Book Review: A Way With Words, by Dan Darling
Daniel Darling, A Way With Words. B&H Publishing, 2020. 224 pages.
Words—they come so easily that I often don’t weigh them as properly as I should. Scripture paints a different picture: “Life and death are in the power of the tongue” (Prov. 18:21). Words are a matter of life and death. They can build up or tear down. More than just affecting us in this life, our words will be on the docket in the day of judgement: “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak” (Matt. 12:36).
If something is a matter of life, death, and the day of judgement, we would do well to spend time thinking about it. Yet we don’t often give our words of the attention that Scripture demands that we give them. This is why I am eager to commend Dan Darling’s book, because I believe his words in this book can help our words in our mouths—and hearts.
WHAT MAKES THESE WORDS WORTH READING?
A Way With Words is not a book about our speech in general. Instead, Darling focuses on online discourse, especially the way we use our words on social media. If anything, social media has proven to be form of communication that seems to invite the “careless words” that Jesus warns about (Matt. 12:36). Removed from face-to-face, physical interaction, online words tend to be more rash and less careful. But as Darling reminds us, online speech is real speech and doesn’t get a pass from “let our speech always be gracious” (Col. 4:6)
We need to be concerned about online speech not only because it is real speech, but also because it is where our fellow church members live. While pastors may be more or less active on social media, many in our church are very active. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are more than just places where we share pictures of our latest family expeditions. They are also forums where opinions are offered, debates are had, and worldviews are shaped. If our churches are to be communities of mutual discipleship (and they are) and “speaking the truth in love” among the members of the church is vital to bringing the church to maturity (and it is), then we must be concerned about applying God’s Word to our online speech as well.
A DISCIPLESHIP MANUAL FOR YOUR ONLINE SPEECH
In ten succinct chapters, A Way With Words shows us how to engage online in a way that honors Christ and builds up the church. More than just tips and tricks, Darling brings Scripture to bear on the subject and allows it to shape our lives on the internet. He wonderfully combines both encouragement and warning.
Darling encourages us:
- To be slow to tweet, quick to listen, and quick to get the whole story (James 1:19). “As hard as it is, we sometimes need to back away from our devices and pause. We must quiet those impulses that tell us we have to speak before we know.” (40)
- Not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought (Rom. 12:3): “Your Father loves you. You are seen and known by him. You don’t have to perform like a hamster on a wheel for God to approve of you. You are enough because Christ was enough for you.” (105)
- To act justly, love mercy, and post humbly (Micah 6:8): “The idea that tweeting or posting online is the only way to act against injustice is an idea more pagan than Christian. Sometimes the best form of activism is silence and communion with God. . . . Thoughts and prayers should never be a lazy excuse for inaction, but neither should impulsivity be a substitute for communion with God.” (126)
He also warns us about the potential for online speech to be used by the flesh and the devil to:
- Bite and devour one another (Gal. 5:15): “There is a difference between genuine discernment, born out of love, and a desire to traffic in and profit off of controversy in the body of Christ. The latter approach is, according the Bible, a sign of sin and spiritual immaturity” (59).
- Put us in a role of teachers, for which we will incur a stricter judgment (James 3:1): “It’s so easy to press ‘send’ that we often forget it is no less serious than if we were saying those things to a church auditorium or a Sunday school class. . . . So Christian leaders should approach this kind of platform with a bit more caution.” (82)
- Lure us in to a pattern of content information stimulation while robbing us of meaningful biblical truth (2 Tim. 3:7): “The internet can make us smarter, but it can also be the equivalent of eating junk food three meals a day.” (17)
WE NEED TO BE TALKING ABOUT THIS MORE
Far from being negative toward online interaction, A Way With Words paints a noble vision. The book concludes with a call to redemptive Internet use (“The Internet for Good”). Additionally, the two appendices are helpful for practical instruction in any church. Pastor, “10 Things the Bible Says About Our Speech” (Appendix A) would provide a great skeleton for a sermon or devotional or letter to your church and “How to Read the News” (Appendix B) gives clear guidance for engaging media in a healthy way.
While there are many things we should talk about less, there are few things we should talk about more than how we talk.