Archive for the ‘Book Reviews and Recommedations’ Category

A Review of The Shack (book)

[In light of the upcoming release of the The Shack movie, here is Kevin’s review of book, originally published in January 2009.]

William Paul Young, author of the bestselling book The Shack, grew up as a missionary kid living with the Dani tribe in New Guinea.  His childhood and life experiences have greatly shaped his understanding of life and God.  Throughout his life, Willie, as he commonly addresses himself and as he appears in the book, has been a writer, though he mostly wrote for his business, friends, and family.  Young began The Shack on his daily train commute to work in Portland, Oregon as a series of conversations with God.  He originally intended the story to be for his children saying, “I wanted my kids to enjoy a story and through the story to understand their own father better and the God that their father is so in love with. ”1

There are four main characters in The Shack, or perhaps more accurately two main characters, Mack and God, who appears as three persons.  God the Father primarily appears as an African-American woman named Elousia or Papa.  God the Son is a Jewish handyman named Jesus.  God the Holy Spirit appears as a somewhat physically nebulous Asian woman named Sarayu.

The Shack reads as a biographical account of the events leading up to and including a particularly healing and formative weekend that Mack spends in a shack with God.  “The Great Sadness” had descended on Mack following his daughter’s abduction and murder by a man known only as the “little lady killer.”  As Mack, who has an uncomfortably formal relationship with God, is trying to get on with life he receives a note inviting him to meet at the shack and signed by Papa, the personal name Nan, Mack’s wife, has for God.  The Shack at which they are to meet is the very location where the search party found Missy’s bloody dress a few years earlier.  When Mack arrives at the shack, with a gun in hand, what unfolds is a multi-day theophanic conversation with the three persons of the Godhead that results in Mack dealing with not only the pain of Missy’s murder but also the pain of his relationship with his own biological father, which has drastically shaped his understanding of God as Father.

On one hand, from a literary standpoint, The Shack is a good book.  It is an engaging, easy-to-read, and thought provoking, work of fiction – both literarily and theologically.  The fact that Young has had to address whether Mack, the main character, is real or not shows the brilliance of Young’s writing (including the “Foreword” and “After Words”).  Some may argue that this is because the book is somewhat deceptive, but it is actually because Young was convincingly realistic and appropriately thorough in the development of both the characters and the parts of the story set in “reality.”

On the other hand, from a theological standpoint The Shack is wanting.  Throughout the book, Young repeats multiple heresies and unorthodox teachings through imprecise and unbiblical statements.  In the course of a couple hundred pages, Young undermines God’s sovereignty, puts the Father and the Spirit on the cross with Christ, teaches a form of modalism, denies the deity of the incarnate Christ, teaches pantheism, repudiates God’s desire and holy need to vindicate His glory by pouring out His wrath on sin, rejects any economic formulation of the Trinity, affirms universalism, promotes antinomianism, teaches pelagianism, resets the limits of natural theology, diminishes God’s consuming glory, and undermines Christ’s propitiation of God’s wrath.  Further, through the fictional theophany Young does this all from the mouth of God.

The very device that makes The Shack brilliant from a literary standpoint heightens the danger of the book from a theological standpoint by masking the half-truths as God’s words.  Because the book is so well written, the reader is emotionally involved in the story.  The emotional involvement makes it hard for the reader, because of what is at stake with a man whose daughter was brutally murdered and because it is God speaking, to say, “That is wrong; God does not work that way.  Any comfort found in this presentation of God is a false comfort.”

While all of the critiques above are certainly serious, they are in a sense secondary to and allowed by the low view of Scripture that Young presents in The Shack.  The following paragraph records Mack trying to get his mind around the note he received from God.

