The digital mind and ecclesiological idealism
The digital age encourages a type of ecclesiological idealism. This is particularly prominent among new Reformed movements. We saw it in “New Calvinism,” and we are now seeing it again—in a newer and more edgy iteration.
Christian movements reflect the nature of the medium which birthed them. For instance, the printing press produced the “typographic mind,” which was integral to the culture that sprang forth from the Reformation.
The typographic mind is language-based, linear, orderly, and capable of sustained reflection. Such were the minds of the Reformers and the Puritans—men who are remembered in large part for their lengthy, systematic treatises. These men focused for long periods of time, with great clarity and care, on various doctrines, systematically developing them from every possible angle.
They were detailed and deep, and they expected their readers to be so as well.
But the typographic mind has recently seen a decline, due to the shift from an analog society to a digital one.
This shift really took off with the advent of high-speed internet, the increased ubiquity of internet-capable devices, and the proliferation of social media. The internet age has begun to produce a new type of mind—the “digital mind.”
The digital mind is image-based, associative, frenetic, and accustomed to a rapid churn of shallow, transient content.
It would be easy to argue that such a mind is undisciplined compared to the typographic mind—and often it is. The nature of the internet makes it very hard for the digital mind to learn to focus and reflect. It is always on to the next thing, always looking for that dopamine fix.
But if it can be disciplined, the digital mind has its own contributions to make to the development of the church.
For instance, while the digital mind has less interest in deep and systematic philosophical analysis, it may be more agile and intuitive at identifying patterns and trends. This makes it well-suited to biblical (as opposed to systematic) theology.
AI is well-suited to assist the digital mind in this sort of probabilistic work—not so much to assist a typographical mind with logical work.
Unfortunately, most digital minds are not disciplined, and tend toward shallow, emotional analysis rather than anything deep or insightful. They often fixate on specific phrases or shibboleths without any substantive understanding of the issues they represent. And they are easily swayed by emotional connections.
If you can get the digital mind to feel good about something, it will typically treat that thing as good (and therefore true). If it feels bad, that thing is bad (and false).
The recent resurgence of Calvinism is a good example.
It is largely slogan- and celebrity-driven. New Calvinism fizzled and split into Big Eva and Truly Reformed camps because of “digital thinking”—both are just mirror images of each other. Two ditches on different sides of the theological road.
To understand this better, consider how the internet allows us to engage in seemingly ideal, but ultimately truncated versions of real world experiences. Pornography is an obvious example: it presents low-risk and low-effort sexual pleasure with “idealized partners.”
This artificial construct fosters a desire for an experience that cannot be reproduced in the real world.
So porn increases an expectation which reality can never deliver.
This is also true of theological positions which are primarily the products of digital thinking.
For example, the internet allows us to have low-friction relationships, courtesy of inbuilt filters. This fosters relational complacency, since we can simply block, censor, and ignore anyone who doesn’t sufficiently fit the mold we want.
It removes us from the normal complexity and difficulty of face-to-face communication.
This can have devastating effects when applied to ecclesiological expectations. It encourages us to live in carefully curated theological online ghettos, which generally form around non-biblical affinities and secondary theological issues.
It also creates intense disappointment when churches fail to live up to our idealistic (and ultimately non-biblical standards) demands.
Hence, there is a risk of a mass disillusionment among Reformed Christians as they switch churches and even relocate to be part of a “faithful” church. They are right to look for faithful churches—but they need to temper their expectations.
There is a gulf between social media and reality.
For instance, here's a reality that many Reformed Christians can't handle:
Being likable is often a more powerful persuasive tactic than being logical.
“Raw argumentation” doesn’t usually work.
They'll say, "It shouldn't be that way."
We'll say, "Maybe—but it is that way."
In his wisdom, God made man to be responsive to ethos and pathos as well as logos. It’s not a bug. It’s a feature.
Now, when a digital mind reads something like this, its associative thinking pattern leads it into inferences like…
We should abandon logic and focus solely on emotional persuasion via likability. Or…
When someone isn’t persuaded by our logic, it’s always a failure of our likability.
Who among you as wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom.
The “winsome at any cost” crowd was never truly winsome. They redefined the word to mean pandering flattery.
