Tim Chester cautions us about the pitfalls of social media in his book Will you be my Facebook friend?: Social Medial and the Gospel (10 Publishing, 2013).
In the book Will you be my Facebook friend?, Tim Chester warns us about the dangers of social media. He sees the near ubiquitous influence of social media and raises a red flag of caution. Chester calls us to consider how social media may be changing the way we think and act, how the medium may be impacting the content of our message and reshaping our relationships.
I like Tim Chester. In fact, having read and thoroughly enjoyed his book, Total Church: A Radical Reshaping around Gospel and Community (which I gladly recommend), I was eager to hear his thoughts on the Gospel and social media. But Will you… left me scratching my head at points.
While Will you be my Facebook friend? raises some timely and warranted concerns, it will likely frustrate you. Here are a few reasons why.
- Lack of Nuance. The topic of social media is complex. It can produce both good and bad results. Chester briefly acknowledges this tension (p.9), but does not explore it further (though he does mention it once more on p. 41). For example, he highlights the narcissistic tendencies of Facebook (p. 21) but then neglects those same tendencies in other forms of communication like public speaking, talking on the phone, or interactions at a mixer party.
- Ad Hominem. Chester sights some research, but he also resorts to simply making fun of social media. At one point, he writes, “[Facebook] encourages you to express your personality through lists of books, movies, TV programmes. This is what nerdy students do…Your life is being squeezed down into these select, nerdy categories” (pp. 42-43). Nerdy? That’s not a valid argument against social media.
- Evidence of Misunderstanding. Little anecdotal details show a lack of understanding about social media, and this undermines his credibility. He writes, “On Facebook you do not have a conversation, you have an audience” (p. 20). But his assertion is plainly false. People have conversations all over Facebook and in a variety of meaningful ways. This misunderstanding makes me question how much he has actually interacted with Facebook. Elsewhere, he says, “Think about the tweets you have followed” (p. 45). The problem here is you don’t “follow tweets.” These small missteps undermine his authority to speak on this topic.
All that notwithstanding, the positive side of Chester’s message should be heard.
Towards the end of the book, he offers a most wonderful and welcome insight:
Facebook encourages you to live elsewhere. The gospel encourages you to live life here and now (p. 39).
This to me is the crux of the issue and a tremendously important message to convey. And when Chester starts talking gospel, it’s shear poetry.
Through Facebook you can show your face…to the world. Through the gospel we see the face of God.
Through Facebook we can recreate ourselves. Through the gospel God recreates us in the image of Jesus.
Through Facebook we can promote ourselves. Through the gospel we promote Jesus as Lord. (pp. 41-43).
I love these juxtapositions.
I simply wish Chester had spent more time here and less time criticizing social media. But be that as it may, you will certainly appreciate these gospel applications.