“Try as he might, Mack could not escape the desperate possibility that the note just might be from God   after all, even if the thought of God passing notes did not fit well with his theological training.  In seminary, he had been taught that God had completely stopped any overt communication with moderns, preferring to have them only listen to and follow sacred Scripture, properly interpreted, of course.  God’s voice had been reduced to paper, and even that paper had to be moderated and deciphered by the proper authorities and intellects.  It seemed that direct communication with God was something exclusively for the ancients and uncivilized, while educated Westerners’ access to God was mediated and controlled by the intelligentsia.  Nobody wanted God in a box, just in a book.  Especially an expensive one bound in leather with gilt edges, or was that guilt edges?”2

Young brilliantly validates the theological musings of his God character by compromising the centrality and authority of Scripture as God’s revealed will, and cynically presenting as orthodox a view of the Bible as God’s authoritative self-revelation that is itself a denial of the priesthood of the believer.  What then is a proper view of Scripture?  We can begin by considering what the Bible says of itself.

The first statement to be considered comes from the hand of Paul in his second letter to Timothy.  “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3.16-17, ESV).  Here two claims are made.  Scripture is breathed out by God, and Scripture is useful.  B.B. Warfield summarizes the force of the first claim.  ”What is [theopnustos] is ‘God-breathed,’ produced by the creative breath of the Almighty.  And Scripture is called [theopnustos] in order to designate it as ‘God-breathed,’ the product of Divine spiration, the creation of that Spirit who is in all spheres of the Divine activity the executive of the Godhead.”3  The force of the second major claim in this passage is that it posits both intention on the part of God in His inspiration of the Scriptures and efficiency on the part of Scripture.

Paul is clearly writing of the Old Testament in 2 Timothy.  Peter likewise affirms the divine origin of the Old Testament when he writes, “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1.21, ESV).  However, the designation, inspired Word of God, is not to be left for the Old Testament alone.  Paul also writes to the Thessalonians, “And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers” (2 Thessalonians 2.13, ESV).  Here, Paul is recognizing the authority of both his and the other Apostles writings as Word of God.  Again, Peter’s witness confirms Paul’s witness that the New Testament, or at least Paul’s writing, carries the same authority as the Old Testament. Peter writes,

And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures (2 Peter 3.15-16, ESV).

Peter’s phrase, “as they do the other Scriptures”, assumes Paul’s writings under the heading Scripture.  In addition, the author of Hebrew’s begins his letter with a statement affirming Christ as fulfilling the role the prophets formerly fulfilled.  He writes, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world” (Hebrews 1.1-2, ESV).  Christ is the means of divine special revelation.  Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all state explicitly that Jesus Christ, the means of divine special revelation, is the subject of their gospel accounts.  Luke attaches Acts to his gospel as the sequel thereby also attaching the authority that rests on the gospel to Acts.   John explicitly states in Revelation that this book is “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place.  He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Revelation 1.1-2, ESV).  Further, Jesus, at the end of his ministry on earth, as attested by Matthew, Mark, and Luke, sent the apostles out with a specific God-ordained teaching ministry.  It is easy to understand from the apostolic writings, that their letters are a definite part of this teaching ministry.  This taken with Paul’s statement, cited above, in II Thessalonians gives adequate reason to understand all true apostolic writings as the word of God.  Therefore, both claims in Paul’s statement in II Timothy 3.16-17 can be appropriately applied to the New Testament based on the biblical parameters defined in Scripture.  That is to say, “The holy scriptures of the Old and New Testament are the word of God.”4  Scripture as the Word of God belongs in a literary category all its own.  As the word of God, Scripture has certain characteristics that no other writing or body of writings shares.  As outlined above, Scripture is inspired by God.  In addition to being an inspired text, as the word of God Scripture is also understood to be infallible and authoritative, characteristics necessarily associated with the divine authorship.5

Again, the reader’s emotional involvement in Mack’s heart-wrenching story bodes well for the skeptical presentation of God as the church has understood Him throughout history.  However, once Young throws out Scripture as the only rule of faith and life, the sky is the limit theologically.  Unfortunately, the Scriptures never cross the threshold of The Shack.


1. www.windrumors.com/30/is-the-story-of-the-shack-trueis-mack-a-real-person/

2. William P. Young, The Shack (Los Angeles: Windblown Media, 2008), 65-66.

3. Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield, Works of Benjamin B. Warfield, the, vol. I: Revelation and Inspiration (Baker Book House, 2003), 280.

