Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Eschatology and the New Media

Eschatology and the New Media
from Blog and Mablog by Douglas Wilson

Jesus is the Lord of history, and this is why we don't need to be afraid of Twitter. Or Facebook. Or teenagers typing with their thumbs. Jesus is the Lord of history, which is why we don't need to worry about Google making us stupid.

Don't mistake me. Google does make many of us stupid, but only in the same way that libraries have made us stupid for many centuries. Libraries make a handful of people really wise, and provide many others with artificial props for their footnotes.

Everywhere the human race goes, it drags a bell curve around with it. We put on airs because of where we are on the existing curve (or we feel bad because of where we are on it), but we fail to recognize that a blue collar auto mechanic today is working with sophisticated electronics that would have completely stumped Aristotle on one of his good days. One half of all medical doctors graduated in the lower half of their class, right?

We live in a time of tremendous innovation, development, and apparent chaos. There are many opportunities to worry about it all, and so I want to lay my cards on the table, and talk about why I am excited about the future. This is going to sound funny, but I am excited about the future because I am a postmillennialist. And I am a postmillennialist because I am a Calvinist who believes that the sovereign God over all things is truly, inexhaustibly, and fiercely good. He keeps His promises.

We also need to remember that the eschatological future promised by the prophet Isaiah, and the future that was shaped by industrial revolution, and will continue to be shaped by the digital revolution, are the same future. I don't believe in an invisible spiritual future, shaped by the Holy Spirit, full of sweetness and light, and an actual historical future shaped by the Devil, Halliburton, the Illuminati, and Murphy's law. The world, this world, is presently going where Jesus is taking it. Be wise, but stop worrying.

Part of being wise is that we do not forget the doctrine of sin. Sin is radical and deep, and capable of many cultural grotesqueries. We see them all the time, and we read about them all the time. Welcome to the spiritual war. Belief that we will win the war is not a denial of the reality of that war. My optimism is not of the kind that denies the existence of the battle. My optimism is of the kind that maintains that we are winning the battle.

To change the metaphor, to believe that the car is gassed up, running fine, and on the right road, does not keep the kids from squabbling sinfully in the back seat.

This means that every new development presents us with opportunities to sin, and, in a sinful world, the initial impulse is to sin. Wealth gotten by old-fashioned labor is sustained. Wealth gotten the frothy way, dissipates quickly (Prov. 13:11)

And so here is my central thesis: technology in all its forms is a type of wealth. The Bible contains no warnings about technology as such, but is crammed with warnings about the bias of wealth. Which way does wealth set us up? The Bible says that the wealthy are tempted to hubris, self-sufficiency, lack of concern for the poor, oppression, and the rest of that sorry lot. Wealth is a good thing, but it brings temptations. A lot of wealth is a lot of a good thing, but it brings with it a lot of temptations.

Say a man comes into wealth, and the first thing he does is join three of the swankiest country clubs. Not a good harbinger. The same thing is true of the guy who gains his wealth, and who runs off to the inner city to join a new monastic community. That's a bad sign too.

It does not profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul in the process (Matt. 16:26). This remains true even if the world is in the process of gaining the world, but loses its soul on the way. Wealth is not a substitute savior. It is a good thing, a creational good, and it is one which we are tempted to set up as an idol (Eph. 5:5; Col. 3:5). Until the resurrection, wealth is a good thing which always tends to distract us from our love for Christ, and the task at hand.

Now, what we are seeing with the multitude of silly applications of Facebook, and Twitter, and music downloads, and research with Google books, and every new app you can think of, is the response of the noveau riche to windfall wealth -- a response that is as old as dirt. There is nothing whatever that is new about this. There is nothing new under the sun.

We have always had worriers. Plato worried about the written word. At the birth of the modern era, others worried about the typeset word. Now we worry about the digitized word. And, let it be said, the worriers always have a point. There are always examples of folly that they can point to, and they are not making it up. But the fact that you are not making up the bad examples does not mean that you are fitting those bad examples into the right paradigm of interpretation.

A good example of an erudite worrier would be Neil Postman in Amusing Ourselves to Death. But for every book like that, given the propensity of Calvinists to worry needlessly, I would recommend that you read three like Johnson's Everything Bad is Good for You, Postrel's The Future and Its Enemies, and Ridley's The Rational Optimist. Why should Calvinists worry? In the collision between the sovereignty of Jesus in history, and the influence of sin in history, sin is the certain loser.

Now some will object that the books I have cited are not by believers. And I will point out in reply that things have gotten really bad when unbelievers can see what Jesus is doing more accurately than believers can. When unbelievers by common grace are reading history right side up, why should we reject that in favor of believers who are reading their Bible upside down?

We worry about the course of history because we are not in control of it, and we like to pretend that this means no one is in control of it. But this follows not. Jesus is the Lord of history. He is the Lord of this.

This will end well. It does not mean that everything ends well for everybody, but simply means that folly becomes apparent over time. In the long run, stupidity never works. You complain that some stupid teenager is exhilarated because he has 28 superficial "friends" on Facebook. Okay, that's dumb, but how is it different from our practice of writing old-fashioned letters to a mortal enemy, making sure the letter begins with a term of endearment, "Dear . . ." Dear?

Keep moving, people. Nothing to see here. Nothing new here. Nothing new under the sun. Some are wise, and many are (comparatively) foolish. The only question before us now is whether or not we will be among the wise or the foolish. Carping criticism from outside, from the Unabomber cabin, is not an effective response. It is not wise -- even if you are gracious enough for it to be a Wendell Berry cabin instead.

Jesus is the Word, and by His Incarnation He has sanctified the right use of words for all time. The Internet has given us a torrent of words -- what else is new? And the fact that the torrent has increased so much should fill us with a sense of exhilaration. Our responsibility as people of the Word is to give ourselves to the study and practice of how all this can be used wisely.

If your use of Twitter is limited to informing all your followers that you are rummaging in the fridge for some Dr. Pepper at two a.m., then sure, quit that. But suppose you tell your followers that 'poverty and shame come to the one who refuses instruction,' what now? How is that an abuse? It is a godly word.

The constant and ever present temptation in the Church is the gnostic temptation of locating sin in the stuff, sin in the matter, sin in the wealth, sin in the technology . . . instead of locating it where it belongs, in the heart of man.

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