I’m Done Dating Jesus Online

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Maybe you’ve seen the commercials for the various online dating sites. The latest claim is that 1 in 5 relationships begin on an online hook-up hub. Those stats seem exaggerated at best, but that doesn’t negate the fact that I can think of at least 2 different friends who are now married because of a dating relationship that began online.

If a relationship begins on the web, for it to authentically lead to a “real” romance, incarnated flames must eventually test disembodied sparks of interest. You can’t get married on the internet.

Over the past few years, I’ve become a social media guy. I’m on Facebook, Twitter, and websites almost every day. At times, I spend hours interacting with others and producing web-content about Jesus. This sort of engagement stimulates my mind and pushes me to explore the intricacies of Christianity within Western culture. The internet is a gift to my faith.

However, I’ve noticed a subtle and dangerous tendency. To explain, maybe an analogy will help.

In both my high school and college friendship groups, love-boats often tossed and turned in the turbulent winds of unstable relational tides. This ebb and flow led several people I knew to difficult break ups with their significant others. Upon coping with such an identity shipwreck, many of my Christian peers found refuge in a spiritual lifeboat. Although the storms of life disrupted marital prospects, these friends found that Jesus still says, “Peace, be still.”

Many times, dropping anchor with Jesus is the most appropriate response to relational woes. Unfortunately, with this response sometimes came a phrase that still bothers me today: “I’m just dating Jesus now. He’s my only boyfriend.”

The danger of this approach to Jesus is that it quickly becomes an emotional fix by focusing only on attaching romantic feelings to experiences with Christ. This sort of faith quickly becomes consumed with one’s heart, filling the romantic void within, in spite of a lack of external intimate companionship. Jesus easily is used as an emotional coping mechanism until the next incarnated significant other comes along to set a new love-boat afloat. What is lacking externally is compensated for via a metaphorical fling with the King.

Something similar happens in our online life if we are not careful.

A tendency in my life is to become consumed by the jargoning that happens in the “Christian online world.” I say things like: Can you believe what so and so said? That article was so deep. I’m so embarrassed to be a Christian right now… I’ve gotta let my voice be heard! Time to sign a petition. I guess we’re not past the culture wars afterall.

By sitting in front of a laptop each day, I convince myself that such activity is adequate for getting my Jesus fix. I read inspiring items from my Facebook newsfeed, interact in theological controversies, invite folks to read my blog posts and articles – all the while neglecting the many Kingdom possibilities all around me.

An abstract, disembodied, web-based faith satisfies my longings to truly live empowered by the Spirit of Jesus in the real world. Or, so I think.

As stated earlier, the internet is a gift to my faith. I love blogging, reading, and relating to others about Jesus through social media outlets. A problem emerges, however, when the online sphere dominates my Christian identity. Just like a young adult declaring Jesus their boyfriend to fill a relational void, I attempt to get my Kingdom fill by dating Jesus online. Simultaneously, I neglect engaging in the ramifications of following Christ in my incarnated life.

Jesus invites us to be married to the tangibility of his Kingdom of love. I believe that, read about it on my laptop, and even sometimes buy the lie that my life is really sold out to such a vision.  Often that vision doesn’t make it past my 13 inch MacBook screen. This lustful pseudo-gospel-life sometimes cheapens the depths of what it means to internalize and externalize the love of God.

I’m done dating Jesus online. I no longer want my relationship to God and my commitment to the way of Jesus to be mediated through the web. I desire a life shaped by spiritual practices that empower me to actually do the sorts of things I write and read about in Web 2.0. In so far that the internet serves as a supplement to my Christian faith and not as an insufficient substance, I still see its value.

But may I never again give into the lie that treating Jesus as a proverbial online boyfriend will bring about the Kingdom of God on the earth.

Take time today to walk away from the screen and sit under a tree with your Bible. Go for a run and chat with Jesus as you pass trees, cars, birds, and squirrels on the ground. Ask God how you might take Christ’s love into your neighborhood and city. And simply be with the Holy Spirit in the real world. Maybe the online dates will give way to a Kingdom marriage, a whole life lived with and for Jesus Christ.

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  • Ashley S.

    This is so convicting. My life is a small world. As a stay at home mom, I don’t get out much and when I do I see the same people. I spend a lot of time exploring my faith through various websites and articles. Thank you for reminding me that this should be the punctuation to the actual substance.

