Tech Wise Family - A Review

There are twin dangers in dealing with contemporary problems. The first is to assume that the world has seen nothing like a given issue and that wise solutions must be manufactured anew, independent of historical sources of wisdom. The second danger is to assume that there is nothing new about a given problem and that the solution is to go on about our normal course of business.

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In his 2017 book, The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place, Andy Crouch avoids both dangers. He recognizes that current technologies threaten the to exploit human vulnerabilities in new ways, but that wisdom to navigate the threat can be found in historical explanations of human nature and the purpose of the family.

There is an abundance of data that shows that the new attention economy is straining the social-fabric of our world. The prevalence of social media has enabled hyper-individualistic communities to arise that are sometime relatively harmless, but sometimes allow socially caustic influences like racism, sexual revisionism, and collectivism to coalesce in unhelpful ways. Similarly, the constant pull to look away from others and toward our phones is damaging our families and our local communities. The social experiment of putting a supercomputer in our pockets and allowing constant access to limitless entertainment is a little over a decade old, and the early results seem to be far from positive.

Without wading too far into the argument of the potential benefits of technology versus its drawbacks, Andy Crouch proposes that families need to take steps to use technology appropriately. We need not avoid it altogether, but we need to ask the fundamental question, “What is this good for?” Then we need to adapt our usage of technology to get the best out of it.

Crouch’s approach assumes the value of the nuclear family, but also takes into account the broader value of the extended family and community, including the nature of the family as the church. The main purpose of community and family is not merely to continue existence and ensure entertainment, but to form people into responsible humans. He offers ten “Tech-Wise Commitments” to frame a balanced use of technology.

1.       “We develop wisdom and courage together as a family.” –– He recognizes the central purpose of families is to form humans.

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.” –– Notably, many homes are oriented around the television or computer, which often encourage passive entertainment. He offers practical suggestions to instill a culture within the home that encourages creativity and activity.

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 devises and worship, feast, play, and rest together.” –– This is the concept of Sabbath woven into the fabric of the family. It recognizes that while often being passive forms of entertainment, electronics are often drains on vital energies. Turning them off helps facilitate true rest and recreation.

4.       “We wake up before our devices do, and they ‘go to bed’ before we do.” –– For many, the last and first thing they see each day is the blue light of their phones. There are studies that show teens being deprived of sleep (and brain development time) by the interruptions and temptations of their phones. Crouch recommends charging phones away from the bedside table.

5.       “We aim for ‘no screens before double digits’ at school and at home.” –– The Crouch family had no television in the home until their youngest was 10. They worked with their local school system to minimize the dominance of “learning technology” in the curriculum. This comes from the realization that much less learning than often promised usually comes from various techno-centric approaches to instruction.

6.       “We use screens for a purpose, and we use them together, rather than using them aimlessly and alone.” –– Again, the purpose of life is to grow toward something. The purpose of the family is to make better people. Therefore, isolation and idle entertainment are barriers to those goals.

7.       “Car time is conversation time.” –– As a public-school family, the Crouches use their car time to communicate with their children and each other in a focused environment. This may be less applicable to families that spend more time together.

8.       “Spouses have one another’s passwords, and parents have total access to children’s devices.” –– Open access to each other’s browser history is often a means to prevent sliding into unhealthy habits. This approach recognizes the importance of trust and honesty. It also recommends the unique dangers that electronics offer to young people.

9.       “We learn to sing together, rather than letting recorded and amplified music take over our lives and worship.” –– There is something quite powerful about unamplified human voices raised in songs of praise. This is something that has been minimized by the presence of easy everywhere music of unlimited quantity and variety.

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.” –– Technology has an amazing power to build community and minimize the impact of distance. It has tended toward isolation. This is, perhaps, the most important of the ten commitments, because it recognizes the need for real, personal contact that cannot be replaced by digital connections.

One need not agree with everything Crouch proposes to find benefit from this book. Some of his proposals would be much easier to implement in a family that is not already techno-centric (so young parents take heed). However, even beginning to consider the place that technology should have in our families is a step in the right direction.

Even more than his practical suggestions for making a better use of technology, Crouch’s discussion of the purpose of the family is important for our consideration. We would do better to consider the reason why God formed families and what their function is. That would help us to value it, put it in its proper place, and enhance the flourishing of our communities one family at a time.

Raising Faithful Kids in a Skeptical World

It’s a lot easier to raise a skeptic than a child with a mature faith.

This is not a statement about behavior, but about true fidelity. That is, faithfulness that includes both a profession of faith and a solid foundation for that faith.

