this episode.


This is part of a podcast I do for group leaders at my church. Browse the archives for more.

[Podcast] 3 Tips for Addressing Low Commitment in Small Groups

Tired of the same people texting at the last minute they can’t come to group? You’re not alone. Many of your fellow group leaders deal with this. In this week’s episode I cover a few of the reasons why those people might have low commitment to your group, and then give you 3 tips for addressing it.

LISTEN NOW

Episode length: 15 mins


This is part of a podcast I do for group leaders at my church. Browse the archives for more.