4. Westminster Confession of Faith (Glasgow: Free Presbyterian Publications, 2003), 130.

5. William G. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, 3rd ed. (Phillipsburg: P & R Publishing, 2003), 113.

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Praying the Bible

Praying is hard. The ever increasing number of books on prayer prove that we struggle with prayer. I have recommended A Praying Life, by Paul Miller, before, and I still do. Adding to the list of books on prayer, Crossway has recently published a book titled, Praying the Bible, by Donald Whitney. To publicize the book, Crossway released a series of video’s by Donald Whitney under the same title. I have not read the book, so I cannot speak to it. However, the videos are very helpful. In each video, which are about 5 minutes a piece, Whitney walks through a passage of Scripture showing how praying the Bible is a beneficial way to approach prayer. I would add, praying the Bible is in perfect accord with the pattern of prayer that Jesus taught his disciples. Here are the videos. I hope you find them as beneficial and invigorating for your prayer life as I have for mine. 

 

Don Whitney – Praying the Bible: Psalm 23

Don Whitney – Praying the Bible: Psalm 37

Don Whitney – Praying the Bible: Psalm 67

Don Whitney – Praying the Bible: 1 Thessalonians 2

Don Whitney – Praying the Bible: John 5

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One of My Favorite Paragraphs

“The ‘law’ given to the first Adam, the first son of God, was broken, and mankind was thrown out of the garden into the wilderness. The law given to Israel, the son of God, was broken, and the nation was thrown out of its promised land into the wilderness of exile. A last Adam came as the truly obedient covenant partner of God, signifying his identification with a people that desperately needed this help. We can almost hear heaven’s sigh of relief, ‘At last! A true son of God.’ ‘You are my beloved son in whom I am well pleased’ is God’s word of approval. Then this true Adam, this true Israel, goes out into our wilderness to be tempted and to be victorious, so that he might make for us a way back into the garden of God.”

-from Graeme Goldsworthy, Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture.

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How does the Christian relate to the Law?

Coming out of our Wednesday School study there were a number of questions being asked that can be summarized as follows, “How does the Christian relate to the Law?”

There are essentially three answers:

1. Legalism – We keep the law to gain some favor from God. This favor can be construed as justification or as some temporal blessing in this life. The former is saying, “Because I am good, God saves me.” This is patently false. No one is justified by works of the law. The latter is saying, “Because I am good, God blesses me” (makes me rich or successful or happy or whatever). This is also patently false. We simply cannot earn God’s favor either eternally in the form justification or temporally in the form of “blessing”.

2. Antinomianism – We need not keep the law at all. We have been freed from the Law in Christ, and it therefore has nothing to say to us. This is antinomianism and fails to make sense of either Scripture or life. It is clear in Scripture that murder is wrong for all people, even those in Christ. This is a law. You should keep it and not reject it. Antinomians take statements in which Paul is dealing with pursuing justification through the law (most often from books like Romans and Galatians), and applies them too broadly.

3. Biblical Christianity – The New Testament takes a more nuanced approach to the law that says you cannot earn God’s favor by keeping the law, but you can glorify him by loving him and obeying his commands. You cannot be one of God’s people by keeping the law, but because you are one of God’s people by grace through faith in Christ, obey. Paul says in Ephesians 2.8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (ESV). We are all familiar with this. Paul then goes on to say in Ephesians 2.10, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” So, clearly there is some concept in Christianity of a “good work”, and God has defined them. So, what are they? Are they not just keeping the law. Well, yes and no. Historically, we have distinguished between the moral, the civil, and the ceremonial laws of the Mosaic Covenant. In one sense, the civil and ceremonial laws are particular applications of the moral law for the people of Israel as the existed as this ancient theocracy. Therefore, while these particular applications don’t make sense for us today, the moral law that underlies the civil and ceremonial and is summed up in the ten commandments still serves as a guide for holy living, what Calvin called the third use of the law. This is why Jesus expounds the ten commandments in the Sermon on the Mount and God tells Peter to eat unclean food in Acts 10.

