I continue to receive some interesting and excellent letters from readers. Here is a small collection of them interacting with my articles or videos on the distinction between Christian and Christianish, the prosperity gospel, the no-hitter epidemic in baseball, and our addiction to our smartphones. I hope you enjoy them!
Letters on Is Your Church Christian or Christianish?
First, I would like to thank you for blog post, Tim. I found it helpful and insightful. However, there is one point I want to discuss with you concerning correcting social injustice. I think you make an unfortunate distinction between the preaching the gospel and pursuing justice. I don’t think we should pursue justice apart from preaching the Gospel because that is simply a form of moralism devoid of saving faith.However, I also don’t think that preaching the Gospel and pursuing justice are opposed to one another. Indeed, in addition to telling them Good News, we also need to assist those who our nation has abused such as the poor, disabled, homeless and racial and ethnic minorities and show them the love of Christ. Again, thank you for your article and have a good day.
—Brian B, Aurora, IL
Letters on Blessed
I wanted to write this time in regard to the Prosperity post you had in the review of the book ‘Blessed’. It’s a topic that interests me greatly in the context of being missionaries in Africa, and I have devoted several blog posts on our blog to it.
It was very interesting to read the author’s conclusion that the chief allure of the Prosperity Gospel in whatever form, is ‘optimism’. I couldn’t agree more. In reality, the biblical word for ‘optimism’ is ‘hope’. The Prosperity Gospel keeps our hope not on God and the eternal, but man and the temporary. But then I find myself responding and asking – ‘what is it that a person hopes for and how does the Prosperity Gospel hijack that hope and misdirect it?’, so that we can endeavour to instead rightly direct it.
The book may have been primarily about America, but it is a worldwide problem…and a huge problem on our continent of Africa. Here in Africa, we have observed and studied how the Prosperity Gospel has just provided another ‘false’ honour, that appeals to a culture that is driven by the dynamics of honour and shame.
Instead of shifting the focus of a heart from the temporal to the eternal, it keeps them looking for honour from people. It’s all about how I look in the eyes of those around me. Because culturally, poverty is shameful, sickness is shameful and failure is shameful, of course for Christian Africans, something that purports to be ‘Christian’ is very appealing when it offers honour through wealth, health and success. Culturally they are looking to gain honour and escape/avoid shame, so this is interpreted as God bringing the victory over shame and blessing them with honour, and fulfilling an (out of context) understanding that ‘believers will not be put to shame’ in the eyes of their surrounding family and tribe and friends.
Without strong discipleship on what is true, eternal honour in Christ, and what Scripture is really saying, the African heart is thinking they have found the answer to all their current earthly problems. There is a lot more I could say, but optimism….in other words ‘hope’ is certainly undergirding and driving the desires that the Prosperity Gospel appeals to, but here on this continent the offer of health isn’t only about avoiding physical pain, but avoiding social pain, and the offer of wealth is not only about avoiding financial pain but gaining social honour, and the offer of exam, business or workplace success is not just about greater financial security and comfort, but about climbing the honour ladder of social prestige. Unless we deal with the issues of the Prosperity Gospel at the level of misplaced heart desires for honour and how they can be more deeply and eternally fulfilled in Christ, this tide of false teaching hijacking African hearts will not be turned.
—Sandra F, Botswana
Letters on No Hitter “Epidemic”
The article you included about the supposed No Hitter “Epidemic” in MLB had my blood pressure on the rise. While pitchers are bigger and stronger, batters are also. The reason for the increase in strikeouts is simple. Over the last several years you’ve had a new hitting philosophy infect MLB. Compare Ichiro’s (4,000+ career hits) swing with that of Cody Bellinger. Hitting coaches are teaching an uppercut swing that emphasizes the launch angle of the ball. Consequently, the bat spends less time in the zone and you have more strike outs. Everyone wants to be a home run hitter and make the ESPN highlight reel. Unfortunately, solid base hit singles don’t get you there.