It is much easier to teach a child to poke holes in the ideas of others than to hold fast to cogent, explanatory truths.

As a result, there is a constant temptation to build buttresses of truth around our kids without exposing them to challenges to the faith. This is good when they are young, because it prevents confusion. It is a dangerous thing over time because it builds a false sense of confidence.

The Place for Honest Doubt

Comprehensive, absolute certainty is a dangerous thing. There is little doubt about that.

Being entirely certain about every detail of one’s own understanding of Scripture, the veracity of the traditions of one’s youth, and the methodology appropriate to determining truth can lead to pain and difficulty over time. Much of that is unnecessary.

There is a fundamental difference between holding a position with absolute certainty and holding it in faithful confidence.

This is because being faithful does not require abandoning the intellectual task of asking questions and considering alternatives. Issues such as the proper mode of baptism, the right style of worship, the way the salvation is explained are all points where legitimate questioning is warranted. After all, a lot of faithful people in the history of the Church have stood on each side of those questions.

Photo used by CC license: Hans Splinter, Parenting,  http://ow.ly/10gV84

Photo used by CC license: Hans Splinter, Parenting, http://ow.ly/10gV84

But there is a place for asking even more significant and sensitive questions. Is there a God? Certainly, a fool says in his heart there is no God (Ps 14:1). However, this doesn’t mean that kids shouldn’t ask the big questions and honestly pursue truthful answers. Helping kids ask those in a space where they have the emotional and spiritual resources to struggle through the mire of doubt is important.

It’s also much easier to teach fideistic adherence to dogma than to teach kids to think through doctrine rightly.

In the end, fideism presents an anemic form of Christianity that skeptics can punch holes through with ease. Then, when faced with intelligent, cogent challenges to their faith, an untried faith system will fall apart.

Always Another Question

As I said, it is easier to raise a skeptic than a faithful child.

Much of contemporary culture trains children to expect a higher degree of certainty and a greater volume of proof for questions of religious significance than anything else. For example, people choose their presidential candidates without knowing everything about them and whether everything in the candidate’s worldview meshes. People take jobs without knowing in gross detail every possible work responsibility, the date of future promotions, and whether the company’s corporate office in Paris might have spent too much on cognac last year. Folks use electricity without understanding where exactly it came from or how it was generated.

In contrast, some critics of religion seem to expect an unassailable record in all of history from the religion itself and also each adherent of the religion. They demand that every possible question be asked and meshed with every other solution offered for all of time. Variety in such responses over history—even to secondary and tertiary questions—is considered evidence that the central truths cannot be true.

Many of these questions are fair to ask and Christians should be prepared to discuss them, even if in general terms. Christians need to be prepared to admit that the history of every religion is tarnished by error and insincerity. Christians need to be willing to communicate that there are some doctrines about which reasonable people can debate.

The reality is that every religion, even Christianity, has open questions about some aspects of it. This is a function of the human conduits of the religion and our finiteness. Every religion has a checkered history with abuses. This is because religions have humans involved and humans tend to be self-centered and imperfect.

This means that for someone looking for objections, there are always additional questions to be asked. If the standard of acceptance for religion is that every question is answered, that standard can never be met. There is always one more question to be asked.

The world is training children to be skeptical, if not agnostic. The Church—especially the parents of children—need to be prepared to help develop a curious, cautious, but not incredulous demeanor in their children.

We need to teach our children to seek the best answer, not the perfect one. We need to demonstrate the power of the gospel to transform and redeem. Once a child understands the reason for the hope within us, they will be better able to ask questions without losing their faith.

We need to teach and demonstrate to our children that the Christian faith has integrity and is founded on the absolute objectivity of God not the absolute certainty of our positions. We can have a high degree of certainty about what we believe without dismissing questions. We can demonstrate confidence in our faith by chasing down answers to difficult questions and admitting when we have more investigation to do.

Retooling Parenting

In some day gone by it may have been possible for kids to pick up enough of a basis for their faith by osmosis. Probably not, though, since the failure to present a credible, cogent faith for generations helps to explain the radical rejection of the trappings of a Christian ethic.

The present culture is one that will not accept Christianity without a great deal of explaining. It also will not allow Christians to live consistently with a robust Christian faith without challenging every inch. We do disservice to our children if we do not equip them and assist them to wrestle with the core doctrines of the Christian faith.

Parenting will look different in our present age than it has in the past if we are to give our children what they need to live as faithful pilgrims in the world. That isn’t to say that it will look different than what it always should have been. In fact, the external pressure on the Church may be a benefit to our sanctification as it forces us to return to our proper responsibilities.