  • http://OurRabbiJesus.com/ Lois Tverberg

    Thanks for this, Kurt – I totally agree.

    I wonder if the “romance” idea appeals to people because it gives people the thrill of infatuation without a sense of permanence. Often I hear people who sound very insecure about God’s love for them, and it sounds like they don’t have a sense of his “hesed” – his rock-solid, enduring love.

    (I posted recently on this myself: http://ourrabbijesus.com/2012/05/02/hesed-enduring-eternal-undeserved-love/ )

    • zahn8

      My favorite word in the Bible–hesed.  Wonderful blog post and thank you for sharing!  I was thrilled to find it, as so few people talk about this word.

  • Jm

    Love it, Kurt! Well said indeed. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in cyber-faith when your livelihood hinges to a large degree on it. 

  • http://strawberryroan.blogspot.com/ Shanyn Mystic

    This is really well done Kurt and you are so right.  Living our walk with intention requires us to be off line and on line.  Bless you for sharing this!

  • Brad Danielson

    I agree and think its important to find that proper balance of being “online” with Christ, and “offline” with Christ.  I do enjoy reading many of the same blogs that you do, Kurt, and it does help to fill up my “tank” throughout the day.  I’m also a big fan of the “YouVersion” app on my phone, as it keeps me connected on the bus ride home and whenever/wherever I feel the need to reconnect myself.  In my opinion, if you’re continuing to fill up your tank throughout the day, its not as difficult to live out your life in a Christ-like manner, but you must be intentional about doing so. 

    On another note, which hooked me on this particular post cause I thought it was going to be about online Christian dating (ha!)….  I gave in to e-harmony as I had received a “4 months for the price of 1″ deal in my email.  Decided to give it a shot.  Never felt comfortable as I thought God would bring me to the right person in another way.  Quit e-harmony and started praying more deliberately that God would allow me to find the one he chose for me.  Met Steph two months later.  Got married 4 days ago.  :) 

     Oftentimes unplugging from “technology based” Christ living and relying on “reality based” Christ living is exactly what we need to focus on!

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/ Kurt Willems

      I’m so excited for you and Steph! I didn’t know that you had gotten married this last weekend :-) God works in amazing ways!
      KURT WILLEMS
      http://twitter.com/kurtwillems
      http://facebook.com/kurtwillems

      • http://www.facebook.com/stephann79 Stephanie Olson

        Wanna see?? We surprised our church body during the sermon – it was awesome! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5YmwP3kMsU4  Ha, my need for attention.  Truly though, I am one blessed woman!

        Also, great post Kurt.  For now I feel my school cohort and church keep me from falling into this hole, but it can happen quickly – sometimes just after one straight day of nothing but Christin web content!  Of course, I hope this revelation won’t keep you away too much:)

        And, Brad, Amy is right.  You would have found the right person online – like so many do – but how could you when I wasn’t there ;)

        (Okay, I’m done hijacking your blog with my gross newlywed joy:-)

        • http://patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/ Kurt Willems

          SO AWESOME! I’LL WATCH THE VIDEO SOON!

          Kurt Willems
          the Pangea Blog – Subscribe in one step!
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    • AmyS

      Congratulations and blessings to you in your marriage. Wonderful!

      I think we should be careful about rating the rightness or value of online dating based on our individual experience with it. Clearly, it wasn’t for you. On the other hand, I have friends who have found it to be a worthwhile tool to help them connect with others in real relationships. Dating sites are not too much different, in principle, from the old practices of matchmaking and arranged marriages. Those are much older and proven ways of meeting potential mates.

      • AmyS

        Matchmaking and arranged marriages are older ways to select marriage partners, that is, than contemporary Western dating/courtship rituals.

  • E.V.

    The latest Conspire magazine is all on this theme: http://conspiremag.com/current-issues/

    • E.V.

      wanted to add, there’s some extra responses / food for thought available on the website under ‘Plotting Goodness” or click this http://conspiremag.com/how-does-technology-impact-your-life-thoughts-from-our-co-conspirators/#more-766 ;-)

      • http://patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/ Kurt Willems

         @3f580e9215932cf6227d50b1b0474e02:disqus  … I just got my issue in the mail yesterday. I haven’t read it yet, but the theme looks promising! Thanks for sharing it here for folks that may not be on the mailing list!

