Many of us see and hear more information in a day than we can possibly manage. Over time, this consistent overload dulls our senses — in particular, our spiritual senses.
Numbness affects more than just our thumbs, which scroll endlessly past trends and trivialities. Our hearts grow cold. We come across a natural disaster or terrible tragedy in one post, only to scroll on to a new life hack for improving our health and wellness, before encountering someone’s commentary on politics or a hilarious video with kids or animals. The result? A blur. A noisy background filled with so much information and so little wisdom.
I give time to social media every day, probably too much sometimes. I also listen to a variety of podcasts that keep me informed of various trends or topics in theology, politics, and cultural analysis. I’m obviously not opposed to these media or channels. I’m grateful for the good I glean from them. But even when we look for what’s good on social media or subscribe to informative and educational podcasts — even when we look for what’s edifying — we still encounter challenges.
For instance, many of us are tempted to think we must always be up-to-date, tightly tethered to the “Listen Now” of our podcast feeds. We run relentlessly after the feeling of being caught up on the latest, or on the cutting edge of whatever’s happening online. We love being in the know. And our devotion to now comes with deep and subtle consequences.
Losing Our Appetite for God
Sometimes the desire to stay on top of online trends and issues leads us to devote too much attention to the present, at the expense of the past — or worse, the eternal. That’s why we do well to look below what’s happening right now, to the foundations of the faith that help us maintain clear perspective on the current debates and controversies of our time.
If we’re to be faithful, we cannot settle for simply skimming the surface of today’s breaking news or this week’s topic of conversation and debate. Faithfulness requires digging, returning to the bedrock of the faith so that we have somewhere to stand. We need roots that go deep so that we can stand tall like a tree, firmly rooted, no matter how hard the cultural winds blow. Without roots, we’re just debris, tossed by the wind, dizzied by swirling news and information.
“The church faces her biggest challenge not when new errors start to win, but when old truths no longer wow.”
In The Thrill of Orthodoxy, my goal is to awaken Christians to the exhilarating beauty of the historic Christian faith. The church faces her biggest challenge not when new errors start to win, but when old truths no longer wow. Our online habits often lead to a mind-numbing and heart-shriveling state in which the deep and rich truths of the Bible no longer startle us. We lose our appetite for the things of God because we’ve stuffed ourselves so full of information about whatever’s now.
Worn Paths to Shallow
We really do not need to stay on top of everything. It’s better to dig beneath the surface of current events and root ourselves in the great story of the world as it’s unfolded in the Scriptures. What do we believe? Why are we here? Where are we going? What is all this world about in the end? Without firm and constant reminders of the truth of Christianity and the ultimate glory of God, we’re likely to be shallow and double-minded, unstable in all our ways (James 1:8), without the wisdom necessary to discern the faithful path today.
The challenge of distraction is not new. Blaise Pascal once remarked on the problems of humanity that stem from our “inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” We seek out distraction and stimulation, and avoid both solitude and introspection. Christianity withers without the two. We regularly need enough space and focus to savor the truths of Scripture — to taste their sweetness, and find nourishment through their sustaining power.
Alongside the Scriptures, we also find joy and stability in a (perhaps) unlikely place: the historic creeds and confessions of the Christian church.
Creed over Podcast?
Three creeds in particular stand out: the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed. These statements describe who God is and what he has done, according to the Scriptures. They point to the Trinitarian core of Christianity. The historic confessions, many of which appeared during and after the Reformation, are beautifully crafted, detailed descriptions of more of the fullness of the faith. The creeds provide a superstructure, a blueprint, while the confessions fill in the details and give greater clarity to the Christian life.
Biblical and systematic theologies go even further, examining the truth about the world and our place in it, in thousands of pages of prose. Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15). All Christian theology is, in a sense, our attempt to answer that question with accuracy, to confess with confidence the identity of the One whose name we bear. Theology is about encountering God as he truly is and basking in the excellencies of his righteous character and saving acts.
Ancient creeds may seem a long way off from today’s online world — the endless debates on social media or the constant chatter of podcasts. But that’s exactly why the creeds matter. If they seem distant and dusty, that says more about us and our mindset than it does about the documents themselves. They describe the foundations of our faith. They are guardrails of orthodoxy. They give voice to the testimony of the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth (1 Timothy 3:15). They keep us stable through stormy seasons in every age.
Strategies Against the Noise
So, in light of all the noise, how do we cultivate wisdom in a digital age? We implement practices that guard us from the shallowness of “the now” and immerse us in the wells of what’s always been true.
“We seek out distraction and stimulation, and avoid both solitude and introspection.”
First, I urge believers to follow the “Scripture before phone” rule each morning. If you need to get an old-fashioned alarm clock (so that your phone is kept in another room), do it. Have your Bible or prayer guide ready to go somewhere close by. How different might your life be if you committed to spending time hearing from God before the world’s noise could intrude? (I often follow a structured prayer journey through the Psalms in 30 Days to aid me in this process.)
Second, I recommend turning certain technologies to your own advantage. Follow social media accounts that are edifying (voices steeped in the Scriptures, organizations grounded in creedal orthodoxy). Incorporate into your podcast feed some trustworthy men and women who care about church history or who seek to explore the great truths of Christianity.
Third, switch up scrolling for studying. You do this by setting limits on how much you will take in online, and then replacing some of that intake with more substantive theology. You can set your phone to alert you after you’ve been on an app for more than fifteen or twenty minutes in a day. And if you want to switch from a mindless habit to a mind-stretching one, commit to matching your social media time with reading time. Pick up a hefty book of theology, one that goes through the basics of Christian theology. Even the biggest systematic theology textbooks or books on church history can be read within a year if you read just two or three pages a day.
Fourth, don’t go it alone. Find friends in the faith who, like you, want to prioritize enduring truth over the latest news. The creeds are statements of what we believe, not what I believe on my own. Even the Apostles’ Creed, which starts with a statement of personal belief, developed as a baptismal ritual, and the whole church was present to celebrate the convert’s good confession.
Steady and Fruitful in the Storm
The answer to mindless scrolling is more mindful lingering. Studying the Scriptures and pondering the ancient creeds and confessions gives us the opportunity to grow in our knowledge and wisdom, so that we are better equipped to follow Jesus. In a world where people are tossed and turned by all the latest developments, it’s more important than ever to be rooted in something that can sustain us, something that can transform us, something that doesn’t change with the news.
May the Lord reawaken in us an appreciation for biblical and historic Christianity, so that we will be steady and fruitful in turbulent days to come.