Digital Media, Screen Time, and the Christian Home

9780801015298_p0_v3_s260x420.JPG I have to admit that I often wish my wife and I were raising our children before the digital age – before there were 6+ screens in each home, before people spent 7+ hours in front of a screen each day, before people’s conversations always got interrupted by the cell phone.  I’m not at all against digital media, and I realize there have always been difficult areas of parenting, but digital media sure makes parenting tough (especially when “everyone else’s” kids have the best tablet, IPhone, or gaming system)!

On this topic, I’ve mentioned The Digital Invasion before here on the blog.  This is an excellent resource for those of us trying to handle digital media in a wise, Christian way.  Here’s one helpful section on how to keep a home from being consumed by digital media; in other words, here are some tips on helping avoid screen addiction in the home (I’ve edited them for length and added a few lines of personal observation/notes):

1) Be alert.  Watch, listen, learn, and engage with your kids.  When your kids are playing video games, watching TV, or engaging in some other digital activity, use these times as teachable moments.  Don’t assume your kids are always going to make the right choices when using technology.  Be aware of what your kids are doing in front of the screen.  Also be alert to signs of too much media use – sleepiness, weight gain, sore necks/backs/wrists, irritability when asked about online habits, etc.

2) Create a safe home environment that makes it easy for your kids to share their concerns, fears, temptations, and experiences in their areas of technological use, even their mistakes.  They must know it’s safe to discuss these things with you, and do it regularly.

3) Establish good media habits.  Lead the way.  Model a Christian perspective and attitude towards media in front of your kids.  Don’t be a screen junkie yourself!  Media should be a privilege instead of a constant activity that is simply taken for granted.  Have your kids get into the habit of asking to use a screen (like they would ask to use matches, dad’s tools, or anything else that might be dangerous or that needs supervision).  Take screen time away or limit it when disciplining kids.  Contrary to popular beliefs, your 11-year-old is not legally entitled to own a digital device and use it for hours each day!

4) Attach all media to a system of accountability.  Location is everything.  Keep a common area.  Never allow a computer or television in your child’s room.  Have good filters, and require your children to share their passwords.  You have the authority to look at their screens/tablets/phones, so do that to make sure your child isn’t using the device in a sinful way.  Consider times during the week to have a “screen off” period.  Also remember to use rating systems on apps, safe search options on YouTube and Google, and IMDB or for movie reviews.

5) Determine a media diet and stick to it.  Discuss this with the entire family, and hold one another accountable.  Don’t be afraid to have time limits, and use blocks on devices so during certain times, they cannot use all the functions of the device (e.g. our devices use the Ubehind app which makes it so certain apps are blocked for a certain time).

6) Give your children alternative entertainment activities.  Sports, hobbies, board games, and books are just a few of the myriad of nondigital activities that are very healthy for kids (mentally, socially, and physically!).  In my family (SL), rather than purchasing an extra laptop, cellphone, or tablet, we used that money to get a small fishing boat, kayak equipment, some camping gear, and sports equipment so the kids had more options of things to do outside.) (see pages 183-184)

These are some helpful ways to keep our Christian homes from overuse, misuse, and unwise use of digital media.  If you’re a parent who is growing more and more lenient about your children and their screen time, remember your God-given role and authority, and prayerfully and lovingly begin to “reign in” digital media in your home.  It might be a tough job, but it will be good for you and your kids in the long run – spiritually, physically, mentally, and socially.

Here’s the book to help you: The Digital Invasion by A. Hart and S. Hart-Frejd.

shane lems
hammond, wi

The Persuasive Language of Bible Critics

Truth Matters: Confident Faith in a Confusing World This is one outstanding book: Truth Matters by A. Kostenberger, D. Bock, and J. Chatraw.  It is basically an explanation of the current attacks on Scripture (by professors and authors such as Bart Ehrman) and a reasonable, biblical answer to these attacks.  While it is aimed at college students, I’m sure all Christians can benefit from this book.