  • AmyS

    Powerful confession, Kurt. Maybe it’s time to take that Confession face-to-face with a “priest” (aka, spiritual friend or director, pastor or pastoral counselor, therapist). Practice seeing your face in the reflection of a trustworthy and respected other who can represent the revelatory and forgiving incarnation of Christ to you.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/ Kurt Willems

       @58757ba8ba47d7e22c9fe13375191e5a:disqus … I am blessed to have those sorts of spiritual friends in my life. They challenge / encourage me to be more like Jesus in real life. This has been an interesting journey with many ups and downs.  I feel like the “ups” are certainly outweighing the “downs” when it comes to my faith journey. This post is simply a reminder of the temptation that lurks in my life to make the web the depths of my faith… when in fact, it should primarily function as a supplement. I’m refreshed at the ways in which God is working with me in this first week of Post-Seminary life :-)

  • Andy J. Funk

    Just kiss dating goodbye, Kurt  ;)

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/ Kurt Willems

      LOL! @d9dcef54ae6536f39b93799589557083:disqus ! Even when that book came out when I was in high school (and a conservative evangelical) I hated the idea of that book :-)

  • Cherylaldridge2010

    Awesome article, and so true for many people !

  • http://twitter.com/JeremyCushman Jeremy Cushman

    As far as online dating goes, I wrote a post a couple years ago: http://cushmanschronicles.com/2010/08/08/my-future-wife-2/

    But I never really considered the online-relationship-with-Jesus aspect. In truth, I’ve probably had phases of my life where I was “Christian” online, but rather careless away from the screen. Not to say that I was a completely different person, but to say that I didn’t seek God apart from my computer. Such a habit is terribly shallow and doesn’t produce anything genuine.

    I like this post because it puts the internet in its proper place (like really anything else we have); a gift to enjoy. It never be the source of the gift; it can’t give itself…

    Thanks Kurt!

  • http://twitter.com/JeremyCushman Jeremy Cushman

    can never*

  • http://www.anirenicon.com an irenicon

    I think this hits many of us where it’s needed.  I know that regardless of online prowess, many of us tend to use Jesus like a backup-date… texting him things late at night like “you up, boo?”

    • AmyS

      Ouch!

  • ericfriesen1

    Good insights. I believe the sways are far from being only external though. A lot of the tendencies here are passed down from previous generations, pre-web 2.0, seeking the consumerist fix.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/ Kurt Willems

      Great insight Eric…

      Kurt Willems
      the Pangea Blog – Subscribe in one step!
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  • olatunde

    Thanks for this Kurt.  I think alot about the epistles, and how the authors usually want very badly to be with the person or church they are writing to, but have to write instead because of distance.  Many of the issues we don’t understand in the epistles have to do with the apostles sharing most of their teachings face to face, and reminding them of what they already taught them in the letters.  In other words, they preferred face to face interactions, but when they couldn’t, they wrote.  It seems to me that letters, emails, texts, etc., should be the supplements to face to face interactions when they can’t happen.  Of course, blogs and ebooks are expressions that are gifts from God as well.  And the beauty of the internet is that we can actually interact with authors in dialogue like never before.  I am personally experiencing this with one of my favorite authors.  I’m also experiencing with you at this moment!  One very good thing about the internet is the possibility of immediate feedback.   Your thoughts inspired these. Thanks again.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/ Kurt Willems

      Olatunde, I couldn’t agree with you more. What a great few insights you offered us in this comment. Thanks for coming by bro! Have a great weekend!
      Kurt Willems

  • http://www.facebook.com/jason.ekk Jason Ekk

    Excellent post kurt!  Keep up the good work (on and off line).

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/ Kurt Willems

      Thanks bro. I’m glad to know that you are part of the online and off-line reality of this conversation. Thanks for the encouragement in all areas :-) have a good day dude and suck at finals.
      KURT WILLEMS
      http://twitter.com/kurtwillems
      http://facebook.com/kurtwillems

  • http://trudymetzger.com/ Trudy Metzger

    Very much enjoyed this post, Kurt!  I do a lot of online ministry and totally agree with you about the importance of  making it real ‘off screen’ as well! I try to meet with people, at least one or two daily if possible, to bring Jesus to life in the real world, listening and praying. I appreciate this challenge… it is so easy to get caught up in cyber space relationships, even with Jesus! Blessings to you, my friend!


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