The Next Story (book review)

In July 2012 I finally started reading The Next Story by Tim Challies, ironically on a kindle.  I say finally because I had wanted to read it for a long time; I had just started reading Challies’ blog when the book was released in April 2011, and had been eying it off as an interesting topic to read about since.  I say ironically because the book is about technology, and here I was reading it on an electronic device!  However, the irony soon wore off as I started sliding the pages across and grasped a bigger picture of technology’s value in today’s world.

To begin with, Challies set us straight about the evils in technology: essentially, that evil technology doesn’t exist.  Technology can be, and is, used for sinful tendencies, but in and of itself, it is not bad.  Technology is part of the dominion mandate, and Christians should explore it to its full potential and thinking about it with a biblical worldview – but more on that in a second.

After setting us straight, he dives into the history of technology, and the impact it had on society on an obvious level.  Before the telegraph, the horse was the fastest way to communicate with others.  Nothing beat it.  The telegraph changed all that by providing a way for England and America – and very quickly, countries all over the world – to communicate with other countries within a matter of a few hours, opposed to the days or weeks a letter took even with the Pony Express.  Shortly afterwards, the telephone, the fax machine, the computer, the internet, and the smartphone, all bombed us one by one until our world was full of technology and ways of instant communication – something Challies calls the digital explosion.  This explosion is a good thing, and a huge benefit to us, but it also comes with dangers that need recognition and ways of escape.

And that, the dangers technology brings, often subconsciously, is what Challies went on to talk about for the rest of the book.  He looked very introspectively at the cause and effects of technology as an object itself in society, and its role in information overload, communication, identity, privacy, truth, and distraction in this day and age.  Although I thought he was a little too finicky at times, I also think he made me think critically about technology, and it’s helped me to think logically about other things as well.  Personally being a little reluctant to changes, I am prone to labeling new technology as bad and cry out for the ‘good old days’ of the 1880’s or 1930’s, or even 2000’s, but Challies took a different perspective, asking challenging questions that puts new technology in its rightful place outside of the ‘technology is bad’ reaction, or the ‘newer is better’ mindset that we can also hold to.

Back to viewing technology with a biblical worldview: the Bible doesn’t give clear instruction on technology as we know it today – the smartphone wasn’t around in King David’s time; but it does give principles to follow for all of life, and technology needs to align with the Christian life.  What I appreciated about Challies was how he saw through all the gadgets and handy time-saving apps, and looked at what it was doing to us as individuals, and as a culture, and where it lined up with what God has laid out for us in the Bible.  I was surprised, sometimes uncomfortable, at the track I have taken with technology in certain areas, but Challies also gave very helpful application at the end of each chapter to guide us towards living it out.  While he didn’t lay down the law in the least, he graciously showed the difference between where the world is heading with technology and the dangers therein, and what God’s word has called us to, and how our priorities, habits, and thinking can line up with it.

Ultimately, I highly recommend this book.  As a warning, it’s not the sort of book I picked up before going to bed, because it made me think hard, but neither would I want to read it before bed, because as I read it, I wanted to hash it out and sort through the ideas buzzing around in my head, either verbally with family and friends, or with a pen and paper laptop.   It was hard going at times, exhilarating at others, and definitely worth a read, because people today, especially Christians, need to know about this digital explosion and how it has affected our lives, but also how we can live with it with integrity and purpose.

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