If Jesus were physically present today, would he use social media? And if so, to what end? What can we learn from the life and teachings of Jesus about how to "comment" well on social media? In this video, Sean and Scott discuss ways Christians can approach and use social media in a way that honors the Lord and loves others. At the end, they offer five lessons from Jesus about how to comment on social media.
Sean McDowell: If Jesus were physically present today, would He use social media? And if so, to what end? What can we learn from the life and teachings of Jesus about how to comment on social media well? Given how much I use social media and our culture does, these are some pressing questions we need to lean into and address. I'm here with my “Think Biblically” co-host, Scott Rae, who is an ethicist, written a lot of books, done your PhD in this, to explore these questions. So let's jump right in. If Jesus were physically present today, do you think He might use social media?
Scott Rae: Before I answer that, Sean, let me, just a disclaimer out for our audience here. You should know that Sean and I have completely different approaches to social media.
Sean McDowell: That is true, fair enough.
Scott Rae: Sean uses it extensively, and I think for the most part to good ends. Sean McDowell: Okay.
Scott Rae: And I don't use it hardly at all because I've seen the way people comment on it, I've seen the Christian community the way they comment on it in ways that I think are more reflective of the polarization of the culture. And I don't want to be part of that. And I found that by exposing myself to that and the temptation to sort of fight fire with fire on that has done some harm to my soul-
Sean McDowell: Wow. Scott Rae: On that. Sean McDowell: Wow.
Scott Rae: And so I have chosen just to be sort of... I'm out for now. I may change that at some point. I should be fair too, my wife is just the opposite from me.
Sean McDowell: Oh, okay, all right.
Scott Rae: And she doesn't quite understand why I'm not more engaged with social media, but I'm just in a different place.
Sean McDowell: And you know what, that's fair. That's gonna be helpful for our viewers. We're two different generations, two different approaches here. Christians trying to be faithful to what we think God has called us to. We're not saying there's one way to do this, but there's biblical principles we all need to apply as we approach it.
Scott Rae: So if our listeners are anticipating that I would say, well, of course Jesus would not have used social media, but I'm not saying that. And granted, I mean, this is all speculation.
Sean McDowell: Sure, sure.
Scott Rae: Hopefully, reasonably sanctified speculation. Sean McDowell: Well said.
Scott Rae: But I think Jesus would have used social media today. And the reason for that is that you look at all of the different creative ways Jesus used to communicate the message of the gospel. I mean, obviously, He used some things that we're not capable of using, like doing miracles.
Sean McDowell: Of course.
Scott Rae: And that had a powerful impact. But He told stories repeatedly. Sean McDowell: He did.
Scott Rae: He used what I would call sort of extended illustrations that were drawn from the earthiness and the warp and roof of everyday life in the first century, so that anybody could relate to them. The parables He used, He told hundreds of parables that were all based on things that the average person had in common and could relate to. He went into synagogues to preach.
Sean McDowell: He did.
Scott Rae: He interacted with the rabbis. He debated according to the way in which the rabbis would... They had their own way of debating-
Sean McDowell: In that culture at that time He utilized it.
Scott Rae: And He was totally comfortable with that. He also has spent lots of time around Gentiles, around non-Jews and told them the gospel message in ways that they could relate to. So I think given that He used so many different creative ways to communicate, I think He would've used other tools at His disposal had they been there.
Sean McDowell: Okay, now, before we go any further, a book, I probably won't write it. But in the back of my mind, has been, 'cause I studied communications as an undergrad, what are the communication means of Jesus? And He did certain things like do people ask, why did He get in a boat? To project His voice. Why did He speak up a hill? I've been to the Mount of Beatitudes.
Scott Rae: I've been there too.
Sean McDowell: And I told our group, I said, "Wait up here, I'm gonna talk." You
did the same thing [indistinct].
Scott Rae: I did exactly the same thing. Sean McDowell: And it projects up the hill. Scott Rae: Hundreds of feet away.
Sean McDowell: It does.
Scott Rae: And with no artificial amplification, I mean those people, they heard me just fine. Like this is probably at least a hundred yards away down the hill, if not more so.
Sean McDowell: So I think you're right that Jesus used very thoughtful means of communication given the day that He was in. So to communicate in principle, no problem with using social media.
Scott Rae: I think He would've used television. Sean McDowell: Okay. Oh, interesting, okay. Scott Rae: I think He would've used that. Sean McDowell: Okay.
