Oh be careful little fingers what you type…

Title: Posting Peace
Why Social Media Divides Us and What We Can Do About It
Author: Douglas S. Bursch
Genre: Applied Theology / Social Science
Pages: 208
Rating: 3.5 of 5

I appreciate how social media (mostly Facebook) helps me stay in touch with friends and family. However, there are times when I am ready to call it quits and delete my fb account due to the seemingly constant torrent of anger, slander, fear-mongering, misinformation, and other filth. And it grieves me that many of my fellow Christians seem to be just as caught up in the war of words as anyone else. Rather than “keeping in step with the Spirit” by demonstrating godly character and motivations (love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control – Galatians 5:22-23), far too many of us engage in the kind of speech that we are told has no place in our life (bitterness, rage, anger, brawling, slander, malice – Ephesians 4:31). This timely book addresses these concerns.

The first part of the book focuses on how online communication shapes our interaction with others, with heavy emphasis on the distance it puts between us and the tendency to tribalization. This is followed with advice on how to overcome pitfalls and use social media for good. Throughout the book, the author strongly emphasizes Christians’ responsibility to be peacemakers who make room for reconciliation (among people as well as between people and God).

While I strongly agree with most of the author’s main points, some of his presentation felt muddled and imprecise. Criticism of those who are divisive is followed by admonition to use social media to confront injustice. Triumphalist declarations of how we can use social media to transform society are followed by warning that the task is impossible and full peace comes only when Christ returns. Verses about the Gospel reconciling people to God are used to talk about the social justice kind of reconciliation. None of these are necessarily complete contradictions, but I don’t think that the author explained with enough nuance or provided enough concrete examples to avoid confusion. Instead, I think he relied on discussion questions and writing assignments at the end of each chapter to try to get readers to think it through for themselves. While that approach might be great in a classroom setting, I find it less useful in book form (and, unfortunately, I have been seeing it increasingly often in “applied theology” kind of books).

Overall, even though the book could have definitely used more concrete examples and clearly nuanced explanations, it is well worth reading for Christians who frequently engage with social media. Let’s post peace rather than engage in trolling!