Speaking of the current attacks on Scripture, in Truth Matters the authors point out some ways that the critics – like some professors in religious departments – often gain an ear and open the door for skepticism of Scripture.  Here are a few ways critics throw doubt on the validity and canonicity of Scripture:

“First, they speak your language.  Ehrman, for example, comes at you with a story – very compelling – of how he gravitated toward Christian belief as a needy teenager, not far distant  from the age and life experience of his college students.  …What the church had done temporarily to satisfy his adolescent insecurities, he eventually found satisfied by academia and intellectual pursuits, until suddenly – finally – life began to make a lot more sense.  Of course the Bible is a man-made document, he reasoned.  Of course God can’t be who the Bible claims him to be.  Of course a man can’t come back from the dead….  [Ehrman gives a] moving, personal story line, and the whole mood of the room changes.  Guards and defenses come down.  Now people are listening.  Sympathizing.  Laughing.  …[However, we must remember] an appealing narrative does not negate the role of truth as being the ultimate arbiter between competing lines of thought.”

“Second, they know you’ve probably never contemplated these ideas before.  The average person hasn’t invested a lot of time dwelling on the Bible’s origins or scouring the history pages of Christianity.  They only (or mainly) know what their personal experiences with God have been like…. [The agnostic professor] becomes the witty tour guide, showing the students around some fields of subject matter loaded with new sights and sounds and far more fascinating on the inside than they typically appear from the outside.  The problem is that the tour guide… is in the enviable position of being able to choose the places you visit and what he wants to highlight about each one.  As a result his rhetoric and interpretations of religious material all too often conceal a lot more than they reveal.  And few if any in the classroom know enough to know the difference.  For example, one of the things you really notice in Ehrman’s writings – if you’re looking carefully – is that he rarely acknowledges counterarguments to his own positions.  His treatments of issues are usually far more one-sided than the real discussion that’s taking place out here in the broader arena of religious scholarship.”

“Third, they comfort and confirm an air of disbelief.  We live in an age when about the only belief you’ll be frowned upon for having is one that doesn’t allow for complete diversity, in which everyone’s chosen ways lead to ultimate truth.  Their truth. …[Today,] tolerance swallows up truth.  So when your professor injects his or her brand of skeptical sarcasm into the discussion, they are speaking to a friendly court.  They sound reasonable, especially now that you’re out on your own, out from under your parents’ eye and expectations.  [These professors] will want you to know that it is OK to doubt your faith, and they’ll say things like “everybody agrees with this view that I’m teaching.”  The fact is, plenty of credible scholars have looked at the same arguments your professor may be making and arrived at far different conclusions. You are not as alone as some would have you think.”

“Finally, they reinforce the view that faith is at odds with reason.  Much of their appeal depends on the common misunderstanding of what faith means – a mere personal preference, neither expecting nor requiring it to be grounded in reason, logic, and historical realities.  Faith [they say] is just something you accept.  It doesn’t need to be burdened with making rational sense.  It just…is, because I believe it to be.  Real faith, however, does not need to be blind.  Believing in Christ and accepting the Bible as his true Word is not automatic anti-intellectualism.  The Bible doesn’t ask us to adopt a BLIND faith but a REASONED faith – a faith that can honestly ask the hard questions and then go out in search of real, measurable, credible answers.”

Those are helpful points!  Sometimes skeptics can really be convincing when they try to make the case that the Bible is unreliable and full of contradictions.  But their arguments aren’t perfect; in fact, quite often they are very poor arguments.  I highly recommend this book for those of you wrestling with these things: Truth Matters: Confident Faith in a Confusing World.

(Note: the above paragraphs were edited versions of a longer discussion found in chapter 1 of Truth Matters.)

shane lems

Eyes Wide Open: A Review

Eyes Wide Open: Enjoying God in Everything I recently picked up Eyes Wide Open: Enjoying God in Everything by Steve DeWitt.  It sounded interesting and since it seemed like a topic I hadn’t read much on, I thought I should read it. Before I give my thoughts, I do have to note that the subtitle, “Enjoying God in Everything” is a bit off.  I was expecting the book to talk more about rejoicing in and glorifying God in everything we do, including menial chores, big projects, slogging through depressing illnesses, and so forth.  Probably a better subtitle would be, “Seeing God’s Beauty in Everything” or something like that.  Anyway, here are some of my thoughts, beginning with a basic outline of the book.

First, the basic structure: Part 1 is about the beauty and glory of God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit).  “God is one and God is three,” DeWitt notes, and then argues (debatably), “This divine relational diversity existing in harmonious unity is the core and genesis of all beauty.”  He then notes the beauty of God’s love in giving his Son to die.  Part 2 is where DeWitt talks about the beauty in creation (nature and man), and how sin has marred it and makes us want beauty apart from God.  He then mentions the beauty of Jesus.  Part 3 is the section where DeWitt explains beauty all around should make us thank and praise God.  Art is also discussed in this section, and how, he says, “every artistic expression is part of God’s story.”  He ends the book talking about the beauty of heaven.