Scott Rae: I think He might have also had short films. I think He might have done YouTube videos.
Sean McDowell: Interesting.
Scott Rae: I could easily see some of the disciples with a cell phone out filming when the paralytic is lowered through the roof in Mark 2. Now, I think He would've also been, I think, aware of some of the dangers of it. Because as we've talked about before, for certain audiences, Jesus did not want the word to get out-
Sean McDowell: That's right.
Scott Rae: About His miracles. And that was a Jewish audience. And the reason for that is because He didn't want people prematurely proclaiming Him as king and getting the wrong idea of what the kingdom was going to be in doing so bypass the cross. But with Gentiles, He was much more open and did not put the same kind of restrictions on Gentiles spreading the word about Jesus that He did to Jews. So I think He would've used it, I think thoughtfully, carefully. I think He probably would've told His followers, they're probably some things we don't want to post [Sean laughing] for now. But other groups, He would've posted much more liberally.
Sean McDowell: So the concern from your perspective is not so much that Jesus didn't want His message to get out, but it was the right message at the right time.
Scott Rae: At the right time, that's exactly right.
Sean McDowell: When He wanted it out. But of course, He had 12 disciples who He says, "Go to the ends of the earth "in the great commission "to multiply and
spread this message." So that's fair. What about, one of the things social media does is it tends to create it about the self, it's about me to the world. Now, in some ways what's wrong with that is we're called to love God and love other people so we can be selfish when it's inordinately about us. But if you actually are God in human flesh and you want people to worship you, it doesn't seem the same rules apply.
Scott Rae: I would not have been worried about Jesus succumbing to the narcissism that characterizes a lot of social media. I mean, that's not an issue. And I think He would've used it appropriately to call attention to the things that He called attention to in the other ways that He communicated. He was not shy about proclaiming who He was. No, I think again, at the right time. And the reason was as of course, because when people, in first century Judaism, heard somebody talk about Messiah, that was king like the Zealots overthrow the Romans. It was all political. My kingdom is not of this world. And the audience, they weren't ready to hear that until we got closer to the cross.
Sean McDowell: Okay.
Scott Rae: And the other part of this too is, and we'll get to this in a second. But the apostles, it's not just the communication skills of Jesus, we also need to include the apostles-
Sean McDowell: Yeah, that's what I wanna ask you about. Scott Rae: In the early church.
Sean McDowell: We get to apostles as a whole. What about Paul, the Apostle Paul have used social media? Why or why not?
Scott Rae: Oh, I think undoubtedly he would have. Sean McDowell: Okay.
Scott Rae: I think there's good evidence I think that Paul was very strategic in the way he communicated the gospel, even when he was in prison. In fact, I think he had a communication strategy for when he was in prison. So take for example, he spent the last two years of his life in prison in Rome. Acts 28
records that. I think you can make a good argument that by the end of Acts 28, the part in Acts 1:8 where he promises that the gospel will go to the ends of the earth, I think by the end of the book of Acts, you can make an argument that that promise had been fulfilled. Paul sitting in a Roman prison for two years with nothing else to do, but write letters and have conversations with the Roman centurions who were guarding him, who changed, every four hours, he got another group of four. And guess where those Roman centurions got posted after they did their duty in Rome? Where were they posted? They were posted to the farthest reaches of the Roman Empire.
Sean McDowell: Interesting.
Scott Rae: I think that became one of the primary means by which the gospel went to the uttermost parts of the earth. I think Paul was fully aware that the people who were guarding him, not only were a captive audience for the gospel, but they might have been the ones to bring the gospel to those far reaches of the Roman Empire. And I think you can make a similar argument that his missionary journeys recorded in most of the latter part of the book of Acts had a similar strategy to it to reach those parts of the world strategically.
Sean McDowell: So bottom line, when we say Jesus and Paul might use social media, we don't mean any form of social media necessarily. And we don't mean in the way it's often used today, even by Christians. The end would be the advancement of the gospel.
Scott Rae: Right.
Sean McDowell: Is that fair enough?
Scott Rae: I think, and I would add to that which you mentioned a minute ago, the advancement of the gospel and love of neighbor.
Sean McDowell: Okay, okay.
Scott Rae: So I think that puts off the table all of the snarkiness, and although I think, Jesus, I think sort of bordered on Godly snarkiness to the religious leaders at times.
