Discerning Reader Editorial Review
Reviewed 03/20/2012 by Mark Tubbs.
Recommended. Challenges the reader to think deep and hard about the implications of the technologies we use almost every moment of our lives.
While scrolling through an online bookseller's current sales flyer today, I noted how many of the new Christian Living releases seem to be much of a muchness with other books published over the past decade. On the other hand, Tim Challies' sophomore effort, The Next Story: Life and Faith after the Digital Explosion, is fresh and welcome reading material that ought to be the go-to resource on the topic of faith in the digital age.
Granted, the score is Advantage: Challies when it comes to my interest in reading books about the intersection of faith and technology. The topic doesn't naturally interest me overmuch, even if it really should, so the motivation to read the book was based squarely upon my friendship with Tim. There are another half-dozen Christian books on this topic that probably deserve to be read; I'm just not likely to. Friendship aside, I'm glad to have read this book. My ability to think about faith issues in the digital age has broadened and deepened, despite being disinclined to read most of the books that Challies quotes or plunders for ideas.
Fear of machines' mastery of humankind has been fodder for an endless parade of science fiction movies and scaremongering books throughout the technological age. The Next Story begins with a similar concern, but it is one that arises out of a very different perspective. Asking the questions, "Am I giving up control of my life [to devices]? Is it possible that these technologies are changing me? Am I becoming a tool of the very tools that are supposed to serve me?" Instead of simply accepting the inevitable on one hand, or pulling the sheets over his head and becoming paranoid on the other, Challies instead set out to ask how and why questions of other authors, thinkers, and professionals who have been asking these types of questions as well.
In Part 1 Challies provides a brief biblical theology of technology in Chapter 1 followed by an outline of his approach to thinking about technologies in Chapter 2. His approach goes something like this: if "every technology has embedded deep within it some kind of ideology" then it follows that we sentient users must devote time and energy to pondering what might be the short-term, long-term, societal and spiritual consequences of using our technologies. Challies does this well throughout the book - suggesting manifold implications of technology and offering some application points when they may be useful. Chapter 3 narrates a digital history that Challies obviously enjoyed composing, the history major that he was.
Part 2, comprising the remaining chapters in the book, explore (and I use the word advisedly, for these really are written explorations) various aspects of digital life, from the broad area of Communication to much more specific categories such as Distraction, Information, Truth/Authority, Visibility/Privacy, and the mediatory role of media (did you ever consider they are related words?). As I scan these chapters again, a few days after finishing the book, I see copious margin notes recording my interaction with Challies' text, as well as bracketed sections I found particularly enlightening, and not a few sentences I marked "tweet" - I suppose because they number 140 characters or under and may be helpful to my followers in the Twittersphere at some point.
The chapters themselves are long and meaty, ideal for an uninterrupted half-hour with coffee cup in hand - not too late in the day, mind you. I learned the hard way that The Next Story is not bedtime reading; its ideas and arguments demand mental engagement. If you have read any of Challies' writing, you know that he wrestles before he writes. Rather than casually pitting a proof-text against a problem, he attempts to live out the issue and only then puts fingertips to keyboard. This intersection of integrity between real life and writing life means the reader is enriched by the fruits of deeply-lived experiences, always deeply informed by Scripture.
"Deeply informed by Scripture" seems the right note on which to end this review. I still remember the day Challies mentioned this book was being released in hardcover. Now that I have read The Next Story, I can attest that the book well deserves its hard cover, even if the print age is now in the past.