Will You Be My Facebook Friend? in German and Spanish

My book on the gospel and social media, Will You Be My Facebook Friend?, is now available in Spanish and Dutch. The Dutch edition is available here and the Spanish edition is available here.

The English edition of Will You Be My Facebook Friend? is available from thinkivp.com and amazon.com.

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New book: Will You Be My Facebook Friend?

I have a new book out looking at the gospel and social media entitled Will You Be My Facebook Friend? It’s a short book that expands material which previously appeared on this blog.

Will You Be My Facebook Friend? is available here from thinkivp.com and amazon.com.

Here’s what some kind people have said about it …

It’s striking, given the amount of time that many of us spend communicating with others online, how few of us have stopped to reflect on why we do so? This great little book will help you do just that, exposing wrong motives and showing us how faith in Christ challenges and changes the way we engage with others online. (Tim Dennis, UCCF Midlands Team Leader)

Get off–line, turn off Spotify and read this book! You’ll get through it in less time than many of us spend on Facebook each day, but this book will do you lasting good. Tim Chester writes honestly and urgently about both the potential and pitfalls of social media, calling us back to the 3D relationships we were created for. Like. (Dave Gobbett, Associate Pastor, Eden Baptist)

This book is concise, insightful, challenging and compelling. If social media is something that you, or those around you, are engaged with, you’d do well to un–plug for a while and plug–in to what Tim has to say on the matter. Uncomfortable truths are presented alongside wise, gracious advice. Above all we are repeatedly pointed to Jesus and encouraged to live real lives, rooted in genuine community and marked by the gospel. (Dai Hankey, Church planter and author)

Tim Chester is always insightful, and this little book is no exception. Wise, gracious, challenging and thoughtful, it will benefit anyone who uses social media. First class. (Andrew Wilson, Teaching Pastor, King s Church, Eastbourne)

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Will you be my Facebook friend? Part 7

In these series on Facebook we have highlighted two potentially dangers with Facebook and other social media:

1. On Facebook I can recreate my world through my words to gain approval

2. On Facebook I can escape the limitations of my body

As we conclude I want to reiterate that for many of people using Facebook is not a problem. For many it is all blessing.

But there are dangers in social networking. And to those who face those dangers the gospel provides a better and richer alternative.

Facebook is the place were I show my face or my image. For some of you it is the place were you recreate your image and your world through your words. The gospel is the place where God turns “his face towards us” (Numbers 6:26). It is the place where he recreates us in his image and recreates his world through his words.

2 Corinthians 3:18: “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”

Through Facebook you can show your face or image to the world. Through the gospel we see the face of God, the glory of God. And when we see it we radiate that glory just as Moses did long ago when he saw God on Mount Sinai. Through the gospel we can reflect the glory of God to the world.

Through Facebook we can recreate ourselves. We can recreate our own identity to win the approval of other people. Through the gospel God recreates us in the image of Jesus. Jesus makes us approved by God. And we are being transformed into the likeness of Jesus with ever-increasing glory. Look at your Facebook page: Do you really want this more than the glory of God?

Remember the medium is the message and Facebook was designed by a teenage nerd. It reduces your life to the preoccupations of a student nerd. You are encouraged to fill in your relationship status because students define you by your “availability”. The medium encourages you to express your personality through lists of books, movies, TV programmes. This is what nerdy students do. You are encouraged to poke people – poking is what teenage boys do who do not know how to talk to girls! The medium is the message. Your life is being squeezed down into these select, nerdy categories. You can give your time to this – or being transformed into Christ’s likeness with ever-increasing glory.

2 Corinthians 4:5: “For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.”

Through Facebook we can promote ourselves. We gain friends. Or we gain followers through Twitter. We engage in self-evangelism. Through the gospel we promote Jesus as Lord. We gain followers for Jesus.

2 Corinthians 4:6: “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”

Through Facebook we recreate our world through our words. Day after day, endless words pouring out, trying to create an image of ourselves that others will approve. And God speaks four words, “Let there be light.” Two words in Hebrews. And there is light. God speaks and the universe comes into being. This physical, substantial, real universe. The kind of universe you can hit with your hand and it hurts because it is really there.

Through Facebook we reveal our “face” and look at the “faces” of other people. Through the gospel we see the face of God. The Bible is the true Facebook, the book in which we see God’s face. Prayer is the ultimate instant messaging. The church is the real social network. The gospel is the place where we see “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”

Think about what you have written and read on your Facebook wall this week. Think about the tweets you have followed this week. Imagine reading them in six months time. I am guessing, but I suspect that most of what is written will be drivel. Trivia. Empty. “Eating egg on toast. Yum.” “On my way to the station.” “Great party last night.” “Jack just fell over. LOL.” “Love the photos. You’re so gorgeous.” Poke. Listen to the prophet Isaiah:

A voice says, “Cry out.”