Sean McDowell: I agree, He did. Have you not read when He knew they had read? I think that's an example, Matthew 19.
Scott Rae: Yeah.
Sean McDowell: So there's a place for satire, sarcasm. Scott Rae: Right.
Sean McDowell: that whether we use it well or not, we're not saying you couldn't in principle use it for that when we look at the example of Jesus. But we don't always use it well as Christians.
Scott Rae: Yeah, I think we-
Sean McDowell: We'll get to some of that.
Scott Rae: I think more often than not succumb to ungodly temptations when we use it.
Sean McDowell Fair enough. So if social media is a tool to love our neighbor, and that's a range of ways we won't unpack. But that's just being kind, being gracious, caring for people and advancing the gospel with awareness of how much social media can affect us. Jesus might use it. Now, before we jump and talk about exactly how to use it, I'm curious, I don't think I've ever asked you this straight up. Do you think technology such as social media is neutral in the sense of worldview neutral? Like we tend to think of technology as tools that we use, but does it shape and affect us?
Scott Rae: Sean, I don't think that's debatable any longer. Sean McDowell: Okay.
Scott Rae: 'Cause I think there's no doubt that it shapes us. Now the question is the degree to which we are aware of it and can try to be intentional about that. I mean, I think one of the most influential books I've ever read was published in 1985.
Sean McDowell: Wow.
Scott Rae: By the social critic, Neil Postman called "Amusing Ourselves to
Sean McDowell: Yep.
Scott Rae: And he was writing about television, that's all. Sean McDowell: Right.
Scott Rae: When there were three channels on television. He had, I mean, I can just imagine what he would say about the explosion of the internet and social media like we have today. In fact, his follow up book to that was called "Technopoly." And how technology, I think communication technology has formed a monopoly on how we think and how we interact with people. And I think his point, and I think he's right about that, is the influence is it's not only there, it's profound, and in most cases we're not aware of it.
Sean McDowell: So if I'm not mistaken, the example that he gave, or at least I remember here at Biola in communication classes talking about going way back, that Kennedy versus Nixon debate. First time it shifted from radio to television. And those who listened on radio thought Nixon won on content. But Kennedy won because of his appearance and his charisma. He had better makeup. The medium of television shaped the way that was assessed. And if that's just television, what about 60 second videos on TikTok? What about tweets? What about Instagram posts that we can doctor and make look a certain way? What about YouTube videos? Have we minimally asked the question how they shape our brains, how they shape the way we process truth, how they shape our relationships? That's a question that often gets ignored. That if we're gonna use social media, minimally be powerfully aware of it to resist its lure. And I think a passage that I always come back to is Romans 12:2, where Paul says, "Don't be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind." And conformed is kind of a passive way of just really becoming conformed to the world around us. I think of like Play-Doh in those old, like Star Wars plastic. you squish the Play-Do and it gets conformed to the image of like some Star Wars figures, something like that. Don't be conformed, be transformed by the way we think. So it seems to me just being aware of this is one powerful way to resist it.
Scott Rae: Yeah, and I sense just in the discussions I've had with friends and colleagues who use social media a lot, there's actually, I think a pretty significant amount of resistance to facing those questions about how we're shaped by those technologies. And so I think a big part of our having an approach based on humility is that we have to be open to the ways in which we are being shaped without our awareness. I think that's naive to think that we're not. And I think to be resistant to that I think is actually taking us down a road that might not be all that beneficial for us.
Sean McDowell: Now that's not true for, not only true for social media. That's true for like a clock and a watch shaped the way we of dissect the world
Scott Rae: Of course.
Sean McDowell: into segments. We used to not think that fashion. So this is not a reason to throw out social media. But it's a big wake up call that says, what do we not know about effectiveness? Do we have a sense of humility as we look at it? And if it comes to the point that it's negatively affecting us, gotta be willing to give it up.
Scott Rae: Yeah, I mean, were not for clocks, the industrial revolution probably wouldn't have happened nearly as quickly as it did because it enabled businesses to quantify production in units of time. It was a huge revolution in the way and just the way we thought about time. Because time now was something that we controlled as opposed to it being controlled by external forces. And I think the same is true with lots of different types of media today. I mean, look what's happened, and I'm gonna pick on this a little bit. I don't wanna intend for this all to be negative. But look what's happened to reading today. And I think with reading, you get a degree of critical thinking that I'm not sure you get the same way in quite the same depth that you do just taking in media. Now, I think we're getting better at that. And I don't think that's a nonstarter today, but I think that's something that we've lost that I think is too bad. Because what I find, I assure you that if I assign for my classes a series of YouTube videos for students to watch as opposed to a textbook to read even a really interesting one like yours and mine, [Sean laughing] I assure you that the reading would get done at a far lesser rate than people would do the social media assignment. I'm almost, I bet my last buck on that.
