12 Tips for Parenting in the Digital Age

Do you think we have a smartphone problem?

Two weeks ago I was invited to speak to a room of church leaders on raising teens and tweens in the digital age, a message birthed from things I’ve learned from my wife and through years of personal wins and losses as a dad in my own home.

I landed at an airport, walked outside, got picked up by a 26-year-old Uber driver, Scott. A talkative guy, he asked me what I did. A journalist now researching smartphone habits and addictions, I said. Hardly having left the airport property, he choked back tears and explained that a week ago he broke up with his girlfriend of eight years, in part because of her smartphone addiction. “Me and my girlfriend,” he said, “we kicked our cigarette habit together. But we never could kick our smartphone habit together.” But Scott did. Feeling the urge to prove it, when we reached our destination, he showed me his iPhone and its nearly vacant home screen. He uses the phone only for driving and navigation. For everything else — he held up an old battered flip phone.

I thanked him, got out, checked into my hotel, walked for lunch, and sat inside a restaurant in a booth by a large window to enjoy the sunny cityscape. A few moments later a grimy homeless man walked along the sidewalk, stopped about ten feet from me, outside. Holding an empty Red Bull can smashed flat in the middle, and with the two ends slightly bent down at an angle. With both hands he held the can up in front of his face. With two thumbs he tapped and swiped and pinched and clicked on the flat surface for a full minute before holding it to his ear and walking off in a solo conversation. He’s simply trying to fit in, to look normal, and this is the normalcy he watches all day.

Do you think we have a smartphone problem?

Later that night in Louisville I spoke to a room of key pastors and leaders, parents and grandparents, who share my concerns over how smartphones and social media form and de-form teens and tweens.

Through the kind invitation of Collin Hansen (TGC) and the gift of three research days allotted to me by David Mathis (DG), I was finally able to pull all my thoughts together into one piece. The written form of the address is done, edited, and released a moment ago, under the title: Twelve Tips for Parenting in the Digital Age.”

Made in Joy, Made for Joy

Karl Barth has 99 problems, but ignoring the affections ain’t one. Likely the most joy-centered systematician in church history, Barth is easily the most joy-centered theologian of the first half of the 20th century. In Church Dogmatics alone the reader finds 2,000 references to joy, happiness, and the affections.

And while those mentions are well scattered throughout every volume, there’s a noticeable concentration of the language in his doctrine of God (vol. 2, part 1, §31.2), specifically on the eternity and glory of God. He knew any discussion of God’s glory was also a discussion of God’s joy because these two realities are indivisible (see 1 Tim 1:11). In this section Barth argues, akin to Edwards, that every creature finds its origin in “the movement of God’s self-glorification and the communication of His joy.” You and I exist because God’s self-glory calls forth an interaction with his happiness. We are not accidental products of this joy, like a pot over-boiled. Each life is made with intention. And each life derives its life from the eternal being of God. Thus, in turn, “God wills them and loves them because, far from having their existence of themselves and their meaning in themselves, they have their being and existence in the movement of the divine self-glorification, in the transition to them of His immanent joyfulness.” God’s love for man is grounded in the potential he/she has to experience divine joy in his glorification, in this life and eternally.

Furthermore, in the joy of God we find our vocation. “It is their destiny to offer a true if inadequate response in the temporal sphere to the jubilation with which the Godhead is filled from eternity to eternity. This is the destiny which man received and lost, only to receive it again, inconceivably and infinitely increased by the personal participation of God in man’s being accomplished in Jesus Christ.” Our union to Christ opens new levels of divine joy for us and more levels of divine glorification than if our eternal flourishing did not require the blood of Christ. In Christ, our affectional lives are tuned to the frequency of God’s song of self-glorification, though our response and vocation of worship, in this life, will always remain an “inadequate response.” Regardless, we are caught up into the joy of the Father in the Son.

Now, all of this is readily found in the works of Edwards, as if Barth is just paraphrasing. It’s in the next turn that gets interesting when he immediately introduces the context of eternal judgment. “The reaction of God even against sin, the meaning even of His holiness, even of His judgment, the meaning which is not extinguished but fulfilled even in damnation and hell, is that God is glorious, and that His glory does not allow itself to be diminished, to be disturbed in its gladness and the expression of that gladness, to be checked in the overflowing of its fullness.”

Because all creatures exist in the God-centered expression of God’s joy, any creature that impedes the joy of God, any creature who refuses to be a channel of divine joy into the world — namely, the self-centered creature — meets the wrath of God on the basis that he/she/angel has forever failed to be what he/she/angel was designed to be. In other words, hell is reserved for the God-designed creature who has refused, in sin, to participate in the joy of God in his self-glorification. Eternal judgment meets the one who chooses to thwart his vocation, who refuses to serve as a conduit of the current of God’s joy manifested into creation with the intention of being returned to him in Godward praise. In other words, to “check,” or to reject, the joy of God, is to act contrary to design and thereby to warrant eternal separation.

Source: Church Dogmatics: The Doctrine of God, Volume 2, Part 1: The Knowledge of God; The Reality of God (T&T Clark, 2004), 647–8.

The Leper-Substitute

Isaiah 53:3–4:

   He was despised and rejected by men, 
     a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; 
   and as one from whom men hide their faces 
     he was despised, and we esteemed him not. 

   Surely he has borne our griefs 
     and carried our sorrows; 
   yet we esteemed him stricken, 
     smitten by God, and afflicted.

Isaiah’s suffering servant will have no physical beauty to capture the eye-roving world, and this is partly because he will be “badly disfigured by persecution,” writes Ben Witherington in his new commentary on Isaiah. But that’s not all. On top of this disfigurement by violence, the servant appears to have been “stricken by some illness” (243). The term ‘stricken’ is a verb for disease, literally quasi leprosum in the Vulgate. This diseased condition is “one that probably causes disfigurement and repulsive appearance, and leprosy best fits this sort of description.” The badly disfigured shall be exalted by God — pure nonsense to a world that assumed outward beauty an evidence of God’s favor and disfiguring disease an evidence of God’s displeasure. Neither is a rule, and the suffering servant will destroy these divine stereotypes. Whether or not the servant will literally be disfigured by disease, he will be esteemed as such. “There is very little doubt that here we are talking about vicarious and substitutionary suffering,” Witherington states rightly of the text. “What is quite amazing is that it is not a person the people might have evaluated as suitable or exceptional who is called upon to perform this substitutionary suffering for God’s people, but one who to all outward appearances seemed ordinary, if not repulsive, the least likely candidate, humanly speaking” (245). Indeed, and this diseased one shall bear our diseases (Matt. 8:17).