A Theology of Twitter

As of today, Christ and Pop Culture has launched a Twitter account. You can access it and subscribe here. If you like this site at all, I think you’ll really like the twitter feed. Trust us, it will be more than just telling you when we’ve blogged (in fact, we’ll try and refrain from that sort of thing at least for now).

In honor of this new Twitter account, I thought I’d offer up this “Theology of Twitter”. Enjoy, and see you on Twitter.

For many, Twitter is just another sign of the internet’s ability to suck all of the time out of your life, leaving little room for anything of priority. For others, Twitter provides another opportunity to maintain and encourage community amongst people who they would otherwise not have the opportunity to know. I think the truth is something else.

This isn’t meant to be a defense or a condemnation of twitter. In this short blog, I merely want to point out some of the implications of twitter on the whole man. What does twitter say about us, and what can it do for us?

One observation that is foundational to the beginnings of twitter is the state we are in as a culture. If there is one thing that has suffered in our age it is relationships. People have very little time to cultivate relationships, share concerns and hopes, and make their needs known. When we do see one another, it’s hard to know what to say, because we simply don’t know where anyone is coming from. Instead, we spend most of our time hanging out, trying to get to that point where we can find some frame of reference or connection.

Christians and church members already know of one frame of reference in which they can interact: they have experienced the saving grace of the gospel of Christ and are living their lives in light of that truth. This is a great starting point, but we are fooling ourselves if we believe that’s all we need for deep fellowship. How many times can we have meaningful relationships asking the same tired questions that (supposedly) work on every Christian? The danger of such generic questions is that they treat every Christian as the same person with the same struggles and needs and worries. After a while, it’s time to move past questions like “How is work?” and “What have you been reading lately?”

So how did they do it in the early church? It’s safe to say Twitter had nothing to do with it. But it’s also hard to imagine them asking the same standard questions of one another every week before they head out in separate directions to carry on the rest of the work week. No, in that day, everyone had contact with various people throughout the day. You took walks, not car rides. You worked outside, not in cubicles. No one stayed inside and watched television or even read books. People spent time together. It wasn’t just a preference. It was a way of life.

Was that the better way? Probably. Can we simulate such a culture now as the church of God? Almost certainly not. We all have jobs in cubicles, things that have to get done, reasons to stay inside, and we don’t really take walks anymore. If we do, it’s rarely with one another. It’s all fine and good to say rather than watching television we ought to do something with real people, and this is a fine idea for much of the time, but social protocol gives us the real or imagined perception that if we call someone to hang out too often, we’re just annoying them. Because it’s often socially awkward to just say no to people, the perception is often real.

Twitter offers one way among many that we can compensate for these cultural flaws. While we need to acknowledge that a virtual, internet relationship is really no relationship at all, we also need to be honest and acknowledge what can be the real world benefit of knowing, for instance, that I’ve been thinking of doing some freelancing work, playing PS3 a LOT lately, and meditating on the vanity of life. This sort of knowledge makes the conversation a heck of a lot more meaningful and challenging when we come together on the weekend. By knowing what’s happening in one another’s lives, we know how to speak truth to one another, how to pray for one another, and how to serve one another.

Is it a waste of time? That’s your decision. When I get a spare moment, I’ll launch twitter. I’m currently following 20 people, and it usually takes me about 30 seconds maximum to digest whatever may be new. Then it takes another 30 seconds to tell twitter what I’m doing, thinking or feeling. The result? It could mean looking forward to fruitful, insightful conversations with a friend.

Instead of going in depth on other good and bad implications of twitter, I thought I’d share a few of the responses I got on twitter to the question: “Getting ready to blog a Theology of Twitter. Any thoughts on twitter’s theological implications?”

About Richard Clark

Richard H. Clark is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Christ and Pop Culture. He has a Master of Arts in Theology and the Arts from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He lives in Louisville, Ky. He is also the managing editor of Gamechurch and a freelance writer for Unwinnable, Paste, and other outlets.
E-mail: clarkrichardh [at] gmail [dot] com.
Twitter: @deadyetliving

  • http://www.provocativechurch.com Bill Reichart

    GreatPOST! Twitter’s growing on me although initially skeptical of it. If I can’t justify value for a “new” technology, I don’t adopt it.

    (All comments, in keeping with the twitter theme all comments should be kept to 140 characters!)

    Bill Reicharts last blog post..Christian College Students Don’t Know Christianity

  • http://www.christandpopculture.com/featured/podcast-22-pop-cultures-startling-lack-of-restraint-viol Richard Clark

    Good luck, The Dane!

  • http://nowheresville.us The Dane

    Hm. Sounds like Facebook statuses to me—which, while potentially amusing, are not the kind of thing I see as inspiring me to actively check.