Sean McDowell: I think you're probably right about that. And fairness, different mediums are going to invite different levels of reflection. So I tend to use YouTube for longer form discussions to unpack ideas. Not that everybody uses it for that. Whereas TikTok, 60 seconds, music quick grab, implant one idea, Instagram, they all had different ways, but nonetheless, they all affect us. It's easier to watch something passively I think what social media is versus reading has to be active. I think that's maybe one of the differences. So in my class, I try to use both. Watch a video, 'cause that's what people are using today. Learn how to think about it. But you still gotta read. You gotta do both.
Scott Rae: And so, yeah. So our students would say, well, if you know that about us, then why are you assigning reading in the first place?
Sean McDowell: There you go.
Scott Rae: And there's a reason for that that I don't wanna lose. But I think we should also be open to all of the different things that we can accomplish through different communication styles. And TikTok can be very effective for what it's intended to do. Right now it can also be idiotic as well.
Sean McDowell: Yes, it can be. It definitely can.
Scott Rae: But that's on the users and the creators of that material. But I think there's no doubt that what you can do in a different setting is determined by that particular media outlet. So going in much more depth, I think is appropriate, you can do that. And I think even on television or radio, I'm not always convinced that those are the best medium for extended critical thinking. I remember being on a fairly well known talk radio program that I think is well known for being more serious. I got 30 seconds to make my point.
Sean McDowell: Really?
Scott Rae: If I didn't make it in 30 seconds, a host moved on the next subject. Sean McDowell: Wow, wow.
Scott Rae: So for a while I was of the view that serious radio or serious television was almost an oxymoron.
Sean McDowell: Wow.
Scott Rae: I'm not convinced of that any longer because I think we have other
ways where the producer can control what's being done. Sean McDowell: Yep.
Scott Rae: I mean, how many YouTube videos today go 45 to 60 minutes, or 75 minutes? That's not very common.
Sean McDowell: That's not a regular, yeah.
Scott Rae: And I would never fly on television or radio today.
Sean McDowell: Well said. Well, let's maybe shift into some practical ways. Now we could talk about how Christians should or should not use social media, but let's focus down on commenting.
Scott Rae: How specific, yeah.
Sean McDowell: How do we comment well? Scott Rae: So as opposed to posting.
Sean McDowell: Yeah, as opposed to posting. How do we comment whether it's on our posts when somebody posts or we see another post and we comment. Let's get into some of those particulars.
Scott Rae: Well, let's go back to the Jesus and the apostles for a minute. Sean McDowell: Okay, all right.
Scott Rae: And let's state it a little differently. How do you think Jesus would not have used social media? What are some of the things you think He would be specifically avoiding?
Sean McDowell: I think He would not use social media to shame people. I see that happening a lot. Christians are not. Now there is-
Scott Rae: It's the comment that basically says, "You're an idiot."
Sean McDowell: Yeah, and that's a generous way of putting it. And sometimes you don't have to say that, it's just demolishing an argument in a certain way. He wouldn't do that. Now He does go firmly against some of the religious leaders. So I'm not saying He's a pushover, but as I look on social media, sometimes I get the impression, people think their goal is just to shame others. And to me, that's a shame. And I think Jesus clearly would not use it as that kind of means that I see Christians do.
Scott Rae: Yeah, that's not to say that Jesus didn't use really strong language-
Sean McDowell: Of course.
Scott Rae: For certain folks. And in general, I think there's a pattern to that. Sean McDowell: Yes.
Scott Rae: Where people were in denial about their sin or their spiritual condition. Jesus was not hesitant to hammer them pretty hard. But once people acknowledged where they were-
Sean McDowell: He was not trying to- Scott Rae: Completely different.
Sean McDowell: But also keep in mind the audience, when you shame somebody on social media, anybody in the entire world can see it and pile on. Now, sometimes Jesus was strong with the religious leaders, with audiences around, but even that was a limited audience compared to social media.
Scott Rae: Well, in some cases that was entirely private in some cases.