And I said, “What shall I cry?”

“All men are like grass,

and all their glory is like the flowers of the field.

The grass withers and the flowers fall,

because the breath of the LORD blows on them.

Surely the people are grass.

The grass withers and the flowers fall,

but the word of our God stands for ever.” (Isaiah 40:6-8)


The Facebook comments wither and the tweets fall,  but the word of our God stands for ever.

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Will you be my Facebook friend? Part 6

Many people struggle to do everything you want to do. But I can give an extra hour a day. I have the secret. Thank what you could with an extra hour: time with the children, doing mission, reading your Bible, learning a new skill. What is the answer? Stop using Facebook. On average Facebook users spend 20 hours a month on Facebook. That is the average which means getting on for 250 million people are spending an hour a day on Facebook. You could stop. Some people do not have a Facebook page and somehow life goes on. And you get a whole hour each day.

Some of you have little time for community and missional life because you are spending too much time on Facebook or watching television or surfing blogs. You are opting for disembodied life over embodied life.

Now disembodied life is easier. But it is less fulfilling, less real and less satisfying.

Embodied life is harder. But it is more fulfilling, more real, more satisfying. It is more substantial – you can touch it, feel it, embrace it!

One study found that over half of young women spend more time talking to people online than face-to-face. Another study found that for every hour we spend on our computers, face-to-face interaction falls by thirty minutes. The more people engage online, the less able they are to engage offline. Real world communication feels more threatening, less natural, less normal.

I was talking to the wife of one of leaders in The Crowded House. She was describing how many people struggle to keep up with old friends. They are often off pulled away from church and mission to visit people elsewhere in the country. And Facebook perpetuates this. The result is stress and thin relationships. In contrast she talked about as a couple they recognised that God has placed them in their city, in a physical place with physical bodies with all the limitations that involves. So their focus is on the people in their Christian community and their neighbourhood. They do not give a lot of time to “keeping up” with past relationships. They focus on their present time and their present place. As a result they have relationships that are deep and significant.

Facebook encourages you to live elsewhere. The gospel encourages you to live life here and now.

  •      You can tend your Farmville farm or you can get an allotment.
  •      You can catch up with friends on Facebook or you can go out on a cold, dark night to see real friends.
  •      You can catch up with “Friends” by watching the latest episode on the television or you can serve your neighbours.
  •      You can build a new city on Sims or you can be the city of God set on a hill with your Christian community.

Here is the test: Am I using Facebook to enhance real world friendships or to replace them?

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Will you be my Facebook friend? Part 5

Facebook offers us the ability to redefine ourselves and construct our own world without being constrained by others. But our bodies remind us that this is not our world. We literally bump into people. We collide. You cannot look round this room and say, “This is my world and I’m at the centre.” Our bodies remind us that we live in a world created by the words of someone else, the words of God. And we live in a world created for someone else, for the glory of God.

It is the same with porn and online role play games by the way. They offer liberation from the body. You compensate for your real world inadequacies, fears, struggles with a fantasy world in which you are potent and successful with endless beautiful people offer themselves to you.

Cyberspace offers an escape from the limitations of the body. And this version of “salvation by Facebook” is the latest embodiment (pun intended) of the ancient heresy of Gnosticism. Gnosticism saw the spiritual or mental as good and the body as evil and limiting. So salvation was an escape from the constraints of the body.

Tim Challies talks about “digital disincarnation”.[1] The incarnation is the word we use to describe the event of God becoming man, of God taking on human flesh. But now in cyberspace we are trying to “disincarnate”, to throw off the limitations of human flesh. Challies says: “Here is the cyberworld I can be popular. I can be powerful. I can be somebody. And yet I do it all at the expense of who I really am.”[2]

In contrast, the gospel affirms the body. The gospel says that human beings were made by God with a body and God declared that to be good. We were made with bodies in his image to reflect his image in the world. More than that, God himself takes on human flesh when Jesus becomes a man. Christ “appeared in a body [and] was vindicated by the Spirit.” (1 Timothy 3:16) And more than that, the body of Jesus was physically raised from the dead. The resurrection of Jesus was not an escape from the body, but the redemption of the body. So the gospel encourages us to engage in embodied life and embodied relationships.

So Paul says to the Christian community in Thessalonica: “We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.” (2:8)  “But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavoured the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face.” (2:17 ESV) Not just words, but a shared life. Not just words, but face to face.