Second, positively, it is a very God-centered book.  DeWitt’s basic goal in the book is to get the reader to see the beauty of this world and therefore look to God as the source and creator of beauty.  This helps us praise, thank, and worship God whenever we see true beauty.  He quotes Augustine’s famous phrase (“You have made us for Yourself, Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You”) in the beginning of the book, and the rest of the book applies this phrase to beauty.

Third, I have to admit that for various reasons I wasn’t really moved or captured by this book.  Why?  A) I’ve read similar things in other evangelical books; this book was predictable.  It’s pretty basic theology to say that beauty in creation should make us worship/glorify God, but sin has marred it, so as Christians we should work to constantly see God’s handiwork (beauty) in creation and praise him for it as we journey to the most beautiful place, the New Creation.  Also, DeWitt quoted C.S. Lewis quite a bit – quotes which I’ve read/heard before.  B) The scores and scores of stories and illustrations in the book weren’t helpful to me; I was annoyed with the amount of illustrations and stories already before I was half-way through the book.  Without the stories and illustrations, the book would have been quite a bit shorter (and more helpful in my opinion).  I guess it is a bit subjective, but the writing style wasn’t the easiest for me to read and follow; it seemed like the author was trying too hard to describe beauty.

So do I recommend this book?  Yes, it would be good for Christians who haven’t thought much about beauty or who haven’t read C.S. Lewis or other authors who talk about God being the One who can fill our longings and desires.  If you have a hard time seeing God’s beauty in the world and praising him for it, get this book!  However, if you’ve read about or thought of these things quite a bit from a Christian perspective, you may want to pass, as it doesn’t say things others haven’t said elsewhere.  But the premise of the book is true: all true beauty should lead us to God the Creator and Redeemer!

Steve DeWitt, Eyes Wide Open: Enjoying God in Everything (Grand Rapids: Credo House Publishing, 2012).

shane lems

On Neglecting Public Worship

(This is a re-post from November 2012.)

In 1781 John Newton wrote a letter to the members of his church in London.  One of the main reasons he wrote this letter was to address a burden he was facing as a pastor: his parishioners were not coming to worship services.  This is something that pastors still face today.  Some Christians miss worship services for valid reasons (illness, emergencies, etc.).  But many Christians simply neglect worship services.  In other words, they don’t really have a good, biblical reason for not assembling with the saints.  In the following paragraphs, I’ve summarized and edited Newton’s letter in which he pastorally addresses this problem.  (Note the lines on entertainment.)

“The only cause of grief that you have given me is that so many of those to whom I earnestly desire to be useful refuse me the pleasure of seeing them at church every Sunday.  I’m not troubled because the pews are empty.  If a large congregation could satisfy me, then I would already be satisfied (the pews are full).  But I must grieve because I see so few of my own parishioners in the full pews.  God has not been pleased to place me elsewhere, he saw fit to fix me among you.  This appointment gives you a preference in my regard and it makes me studiously attentive to promote your best welfare.”

“If I am a servant of God, a minister of the Lord Jesus Christ, if I speak the truth in love – how can I not be pained at the thought that many to whom the word of salvation is sent refuse to hear it and reject the counsel of God against themselves (Acts 13:26, Luke 7:30)!  Most of you agree with me that Scripture is God’s revelation. But do not some of you act inconsistently with your acknowledged principles?  Your business and entertainment indispose you for due observation of our church services.  You have other things to do, so you miss many sermons.”

“I have done my best to avoid whatever might give you needless offense.  I knew that if I would be faithful to Scripture and my conscience, that some of my hearers would be displeased.  But, though I was constrained to risk your displeasure, I have been careful not to needlessly provoke you, or to lay any unnecessary difficulties in your way.”

So that I may not weary my hearers by the length of my sermons, I carefully endeavor not to exceed forty-five minutes.  Many people can give their attention to trivial entertainment for several hours without weariness, but their patience is quickly exhausted under a sermon where the principles of Scripture are applied to the conscience.”

“I am not a polished orator nor do I wish to capture your attention by the elegance of my words.  If I had the ability to use elegant words and capture your attention with them, I would not do it.  I speak to the unlearned and the wise, so my principal aim is to be understood.  Yet I hope that I am not wrongly charged with speaking nonsense, with flippancy, carelessness, or disrespect.  But alas! There are too many hearers who seem more desirous of entertainment than of real benefit from a Christian sermon!”