Sean McDowell: Many cases it was, exactly. So I think He wouldn't use it as a
means of shame.
Scott Rae: He wouldn't shame people.
Sean McDowell: He wouldn't use it as a means of growing followers for the sake of growing followers or subscribers and likes. That wouldn't be His primary metric. Now He's trying to get disciples and followers of a certain kind. So even with the rich young ruler, He lets the rich young ruler walk away, He spoke truth to Him. So if Jesus was motivated by, Hey, that's a subscriber I'm losing. He probably would've dealt with a rich young ruler in a very different fashion. And why I think this is a big warning is because I use a lot of these different mediums. There is a constant temptation, Scott, to think if I label it this way, if I make a thumbnail that looks like this, if I use this title, I will get more views, I'll get more likes, I'll get more subscribers. That temptation is there. And I always ask myself what's lost in communicating the way that the world communicates in terms of the gospel and the bigger picture of what we're trying to advance. Are Christians the salt of the earth and the salt of social media? So He wouldn't be like, I just need to have the biggest YouTube channel for the sake of having a big YouTube channel. That's what Jesus would not do. And commenting in that fashion, He wouldn't comment. Sometimes I see people commenting and everyone's like, gotcha. And it goes viral because it's provocative for the sake of being provocative. He wouldn't be motivated by that.
Scott Rae: Now I can see some things in the ministry of Jesus easily going viral.
Sean McDowell: Of course.
Scott Rae: I mean, imagine-
Sean McDowell: They have gone viral.
Scott Rae: Right, I mean, I can imagine the disciples with a smartphone filming, when they lower the paralytic down through the roof that they've dug a hole in to be healed. Or when Jesus heals the man at the Pool of Bethesda who've been waiting for 30 years to get into the waters. Some of those things. But I think we need to recognize too that throughout the gospels, Jesus was not hesitant to have followers leave him.
Sean McDowell: He was not.
Scott Rae: If they weren't up for what life in the kingdom was about.
Sean McDowell: That's right.
Scott Rae: He had no qualms about losing followers if it were for the right
Sean McDowell: And by the way, they wanted to make Him king. And what does He do? He goes away and He prays. That's like somebody on who uses social media saying, "Hey, Joe Rogan wants you on." There's nothing wrong if you go on. I would go on a show. But that's the equivalent in Jesus cases. Like that's not my calling, that's not what I'm here for. Can we resist those kinds of temptations? Jesus knew what His end was and He stuck with it well.
Scott Rae: I don't think Jesus would be interested in being labeled an influencer.
Sean McDowell: In the way it's understood today.
Scott Rae: Yeah, yeah.
Sean McDowell: For the sake of being an influencer. Well, we can shift to some of these ways of comments, but if I can make one observation about this before we jump in. Because again, I use TikTok, on Twitter, Instagram, YouTube.
Scott Rae: You’re on everything?
Sean McDowell: And I try to comment wisely. And by the way, those of you watching this, there's plenty of times I've gone back and deleted a comment. There's plenty of times people email me like, "Hey, that wasn't gracious." I'm like, "You know what, you're right." So I'm in process like everybody else is, but my goal is to comment the way Jesus would. That's the goal.
Scott Rae: Well, and I think our audience should understand too that a lot of times, you get people commenting on your stuff with comments that have some horseradish on it.
Sean McDowell: Oh yeah, that's a part a-
Scott Rae: And the temptation, I mean, the temptation to put some mustard back on the response is sometimes hard to resist.
Sean McDowell: It's tough to resist. Here's a question I don't think people ask, and I try to ask. How is this comment going to land and be received? We're not asking when I comment, how is the person who's observing this, what are they gonna think about Christians? Is this gonna help them be more sympathetic to my worldview? How does it treat, like you said, love of neighbor and the person I'm talking to? How are they going to receive it? We don't ask that. Rather we think I'm an event, I'm gonna win. I'm gonna prove I'm right. We don't think of the other. And I think if we paused and just asked in terms of attitude and approach, is this comment going to help? If not, don't post it.
Scott Rae: Is this going to serve the goal of winning a person as opposed to simply winning an argument?
Sean McDowell: And those are not necessarily the same thing.
Scott Rae: They are not the same thing. Because most people are won by how
we treat them.
Sean McDowell: Exactly.
Scott Rae: More so than by the cogency of our argument. Now we have to have, our argument's gotta be good too. But you are generally not gonna win over people who you have demolished in your comments.