If you are interested in further reading on this issue I recommend this article by Rev. Richard Phillips and this article by Dr. Richard Alderson. If you are interested in a lengthier treatment of the ten commandments and the Christian life, I recommend, The Law of Perfect Freedom by Michael Horton and How Jesus Transforms the Ten Commandments by Ed Clowney.

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Habits of the High-Tech Heart (Chapter 5)

I had all but thrown in the towel on this book until someone said some hopeful things about the last chapter in a comment on my last post dealing with this book. So here we go again.

Schultze seeks to make three points in chapter 5, “Being Authentic in Webs of Spin.” He writes,

This chapter first contends that people are using online resources and relationships partly to fabricate human identities, including how people perceive themselves – their self-identities… Next, it argues that cyberspace actually grants greater power to professional communicators who benefit from economies of scale and publicity… The third section of this chapter stresses the importance of regaining authenticity in an information society (Schultze, 116).

Each of these points is true: people do lie readily on the internet, the mass-communication capabilities of technology do increase the exploits of the old-fashioned pitch-men, and we should be authentic in our interactions within an information society. However, none of these issues are unique to technological culture. For instance, taking Schultze second point, we could have raised, and I am sure someone did, the exact same issues with the advent of TV and before that radio and before that magazines and before that the city square and before that the city itself and before that the tower of Babel. As a matter of fact, Scripture makes some similar points about the tower of Babel, with one significant difference – Scripture doesn’t view the tower as the problem.

Schultze seems to point to cyberspace as the issue when he makes statements such as, “Cyberspace is partly a new arena for human beings to access the kinds of resources that enable them to explore new self-identities” (ibid., 117) or “Cyberspace is filled with practices that distort truth and embrace the efficacy of deception” (ibid., 132). Much of what Schultze writes seems to posit that the technology is the issue rather than the users of technology. The point so far seems to be that we need to inform and guard our hearts from the lures of technology, yet Jeremiah writes, “The heart is deceitful above all things…” (Jeremiah 17.9, ESV). Again, James writes, “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire” (James 1.14, ESV). Schultze words and these verses set in the context with each other beg the question, is the issue at hand my social media community (or whatever precinct of the technological empire you favor) or my heart? This is not to say that we shouldn’t work to keep ourselves from temptation, we just need to be honest about where that temptation is actually coming from.

Do people make up new false identities in cyberspace because cyberspace offers some unique means for doing something new or because we, at the same time, are given to self-worship and are aware that we are unworthy of such worship? Do we lie in cyberspace because of something unique to cyberspace, or do we lie in cyberspace because we are liars? Is there really a difference between creating our own techno-identity and getting lost in some smutty novela or hanging on our walls all of our accolades and none of our defeats or daydreaming of being the lone mysterious rebel that rides into town on his black Harley needing no one but stirring up everyone (I’m just saying, someone may do this) ? In the end people aren’t inauthentic in cyberspace because they are in cyberspace. We are inauthentic in cyberspace because we are inauthentic.

While Schultze rightly identifies many of the symptoms associated with the problems of virtual reality, he seems to hit just left of center when he aims at the actual problem. However, this may just be how Schultze is developing his argument. In his conclusion, Schultze peeks around the corner to glimpse what I have been wondering about and waiting for when he writes, “Wherease New Age religion generally embraces the contemporary fascination with technology and virtual  reality, the Hebrew and Christian traditions remind us of our broken pasts and our capacity for self-delusion” (ibid., 138-39). Here’s hoping that the next chapter finds us wandering down a new hallway.

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Habits of the High-Tech Heart (Chapter 4)

Here’s the deal. I want to give this book a fair chance, but, honestly, I like this book a little less at the end of each chapter than I did at the beginning.

What I do like about Habits of a High-Tech Heart is how it is organized. In each chapter Schultze lays out the chapter sections with brief explanatory paragraphs. In his introduction to chapter 4 he tells us,

The first section of this chapter examines our high-tech projects as forms of human folly… The second section examines the ways that information technologies create new moral dilemmas, even when they are solving instrumental problems… The third section suggests that we should fear our own technological exploits… The fourth section considers how humor can foster technological humility (Schultze, 92-93, emphasis his).

