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]

Faithfully Meeting Together

Hebrews 10:23-25 (ESV) - [23] Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. [24] And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, [25] not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

 

In a passage aimed at encouraging Christians to persevere in the faith by holding on to and living in light of God’s promises, the author of Hebrews makes a point to command us to be faithful in meeting together with our fellow Christians. The phrase “meet together” could also be translated “the assembly.” It’s basically the same word for synagogue, and so commentators agree the author is referring to the regular meeting or assembly of Christians for fellowship and public worship around God’s word. Along with the fourth commandment, this passage is one of the go to texts to support the traditional teaching of the church that Christians should regularly and faithfully participate in corporate worship on the Lord’s Day.

In a mobile and consumerist culture such as ours, this clear teaching is often neglected. But apparently it was the “habit of some” even in the early church to neglect this duty. Cultural forces aside, it appears that in every generation, our idolatry will always lead us into rhythms of work and rest/worship that run against the good pattern God has commanded.

In this age, we tend to think that our absence on Sunday from public worship harms no one. “It’s harmless,” we think to ourselves, and we offer a thousand excuses ranging from the busyness of our week to a rare opportunity. I find that, by itself, it’s almost always the case that the excuse really does make sense. What’s problematic is the regularity of excuses and the habit of neglect rather than meeting.

But the real point that we often miss is staring us in the face in these few verses. Rather than being harmless, absence from public worship is a failure to lovingly encourage our brothers and sisters in Christ.[i] The author of Hebrews appeals to us to “consider how to stir one another up to love and good works.” We have a responsibility to our fellow church members to encourage each other to live godly, loving lives.  There are many ways we must do that, but one of them, the one mentioned here, is to be habitually present and engaged in public worship. So it isn’t harmless to neglect church on Sundays since this is one of the ways we are called to encourage each other.

Two implications of this principle stand out to me, one for pastors and one for church members.

First, perhaps one reason why many Christians don’t see any harm in their regular absence from public worship is that we pastors have created church services where the vast majority of those present do not participate in any significant way. What difference does it make if I am present or not when I am an anonymous face in the crowd? That’s a tough question to answer. While I know that we teach and admonish one another as we sing together corporately (Col. 3:16), that doesn’t exactly help any one person understand how their individual participation makes much of a difference. So I think pastors have to take responsibility for the fact that we have played our own part in fostering the idea that absence from public worship is harmless. And to own that responsibility, we must make sure that our church services are ordered liturgically in such a way that there is a meaningful way for congregants to minister to one another using their spiritual gifts. One way we do that at Trinity is by having an unstructured time in the middle of our services while we celebrate the Lord’s Table where everyone is encouraged to greet one another and minister to one another using their spiritual gifts.

Second, regardless of how pastors lead public worship, church members need to understand that public worship is not something we merely attend. Faithful presence in corporate worship involves worshipping God and encouraging others. It’s not merely the job of pastors and musicians to edify and encourage. When you go to church, understand that you are called to stir others up to love and good works, to pray for and with them, to offer counsel, to teach, and to care for others. You can be in the habit of attending public worship and still miss a large part of why you are supposed to be there. Public worship isn’t only about you and what you get out of it.

We read in Luke 4:16, “And [Jesus] came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day…” If Jesus made it his custom or habit to gather, perhaps we ought to consider our habit regarding public worship. Everyone will miss a Sunday here or there. Some have jobs that make regular participation almost impossible (which raises a question to be explored another time).  Everyone gets sick or visits family during the holidays. But the author of Hebrews instructs us to make it our habit to gather with God’s people on the Lord’s Day. Habits are things that we build our lives around. So as the day of Christ draws near, let’s form the loving habit of meeting on the Lord’s Day with our church and encouraging others while we are there. Not only will we find the grace of the gospel there, we will also experience the joy of deepening our fellowship with one another.

 

[i] In another post or two, we could discuss how habitual absence from public worship harms us and neglects to honor God.

Food, Idolatry, and Fighting Sin

Those who know me know that I love food. I love to eat until I am stuffed, so much so that many of my friends often joke about letting me finish up the last bits of a shared meal. On more than one occasion, friends have mentioned that when they invite me and my family over, they plan for the large quantities of food I will eat.

Needless to say, I have a problem with food. As long as I can remember, I have eaten whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. In high school and college, I could get away with this because I was incredibly active, but once I got to graduate school, I started to gain weight fast. I gained so much weight, that at one point, my friend’s Wii Fit classified me as morbidly obese! That was embarrassing and led me to start dieting. This was 7 years ago or so, and I did lose 30 pounds in about 4 months. But I put it back on again over the next year. I tried dieting again a few years later, and again I lost about 25 pounds only to gain it back.

