Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Spiritual Formation and the New Media (Part 2 of 3)


This post is excerpted from Dr. Jim Hamilton's paper, "Spiritual Formation and the New Media: Making Good Use of the Mammon of Unrighteousness," presented at the national meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society in November 2007, and is posted here with his permission. The whole article is available online from a link at this page. Dr. James M. Hamilton, Jr. is the assistant professor of biblical studies, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Houston Park Place Campus, and the preaching pastor at Baptist Church of the Redeemer in Sugar Land, Texas. He is also the author of God's Indwelling Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Old & New Testaments (B&H, 2006). Visit his blog at



Spiritual Formation and the New Media:

Making Good Use of the Mammon of Unrighteousness


by Dr. Jim Hamilton



Part 2 of 3


Manifold Misappropriations


The greatest danger posed by the internet and the new media is the enemy within the person signing on. I am not referring to some virus or malware that has snuck into us. The enemy within is our own desire for evil. We are prone to pride. We lean into lust. We harbor hatred. We are inclined to self-destructive, God-dishonoring perversions of true pleasure.


This means that the most important thing to be vigilant about when signing on is the state of one's own heart. At a computer, alone, it is very easy to forget the members of the local church with whom one is in solemn covenant before the Lord of heaven and earth. When we lose sight of our relational commitments, foremost of which is our consciousness of God, his presence, and our place among his people, our vision becomes blurred and we no longer clearly see the consequences of our thoughts and actions. In such circumstances, it is very easy to become a poor steward of one's time, one's emotional health, and one's virtue, indeed, one's very soul.


Anyone who regularly reads weblogs knows the danger of the easy drift into frittering away hours reading about someone else's controversy. At some point a valid desire to be apprised of current events crosses into an irresponsible neglect of one's responsibilities. It is all too easy to abandon the all-consuming task of writing to see if anything juicy has been posted on our favorite blogs, to forsake the long labor over texts in Greek and Hebrew to check email, again, or to allow the window of time for prayer and meditation to be closed by some other new media outlet. We must be good stewards of the time given to us.


It is easy, and unrighteous, to make bad use of the time that we do have for the projects on which we are working. I do not think that the apologies made in prefaces to books to the wives and children who were neglected during the writing process make up for time that cannot be recaptured. I suspect that neglected wives and children are not any more impressed with these prefaces than I am. Which is more important: writing a book or managing one's household well? If wives and children must be neglected in order for writing to happen, better for writing not to happen. Sacrifices do have to be made for valid and necessary work to be done. But we are not good stewards of our resources if we exhaust our working hours consuming the ever-available new media and then steal family time from our wives and children to finish our work. If we are in church leadership, we must manage our households well. That simply cannot be done without time. If we are neglecting our wives and children because we are foolishly wasting our time consuming enough news to keep up with the pundits, that neglect will show itself.


We should also be wise enough to recognize that there are great books in the world that will elevate the souls of those whose eyes are blessed to pass their pages. These books, by the likes of Homer, Virgil, Augustine, Dante, Luther, Calvin, Shakespeare, Milton, Bunyan, Owen, Edwards—name your favorite—should not be allowed to suffer neglect because we are too busy with our daily blogs. Great readers are made by great books, and those who do not read great books become, as C. S. Lewis put it, "men without chests."[1]  We leave these books unread to the detriment of our own souls, and denying our souls the high thoughts and lyric lines of this literature deprives the church of leaders whose minds would otherwise be lifted above the constant chatter of the chest-less chattel.


There was something stable about the news formerly coming at certain times from certain outlets. I can imagine the age now over, one in which the daily paper arrived on the doorstep in the morning book-ended by the nightly newscast after dinner. Before the days of the twenty four hour news network, that was it. Working hours in between two healthy doses of daily doings. Now it is not so, and this transitions us into the perils to emotional health presented by the internet and the new media. Not only is it crouching there on the desk, distraction ready to pounce at the slightest mental difficulty, through it we now have unparalleled access into other people's business. All this access makes it all too easy to be silent gossips, going about from site to site reading and typing things that have little or nothing to do with what we are called to accomplish, things that are not necessary (1 Tim 5:13).


And all of this gives our wicked hearts a willing accomplice, one that would serve as a vacuous vanity able to cause virtue to vanish. Not only could we waste our lives reading blogs instead of the lofty thoughts of the best thinkers, being distracted by the daft deluge of daily dither, we could be defiled by the tempting advertisements that fund the new media, whether on the side of the site or popping up when it opens. Come to the web weary, avoiding the day's labor, see the wrong advert, and suddenly an irrational lust ravages the soul.


We must recognize our propensity to sin, and if we are not mortifying sin before we open the web-page, we are making provision for the flesh and its lusts.[2]  Whether these lusts are for images of human bodies, for the juicy tidbits of scandals that should not be named, or for the (sick) pleasure of meanness to those with whom we disagree, the internet and the new media will feed us these falsehoods that drip honey but in the end are bitter as gall (Prov 5:3–4).


We are sinful people. God is a holy God. He will call us to account for what we have done. Our only hope is the mercy of God in Christ, whose death on the cross satisfies God's justice, whose resurrection seals the justification of those who believe, and whose ascension to the right hand establishes him as the reigning King who will return. This establishes his claim on the allegiance of all men. Those who know God by trusting Christ are further summoned to renew their minds.  




[1] See C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man: How Education Develops Man's Sense of Morality (New York: Macmillan, 1947). 


[2] A great help in fighting for our lives has been made available by Kelly M. Kapic and Justin Taylor, who have edited three classic works by John Owen in Overcoming Sin and Temptation (Wheaton: Crossway, 2006).


This series concludes next week.

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