Of all the people one could follow on Christian Twitter, few are as thoughtful and gracious as Daniel Darling. Daniel has long been a winsome presence on Twitter, using his platform and presence to encourage and edify anyone who will listen, as is quick to repent in the moments where he isn’t. In his newest book, A Way With Words (B&H Publishing), Daniel reflects on his experience as an active and intentional social media user and exhorts and encourages readers towards, as the subtitle suggests, “using our online conversations for good.”
A Way With Words is a thoroughly Christian introduction to basic media literacy, and the timing for a book like this couldn’t be better. Plenty has been written on how Christians ought to think about social media and whether or not Christians should use social media at all, but the audience for these books or articles tend to be for white-collar, college-educated-and-higher Christians who naturally gravitate towards these topics. A Way With Words is breathtakingly down-to-earth, focusing on the importance of words and the implications of the words we speak and believe both offline and online. Instead of focusing primarily on platforms, algorithms, or other complicated issues with social media, Daniel centers his focus on Scripture’s teaching on language and communication, which is something every Christian cares about in some way.
In addition to addressing the motivations and attitudes behind the words we say, Daniel gives significant attention to various types of content and how we consume that content in an online age. Words do not just exist in the vacuum; they exist in the context of conversations with others, or in the words of a news article or blog post, and how we understand the context of the words we speak and read matters just as much of the words themselves. Media literacy is understanding not only how to produce content well, but also how to consume content well, and regrettably Christians struggle at doing both. As a producer and consumer of a wide range of content, Daniel’s wisdom and guidance on how to navigate political bias, fierce disagreements, and the reality of fake news is deeply needed and immensely helpful. Many of the book’s best moments are when Daniel outlines a series of questions to diagnose our motivations and qualifications for our online behavior, cutting through the fog to call us to focus on our hearts, tongues, and the God to whom we will give account to for the words we may carelessly speak or believe.
My only criticism of the book, and it is a rather minor one, is I do not think Daniel places enough emphasis on the context of social media and how the design of social media nudges us towards certain words and behaviors before we have a chance to consciously reject them. This is especially true on a platform like Twitter, where Daniel is active (and I am an active reader). Twitter’s atmosphere of toxic division and distrust is not a content problem that can be solved at an individual level, but is a byproduct of Twitter’s design, which rewards and encourages both toxic content and toxic responses to content. Part of using our online conversations for good is understanding the space our online conversations take place in – the design, functionality, and features of social media platforms are not neutral factors, and they exert signifiant influence the words we say, how we frame and contextualize the words others say, and how others read the words we say. To be fair, Daniel does acknowledge this reality in several places in the book, but I think more emphasis ought to have been given here.
Media literacy is the biggest gaping hole in our discipleship and, it will continue to cause significant tension and drama in the church so long as we are unwilling to address it. Complicating matters is the overwhelming task of deciding where to even begin with tackling this problem, but A Way With Words is an excellent candidate for a starting point. This is a great book for individual use and for small group use, and appropriate for Christians young and old, mature and immature. Daniel has filled an important gap with this book, and I pray it bears abundant fruit in helping Christians use their online conversations for good.