Bible Study

Digital Discernment and Social Media Scripture

I’m back on Facebook after taking a few years off.  Realize, of course, that I was never really “off-off,” since my husband was still on and if I ever really needed to see something I was able to persuade him to let me look at his news feed.  This annoyed him, so, after a while, I just didn’t sign out of his account and could stealth-stalk his page.  As a result, I never completely left Facebook behind, but didn’t feel the overarching need to check his page several times a day.

You may not know this about me, but I am a digital pioneer—I was one of the first “adults” on Facebook in my circle when it moved from its original college-student-only form to the general population.  I started using Pinterest way back when you had to ask to be “invited”.  For a short time, I even worked as a computer programmer, back in the days before personal computers and when doing “word processing” required you to have a machine dedicated to the task.  Think punched cards…

But I’ve changed a bit since I’ve been away and my perspective of social media has changed too, especially in terms of God’s Word and Bible study.  In many ways, our preferred mode of communication has become one-liners and Facebook memes.  My husband and his twin brother will text “punny” memes back and forth for hours (especially during Packer-Bear games).  This is how we’re sharing Scripture as well.  I do it too.  A verse strikes a chord or stirs something in our souls and we post it on Facebook or Instagram atop a sunset or peaceful landscape photo.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, but when was the last time you saw this in your feed:

Can I hear an Amen?

My point is not to discourage myself or anyone else from sharing Scripture on social media.  Not at all.  The Internet is a great tool for spreading the Gospel.  I just need to remember that reading and sharing a verse of Scripture is not Bible study and sometimes a verse displayed all by its lonesome can distort its original meaning.  After all, is that how we read any other book, by grabbing a line here or there?  One of the most important keys to proper Bible interpretation is understanding the literary context, that which goes before and that which follows after.  Each verse is part of a paragraph, which is part of a section, which is part of book, which is part of the Bible, the ultimate context.  Studying a verse in light of its context will provide some perspective.

The other day I ran across this on my Facebook feed:

This graphic included a quote from a book, and was awarded a slew of “likes” and “Amen” comments.  How often do we see a quote on Facebook that includes the name of God or Jesus and just blithely like it or share it and move on to the next post?  These are moments that call for “digital discernment”.   “God doesn’t answer vague prayers.”  That same day, my Bible study exercise covered a passage from Romans 8 that included these oft-quoted verses:

Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses.  For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.  Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God. (Rom 8:26-27)

Christians do struggle with how to pray and what to pray about.  We see that in order for our prayers to be effective, we should pray in harmony with God’s will.  But how do we know what His will is?  That is when the Holy Spirit comes to help, catching up “our deepest longings and aspirations, and brings them in line with the Father’s ultimate purposes for us.”[1]  Never fear, God listens even to our “vague” prayers.

The larger point, though, is the source of the quote.  After digging a little bit, I discovered that it was from a book titled The Circle Maker: Praying Circles Around Your Biggest Dreams and Greatest Fears, by Mark Batterson, and was published back in 2012.  The book in its various forms is a bestseller, and does promote better prayer, but much of it is unbiblical.  You can read a review of the book here.

Tim Challies defines spiritual discernment as “the skill of understanding and applying God’s Word with the purpose of separating truth from error and right from wrong.” [2] Discernment is a skill, so we need to practice it. It requires that we strive to better know and understand God. It also includes applying that knowledge in order that we may better see things as God sees them, and, as a result, better worship and please Him.

Knowing God and His Word will equip us to practice digital discernment as well. Don’t be too quick to click.


Footnotes

  1. Thomas Constable. ‘’Notes on Romans.’’ 2015, http://www.soniclight.com. PDF, 117-118.
  2. Tim Challies, The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment. (Wheaton: Crossway, 2007), 61.

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