Book Review: The Tech-Wise Family by Andy Crouch

A headline here. A new study there. We’re learning more and more about the massive and rapid technological changes taking place right under our noses everyday. And we suspect these changes are impacting us in subtle and unseen ways. We feel like we can’t concentrate like we used to. Our memory doesn’t seem as good as it once was. Our kids seem hyper all the time, and we can’t imagine taking them to a restaurant without a device to keep them quiet.

Life for us and for our children is different than it used to be, but we aren’t sure what to do about it. Sometimes we wonder if we should swear off all new technology and go back to a simpler time. But it doesn’t take long before we realize that this isn’t really possible. We can’t avoid the changes that have come and will continue to come. So what can we do? Do we just surrender and hope for the best?

Enter Andy Crouch and his excellent book The Tech-Wise Family, a book aimed at helping us to put technology in its proper place so that our households can become places and communities where we can grow into wise and courageous people. Crouch refuses to deny the benefits and goodness of modern technology, but he insightfully warns us of unhelpful practices and habits that inevitably change us for the worse if we do not establish guidelines and disciplines that will nudge us in healthy directions.

Packed with research on the impact and use of technology, Crouch shares the 10 commitments he and his family have made over the years that have structured their life together. Each chapter unfolds the logic of each commitment, and encourages the reader to consider how they are facing the particular issues raised in the chapter. Studies have shown technology is the number one reason parents believe raising kids today is more complicated than in the past, so if that’s you, pick up this book. It’s written to parents, but it’s certainly not written only for parents. The insight and counsel of this book will benefit anyone looking for help in how to become a person of character.

The gracious and humble tone throughout the book is exemplified by his transparency at the end of each chapter where he shares the victories and the failures he and his family have experienced. There’s no condemnation here, only thoughtful reflection, honest evaluation, and hopeful counsel. Here’s how the book unfolds and the issues he addresses:

Section 1: Three Key Decisions To a Tech-Wise Family

1. CHOOSING CHARACTER: WE DEVELOP WISDOM AND COURAGE TOGETHER AS A FAMILY.

This chapter frames the whole book as Crouch ponders, “What is a family for?” He explains that he and his family have chosen to orient their life together toward the development of character. He distinguishes between knowledge, something readily accessible through the Internet, and wisdom which guides right action in a complex world. He also discusses the importance of developing courage, because the right thing to do is often scary and painful. The remainder of the chapter explores how modern technologies are good servants but terrible masters, especially as it relates to forming character.

2. SHAPING SPACE: WE WANT TO CREATE MORE THAN WE CONSUME. SO WE FILL THE CENTER OF OUR HOME WITH THINGS THAT REWARD SKILL AND ACTIVE ENGAGEMENT.

This commitment considers the space that is our home, and explores strategies for where our devices should be to help nudge us toward creativity, production, and beauty rather than mindless, banal consumption.

3. STRUCTURING TIME: 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.

Technology makes our work easier, but it also leads us take on more work and to rest in ways that aren’t restful. In this chapter, Crouch explores the difference between rest and leisure, the concept of Sabbath, and the empty promise of technology to relieve us of the toil of our work.

Section 2: Daily Life

4. WAKING AND SLEEPING: WE WAKE UP BEFORE OUR DEVICES DO, AND THEY “GO TO BED” BEFORE WE DO.

In this chapter, Crouch explores our creatureliness by examining our sleep habits and bedtime rituals. He uncovers the anxieties and fantasies that both trouble and distract us from real life and the needed sleep we depend on to thrive.

5. LEARNING AND WORKING: WE AIM FOR “NO SCREENS BEFORE DOUBLE DIGITS” AT SCHOOL AND AT HOME.

In one of the most important chapters of the book, especially for those with children, Crouch explores how modern technologies actually make us less able to think and learn. As it turns out, easy education isn’t better, and he offers the statistics and research to back up that claim. In a world where attention spans and the ability to concentrate are declining, Crouch shows that the less we rely on screens to entertain ourselves and our children, the more capable we become at entertaining ourselves.

6. THE GOOD NEWS ABOUT BOREDOM: WE USE SCREENS FOR A PURPOSE, AND WE USE THEM TOGETHER RATHER THAN USING THEM AIMLESSLY AND ALONE.

In a chapter closely related to the previous one, Crouch explores how screens over stimulate us and rewire our brains, numbing us to the ordinary wonder of the world. It’s eye opening to learn how we’re training ourselves to be incapable of wonder.

7. THE DEEP END OF THE (CAR) POOL: CAR TIME IS CONVERSATION TIME.

The car is one of the older technologies discussed in this book, but the way new devices are built into modern automobiles calls for fresh reflection on how we drive. Crouch shows how his family has made the most of their car time by intentionally conversing while driving rather than leaning on the crutches of screens and digital music.

