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Born in the age of the internet

Is the church making the most of the internet? asks Eve Paterson, Great Commission coordinator

Our world is a very different place to 1989, when the internet was first conceived.

Ronald Reagan was handing over to George H. W. Bush, the UK had its first female Prime Minister, and Trump was hosting the Tour de Trump – America’s response to the Tour de France. We can all recognise that the world has changed dramatically in the last thirty years, and not just politically, and without conflating cause and effect, the internet has played a large part in this.

I should admit that I was born in 1995 so have no experience of a world in which the internet is not seemingly the be-all and end-all of human intelligence, interaction, and inspiration. I am, in every sense, a digital native. 

From Google Maps to eHar​mo​ny​.com, the internet has transformed the way we navigate our environment and engage with each other, and it’s a struggle to imagine how we’d function without it today. To be clear, I have no intention of debating the ethics of the invention of the internet: in many ways, that ship has sailed. But I do think we, as Christians, should take a long, hard look at how we navigate these online waters.

The internet has brought a huge wealth of benefits into our world. Disaster relief can more readily reach those in need. We have a greater awareness, and hopefully understanding, of those we may have never interacted with offline. And practically, if you ever need to learn some new DIY techniques, YouTube has tons of helpful videos.

That said, Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the internet, seems disenchanted with what the internet has become, and we know it is increasingly a space that can be hostile to conversation and debate, including for Christians and Christian views. Having written a letter every year on the internet’s anniversary, Tim Berners-Lee’s letter for this year felt somewhat bleak and dissatisfied, not too dissimilar to the chastising of a disappointed father.

But there is hope. Berners-Lee himself assures us there is hope online: It’s understandable that many people feel afraid and unsure if the web is really a force for good. But given how much the web has changed in the past 30 years, it would be defeatist and unimaginative to assume that the web as we know it can’t be changed for the better in the next 30.”

And how much more do we, as Christians, know that there is hope? Paul assures us that the best is yet to come: Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead” (Philippians 3:13). Thankfully, our hope for what is yet to come is not dependent on the benevolence of humanity and its supposed ability to create positive change online. No, our hope is in a benevolent father who is not disappointed, but who is working alongside us to bring His kingdom to earth.

So how do we, as followers of Jesus, bring kingdom values to the online realm? Firstly, we need to ask why we’re online. Are we looking to consume conveniently, boost our public profile, and compare our lives to others? Or are we seeking to invest in worthwhile initiatives, encourage others, and explore the world around us? As someone who willingly admits that her book obsession has got out of hand, Instagram and Amazon are perfect suppliers for my need for recommendations and delivery of my next read – I can consume at will. But if Jesus did not come to be served, but to serve” (Matthew 20:28) then how do I ensure that I contribute positively to the internet more than I consume from it?

Secondly, we need to ask where God is at work online. God uses every medium available to communicate with us, from burning bushes to talking donkeys, and from walking in Eden to coming to earth as Jesus. We know that the internet is being used to share the good news of Jesus in places that it would have been inconceivable to spread the gospel 30 years ago. And I believe that the internet is far from immune to God’s interaction, so I think we need to be much better at spotting where He’s speaking to us. More than we follow our favourite YouTuber or Instagram influencer, are we following what God is doing online?

Berners-Lee writes, To get this right, we will need to come together as a global web community.” I would say, for the growth of God’s kingdom and the spread of the gospel of Jesus, we need to come together as a global church and make the most of what the internet still has to offer God’s kingdom. We know that a bad workman blames his tools, so if we are struggling to see the value of the tool of the internet, then perhaps we need to ask ourselves how we’re using it.

If you want to think more about how to use the internet well, read Jon Turner’s article from idea magazine on bringing light to the digital darkness.

About the author

Eve is a military kid and Durham Theology graduate, who spent a year studying graphic design before joining the Evangelical Alliance in 2017. She is passionate about creativity, seeing God's kingdom come, and anything that involves cheese and/or gin. Nomadic at heart, Eve lives in the architectural wonderland of Cambridge and commutes into London to work alongside the dream team at 176. She is insistent that ‘forward planning’ is the sixth official love language and, as such, runs the behind-the-scenes of greatcommission.co.uk, ensuring the UK church is equipped to share Jesus wherever we are.

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