So, before we go tinkering with the game anymore, let’s have an honest discussion about how a culture that just wants to be wowed with the long ball doesn’t value the mundane base hit. And, I’m certain this desire of our culture extends far beyond Baseball…
—Anthony S, Lakeland, FL
Speaking as an IT guy with 30+ years experience, the smartphone seems to be by far the most life-dominating tech device I’ve seen. If I go out among people for any time at all, odds are that many of the people I see will be checking their smartphone. This observation certainly lends credence to the notion that many people use their smartphones compulsively. For me, I have made a conscious choice to not let my devices control me. To this end, I have (a) stuck with using a flip phone that can do only voice calls & text messages and (b) use a WiFi tablet when I want to run smartphone-style apps. Also, I (c) have opted to not participate in social media sites such as Facebook. The flip phone keeps the notifications to a minimum–no apps!–and is way cheaper than a smartphone due to the non-need for a data plan, and since I have to have a WiFi connection to use the tablet I can only get online with it at particular places and times. The upshot: if you run across me in public, you will hardly ever see me looking at a device. In sharing this, I don’t mean to suggest that everyone ought to do exactly as I do, but rather to suggest one possible method for keeping one’s device usage under control.
—Dave U, Belvidere, IL
Mr Challies, I wanted to write and thank you for your recent articles on smart phone use and the dangers that follow. I was one who used smart phones for a while and, for the last year and a half, i have switched to my old school flip phone. For a Christian and pastor (and millenial!) seeking holiness, the smart phone crippled and advancement in those areas. Like you admitted, I also found myself addicted to the next piece of information and “ding” that my phone offered. My thumb became a giant muscle from all the scrolling. I also felt I was neglecting personal interaction with my family and others around me. There are tons of advantages to smart phone use, as you mentioned, but the freedom far outweighs the negatives. Thank you for bringing this is to the attention of your readers. I genuinely believe that our obsession with tech can dangerously hinder our relationship with Christ. There are godly men and women that can handle the responsibilities of the smart phone; I, however, am not one of those people. I dont think i’ll ever have the discipline to go back. Anyway, thank you again. I love that there are leaders starting to see things that most of us will only recognize when its too late.
—Adam W, El Dorado, AR
Letters on I Want To Buy Your Cheapest Phone!
Tim, Your article “I want to buy your cheapest phone” is very timely for me. Yesterday I switched to a smartphone for the first time. I have used mobile style devices for a while, and so I have benefited from the app environment, though only on Wi-Fi. I knew my own tendency to check emails or other notifications at the cost of who I was with and where I was. So I have always had either flip phones or once a qwerty messaging phone that was still not the do-everything device that today’s smartphones are. But even as intentionally limited my “out and about” tendency to be tied to a phone, I found I could still be sucked in to internet devices at home and not pay as much attention to my family or responsibilities as I should have. In fact, the main motivators for this recent change are the desire to consistently record memories if my child growing up, and the hope that a smaller device will be less immersive than a tablet with a big screen. I appreciate an ever-present music library too. But as I make this change, it is with a goal to choose those tools that will aid me in good habits such as Scripture memorization, consciously resisting temptation, and physical fitness. Your book “The Next Story” helped me actively consider how I interact with the virtual ecosystem, and I will likely read it again as I strive to choose the good and refuse the bad of digital options. Thank you for calling this responsibility to our attention, and please keep up your work of helping Christians think well.
—Nick B, Plainfield, Indiana
I’ve had a similar experience in “breaking away” from smartphones, and I also used a flip phone for about six months. However, I found that the lack of a smart device really hindered communications with a broad group of people that my ministry placed me in contact with. My compromise solution was to delete all distracting apps from the phone, disable the browser, and have my wife put in the content restriction code that bars the installation of apps. I still have maps, texting, FB messenger, my to-do app, weather, etc., but the lack of a browser and social media apps has completely eliminated the need to pull out the phone unless I am actively trying to contact someone. It’s really the best of both worlds.
—Thomas, Albany, GA
Thank you for your article on reverting to the flip phone. I first considered doing this when I read 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You by Tony Reinke last summer. I realized that I didn’t want my two young boys to think of their mom as always being on her phone. I wanted to be engaged with those I was interacting with. It has been almost two months since I’ve switched. The transition of weaning myself has been hard as I try to decide how much social media is allowed. Deactivating my Facebook account for a time has really helped curb my addiction to checking it. Another bonus… having to learn how to read a map or navigate without using Maps! It is sobering to think that my impulse was (and sometimes still is) to check social media before spending time with the Lord. My prayer is that the Lord will sanctify me (and other Christians who take the plunge) more through this break. Thanks for the encouragement!
—Megan B, Lloydminster, Saskatchewan