8. NAKED AND UNASHAMED: SPOUSES HAVE ONE ANOTHER’S PASSWORDS, AND PARENTS HAVE TOTAL ACCESS TO CHILDREN’S DEVICES.

In another important chapter, Crouch tackles the issue of pornography and sexual activity, offering simple and humble strategies for helping one another live in the light. Pornography consumption is an epidemic with countless negative consequences for individuals, families, and society. This easily accessible, pervasive, and addictive content needs to be talked about with understanding and grace, and the strategies offered here can go a long way to break addictions and help curb unhealthy consumption.

Section 3: What Matters Most

9. WHY SINGING MATTERS: WE LEARN TO SING TOGETHER, RATHER THAN LETTING RECORDED AND AMPLIFIED MUSIC TAKE OVER OUR LIVES AND WORSHIP.

This is perhaps the one chapter some families might find difficult to embrace simply because not everyone is as musical as the classically trained, jazz piano playing Crouch. That being said, there’s still a lot to gain from a chapter than encourages families to sing and worship together.

10. IN SICKNESS AND IN HEALTH: 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.

This chapter explores the difference between phone calls, emails, and video chats and being present to others with our bodies, especially in the most important moments of life. We are limited creatures, and while technology can gives us the illusion that we can transcend those limits, our bodies are failing and will stop working altogether. In those moments, there’s nothing like the presence of other bodies that love us.

My words really cannot do this book justice. It’s beautiful, practical, accessible, and timely. Who are you becoming? How is technology shaping you right now? What habits are you adopting to help get where you want to be? This book can go a long way in helping you answer those questions.

[Note: This review was also published on Pastor Radney's blog - www.dradney.wordpress.com]

Important News: We Have a Denominational Home in the PCA!

We are happy to announce that on October 22nd, 2016, the Piedmont Triad Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in America accepted our petition requesting adoption as a member church. This partnership will formally begin in the coming weeks at a special worship service during which our elders will be installed by elders from the presbytery. [Update: This service will take place on Dec. 4th, 2016, at our normal worship time and location.] 

Finding a denominational home comes as an answer to years of prayer, and so we rejoice in God's grace and faithfulness to bring us together with other churches of like faith and practice. Now we will pray that our membership in the PCA will be a blessing to our city, region, and the world as we partner to plant churches, to train and develop future pastors, and to bless those around us in word and deed.

How to Sing "Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah"

When Trinity Church gathers for corporate worship this Sunday, we’ll be singing a new song. Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah was written in 1745 by a Welshman named William Williams. It’s poetically beautiful, theologically deep, scripturally saturated, and worshipfully faithful in its prayer while still remaining profoundly honest about the anxieties, fears, and doubts that God’s people experience this side of resurrection.

Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah is what we might call a “biblically thick” song. It’s dense, full of scriptural allusions and echoes. Most of its images are pulled from the Old Testament—particularly Israel’s wilderness wanderings—and they’re intended to help us recall God’s faithfulness in the past while simultaneously prompting our prayers for his provision in the present and stimulating our hope in his promises for the future. So singing this song well requires not only that we become familiar with the melody and rhythm, but even more importantly that we become familiar with the rich biblical categories, metaphors, and resonances that make up the substance of the song. In other words, we could sing this song extraordinarily well (beautifully and on pitch) and not sing this song well at all (failing to understand and internalize what we’re actually praying to God).

So in preparation for our gathering on Sunday, I’d like to explore this song a bit and offer a suggestion for how we might sing it together. Rather than walk through the song line-by-line and explain the references and theology behind each verse, I want to give an example of how your heart might pray this song, how I want my heart to pray this song. Hopefully this sample prayer will not only draw out some of the biblical connections but will also help us present our sung petition to God with a fitting and heartfelt understanding, desperation, thanksgiving, and hope.

A Prayer In Song

Guide me, O Thou great Jehovah, pilgrim through this barren land. 

Covenant Lord and lover of my soul, you have made me yours and granted me to be a citizen of your kingdom. But for now, I am still a pilgrim, hoping for my homeland, holding onto your promises, living by faith and not by sight in the midst of a creation marred and distorted by sin. I need your faithfulness. I need your wisdom. I need you.

I am weak, but Thou art mighty; hold me with Thy powerful hand. 

I am frail in body, in heart, in commitment, in worship. Temptations to sin, oppression for following Jesus, and suffering in a broken world seem to press in on all sides, and I feel powerless to stand faithfully. But in my weakness, I know that you are strong. Preserve me in your grace. Hold me in the powerful, loving hand that was pierced for me, and help me know that there is no safer place I could ever be.

Bread of heaven, feed me now and evermore; bread of heaven, feed me now and evermore.