    The Danes last blog post..20080612

  • http://www.provocativechurch.com Bill Reichart

    @Dane 140 characters long exactly. Way to go. :-)

  • http://suburbia.org.uk Rick Curran

    Interesting post, I think Twitter is a great way to share and learn about things. Lot’s of little interesting nuggets of information, links to sites that you otherwise might miss!

    Rick Currans last blog post..Review: Apple Composite AV cable for iPod Touch, iPhone, Nano etc

  • http://suburbia.org.uk Rick Curran

    Sorry, it looks like I’m trying to spam the comments with the link to my last blog post which was a product review! That wasn’t my intention!

  • http://scottedwardschultz.blogspot.com/ Scott

    I signed up for twitter just so I could see what all the fuss was about it and see how it works. I remain unconvinced of its merits and it’s one of the many features of Web 2.0 that very well may lead me to destroy my computer (or maybe the internet) when I move back home.

  • http://www.christandpopculture.com/featured/podcast-22-pop-cultures-startling-lack-of-restraint-viol Richard Clark

    I suppose that would make sense… if you left all of your self control in Orlando.

  • http://scottedwardschultz.blogspot.com/ Scott

    Yes, yes. Well, whatever I leave behind, I’m packing an extra box of my deep-seated loathing for the inter-world and an ironic appreciation for everything I’ve gained from it.

  • http://www.christandpopculture.com/featured/podcast-22-pop-cultures-startling-lack-of-restraint-viol Richard Clark

    Um, yay?

  • http://clarkkentslunchbox.blogspot.com/ C Kent

    First off – really great post. Being a practical-minded old man, Twitter seemed like a waste at first. Who cares if what I’m doing now is “harvesting my belly button lint?” However, as I’ve been wrapping my brain around the social media/networking phenomena my view has gone from, “What a waste” to “What an opportunity.” Twitter has opened up quite a few situations for me to network with people I would have otherwise never met. It has turned into a ‘bridging’ tool as well, where people can see my faith through my blog and/or my profile on social networking sites without me overtly cramming it in their face.

    It’s interestesting that you mention the early church – as I use Twitter or Facebook I try to image how Paul or Peter would have used the same tools if they were to establish the early church in modern times.

    Good stuff.

  • http://nathancreitz.blogspot.com Nathan Creitz

    I just recently started using twitter myself and I hope to use it as a social networking “real estate” to help promote my blog on Christ, culture, creation, and the Church. Though I doubt that will be a very popular topic on twitter :) Great post.

    Nathan

    Nathan Creitzs last blog post..June Recap

  • http://www.computalk.net/ Computer Forum

    Amazing article! Detailed and very interested. I am going to recommend this blog to my friends.

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  • http://www.aaronhall.com/ Minnesota Attorney

    You have raised a number of interesting aspects of Twitter, from a deeper level than most who promote or criticize Twitter. Aside from setting up a Twitter account, I have had trouble wondering why I would care to post little tweets online for the world to see. Thanks for the thought-provoking article.

    Minnesota Attorneys last blog post..Blog Law 101: Keeping Your Blog Legal

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  • Lori Mackay

    Doesn’t Twitter breed a constant self-focus, thinking always of me and what to tell my “audience” about what I’m doing? Shouldn’t we be trying to think of ourselves less, not more?

    And isn’t the reading of Twitter throughout the day deepening the need to be entertained constantly? A relevant quote from Carl Trueman: “The frothy entertainment culture in which we live is a narcotic: not only is it addictive, so that we always want more; it also eats away at us, skewing our priorities, rotting our values as surely as too much sugar rots our teeth.” (Read the whole thing at
    http://www.reformation21.org/counterpoints/understanding-the-times/trapped-in-neverland.php ).

    Twitter elevates us to celebrity status in our own minds, imagining that everything we do is worthy of note by others, no matter what they are involved in. It makes publicizing what we are doing more important than what we are doing. And reading others’ twittering reduces our attention span on our work, families, studying, God’s Word, and the important things of life, so that we can be entertained. It increases our ties to electronic devices and couch-potato status. I don’t think it is a healthy thing to be involved in, mentally, emotionally, physically, or spiritually. If you start to get twitchy when you can’t twitter, better rethink it!

  • http://nowheresville.us The Dane

    @Lori Mackay – Twitter and Facebook statuses don’t bear any necessary tie to the problem you’re describing. Sure, people can abuse the tools, but the tools themselves don’t encourage the abuse.

    As far as the elevation to quote-unquote celebrity status in our own minds, I’m not certain how that is substantially different from commenting on a post or writing for a blog. People express themselves in these forums because they either believe or hope that their thoughts are valuable enough to be consumed by the mass culture out there. I’m not sure that necessarily ties into celebrity imagination though. I personally believe that my thoughts on things are worthwhile and can benefit the world—but I don’t think either that that makes me special or that this translates into any kind of celebrity for me.