Professor Barry Wellman of Toronto University talks of “networked individualism”.[3] We can move from one online community to another. We can drop, forget, invite or ignore Facebook “friends” at will without consequences. We build our own worlds.

God has placed you together with the people in your congregation. You did not chose them; God chose them. And that diversity of personalities, backgrounds, social class, ethnicities is used by God to make you grow in Christ and to display the unifying power of the cross.

But in cyberspace you are god. You chose who will be in community with you. You create your own communities of convenience that mean you are never challenged. Or if you are challenged or relationships become costly you can just scuttle off to new relationships. As a result we never grow. We are permanently immature.

In cyberspace no relationship is meaningful and every relationship is expendable. The result is loneliness in the midst of many Facebook “friends”. I know people for whom Facebook is a place to hide. You can think of yourself surrounded by friends without ever having to engage with the challenges of real world relationships. You have a lot of friends, a “loose electronic Diaspora”,[4] without ever really being known. Your idolatries, your selfishness, your struggles are never seen. Instead a lot of people get the sanitised version of you. Moreover most of us praise in public and rebuke in private. So, because Facebook is a public medium, people are going to positive comments. Challenges to our behaviour are left unsaid. Facebook is a safe place to hide from real relationships.

[1][2] Tim Challies, The Next Story: Life and Faith After the Digital Explosion, Zondervan, Available here from amazon.co.uk.

[3] Cited in Tim Challies, The Next Story: Life and Faith After the Digital Explosion, Zondervan, forthcoming.

[4] James Harkin, “Living in Cyburbia,” The Daily Telegraph, 29 January 2011, telegraph.co.uk.

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Will you be my Facebook friend? Part 4

In this series of posts I want to highlight two potentially dangerous appeals of Facebook. The first was the way that Facebook purports to allow me to recreate my world through my words to gain approval. The second potentially dangerous appeal of Facebook is this: On Facebook I can escape the limitations of my body.

Our bodies limit us to a particular place and time. We can only be in one place at a time.

But Facebook promises to connect us with everyone everywhere at anytime. It promises omniscience (knowing everything) and omnipresence (being everywhere). But it cannot deliver – not if you want real relationships and real community.

We have already said that the internet encourages us to skim read everything. “Internet users skim text rather than read it. In fact, ‘skimming’ is now the dominant metaphor for reading.”[1] Facebook extends the same idea into personal relationships. We now do skim befriending, surface friendships

Facebook offers intimacy without responsibility. People say things on Facebook to people or about people that they would never say if they were physically in the room with them.

People say things about people they would not say in the flesh. A church planter friend told me Facebook has caused havoc on his neighbourhood because of the way it spreads of gossip. Seventeen percent of employees in large companies have been reprimanded for words they have written on Facebook.

People say things to people they would not say in the flesh. A recent newspaper article highlighted one lawyer who has dealt with 30 divorce cases in the last year and Facebook has been implicated in them all.[2] Online flirting is leading to real world relational breakdown.

Proverbs 10:19 says: “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.” Facebook does not cause sin, but it can accelerate it because it liberates it from the constraints of the body.

[1] Tim Challies, The Next Story: Life and Faith After the Digital Explosion, Zondervan, Available here from amazon.co.uk.

[2] Richard Alleyne, “Facebook Increasingly Implicated in Divorce,” The Daily Telegraph, 21 January 2011, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/facebook/8274601/Facebook-increasingly-implicated-in-divorce.html.

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Will you be my Facebook friend? Part 3

In the previous post in this series we saw one potentially dangerous appeal of Facebook is the way it allows me to recreate my image and my world through my words to gain approval. Does this work? Does self-creation or self-justification through Facebook work?

Alex Jordan of Stanford University found people often feel depressed after spending time on Facebook.[1]

To understand why you have got to remember that the medium is the message. How we communicate shapes what we communicate. And Facebook is geared to project positivity.

You upload pictures of people having a good time, not pictures of you feeling bored or miserable. Even the jokey, early morning shots of people looking rough are really saying, “Look me after I’ve had a good time.” Compared to all these photos, the day I have just had at work seems dull or sad.

People can “Like” something you have written. But there is no option to “Dislike”. So to get a response you have to phrase things in positive terms. No-one is going to click “Like” to “Had a miserable day at work.” So instead you put, “Looking forward to watching a movie with a tub of ice cream.” “Like”! No-one is going click “Like” to “My rabbit died yesterday.” So instead you put, “Fluffy was a brave little bunny until the very end.” “Like”!