You gave manna from heaven to feed Israel in the wilderness. But in Jesus you have given me a better bread that feeds my heart's deeper hunger with a more permanent satisfaction. This day and always, nourish me with the soul-filling gift of yourself, for in Jesus I truly have everything I need.

Open now the crystal fountain, whence the healing waters flow;

Father, you provided water in the desert to refresh your people. But Jesus promises to be living water, that all who drink by faith might never thirst again. Refresh my heart with your gospel! Heal my grumbling, fickle, joyless spirit! Let me not be content to drink from false fountains that leave me more thirsty than before, but take me again and again to your Son where I might drink my fill and have my spiritual thirst quenched eternally.

Let the fire and cloudy pillar lead me all my journey through. 

You were present with Israel in their wanderings—a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. When Christ ascended as king, he sent your Holy Spirit—a rushing wind and tongues as of fire—to be present with me and in me on my pilgrim journey. There is nowhere I can go where your Spirit will not be with me, convicting and sanctifying and ministering and pointing me to Jesus. Make me aware of your presence and receptive to the work your Spirit would accomplish in me.

Strong Deliverer, be Thou still my Strength and Shield. Strong Deliverer, be Thou still my Strength and Shield.

You delivered Israel from their bondage in Egypt, and through the cross you have delivered me from my bondage to idols and sin and death and granted me the freedom of knowing and belonging to you. In Jesus, you have truly been my shield, receiving and absorbing all the condemnation, shame, and death that I deserved so that no matter what accusations or attacks are mounted against me, I am secure in your love. Strengthen me with that hope, that I might remain steadfast and faithful. 

When I tread the verge of Jordan, bid my anxious fears subside;

All my life takes place on the edge of Jordan, like the Israelites on the river bank looking over into the promised land of rest. A truer rest is promised me in Jesus—a rest that I taste now, a rest that I will fully enter into when your kingdom comes in glory. But I’m still on this side of Jordan, and that is sometimes a very fearful thing. Calm my anxieties and comfort my fears with your gospel as I await the day when I will dwell in your presence, face-to-face forever.

Death of death, and hell's destruction, land me safe on Canaan's side. 

Where did death die? In Jesus’ death! Where was hell destroyed? In the destruction of Christ! All the death and hell that I had earned was thrust upon the shoulders of your beloved Son—and he overcame them in his resurrection—that I might have eternal life in joyful fellowship with you. Jesus entered the darkness of Golgotha so that I could enter the light of your presence! Jesus stepped into the condemnation of the grave so that I could step into the acceptance of your grace! I will surely land safe in Canaan, you will surely bring me home to your promised kingdom, because at the cross Jesus dealt with every obstacle and threat that could ever keep me from you.

Songs of praises, I will ever give to Thee; songs of praises, I will ever give to Thee.

Because of your faithfulness, I will praise you. Because of your grace, I will praise you. Because of your promises, I will praise you. Because you have invited me to behold your glory, I will praise you as long as I have breath, and I will praise you in resurrection joy with a song that stretches out into the far reaches of forever.

And so the prayerful plea becomes a cry of confidence. I look forward to singing with you this Lord’s Day.

Important News: Denominational Direction

Last night at our members meeting, after years of searching for the right body of churches with which we should connect and partner, our church body formally decided to pursue membership in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). In due time, our elders will be sending an official petition for adoption to the Piedmont Triad Presbytery for consideration. In the meantime, our leaders are undergoing examination by the presbytery. The final decision regarding Trinity Church’s acceptance will be in the hands of the presbytery, but we have made a decision as a body that it is our desire to move in this direction.

Exploring where we belong has taken several years, but the elders believe this is the right direction to pursue for a number of reasons:

  1. The PCA best embodies our doctrine, governance, mission, and culture.
  2. Adoption into the PCA connects us to the catholic tradition. In other words, standing alone as an independent church prevents us from formally embodying the universal nature of Christ’s Church and from ministering within the confessional boundaries of the Christians who have lived and read Scripture before us. By joining the PCA, we will join a larger communion of Christians across time and geography that embraces the great confessions of the Church and the Reformed tradition.
  3. Adoption into the PCA enables us to partner with other churches of like mind and faith to plant churches locally and globally.
  4. Adoption into the PCA brings us into close partnership with other local churches in Winston-Salem to reach our city.
  5. Adoption into the PCA brings accountability to our church in regards to both our doctrine and our leadership. Ordination standards for teaching elders that exist outside of our local church help promote healthy pastors who are qualified beyond the opinion of their own supporters. Additionally, church courts help conflicts within the local church to move toward peace and reconciliation rather than factions and division.

Please pray for our church and for the presbytery to have wisdom to know if it is good for the kingdom to complete this partnership.