    I mean, do you feel like a celebrity just because I responded to your comment? Probably not. It’s the same with Twitter or Facebook.

    The Danes last blog post..20081119.ChurchLies

  • Lori Mackay

    @The Dane -
    Hmm. I think there’s a huge difference between taking a few minutes to respond to specific ideas in a blog and spending the whole day publicizing what you are doing and keeping up with what others are posting about what they are doing. Do you agree that it encourages a short attention span? A lack of focus on the work or activity at hand? Diverting your attention from those who are physically with you in favour of those who aren’t? All sorts of negative implications…

    Anyway, I now have to return to work, where my focus will be for the next few hours!

  • http://nowheresville.us The Dane

    @Lori – Nah, I don’t agree. I enjoy seeing what my friends are up to or thinking about because it helps foster connectedness. These things are not in place of in depth conversation but in addition to. Think of it as Value Added.

    I speak more along these lines in the more recent status-update discussion.

    I’m not sure how either reading or writing status updates contributes anything toward a short attention span or a lack of focus. I don’t see any merit in that classification and would guess that it comes out of a typically Luddite sort of conservatism.

    The Danes last blog post..20081119.ChurchLies

  • Lori Mackay

    The Dane said, “I don’t see any merit in that classification and would guess that it comes out of a typically Luddite sort of conservatism.”

    “Luddite: one who is opposed to especially technological change”

    “ad hominem: marked by or being an attack on an opponent’s character rather than by an answer to the contentions made”

    Now back to my clay tablet and the woolly mammoth roasting over the fire pit…

  • http://nowheresville.us The Dane

    Describing the kind of technophobia from which these sorts of fears generally hail a Luddite is not evidence of an ad hominem argument. It is simply describing the type of conservatism t which a certain people hold. Maybe if I had used Luddite as an obvious derogative. But I hadn’t.

    In any case, even if I had used an ad hominem abusive (the brand of ad hominem I imagine you imagined?), that doesn’t change the fact that I see no merit in the idea that this application of technology aids in the development of a short attention span.

    As the one who brought up the idea, the burden of even the slimmest proof lies on you. I see no evidence to support the claim, so to defeat my position, the best start is to have at least some evidence that we can review. It would be like if I claimed that I had received a visit from space eels. You have no reason to believe my claim on the surface of it, so in order for me to begin to convince you, I would need at least some evidence to show you in order to demonstrate the validity of my claim. At that point, you’re free to draw your own conclusions based on the merits of my case.

    But until I present a case, you have nothing to judge. The same holds true for me and the idea that we have anything to fear from Facebook statuses.

    The Danes last blog post..20081119.ChurchLies

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  • http://intheopen.blogspot.com carmen

    rich, thanks for stopping my blog and, for what it’s worth, i think you’re onto something with your article. for quite some time, i’ve lamented the lack of real relationship we believers share. and, coincidently, i’ve also been enamored with how the ordinary is often where we meet and love each other. you seem to tie the two together in a very thought-provoking way.

    i’m glad to see this out there — because it’s definatelly worth considering.

    blessings.

    carmens last blog post..More God-talk in Twitter, film and television

  • http://www.teamcrossworld.com/blog crossn81

    Twitter has been invaluable for building relationships in a new city. I adopted Twitter after moving to Minneapolis and it has helped create and then strengthen friendships with individuals whom I might have only had a casual acquaintance with before.

    It has also provided a way to stay in touch with friends from my past who might otherwise get lost in the busy-ness of day-to-day life.

    I agree with the idea that Twitter is a value added. If managed properly it can also be a useful resource for your job or career development, but if not it can quickly take over your life.

    I have developed a lot of followers who are runners. Many of them only use Twitter at a personal level and often are engaged in (to me) pointless drivel back in forth, almost like an IM service. I also have a lot of non-profit people and organizations that I follow that are much more “professional” about their tweets and provide valuable resources to me throughout the day.

    Like every other thing in our lives, Twitter can become what we want it to be. All things in moderation and self-control are important!

    crossn81s last blog post..CSA #4

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  • http://reformedandreforming.org Jesse Wisnewski

    Interesting post. I still haven’t subscribed to Twitter yet, perhaps I will when I’m finished with school and have more time. Well, I just finished writing something I dubbed Tweet-thology, which is basically observing the usage of Twitter in the study and discussion of God using Twitter (http://reformedandreforming.org/2010/04/28/tweet-thology/). Not sure how viable this is, but I do see that Twitter will revolutionize the way that we discuss the things of God, especially online. Cheers, Jesse

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