So everyone’s Facebook’s face wears a smile – whatever the reality behind the mask. We are all spin doctors, presenting upbeat, propaganda versions of our lives. (The exceptions are those with disorders like anorexia who often compete at misery.)

So what the research found was this: You are feeling miserable. You go onto Facebook. Everyone you know appears happy. So you feel a loser. All the time you forget that somewhere someone else is looking at your upbeat, unreal Facebook page and feeling like they are missing out.

Here is the test of whether you are facing this danger: Is your Facebook self more attractive than your real world self?

The real question is: Am I trying to do self-identity or am I finding identity in Christ? Or, Am I looking for approval from others through my words or approval from God through his gospel word?

The gospel of Jesus says that Jesus recreates me in the image of God and Jesus is recreating the world. God’s kingdom is extended as his word is proclaimed.

  •      Jesus recreates me – not me
  •      Jesus recreate me in God’s image – not my image
  •      Jesus recreates the world – not me
  •      Jesus recreates God’s world – not my world
  •      Jesus creates God’s world with God at the centre – not me at the centre
  •      What creates and recreates are God’s word – not my words

It is these truths that enable me to be truly human, fit for the purpose for which I was created. And this is what liberates me from self-obsession to enjoy the goodness and grace of God. Knowing the real God is better than Facebook.

[1] Alex Jordan, “Misery Has More Company Than People Think,” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, cited in Libby Copeland, “The Anti-Social Network,” Slate, 26 January 2011, slate.com/id/2282620.

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Will you be my Facebook friend? Part 2

In this series of posts I want to highlight two potentially dangerous appeals of Facebook.

The first is this: On Facebook I can recreate my world through my words to gain approval.

Think about the name “Facebook”. It suggests a place where I can show my “face” or my “image”.

1. I can recreate “my face”

One reason Facebook is popular is because it appears to allow me to create my image using my words. I type in a version of the person I want to be. I use my words to create as positive image. Or I upload pictures that portray me in a certain way, usually having a good time or looking beautiful in artistic poses. There are no pictures of me first thing in the morning or being bored.

Celebrity culture pours over the minutiae of the lives of the rich and famous. Facebook, blogs and Twitter allow us all to be celebrities with our lives on show. It blurs the public and the private. The world becomes my audience. On Facebook you do not have a conversation, you have an audience. Your life takes place on a stage and you are your own playwright, creating or recreating yourself through your words.

2. I can recreate “my space”

This is the genius of Facebook. Facebook enables me to have all my friends and family gathered in one place. What we cannot do in physical space, we can do in cyberspace: bring everyone together in place. But this is my space. This is my world. These are by definition my “chosen people”. The genius of Facebook is that all your friends come to you and all their friends come to them. So we simultaneously all inhabit our own little worlds, each with me at the centre.

One pastor told me: “The people I know who use Facebook most are those who are most self-obsessed.” I remember a young woman who wrote a blog about her life. But like most of us her life was pretty boring. So she constantly had to heighten the sense of drama. Her blog became the story of her heroic struggle to overcome really quite minor difficulties. The result was she thoughts of life as a constant self-obsessed melodrama.

3. I can find approval

Not only do I (re)create myself through my words on Facebook, but I can measure myself through Facebook. I can score or rank my image: the number of my Facebook friends or Twitter followers; the number of Facebook “Likes” or blog “comments”. These become the index of my self-worth. Or I do visual assessments by comparing photos. I am defined by other’s people’s “gaze”, what they make of my “face”. Jonny Woodrow, a tutor with the Northern Training Institute, calls it “personality by numbers”.

On Facebook I bestow approval and I receive approval. The result is many people constantly checking their Facebook page because this is where they receive affirmation.

Notice the language we are using. I recreate my image through my words. I recreate my world around me. I can find approval or justify myself. This is the salvation language. This is gospel language. Facebook – used in this way – is another gospel. I am recreating my image and my world through my words so that I find approval or justify myself.

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Will you be my Facebook friend? Part 1

In just a few years Facebook has gone from nothing to a significant feature of modern life with over 500 million users, half of whom use it on any given day. More than 200 million users access Facebook through mobile devices. Facebook is itself part of the wider phenomenon of mobile technology and social networking or Web 2.0 – the use of the internet not just to find information, but to connect with people.

There is much that is good about this. New technologies reflect humanity’s God-given, godlike creativity. God gave us a mandate to take his world and invent, create, and produce.

Social networking brings many benefits:

  • Grandparents can get up-to-date photos and news from distant grandchildren.
  • Missionaries can send real time prayer requests.
  • The message of Jesus is going into countries that we used to speak of as being closed to the gospel.
  • People are able readily to organise events or arrange meetings. The recent change of regime in Egypt was called by some “the Facebook revolution” because of the way Facebook was used to organise the protests.
  • It is creating a culture of collaboration were products, software, social enterprise are developed through co-operation.

