Review: Andy Crouch’s The Tech-Wise Family

Andy Crouch is among the first parents to have nurtured children from clearly-too-young-to-have-a-smartphone to now-old-enough, during a time in which smartphones were in fact available for that whole period. It’s only been ten years since the iPhone’s debut. And in that time Crouch’s eldest child went from eight (too young) to eighteen (old enough). So Crouch is able to speak from a place of not just wisdom but also experience. In fact, his “Crouch Family Reality Checks” at the end of most chapters, little sections that revealed how well his family lived up to his stated ideals, give the book a weight I haven’t felt in other writings on this topic. Even when he had to admit his failures to be fully wise in the formation of his family (and of his own soul), Crouch still had wisdom to offer me.

Keeping it simple in this review, I’ll just list off his family’s ten commitments:

Ten Tech-Wise Commitments

  1. We develop wisdom and courage together as a family.
  2. We want to create more than we consume. So we fill the center of our home with things that reward skill and active engagement.
  3. We are designed for a rhythm of work and rest. So one hour a day, one day a week, and one week a year, we turn off our devices and worship, feast, play, and rest together.
  4. We wake up before our devices do, and they “go to bed” before we do.
  5. We aim for “no screens before double digits” at school and at home.
  6. We use screens for a purpose, and we use them together, rather than using them aimlessly and alone.
  7. Car time is conversation time.
  8. Spouses have one another’s passwords, and parents have total access to children’s devices.
  9. We learn to sing together, rather than letting recorded and amplified music take over our lives and worship.
  10. We show up in person for the big events of life. We learn how to be human by being fully present at our moments of greatest vulnerability. We hope to die in one another’s arms.

Readers of Crouch’s other excellent works, particularly Culture Making, will hear Crouchian emphases, especially perhaps in point 2. That’s gold. Crouch manages to be perceptive in an arena full of platitudes, and I think he can do this because he’s a gifted and dedicated popularizer. His major books have all been teaching and applying the work of scholars to the needs of the church. This book is no exception. Highly recommended.

Review: 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You

12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You by Tony Reinke
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The best way to summarize this book is probably to let the author do it.

In the last twelve chapters, I have warned against twelve corresponding ways in which smartphones are changing us and undermining our spiritual health:

– Our phones amplify our addiction to distractions (chapter 1), and thereby splinter our perception of our place in time (12).
– Our phones push us to evade the limits of embodiment (2) and thereby cause us to treat one another harshly (11).
– Our phones feed our craving for immediate approval (3) and promise to hedge against our fears of missing out (10).
– Our phones undermine key literary skills (4) and, because of our lack of discipline, make it increasingly difficult for us to identify ultimate meaning (9).
– Our phones offer us a buffet of produced media (5) and tempt us to indulge in visual vices (8).
– Our phones overtake and distort our identity (6) and tempt us toward unhealthy isolation and loneliness (7).

Sounds pretty dire. But Reinke is, at heart, a technophile, not a technophobe; and he doesn’t conclude from these dangers that every Christian needs to smash his smartphone. He offers positive practices in place of the negative.

Along the way, I have also attempted to commend twelve life disciplines we need to preserve our spiritual health in this smartphone age:
– We minimize unnecessary distractions in life to hear form God (chapter 1) and to find our place in God’s unfolding history (12).
– We embrace our flesh-and-blood embodiment (2) and handle one another with grace and gentleness (11).
– We aim at God’s ultimate approval (3) and find that, in Christ, we have no ultimate regrets to fear (10).
– We treasure the gift of literacy (4) and prioritize God’s Word (9).
– We listen to God’s voice in creation (5) and find a fountain of delight in the unseen Christ (8).
– We treasure Christ to be molded into his image (6) and seek to serve the legitimate needs of our neighbors (7).

A few more thoughts:

One question that really stuck out to me, toward the end of the book: do I deserve to spend time on social media trivialities right now? Sobering.

Another question Reinke pressed on me helpfully is one I have to ask all the time, especially in my line of work as a professional blogger: do I have an unhealthy interest in validation-through-social-shares? That one’s tough when your job description involves increasing social shares.

Chapter 11 was really excellent, about slander and “outrage porn.”

In an age when anyone with a smart phone can publish dirt on anyone else, we must know that spreading antagonistic messages online with the intent of provoking hostility without any desire for resolution is what the world calls “trolling,” and the New Testament calls “slander.”