Each statement is explained in a paragraph. This feature is really helpful, in fact, it is a little too helpful. Schultze does such a great job introducing his chapters and sections that not much is added to his thought process in the actual sections. Nonetheless, I enjoy the structure of the book. It is very puritanical.

The thing that is really getting me about Schultze books is that he is onto a very important idea that could, in a tremendous way, show us our sin and need for the gospel in a very culturally minded manner; however, he doesn’t (or perhaps I should say hasn’t yet) do this. In some ways, Habits of a High-Tech Heart reminds me of Paul’s address to the Greeks at the Areopagus in Acts 17. Paul looks around, notes the culture, and then reasons with the people about the gospel in terms they would understand. The key thing in Paul’s address is that he is actually talking about the gospel and humanity’s need for it. Schultze on the other hand looks around, notes the culture, and then reasons with the people about the culture in terms they will understand.

More than once, Schultze has pointed to real problems with technology, and he does so again in this chapter. He points out the ridiculous and false hope that we put in technology. He also notes that many of our technological efforts to deal with the practical and moral issues of technology are only temporary solutions and often introduce greater practical and ethical issues. Nonetheless, in the end, rather than acknowledging the sinful idolatry that is evident in our attitudes and practices about technology, attitudes that can only be dealt with in Christ, Schultze says that a humble attitude fostered by humor about our technological prospects is what we need. He writes (in his paragraph introducing the fourth section of the chapter), “Humor especially fosters a proper sense of proportion, reveals our tomfoolery, and cultivates greater patience (Schultze, 93, emphasis his). If what Schultze is saying about the hope we put in technology is true, and I think it is, then we don’t need humor, we need repentance. If we really are as idolatrous as Schultze presents, and I think we are, then we don’t need jokes, we need a Savior. If we really are as impatient and really do lack any self-control in our desire and acquisition of technology as Schultze says we are and do, and I think he is correct, then we don’t need comics, we need the Spirit. After all – idolatry is sin. Sin necessitates a Savior. The Savior has promised his Spirit. The Spirit bears fruit in believers that includes both patience and self-control (among many other things). Perhaps this is where Schultze is going and it is my own impatience that can’t wait for him to get there. We will see.

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Habits of the High-Tech Heart (chapter 3)

In chapter 3, “Seeking Wisdom in Tradition,” Quentin Schultze attempts to establish the idea that if we want to establish virtue then we need to reassert “a few ‘first things,’” learn to listen, and be diligent at passing virtue along to the subsequent generations. Underlying each of these directives for establishing virtue are the need to learn from religious traditions and history. True to form (at least to this point) Schultze is driving at a noble idea along a road filled with potholes.

Schultze argues that we should look to tradition, specifically religious tradition, in order to re-establish some first things that will help us in our pursuit of virtue. While looking to religious tradition to help us understand and pursue virtue may be helpful, Schultze’s inclusive definition of religious tradition strips his idea of most of its value. He writes,

I use the word ‘religion’ to refer not just to particular religious institutions but more broadly to the ultimate meaning and purpose of existence, along with accompanying practices or customs… To act religiously in the world is to rebind the broken cosmos… I define religious tradition as a transcendentally framed and morally directed way of life that faithfully aims to rebind the broken cosmos from generation to generation.” (Schultze, 72, 75).

With his rebinding language, Schultze is essentially talking about redemption. Redemption is good; however, to talk about redemption in any substantial way apart from Christ is problematic. In the end, Schultze’s plea to look to tradition in order to participate in the religious rebinding of our information culture sounds a lot like Tevye‘s passionate, but ultimately empty refrain, “Traditiooooon, tradition!”

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Habits of the High-Tech Heart (Chapter 2)

In chapter 2, “Moderating our Informational Desires,” Quentin Schultze continues his relentless questioning of unchecked information increase  and our uncritical consumption of information. Chapter 2 is divided into three sections (and a conclusion) that Schultze describes as follows,

The first section of this chapter considers the impact of ‘information overload’ on the moral fabric of culture… The second section critiques the bandwidth envy of those cyber-philes who believe that society will necessarily be better served by faster messaging… The third section examines how unmoderated informational messaging can hinder our communication… As the conclusion of this chapter suggests, much of the rhetoric of cybersapce is predicated on an insatiable desire for more information and more powerful messaging technologies (Schultze, 48-9).