Food has regularly played the role of savior in my life. In hard times, no matter what I have going on—stress, pain, anger, disappointment, etc.—food has always promised to offer me a little comfort. In good times, food becomes the icing on the cake (literally) that culminates my enjoyment of life. So in both the hard and good times, I have consistently turned to food for comfort and joy.

Now that may seem harmless, but there is a real dark side to my love of food. My love for food has led to over eating, extra stress on my body (particularly my knees), and the possibility of future health problems. But beyond the negative physical effects of my diet, my love of food has led me to be downright unloving to those around me. My wife in particular has been the object of my wrath when I am disappointed about the quantity or quality of the food she lovingly and graciously prepares for my family and me. I have not been a good steward of my money because I have regularly opted for eating out instead of being content with a simple homemade lunch. I am sure there have been many occasions that I have not left enough for others when we have shared a meal. And my excess weight has definitely resulted in lethargy when I should be actively and energetically engaged with others (like my kids) or with work.

When others have tried to point out my food problem, I have often responded with some version of the line delivered by Chris Farley’s character in one of his SNL skits: “Lay off me! I’m starving!” Other times, I have acknowledged the problem, but I have lacked the motivation to do anything about it, even when I felt like a “fat guy in a little coat.” (He who has ears to hear, let him hear!) For years I have recognized my habits and my love for food are unhealthy. And even in the seasons where I actively fought to cut back, my love for (addiction to?) food roared back with matching strength.

Idolatry

I share this not as some form of public catharsis but to provide a living and personal example of the way idolatry works in our lives. Idolatry is the worship of a created thing rather than the Creator. It is turning a good thing God has made into the ultimate thing. It is turning to some part of God’s creation for our identity, comfort, salvation, hope, security, or happiness. Idolatry is at the heart of all sin. In my case, the love of food because of the comfort it offers results in me transgressing God’s law in numerous ways, particularly with gluttony, greed, unkindness, and poor stewardship.

The thing about my sinful idolatry of food is that it looks fairly harmless and less sinful when compared to things like murder, sexual immorality, drunkenness, and all the other “scandalous” sins. It’s easy for gluttonous pastors to rail against the sin of drunkenness (or the supposed sin of drinking alcohol at all) while at the very same time dreaming of the comfort of the potluck after church. But the reality is, those of us who turn to food as a constant comfort without restraint are in bondage like ever other sinner.

While I tend to idolize food, others idolize being skinny and treat food as evil rather than the good gift God intends it to be. There is a lot of talk these days about obesity, body image, redefining beauty, and accepting our bodies. But without diving into all the complexities of that discussion, it needs to be said that an idolatrous love of food isn’t healthy or godly. It’s just as sinful and powerful as hatred, greed, envy, and pride. So we should not celebrate the idolatry of food and overweight bodies any more than we should celebrate the idolatry of being skinny and unhealthy in the other direction.

Fighting Sin

Recently, I have been able to lose a lot of weight, but this is the third time I have tried to get healthy and to deal with my idolatrous love of food. I feel great, and I am more optimistic that I have turned a corner. But I also don’t want to get ahead of myself because I know the power of sin and the hold it has on my heart. I have lost weight before by taking some drastic steps in my diet only to see my discipline fade over time as I returned to old habits. Like all sin, we can try “starving” ourselves for a season, but if we have nothing else with which to feed our hearts, we will eventually run back to the banquet in the grave.

This time, I have greater hope that I am on the road toward a proper and healthy love of food. Not because I have some power or strength in myself but because Jesus Christ died and rose again to set me free from the power of sin. In the gospel, Jesus has given me a greater comfort and a deeper satisfaction than any food ever could. Because Christ rose from the dead, he has given me new life and the promise of a future banquet in his kingdom. He has offered me himself, the true bread of life. He has invited me to drink of his living water so that I will never thirst again. These are the deep resources of the gospel that I consistently have to turn to in my battle with the love of food. And I’m glad to say that I’m seeing change in my heart and in my habits.

And let me be clear, habits do matter. It’s easy to talk about fighting sin by addressing the heart, but if we never get to our habits, we aren’t really fighting sin. Sin starts in the heart, but it always works itself out in our lips and fingertips. In my fight with gluttony, I have used tools that help me monitor what and how much I eat. I have invited others to help me monitor what I am eating, and I have picked up a few routines that require me to be a bit more active. My struggle with the idolatry of food is long from over, but I believe God’s Spirit is working. I have not triumphed. I may fall into old habits once again. I am not what I should be, but I am not what I once was.

You may not be struggling with the love of food, but I am confident that you are struggling with some disordered love, misplaced trust, or false hope. Perhaps this struggle has been going on for years. Maybe you have tried over and over again to deal with it, seeing temporary results, only to see it roar back to full strength once again. But there is hope. Jesus didn’t rise from the grave to leave us in our sin. We may try and fail again, but slowly he is at work to bring us into the freedom of the new life of his kingdom.