I sometimes wonder how much of our society’s public worry (and public kvetching) over the dangers of technology will seem quaint to our great grandchildren—like those who worried around the turn of the 20th century that people wouldn’t be able to breathe if cars exceeded 10 miles per hour, because the air would be rushing by too fast. But we’re not our grandkids. We’re us. I can’t shake the feeling that the world really has changed, that the Internet has amplified our fallenness more than it has increased our virtue. The overall tone of Reinke’s book is one of gentle warning and instruction, and I think that’s perfectly appropriate.

This is definitely my new go-to book for wisdom on the use of consumer technology. (Dyer’s From the Garden to the City is a good complement to it.)

The reader in the Christian Audio production was smooth and serviceable, though (to be a little too frank?) a little too much like a male version of Siri for my tastes. This book called for reading with a little more feeling, a little more homiletical intensity. But I was able to go triple speed (is that ironic?) and understand perfectly.

I got this book for free for review purposes from Christian Audio, but they attached no strings to my opinions.

Fantastic Deal on My Favorite Theology Books

John Frame is retiring, and now you can have all six of his best and most important books for $120. Hardbacks. This is killer. I paid much more.

Do not miss this deal: $20 a book for some of the best theology books you will ever buy.

The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, in particular, has been epochal for me. It shapes me in ways I see just about every day. The Doctrine of the Christian Life was also extremely helpful. When I’ve dipped into Frame’s Systematic Theology, I have also found what he always delivers: carefully biblical, straightforward, clear, even simple explanations of complex topics.

Review: Confessions of a Fundamentalist

Confessions of a FundamentalistConfessions of a Fundamentalist by Aaron Dunlop
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Some good insights. A gracious perspective. Critical of bad leaders without letting fawning followers of the hook. Thinks carefully through what a healthy doctrinal militancy should look like.

Gives us all a great Newton quote:

All religious parties profess a great regard to the precept, Jude 3. “Contend earnestly for the faith.” And if noisy anger, bold assertions, harsh censures, and bitter persecuting zeal, can singly or jointly answer the apostle’s design, there is hardly a party but may glory in their obedience. But if the weapons of our warfare are not carnal; if the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God; if the true Christian contention can only be maintained by Scripture arguments, meekness, patience, prayer, and an exemplary conversion—if this is the true state of the case, where is the Church party (may I not say, where is the person) that has not still much to learn and to practice in this point?

Feels a bit too much like what it is: a collection of blog posts. It isn’t really a unified book, though it presents a unified perspective. And it hews to the blog genre in its willingness to make just a few (and I do mean only a few) unsubstantiated assertions, such as “The past ten years have witnessed a sharp increase in defections from fundamentalism.” (88) That’s a bloggable assertion, but not a bookable one. I need to see a footnote or some verbal hedging (“My impression is…”).

Introduced a helpful category: the “silent moderate majority” of fundamentalists, people who don’t like but who don’t complain about the excesses of bad leadership. (81)

And introduced a helpful concept: the “war psychology” many fundamentalists adopt.

Helpfully asks:

Could it be that the brother who “walketh disorderly” (2 Thessalonians 3:6) is not necessarily the one who has a broad view of fellowship but the one whose doctrine of fellowship is too narrow, divisive, and schismatic? Could it be that the “disobedient brother” is not the one who is over-generous in his acceptance of others, but the one who lacks that gracious and magnanimous spirit? Could it be that those who have “caused division and offenses” are indeed the hyper- fundamentalists and that we should “avoid them” (Romans 16:17, emphasis added)? Could it be that the hyper-fundamentalists are the ones who have trespassed against their brothers and that it is these who need to be brought before the church (Matthew 18:15–17)? (61)

And this is all too true:

This rehashing of the old battles left the fundamentalist church anemic and intellectually impotent for the present battles. Where are the fundamentalists in the battle against evolution, Open Theism or the charismatic movement? It is the conservative evangelicals who are leading the charge on current debates.

And this, too:

A superstitious adherence to the King James Version of the Bible became the measure of one’s spiritual experience. (54)

I urge Aaron to start over, with a *book* in mind, not a series of blog posts. Use his blog posts, but get a fresh outline that really goes somewhere. Give us some criticisms and then a constructive proposal for a way forward. Meanwhile, readers will still benefit from a gracious but firm spirit and some helpful insights.

Aaron provided me a review copy free of charge, but I hope it’s obvious that he attached no strings to my review.