Sean McDowell: So I'll give you an example. I recently on my YouTube channel had an atheist, New York Media Elite, that was his title, not mine. Writes for the New Yorker, writes for the Atlantic. He's an atheist with very different world views. And I interviewed him about his life. And then I had him back on and I said, I'm gonna turn the reins over to you. What do you wanna know from an evangelical Christian apologist? And it was super interesting conversation. I went through reading the comments and there were a lot of positive Christians leaving comments like, "Hey Adam, thanks for coming on Evangelical, sharing your perspective, question for you." Then there was a handful of people that were attacking him. And I'm thinking, what are you doing? Here's a guy who has a different worldview willing to come into our world, give us an insight in his perspective, and these people, I presume, are Christians attacking him. I'm thinking, "Do you know other Christians read this? "Do you know he might read this?" Like what does that accomplish, nothing. Maybe it makes you feel good,
but that accomplishes nothing. If we just ask how is this going to land? It's gonna advance a conversation, love my neighbor. And sometimes as we'll get into that's asking a tough question, sometimes that's challenging ideas. But the way it's done, we just don't think in those terms. I would rate most, I mean, there are some Christians who do it well, but as a whole, if I was going to lump this together-
Scott Rae: This was-
Sean McDowell: We are not knocking it outta the park in terms of representing
Christ in terms of the way that we comment.
Scott Rae: Now this is the question I wanted to raise.
Sean McDowell: Let's do it.
Scott Rae: Before we get into more of the how to do this well, what would your assessment be of how the Christian community is doing this at this point?
Sean McDowell: It's hard because my assessment is based on just my experience. And that's a lot of people commenting on my platform. Although I go at others and comment now and then. But I guess I'd say it's probably more of an exception to find a Christian who thinks these things through and says, how is this going to land by the person I'm engaging? "Am I asking good questions? “Is this thoughtful?” "Is this Christ like?" There are Christians that do that. I'm not sure it's most, I'm not sure it's most. So I think it is an area we have a huge need for improvement, again, myself included.
Scott Rae: In other words, we look a lot like our divisive culture.
Sean McDowell: We probably don't look any different as a whole, substantively different. So if the question is they will know us by our love, somebody should do a study. I love a PhD dissertation on examining how do some quantitative qualitative assessment. My suspicion is we'd have some things that are encouraging, but a lot that would say, this is not projecting nor aspire love the way we comment.
Scott Rae: Now you did a blog post not that long ago where you tackled this question more head on and you talk about different ways in which Jesus might, and you emphasize, might, because we don't know, but might have used social media. And you've got five ways. So I wanna tackle each of those, have you comment on each of those. So you said, first, Jesus would ask questions.
Sean McDowell: Okay.
Scott Rae: Right? Obviously, He spends a lot of time in gospels asking questions. Why do you think that would be such an important view of social media? Because typically the only questions I see asked on social media comments are rhetorical ones that have a little snarky flavor to them.
Sean McDowell: Yes, yes. So we have over 330 recorded questions from Jesus. And by the way, there's 262 recorded questions from Paul. So if Jesus is our creator and He communicated by asking questions and made our brains to respond in a certain fashion, then it seems pretty obvious to me, we should ask questions as well. Partly what questions do is, unless it's framed in a snarky way, oftentimes it lowers the temperature a little bit. Hey, I'm curious, I wanna know how would you deal with this? But also just make somebody think, social media tends to be reactive. Part of my goal is I just wanna maybe make somebody think about something in a different angle that they hadn't, just move the ball forward. And questions are one of the best ways to do this. I mean, think about some of the questions Jesus asked, Why does this generation seek a sign? How can Satan cast out Satan? Who do you say that I am? Those are tweetable. They're quick to the point. So even sometimes when somebody criticizes me, now, by the way, for the record, if somebody personally attacks me, Christian or not, I rarely respond unless I can respond with grace. Because a big piece of this is just the amount of time we spend. That's a question we don't consider. I've spent 45 minutes commenting and then being done and thought I can never get that 45 minutes back. And that was just not a good use. So that's a whole nother conversation. But how well we use time and is it worth it, it needs to be a piece of it. So I would invite... So sometimes on Twitter I'll just ask a question. And in some ways that's how I learn I'm interested, but I have atheist, skeptics, conservatives, progressive Christians follow me. Maybe that'll make them think differently. So I would love to see Christians just lead by asking questions on social media when they engage others.
