1,800. That’s the number of people in my life that Facebook neatly categorizes as friends.
This is fascinating. Those who I disciple and my high school friends both fall under the same category: “friend.” Think of how odd this is. I spend time worshipping Jesus, reading the Bible, and confessing sins with those I disciple. On the other hand, I haven’t participated in a single substantive conversation or exchanged a single meaningful remark with most of my high school friends since 2007.
Obviously, our relational lives aren’t flat. They are three-dimensional, richly layered, and they have a topography. You might imagine an inner-circle of your relational life composed of those five or ten people you spend the most time with, and an outer-ring for those other 1,790 people on your facebook friends list.
Likewise, you have about 1,800 bits of true information in your life. Grass is green, Jesus is Lord, the sky is blue, God is love, all of these pieces of information are equally true: 100%. So, the challenge for pastors who live in an age of infodolatry is this: how will our church members know when God’s truths move from the outer-ring to the inner-ring of life? How do we know when God’s truths have moved from Facebook friend to personal friend? How we will discern between mere information and transformational truth?
Consider this: King David knows the law of God, but still commits adultery with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11). He knows the right information, but does the wrong thing. And in Psalm 51, the prayer he writes after committing adultery with Bathsheba, one of David’s longings is this: real knowledge. David writes, “Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.”
God teaches. This is the only hope we have for leading our churches into real knowledge in an age of Facebook friends. God, himself, teaches.
Preachers, this ought to be a supreme comfort in your life. You can spend all forty hours of your workweek preparing your sermon manuscript, slaving over sentence structure, pouring over the psychology of persuasive speech, and deliver your sermon without a single “ummm” or a single “errrrr.” But, if your church listens to it with both ears to the pulpit and not a single ear to the heavens, the sermon will just be information. Let your church know they should listen to your sermons with one ear to the pulpit and one ear to the heavens.
Here are three other ways to help your church fight for real knowledge:
1. Help them do the hard work of heart work. Maybe your church members don’t know their hearts are complex, slippery little things. You might tell them that their hearts have a topography: if they were to cut their hearts open and lay them flat on a table, they would notice layers. At the bottom of their hearts might be the layer that really knows God’s truths and loves them. But there’s a layer above that, where the heart nows God’s truths, but is a little embarrassed by them. And there’s also this shallow, superficial layer at the very top, the part of the heart that knows God’s truth, but flatout rejects them. That's the layer where there’s only information. Perhaps when they become acquainted with their hearts like this, they’ll be able to process Bible verses, worship songs, and sermons by asking: which layer of my heart did that sink into?
2. Describe what it looks like for mere information to become transformative truth. There are some key descriptions of what this process looks like. For instance, information is blossoming into knowledge when: you feel your authority slip and the Bible’s authority swell, you now celebrate the cracks and corners of the Bible you once feared, and when things in the Bible that used to taste sour now taste sweet.
3. Give them lots of true information, but ultimately, give them Jesus. Jesus is sovereign over everything. He owns every word, every letter, and every syllable of the human dictionary, and yet, he has a special, covenantal relationship with the word “truth.” He chooses that word and a few more and tells us that it describes him: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). In Psalm 51, David’s longing for “truth in the secret heart” will not ultimately be met by information. It will be met by a person. Remind your church members that it is well with their soul because Jesus dwells in their souls. He will make them not just learners of truth, but lovers of truth. He will make information into affections, he will make commands into inclinations, and he will make his demands into their delights.
Herein lies the danger of life in an age of infodolatry. Suppose you have a few friends who love art. In casual conversations, you hear them quote Pablo Picasso: “Art washes from the soul the dust of everyday life.” They say things like, “Life crushes the soul and art reminds you that you have one.” Because of their presence in your life, you begin to want to appreciate art. In this new found spirit, you spend considerable money on renowned and beautiful art. You hammer nails into your walls, you create a small gallery in your basement, but you forget one of the most important steps. The most crucial step. There are zero light fixtures installed. So these paintings by Picasso, Dali, and Da Vinci hang on your walls in the darkness of your basement with no light shining on them.
All of your expository sermons carefully packed with true information about God might seem this way to your church members, like beautiful paintings sitting in the dark. They have heard that God is good, that Christ atoned for their sins, that Christ imputes his righteousness, but these have been but drops of information in a sea of facts. This can change.
God wants to teach them. Ask him to turn the lights on.