Schultze’s foundational issue in this chapter is the apparent, complete lack of moderation with which we create, pursue, and consume new information. There are certainly many important questions to ask surrounding the issues of how and why we pursue and process information. Information, like anything else, can be an idol. It is all too easy to neglect the things that are directly in front of us by constantly trying to keep up with the latest trends, news, and issues that are disseminated through various blogs, web-sites, free-press papers, etc.

Schultze assigns this potential for idolatry primarily to modern modes of communication, and in so doing holds a romantic view of by-gone eras. For instance, in developing his argument for the late advent of mass media consumption, he writes,

The scope of collecting, storing, and distributing information has increased dramatically in recent decades, thanks largely to digital networks and computer databases. We forget how slowly humans gathered information in earlier centuries… Not until the late eighteenth century did most Americans begin reading numerous books quickly rather than carefully rereading a few of them, such as the Bible (Schultze, 50).

Clearly there is not an historically responsible avenue by which one may argue that we are not faced with more information today than in centuries past; however, Schultze seems to be assuming that the increase of information is necessarily a bad thing, which can no more be assumed than the increase necessarily being a good thing.

Technophiles, those who “celebrate supercharged messaging as if it were necessarily a good thing,” are Schultze’s chosen nemesis. In response to their supposed unmoderated desire for more information and view that greater bandwidth is the answer to all societal issues, Schultze makes four claims,

First, the unbridled quest for greater messaging speed discards venerable moral practices that require patience and perseverance… Second, we bring to added bandwidth additional information of dubious merit, including mediocre, extraneous, half-baked, and even disingenuous messages… Third, increased bandwidth devalues human communication because of the ease of making and distributing digital copies of information… Fourth, increased bandwidth further fragments society by expanding specialized messaging at the expense of shared culture (Schultze, 57-9).

While each of these may be true, two things must be pointed out. First, none of these claims are unique, as Schultze implies they are, to the digital age. Second, none of these claims are necessarily true. Scores of books of “dubious merit” fill libraries. Scores of half-baked ideas have been passed down via oral tradition. Increased bandwidth could fragment society, but could it not also create new venues for shared culture. Schultze later writes, “The possibility for more intimate email discourse, for instance is real, but our hectic lives and unmoderated uses of technology work against this intimacy” (Schultze, 63). Schultze is correct in saying such intimacy within the use of technology is possible, and this claim highlights the fact that the real issue is one of the heart (as his title implies) and not one of increased information/technology. Our hearts can just as easily idolize mastering one piece or source of information as it can knowing of 1,ooo sources.

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Habits of the High-Tech Heart (Chapter 1)

In chapter 1, “Discerning Our Informationism,” Quentin Schultze delves into what he calls informationism: “a non-discerning, vacuous faith in the collection and dissemination of information as a route to social progress and personal happiness.” He goes on to say, “As a quasi-religion, informationism preaches the is over the ought, observation over intimacy, and measurement over meaning.” In short, Schultze has serious questions about whether the profound influx of information has that has come with the “information age” has actually made things better or not.

Has our ability to know what is trumped our ability to process what ought to be? Has our obsession with what is killed our motivation to do the hard work of knowing what ought to be? Wikileaks and the whole anti-privacy movement, though predated by Schultze’s book, is a perfect example of what Schultze is concerned about. Sure, we can violate trusts, know state secrets, and make all things public knowledge, but ought we do this? With all of our time and energy spent unearthing and learning all the details of the world, do we have any time and energy left to actually process any of it? Schultze concludes that we are failing to adequately deal with moral implications of the information we receive.

Related to the is/ought issue are issues of observation vs intimacy. Has our expansive knowledge of everything and everyone done anything more than make us trivia masters? Do the 100-million-plus (as of February 2010) daily status updates from Facebook and Twitter actually acquaint us with one another, or do they merely inform us that we are all still here and all still struggling to master as much information as we can? Do our insatiable appetites for being plugged in actually prevent us from being fed? Schultze concludes that we have become a society of observers forsaking intimacy with a few for acquaintance with many.