“My heart longs for your salvation; but whether you will hear or whether you will not, I must take your consciences to witness that I have been faithful to you.  If after this warning any of you should finally perish, I am innocent of your blood (Acts 20:26).”

“You know the difficulty of my situation and will assist me with your prayers.  I trust likewise you will assist me with your conduct, and that your lives and godly speech will constrain the ungodly to acknowledge that the doctrines of grace which I preach – when rightly  understood and embraced – make a person peaceful, content, loving, and full of humility.”

This is obviously the summary of a longer letter.  Here’s who needs to read this letter today: 1) those of you who neglect regularly assembling with the saints and 2) those of you – pastors and elders perhaps – who wish to lovingly admonish Christians who neglect the assembly.

Newton’s pastoral heart comes out in this letter.  He is straightforward, blunt, and biblical.  At the same time, it is very evident that he simply wants his parishioners to hear the sermons for their own Christian good and growth in godliness.  Newton certainly wasn’t a legalist looking to make people proud of their church attendance.  He was writing in the spirit of 1 Peter 5:1-4 – as an undershepherd who loved Christ’s sheep.  Or, in other words, this letter is a pastoral commentary on Hebrews 10:24-25.

shane lems
hammond, wi

Popularity: A Pastor’s Fiery Trial

  Near the beginning of his 1830 publication on the pastoral ministry (The Christian Ministry), Charles Bridges discussed the trials and difficulties of the ministry.  In this section he wrote that for pastors, “the greatest difficulties derive their origin and power from ourselves.”  This whole section is outstanding, and very much worth reading.  One part of it that stuck out for me was what Bridges said about opposition to the ministry on the one hand, and popularity on the other.

Opposition to our ministry and message may stir up a selfish, unhumbled spirit.”

Popularity is yet more dangerous.  The few who escape its influence unhurt have been exercised in painful conflict, such as have shown their deliverances from this fiery trial to have been nearly miraculous.  Symptoms of success, unless tempered with personal abasement and habitual watchfulness, excite to self-confidence.”

Bridges’ words really caught my attention!  The very thing that many of us pastors desire – popularity – is more dangerous than opposition in the ministry and is a “fiery trial” that breeds self-confidence.   Why again do I want popularity?  Perhaps I should pray against it!

The lack of success and popularity, on the other hand, is too often accompanied with impatience or despondency.  So we are assaulted at the extreme points of opposite direction (popularity vs. opposition), and we surely need the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left. (2 Cor. 6:7).

Bridges does talk about other difficulties pastors have within themselves, such as spiritual coldness, loss of zeal, natural love of ease, dislike of self-denial, and the ongoing struggle with worldliness.  But Bridges also does a nice job encouraging the pastor to press on by God’s grace.  He even says that difficulties in the ministry can be used by God to become sources of encouragement:

“The discipline of the cross is most needful to repress the overweening confidence in self, to establish an habitual confidence in God’s promises, to prove the power of faith, the privileges of prayer, and the heavenly support of God’s Word, so that we know how from our own difficult experiences how to speak a word in season to him that is weary (cf. Is. 50:4).”

“Faith links our weakness in immediate connection with the promises of God’s help (Zech. 4:6).  Thus discouragements in the ministry, properly sustained and carefully improved, become our most fruitful sources of eventual encouragement.”

Forget popularity.  Don’t buckle or throw in the towel when faced with difficulties.  Because when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Cor. 12:10; cf. 2 Cor. 13:4).

Recommended pastoral reading: Charles Bridges’ The Christian Ministry (in light of the above quotes, especially note chapters 4-5.

shane lems
hammond, wi

A Theology of the Body (Or: Zombies)

Though I don’t agree with it all, this is one interesting, thought-provoking, and helpful book: Incarnate: The Body of Christ and the Age of Disengagement by Michael Frost.  In it, Frost argues that humans are becoming less involved with one another in a personal, face to face way.  One of his main points is that because of certain technologies, it is possible for people to live disembodied lives, where one can interact online, go to church online, do one-click activism work online (called slacktivism), and generally avoid real and “embodied” relationships.  He contrasts excarnate or disembodied living with incarnate, embodied living, making excellent points against the former  and arguing in favor of the latter.

In one example, Frost uses the recent zombie craze to make his point.  He asks the question, “Why are [zombies] so popular and so enduring as a pop culture device?

