Published by B&H Publishing on August 18, 2020
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Social media was made to bring us together. But few things have driven us further apart. Sadly, many Christians are fueling online incivility. Others, exhausted by perpetual outrage and shame-filled from constant comparison, are leaving social media altogether. So, how should Christians behave in this digital age? Is there a better way? Daniel Darling believes we need an approach that applies biblical wisdom to our engagement with social media, an approach that neither retreats from modern technology nor ignores the harmful ways in which Christians often engage publicly. In short, he believes that we can and should use our online conversations for good.
In A Way with Words, pastor, writer, and communications leader Daniel Darling leverages his background and skills to address the urgent topic of how Christians can engage online in a way that supports the common good. He addresses lots of different topics in this book, and directs it to an audience of Christians with different denominational and political persuasions. This book never goes on a campaign against one group to shelter another, but is consistently fair and direct, addressing the pitfalls of how Christians of different ideological inclinations tend to engage online. He is also honest about his own failings in humility and civility, and emphasizes the importance of repenting and repairing relationships.
Practical and Wise
Darling encourages his readers to avoid falsehood, partisan bias, incivility, and dehumanization, and he reminds us that we all have a duty to steward our platforms well, regardless how large or small they may be. Those who become teachers “will receive a stricter judgment” (James 3:1), and in today’s online democracy of information, people need to consider whether or not they are leading others well through what they write and share. Darling writes to pastors and Christian leaders specifically at times, but he also addresses laypeople and their social media use, explaining that we are all responsible for how we use our influence online.
Darling helps his readers evaluate their social media behavior by providing heart-check questions and practical advice for how people can conduct themselves well online. He cites from research and news stories to illustrate his points, and provides wise advice for how people can check fake news against reputable sources, guard against mob behavior, resist the temptation towards “cathartic rage-tweeting,” and advocate for social causes without being Pharisaical. He also encourages Christian bloggers and readers to be discerning in their news intake about Christian culture, relying on good faith information and reporting instead of engaging with “discernment blogs” that exist to smear leaders by taking their comments out of context and spreading lies about them.
Social Media Problems
This book provides strong guidance about a range of different issues affecting Christians’ online behavior. However, I wish that the author had engaged more with those who choose to avoid social media, instead of making it sound like they are against technology in general or are abandoning their Christian mission. I agree that the Internet brings amazing opportunities for blessing, and that the worst things about it are merely the worst things about us, but even though good social media use is important and possible, many people have great reasons for disengaging from social media or avoiding it in the first place. The author has ministry obligations online as a Christian leader and writer, but those with different callings may not need to use social media, and should not feel like they are abandoning God’s work if they step out.
Also, even though Darling addresses issues related to social media obsession and overuse, I wish that he had further emphasized the ways that social media tools are designed to capture and hold a user’s attention, and to reward the kinds of mob actions and mindless cruelty that he warns against. People are responsible for their own behavior and can set healthy boundaries for themselves, but social media companies profit by making their apps as addicting and emotionally intense as possible, and even though technological power is neutral, the way that people build and shape it is not. This book is a great introductory look into how Christians can steward their online communication well, but I would encourage people to also read research about how our tools are rigged against us to encourage and reward the worst of human nature, not just reveal it.
Conclusion | A Way With Words
This practical, evenhanded book addresses common pitfalls in Christian online engagement, and Daniel Darling provides sound Scriptural advice and social science perspectives to show how incivility, mob behaviors, virtue signaling, and other issues damage one’s Christian witness and harm and dehumanize other people. Although aspects of this book’s message focus on dynamics for Christian leaders and others in positions of influence, the basic message and practical applications apply to any Christian with a social media account, and even though I wish that the author had engaged more deeply with some people’s concerns about social media, this is a helpful, information-packed guide for anyone who is seeking to honor God and love their neighbors through what they post and share online.