Scott Rae: Well, it's harder work to ask good questions than it is to pontificate your point.
Sean McDowell: That's very true.
Scott Rae: So here's another thing. Here's another thing you mentioned Jesus did, which I think is a really insightful point. Jesus cared deeply about those who were on the margins, the poor, lame, crippled, marginalized in the first century. And He spent an inordinate amount of time, other than that, with His disciples, I think He spent the line share of His discretionary time with those who were outside the margins. And your point is that He would've used social media to reach particularly small groups that everybody else was ignoring.
Sean McDowell: Yeah.
Scott Rae: How would He view social media to do that today?
Sean McDowell: Well, one of the temptations we talked about social media effectiveness is gauging somebody, do they have a blue check or not? How many subscribers do they have? How many followers do they have? And then it's easy to instrumentally turn somebody in a means to get something you want from them because they have a bigger following. That's such temptation.
Scott Rae: So in other words, Jesus would not have gone after the influencers necessarily.
Sean McDowell: He wouldn't have solely had a strategy to go after the influencer. The influencers are made in the image of God. Paul reached some of the intellectual elites, but not only them at the expense of the little guy, because everybody's made in the image of God, leave the 99 and go get the one. So that makes, I think all the time on social media, who am I responding to? Who am I commenting with? Even if somebody sends me a message, I can't respond to all of 'em, but I try and just say, All right, this is a real person. This is a question. There's ministry to one, whether they have a following or not. So I get invited on different podcasts and different shows, which is great and I can't do all of 'em. But it's easy to think, well how big is their following? I'm only gonna do it if it's worth my time. And I had high school kid reach out to me for his Bible club in another country and I was like, this is for seven people. If I never do things like
that, I'm succumbing to not valuing the way Jesus did people without a bigger following. So I'm not gonna pretend I have that perfectly dialed in, but I think Jesus would be very cognizant of everybody matters, big or small following. That's not the lens by which we should value people.
Scott Rae: Yeah, yeah. And those seven people in another part of the world, that may be the only shot they get.
Sean McDowell: Yeah.
Scott Rae: Maybe so.
Sean McDowell: Maybe, yeah, who knows? That's that.
Scott Rae: Third you said, Jesus would speak truth clearly and boldly. Unpack that a bit.
Sean McDowell: Yeah, so sometimes when we think about Jesus, people say, "Well, He told stories and He talked with kids and He was just a peacemaker.” And that's a piece of it-
Scott Rae: A divine Mr. Rogers.
Sean McDowell: [Laughing] Yeah, that's such a good way to describe it. A divine Mr. Rogers. And that's a piece of it. But as we talked earlier, Jesus spoke truth boldly and clearly, and He was thoughtful about how He did it. I don't wanna lose this. There is a prophetic voice at times to speak out truth. And I think Jesus did that. So what I found, many more people wanna lead with a prophetic voice and speak that way rather than compassionately and graciously and strategically. But as we shift towards commenting that way, we can't lose it. There's a time where you call sin out for sin and that you speak truth boldly. Jesus certainly did that. I mean, He told people to repent and believe in Him in Mark 1. He talked about God's judgment in Matthew 22. You wanna lose some subscribers and followers and you wanna get piled on. If I do something on hell, it makes a lot of people upset, but sometimes I'll talk about it. He called out religious leaders for their hypocrisy. So a lot of that truth was inward focused at other Christians. But He would speak truth boldly and clearly at the right time and the right way.
Scott Rae: And you also say that He would be predominantly motivated by love. So I'm not denying contrast to speaking clear but as a supplement to that. I think... would it be fair to say that His motive was to win people more so than winning arguments?
Sean McDowell: I think that's right. And I think Jesus was intent on loving people even if He didn't win them to the kingdom, that's something that we can lose as well. So Jesus asked, "What's the greatest commandment?" Love God and love other people. If my social media posting and commenting is not motivated by love, get off, get off social media. That should be a bigger drive than anything else. If it's subscribers, if it's fame, if it's money, whatever those things are, if those things are primarily motivating us, we need to get off social media. At some point we're gonna do more harm, then we are gonna do good. And I think about the tender words Jesus taught, said in Luke 8 to the woman who was bleeding. He said, "Daughter, your faith has made you well, go in peace." Think about the paralytic in Mark 1, oh, that's in Mark 2. But in Mark 1, the leper, and he says, "If you will make me clean." He didn't doubt the power of Jesus, but the compassion, and Jesus reaches out and touched him. Those moments on Twitter, when you can just show grace to somebody, sometimes again, there's probably people, and now that I've done this video who are just gonna call me forever and say, you fell short, fine, I'm in process. I'll try to own it if I do. But sometimes I literally go to my wife and I'll say, "All right, this person is just ripping me, help me concoct a gracious response." Now a lot of those I just ignore 'cause of the time. But that can become a challenge. How do you respond graciously when someone is coming after you? That's how I think Jesus would have been motivated.