It’s crazy how we so easily allow people to redefine and steal words. Defining the meaning of words is a major part of the battle. Most evangelicals are so used to working in someone else's frame that they don't even notice.
Winsomeness of the Gospel Coalition variety is what happens when you divorce ethos and pathos from logos.
But you fall into the other ditch if you do the same thing, but use logos instead.
Wives need mile-markers
House-wives depend on their husbands for “mile-markers” not to get discouraged.
Here’s what we mean:
Michael ran a 10k a few years back. There weren’t any mile-markers until the third mile. That’s about half-way through the 6.2 miles you are running.
When he saw that marker, he realized that he had been pacing himself wrong—and had a ways to go. It was discouraging. Still, he changed up and finished the race.
But having a marker every half mile from the get-go would have been strengthening.
A housewife’s life is a grind. It can feel like running a 10k without mile-markers. It’s easy to think you’re not getting anywhere and you're miles away from the finish line.
It is helpful to routinely remind your wife how the work she is doing in a particular area is moving your house towards the “finish line” in that area.
You want her to see that her “grind” is accomplishing something.
It keeps her from losing heart, and helps her pace herself.
For instance, if her goal is to get the house in order, remind her that 50% done is a lot, and you appreciate it.
If her goal is to get a kid reading well, remind her that he is at least able to read some words, and she’s making ground.
If you can identify what the finish line is, you can come up with mile-markers.
This is why a man must know where he’s leading his family.
A man should retire from his job, not his mission
In our book, we note how commonplace it is for men to become depressed, and often die relatively quickly, after they retire.
But this shouldn’t happen.
What it shows is a confusion between vocation and mission.
Vocation is certainly tied up with your mission, but it is a subset of your mission. A significant, important, long-term subset, to be sure. But if your mission is nothing but your job, you don’t understand what a mission is.
Men become depressed after retirement because their job is their mission. And conversely, some Christians think a man shouldn't retire, because a man is supposed to work, and the opposite of work is (in their minds) lazing around playing golf.
But if the mission is more than the job, then it can be good to retire, to make room to focus on a new aspect of your mission. The glory of young men is their strength. The glory of old men is their wisdom. Old men have a great deal to give back, if they can make the adjustments.
If you are sensible, you will factor this in when creating a mission in the first place.
If you don’t know, say so
In an age starved for wisdom, one temptation we are all subject to is acting like we’re experts on all topics.
This becomes worse as you gain authority, especially when that authority primarily comes through teaching.
So pastors are unusually vulnerable.
(So are “influencers”…but more on that another time.)
If you are recognized among your peers, if people look to you for counsel and direction, it is wise to cultivate the art of saying…
“I don’t know.”
For anyone who needs to create web-pages or emails to sell something:
If you’re a small business owner, freelancer, marketer, etc., this will probably interest you. Bnonn has relaunched his copywriting & email marketing training program as a Substack. It may well be the only truly Christian version of such a thing out there, and it is excellent quality:
Five steps to gaining gravitas as a man:
Avoid seeking praise from others. Focus on the quality of your work, and making sure the work honors God.
Don’t put yourself down out of some sort of false humility, feeling like you have to lower yourself for people to like you.
Don’t complain about the problems in the world—do something about them. When men see a problem, they solve it. They don’t sit around and whine.
Stop making excuses. A week man always blames others for his mistakes, and doesn’t take responsibility.
Keep your word. Men are measured by their ability to deliver on promises. If you want people to respect you, make few promises, and the ones you make, never break.
Just a sampling from IT’S GOOD TO BE A MAN the documentary. You can watch it now on Canon+: https://tinyurl.com/3dyz5dpa
Michael did an interview on the death of a child.
This is the topic of his next book.
In this interview, he tells his story, talks about grieving, and recovering from the trauma.
You can listen here: https://death-glory-1.castos.com/episodes/episode-6-interview-w-michael-foster
Top Performers Have a Superpower: Happiness. A large-scale study found that well-being predicts outstanding job performance.
Some odd fashion choices given her message, but thought-provoking nonetheless:
“Seeking comfort is going to make you old:”
2023 might well be the year when the institutional arts collapsed, and indy houses replaced them:
Talk again soon,
Bnonn & Michael