Schultze’s final category pertains to how we assign value and to what we assign it. Mixed in with our focus on the is over the ought and our perverse fascination with observing everything and knowing nothing, we also constantly seek to evaluate everything based on outcome. How do the various points of data that we collect relate to one another? Is their greater value in processed data or possessed data? Schultze concludes that we venerate possessing large amounts of unprocessed data and are satisfied pursuing and collecting with little thought given to understanding.

In short, one habit of the high-tech heart is bowing to the idol of information. We are told over and over that our society is moving, or has moved, from a labor based economy to a knowledge based economy, and our response has been to relentlessly pursue and attempt to create knowledge. We have let the world define and interpret itself for us, and the world is screaming, “KNOW ME! LOVE ME! SERVE ME!”

Some of Schultze’s claims seem to be based in some amount of conjecture, and some of his conclusions may sound slightly alarmist. Nonetheless, Schultze has raised some important questions and made some astute observations. We have faith in information. We hope for more information. We love information. We are informationists. While we need not necessarily replace the banned books that used to fuel the fires of book burnings with our laptops, smart phones, and notebooks, we would do good to ask some hard questions of how to engage in using technology for God’s glory. We were created to glorify God and enjoy him forever. Technology may assist us in this, but it may also assist us in glorifying and enjoying ourselves by writing a story that not only stars us, but also has us in the audience. It may be that we need to apply Hebrews 12.1-3 to our hot and constant pursuit of information.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

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Habits of the High-Tech Heart

The constant barrage of information and communiques from blogs, texts, and emails along with the seemingly limitless possible distractions of websites, apps, and games constantly work to both keep me moving from one task to another and distract me from what I should be doing at any given moment. This reality prompted me to pick up Quentin Schultze‘s book, Habits of the High-Tech Heart: Living Virtuously in the Information Age. I do not know why this book was on my bookshelf. It is not the type of book I would normally buy, so it must have been for a class I took at some point. My complete lack of recollection of the book makes me wonder if I read it as I am sure I was supposed to have done. Nonetheless, in God’s providence I own the book and currently need help thinking through the issues which it purports to discuss. Therefore, I will read it now and, with full acknowledgment of the existing potential irony, put together a short series of blog posts responding to one chapter per week as I read the book (This is mostly for the accountability benefits; even though, having read the introduction I am sure that my creating a faux accountability partner by promising blog posts to an audience which may or may not exist is not one of Schultze’s “Habits of a High-Tech Heart”).

The introduction makes two things clear. First, although he is sure he will be pegged as one, Schultze claims that he is, in fact, not a Luddite. Second, Schultze is convinced that in our journey to ends of the techno-galaxy we are often proceeding with a grand naivete and without the necessary moral forethought. He writes,

The idea that we are witnessing the emergence of a beneficient information society is triumphalistic propaganda… This book addresses some of the deepest reservations that we should have about the impact of information technologies on the moral fabric of our lives… There is much worth celebrating, from the joys of emailing friends to the Web sites that publish up-to-date information about medical treatments. Nevertheless, our tendency to adopt every new information technology uncritically – with out discerning the options, setting appropriate limits, and establishing humane practices – is simply irresponsible. North Americans are largely unreflective, voracious consumers of cyber-novelty and informational trivia… Unless we focus as much on the quality of our character as we do no technological innovation, potentially good informational techniques will ultimately reduce our capacity to love one another. We ought to face the fact that our cyber-innovations today are running far ahead of our moral sensibilities… To be virtuous people in a high-tech world is to be neither moralists nor pragmatists but rather sojourners who humbly seek goodness in an eternal adventure that began before we were born and will continue after we die (pp16-24).

I am looking forward to reading (or perhaps re-reading) this book for a few reasons: Schultze (at least in the introduction) is punchy, and punchy writers are fun to read; he is trying to address an issue that we are all working through to one degree of success or another; and he is apparently not afraid to question the status quo that says all technological advancement is necessarily to be desired.

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