Scott Rae: One final point that you make on this that I think it's particularly insightful is that Jesus would surprise us with some of the people He engaged with. The Samaritan woman at the well, Zacchaeus, the tax collector, Matthew. I've been watching "The Chosen" and to see Him interact with Matthew and how counter-cultural that was in the first century. But there are a lot of people that He interacted with that people in the first century, they wouldn't be caught dead hanging around with. How does that translate to social media?
Sean McDowell: Well, this summer I was teaching on Mark 2 where Jesus dines with the sinners and this included people like tax collectors like Matthew, who were betrayers of their own people.
Scott Rae: That's right.
Sean McDowell: And to dine with somebody communicated a sense of acceptance of a relationship, a degree of equality in that culture. If you and I were there, Scott, we probably would have been, maybe I'll just speak for myself like the fair season. It'd be like, "Jesus, what are you doing? "Why are you dining with them? "Don't you know the law? "Look at what you're communicating." We are so quick to jump in the Pharisees, but we probably would've processed it the same. So that makes me ask, “Okay, what else am I missing about the kinds of people?” I mean, "Zacchaeus, I'm going to dine at your house." Tax collector, what are you doing, Jesus?
Scott Rae: Extortionist, yeah.
Sean McDowell: Who are you engaging? So there's a number of people I've engaged with different worldviews, with different belief systems, and there's a lot of Christians quick to say, "You shouldn't be doing this." Now I try to listen and if I go out of bounds, then okay, I'll reign it back in. I've had to make some course corrections. But when it's all said and done, we shouldn't be motivated by what are the masses going to say? But is this in the model of Jesus? And by the way, when He went to dine with the sinners, He didn't say, "Live your truth." "To each his own, you be you." He was gracious. There was something about Him that these sinners wanted to be with Him. So He had grace and He had truth. So that makes me think through who should I be engaging on social media. I don't always have the answer to that. But it's not necessarily what the social media experts say you should engage to build your platform. Or who the religious conservatives fundamentalists of the day say you shouldn't engage them. I think Jesus had a different metric, and to them it was what? He goes, "It's the sick who needs a doctor,not those who are well." So if somebody's open to have a conversation to me in spiritual things, I wanna engage 'em.
Scott Rae: This is the reason we're equipping our students to be able to do that too.
Sean McDowell: Hope so.
Scott Rae: Because some of the folks that we ask our students to read, if somebody saw our syllabi, they might think, "What, who, why are you reading this person?" Like I've had my students read Peter Singer for years.
Sean McDowell: I love it. They should.
Scott Rae: Because I want people to be able to interact graciously and cogently with somebody who has been that influential in the debates over abortion and assisted suicide. And so I think, maybe would you say that your advice to people who are on social media would be to say, "Hey, every once in a while surprise people with who you're engaging with?"
Sean McDowell: Exactly, and by the way, Peter Singer, it's one thing to read his material, and I think we do a good job at Biola, reading different views. But now you can send him a DM. I don't know if he's on Instagram, I don't follow him. But you can reach out to these people, you can comment on their posts.
Scott Rae: Yeah.
Sean McDowell: I just want Christians to say, "How could you love and reach
somebody like Peter Singer?" Is it saying you're in favor of infanticide? Well, I
don't know. Maybe sometimes being told shocking things is what wakes
somebody up. But I also know that it's your kindness that leads to repentance. A
soft word breaks a bone. I'd just like us and myself included to ask how can we
better love people through social media, Christian or not. And I think if we just
start with that approach, it's gonna shape the way we comment. Well, this has
been brought to you, this is a special episode of “Think Biblically” podcast here
with my co host, Scott Rae. If you do not follow us on the “Think Biblically”
podcast, by that name, you can find it. Hit subscribe. Thanks for joining us. Go
out and comment as Jesus would. [bright upbeat music]