“Some have suggested that zombie apocalypse is a more palatable end-of-the world scenario because it’s a truly secular one with no judgmental deities presiding over the fate of humankind.  Others have speculated that it’s a cracked, secular version of resurrection.  However, culture watcher Dan Birlew suggests the reasons for the popularity of zombie fiction lies somewhere more primal:”

‘There’s an entire world full of walking punching bags.  People are now zombies, and you have to kill them before they kill you.  So it doesn’t really matter what you do to them, because they’re not people anymore.  They’re former people that you can beat down and tear apart in the most gruesome ways you can think of.  …Take out all your frustrations in all the ways you ever dreamed, it doesn’t matter anymore.  No one’s going to stop you from killing a monster, even if it used to be a person.’

Frost then says that though mowing down zombies is at one level entertaining for some people,

“[It] is horrifying because it too represents our greatest fear: that we are dispensable.  While many people are happy to treat their own bodies and those of other people like zombies – casually and indiscriminately – deeper down there’s a sense of horror that our bodies could mean so little.”

Since action scenes where mobs of humans are mowed down (e.g. Rambo) are politically incorrect these days, Frost notes, “we’ve had to resort to killing unhuman objects like zombies for the same effect.  And all the while we are picking at the scab of our nagging anxiety of our own indispensability.”

Frost ends the chapter by stating a biblical understanding of the human body: “We are our bodies.  We don’t live in our bodies.  And therefore our bodies and the bodies of others are precious and worthy of respect (cf. Phil. 1:20-23).

“[Christ’s] bodily resurrection from the dead signaled the Christian hope for the ongoing identity of a person with his or her own body. The body is not a prison to be released from but is the person in a profound sense.”

Michael Frost: Incarnate (DownersGrove, IVP, 2014), chapter three.

shane lems

Witsius on Law, Gospel, and Antinomianism

Conciliatory or Irenical Animadversions on the Controversies Agitated in Britain  In 1696 at Utrecht, Herman Witsius’ book against antinomianism and neonomianism was first published.  The long title is Conciliatory or Irenical Animadversions on the Controversies Agitated in Britain.  I’m still working through it, and will comment more later.  For now, I want to mention a section I thought helpful – a section on the law and the gospel.

Finally, it is required, in what manner and order the preaching of the law should accompany that of the gospel. To the determination of which question, we must first know, 1) what is understood by the law, and 2) what by the gospel.

1) The law here signifies that part of the Divine word which consists in precepts and prohibitions, with the promise of conferring a reward upon them who obey, and a threatening of punishment to the disobedient.  …Every prescription of duty belongs to the law, as the venerable Voetius, after others, hath inculcated to excellent purpose.

2) The gospel signifies the doctrine of grace, and of the fullest salvation in Christ Jesus, to be received of elect sinners by faith. …If we take the word gospel in a strict sense, as it is the form of the testament of grace, which consists of mere promises, or the absolute exhibition of salvation in Christ, then it properly prescribes nothing as duty, it requires nothing, it commands nothing, no not so much as to believe, trust, hope in the Lord, and the like. But it relates, declares, and signifies to us, what God in Christ promises, what he willeth, and is about to do.

Therefore every prescription of virtues and duties, all exhortations and dissuasions, all reproofs and threatenings also all the promises of a reward in recompense of perfect obedience, belong to the law. But to the gospel appertains whatever can give a sinner the hope of salvation, namely, the doctrine concerning the person, offices, states, and benefits of Jesus Christ, and all the promises wherein is included the pardon of sins, and the annexed possession of grace and glory, to be obtained by faith in him. This is the strictest notion of both words, to which we must attend, in the whole of this disputation.

Witsius later talks about the general or broad definitions of law and gospel and what it means to properly preach the law and the gospel.  Here’s a great note on preaching the gospel:

“I do not conceal, however, that in my judgment, the beginning of the new life is not from the preaching of the law, but of the gospel.”

There’s more to Witsius’ argument – and it is a helpful one!  You can find this book on Logos (click here for a Reformed Reader discount) or via xerox-type copy on Amazon (here).  I’m sure it’s also on the internet somewhere but haven’t checked.  If you’re interested in the topics of law, gospel, justification, sanctification, good works, and so forth from a historic Reformed perspective, Witsius’ book is a good resource:

Herman Witsius, Conciliatory or Irenical Animadversions on the Controversies Agitated in Britain, trans. Thomas Bell (Glasgow: W. Lang, 1807), chapter XVII.

shane lems