But despite all of this, I am going to focus on the dangers. First, because I am “a grumpy old man” with a nostalgia for the old ways. But mainly because, while the benefits of new technologies are immediately apparent, the negatives are more hidden. Tim Challies says: “a technology wears its benefits on its sleeve – but the drawbacks are buried deep within.”[1] Technology is good. But it readily gets perverted by our sin and used for selfish ends.

More than that, “the medium is the message”. This is what the cultural critic Neil Postman has alerted us to. In other words, how we communicate changes what we communicate. The technology we use to express our thoughts actually changes those thoughts. It changes what we think is important.

Some problems with social networking are obvious.

Misused time
Over 700 billion minutes are spent each month on Facebook. That is a lot of time. The problem is not just quantity of time, but the constant interruption. Lots of people talk about Facebook as the greatest distraction from work ever. Students are suffering from lack of sleep because they are texting or on Facebook late into the night.

Remember, the medium is the message. In the case of Twitter this means thoughts must be expressed in 140 characters. For blogs it means around 400 words (any thing more and people will not read it). Facebook, too, is designed to deliver short updates and comments. Not using proper grammar and sentences is affecting the way we express ideas. We are losing our ability to construct an argument.

Commercial interests drive this. What is Facebook’s product? It is you, you are its product delivered in large quantities to advertisers! It is the same with Google. They make money when you click on ads so it is in their interests for you never to spend long on one page. So the medium is designed to keep you constant surfing, constantly skimming, constantly clicking. And this is reducing our ability to concentrate. We zip from one piece of information to another. We keep stopping to check texts, emails, tweets, Facebook. We are losing our ability to follow an argument.

Technology makes us more efficient. And efficiency is good. But only in some contexts. Do you want to be an efficient lover? An efficient parent? An efficient worshipper?

But these are just the symptoms. The real issue is this, Why do people spend so much time on Facebook? What does it do for them? What does it offer?

It is not enough just to say “Stop” or “Do it less”. If the only answer you give is self-control then you are inviting me to be my own saviour. And in this case I am may not be convinced I need saving! So the key question is Why? This enables us to make the gospel as the answer.

For many of people, of course, using Facebook is not a problem. For many it is all blessing. But there are dangers in social networking and here are some warning signs.

  •      Do you check your Facebook page more than once or twice a day?
  •      Do you spend more than 20 minutes a day on Facebook?
  •      Do you find it difficult to imagine a day without technology?
  •      Have you ever read a text or gone online during our gathering?
  •      Have you stayed up beyond your normal bedtime because you were on Facebook or playing online games?
  •      Do you use your mobile phone during meals or keep it in the bedroom?

Those are some warning signs. What are the dangers? What is about Facebook that makes it so addictive? In future posts I want to highlight two dangers:

1. On Facebook I can recreate my world through my words to gain approval

2. On Facebook I can escape the limitations of my body

[1] Tim Challies, The Next Story: Life and Faith After the Digital Explosion, Zondervan, Available here from amazon.co.uk.

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Six ways your iPhone Is changing you

Tony Reinke has an interesting interview at Desiring God with David Wells and Douglas Groothius reflecting on our interaction with social media. He ends with six questions to gauge how our iPhones are changing us which I’ve transcribed below:

  1. Am I becoming like what I behold in my iPhone? Are my face-to-face relationships conforming to modes of communication that are shaped by my online habits?
  2. Am I overlooking my finiteness? I am finite. I am a man severely limited in what I can know and what I can read and what I engage and what I can care about. So do I want to know everything? Do I fear being left behind on what’s trending online right now?
  3. Am I multitasking priorities that should be uni-tasked. Specifically is my time with God in the word and I prayer being distracted and even being replaced by digital interruptions?
  4. I am deleting my embodiment? Do I truly value the personal, face-to-face relationships in my life over the disembodied relationships I maintain online? Are my face-to-face relationships with my neighbour, my wife and my kids suffering as a result?
  5. I am losing interest in the gathered church on Sunday? Baptisms, the Lord’s Supper, corporate worship, the laying on of hands – do I truly value the embodied reality that is my local church? Do I fiddle through it on my phone looking for something more entertaining?
  6. Am I careless with my words? It’s easy for my words to be published online. So what self-imposed limitations do I have to filter what I say and do I have any accountability in my life for what I say online?

For my own contribution to the subject see my short book, Will You Be My Facebook Friend?, which is available here from thinkivp.com and amazon.com.

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