Gospel According to Facebook (Part 2)

As I mentioned last week, Facebook and the Bible share the same gospel…sort of.

The gospel according to Facebook is designed to promote community. Godly community is a major theme throughout the Bible as well. The question, then, remains: Does Facebook’s version of community help or hinder us when we try to live out the Biblical version of community? Does it encourage us live more in line with the Bible’s vision for human interaction or less?

I propose that some aspects of Facebook naturally promote Biblical community, others naturally do not.

I submit to you 3 ways I believe Facebook helps us live more Biblically and 3 ways I believe it tends to distract us from the Biblical call to “love others as ourselves,” and instead, like Joshua Harris said, “encourages me to think about me even more than I already do.”

The Good
1. Lost is Found
Just this week a friend from a different chapter of life I had not talked to in 4 years ‘friended’ me and we had the chance to catch up. Facebook encourages a long-term connection between people – even if that connection is not deep and intimate in all instances, there is surely value in the “reconnections” after seasons of silence. Facebook, for me, helps me think of myself as connected to more people in a long term way.

2. Now is Better
The instant, and 24/7 nature of Facebook CAN be a good thing in promoting Biblical community (see #2 below for the flip side of this coin). We have the ability to communicate at any hour to anyone in our network. The potential for encouraging, edifying communication has been taken to the next level. Whether it is as simple as planning a time to hang out next, or as inspiring as an encouraging wall-post or message, or as necessary as a friend’s reminder that we will always be there, the instantaneous nature of Facebook allows for our human interactions to be more immediate and timely to our friend’s needs.

3. Common Ground
Facebook is the #4 most visited website worldwide, the #1 picture sharing site online, and already has more than 130 million active users. That is a cultural force. Christians, as a general rule, ought to be intentionally looking for these kinds of places in our culture – places where many different kinds of people interact, share ideas, stories, and life. We are called to move beyond our Christian bubble, our holy huddle. Christians are called to be “in” the world, to engage, to get messy, to care deeply for our cities, countries, and planet. Facebook seems to be the exact kind of place we should be running TO, not from.

The Bad
Again, I think these criticism flow out of the most natural use of Facebook. They by no means MUST be true of your Facebook use, but an unthinking, undiscerning engagement will, I believe, lend itself to these 3 things that hinder Biblical community.

1. Edit Yourself
Facebook is a 100% edit-able version of you. You can choose the image that people have of you in every category from interests to pictures to who your friends are to what you do with your time. If you don’t like a particular picture, replace it with a better one. If you don’t like the way a sentence sounds, re-type it. The editable nature of facebook simply heightens what we try to constantly do in our lives anyway: put forth a face or front so others think we are better / different than we really are. This seems to encourage a two-faced version of ourselves and may promote dishonesty, hypocrisy, or simply a tendency to dwell on our self-image far too much.

2. Now is Worse
While the instantaneous nature of Facebook has an upside, it also has a downside. Constant connectivity does not necessarily translate into commitment and, in fact, may discourage it. You see, if we can tune INTO our friend’s lives whenever we want we can also tune OUT anytime we want. A Facebook page is not a person and with one click of the mouse whatever frustration or anger or boredom we are experiencing can disappear. Facebook seems to encourage “on my terms” relationships. It is there when we want, but gone when we don’t want it anymore – instantly. The Biblical picture of community, however, is much messier, much more engaging, and much more long term. The immediacy of Facebook, I think, works against these virtues.

3. What you DON’T see on Facebook
Have you ever paused to take notice of the kind of chatter you DON’T see on wall posts or updates on Facebook. The conversations, while legitimate and real, also tend toward the superficial side of life. I have never seen anyone explain that the defining struggle of their life is ____. Or that the deepest fear that drives them is _____. It is ok that Facebook does not encourage these conversations, it wasn’t designed to, and frankly, would be kind of weird if it did. BUT, we cannot allow Facebook, then, to set the standard for our communication and involvement in one another’s lives. It has its place, but we must go farther, deeper, and more intimate than Facebook will allow if we are to thrive as a Christian community.

CS Lewis wrote:

Friendship (as the ancients saw) can be a school of virtue; but also (as they did not see) a school of vice. It is ambivalent. It makes good men better and bad men worse.

I would add: ditto to Facebook. Human selfishness and the default tendency to think of ourselves before others is not a fundamentally Facebook problem, it is a fundamentally human problem. Facebook can be used to encourage that selfishness OR as yet another arena in which we, as Christians, can fight to love others as ourselves. It is ambivalent.

Learn to love others as yourself in all areas of your life, including your Facebook page.

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