Book Review: The Character Gap

Turn on the news, survey social media, or glance at the comments section of any major Internet article and you’ll probably notice we live in an extremely polarized time. It’d be easy to conclude that the world can neatly be divided into good and bad people. If we stop to think about it, we’ll probably realize we tend to think this way, grouping ourselves and our friends and family in the good people category.

Dr. Christian Miller’s The Character Gap: How Good Are We? complicates this simplistic character gapdivision of the world, arguing very few of us possess good or bad character. Most of us are more or less in the middle: not as good as we’d like to think but not morally wretched either. Miller is a philosophy professor at Wake Forest University and Project Leader of the Character Project, an interdisciplinary academic exploration of character by scholars in the fields of philosophy, psychology, and theology.

Despite the academic context from which this book developed, it’s clearly written and easy to follow. You don’t have to have training in the disciplines above in order to appreciate the book. The simple structure and conversational writing style make the arguments easy to follow. Miller is warm, inviting, and self-effacing, and though he makes a clear case in the book, he’s charitable to opposing viewpoints or potential arguments and ideas against him. It’s an interesting book filled with great stories and examples that will keep your attention.

Purpose and Survey

The reason for the book, and indeed the Character Project as a whole, seems to be to encourage readers to pursue growth in good character. The Character Gap has three parts aimed at answering several questions to that end.

Part 1 has two chapters. The first explains what Miller means by good character. He argues that a person has good character when possessing virtue, which “when acquired becomes a relatively stable feature of our character and leads to relevant motivation and behavior over an extended period of time” (p. 13-14). In other words, a virtuous person performs good action in a variety of situations for the right reasons as a pattern of behavior over a sustained period of time.

The second chapter highlights the gap between good character and our actual character and then gives reasons why we should try to develop virtue: 1) it’s inspiring, 2) it makes the world a better place, 3) there seems to be wide agreement among different religions that God wants you to, and 4) good character can be rewarding.

Part 2 seeks to establish the main proposal of the book—that most of us are not virtuous or wretched—by drawing conclusions from research on our character with a focus on four particular behaviors: helping, harming, lying, and cheating. Chapters 3-6 look at research on each of these behaviors. For instance, in chapter 4 on harming, Miller makes some fascinating observations about how fear of consequences restrains aggressive behavior and about the role legitimate authority plays in our decisions to harm another person. The studies he cites suggest that the more responsibility a person feels, the less willing they are to inflict pain on another. He concludes most people do not have proper restraint on their aggression, but that most people aren’t cruel either (p. 99). Each of these chapters surveys the research, examines how differing motivating factors affect behavior, and ends with the same conclusion: most of us aren’t good or bad. Miller does a great job in these chapters interacting in engaging and thought-provoking ways with studies that might otherwise be dry and unstimulating to most people. Chapter 7 concludes part 2 by collecting 7 lessons from the previous chapters to tell the story of our character (p. 143-160).

Part 3 tackles the problem of the character gap by proposing what we can do to grow in virtue. Chapter 8 charitably critiques less promising strategies of character growth, noting some of the good these approaches can make. Miller offers three strategies in chapter 9 that show better promise. He notes we need to utilize multiple strategies to be effective but admits none of them will truly work unless we are properly motivated to want to grow. This leads to the final chapter where Miller makes a gracious invitation to irreligious people to consider the role and resources of religion in character development (p. 219-220). In particular, he suggests Christianity offers at least three things that facilitate virtue: 1) Christian rituals and practices like prayer, confession, scripture reading, giving, fasting, and worship, 2) Christian community, and 3) divine assistance by the Holy Spirit. Miller doesn’t take for granted his readers will be readily open to this approach. So while he acknowledges practicing Christianity cannot be proven to cause virtuous behavior, he argues studies do suggest a correlation between them (p. 239). The book closes with a short expression of hope that more research and work will be done in the field.


The Character Gap has much to offer any willing reader open to challenge and change. By even writing the book, Miller encourages and even resources readers toward good character. He offers inspiration, information, and strategies to grow. He dispels false notions of our own virtue and encourages humility and compassion towards those we might assume lack virtue, which is especially important in these polarized times. The book is well researched, and as I mentioned above, Miller presents his research in engaging ways. Especially in part 2, the book contains many fascinating observations about human behavior. I was particularly interested in several of the lessons he drew in chapter 7.

  • Most people behave admirably in some situations and then deplorably in others (p. 146ff).
  • Our changing moral behavior is extremely sensitive to features of the environment, and often we do not even realize what those features are (p. 148ff).
  • Most of us act with mixed motives (p. 152).
  • Sometimes we are not aware of an unconscious motive behind action, and we might be completely wrong in our understanding of our own motives (p. 153).

Finally, it was surprising and refreshing to find an academic integrating his own faith into his work on such a subject in a humble and gracious way. Not everyone will agree with this part of his book, but objections with this part of his book shouldn’t take away from the rest of it.

Though it has much to offer, The Character Gap left me scratching my head on a few accounts.   First, there is little to no argument made as to what qualifies as good behavior and why. Early in the book, Miller explains he will focus on uncontroversial examples of virtue (p. 7). While it’s helpful to see there has been widespread historical agreement on what behavior is considered good, Miller appears to beg the question. As another reviewer pointed out, “the booked does little to highlight the need for an underlying philosophical foundation for morality.” Many have argued, such as Alasdair MacIntyre, that differing accounts of morality are the result of diverse metanarratives, yet Miller seems to assume all readers are operating out of the same grand story. Given pluralism, this seems a problematic assumption.

Second, Miller suggests that virtue is not motivated by self-interest (p. 13). However, when explaining why we should be good, several of the reasons he offers are grounded, at bottom I’d argue, in self-interest. For instance, why should we pursue being good just because God wants us to unless we are interested in pleasing God? Also, isn’t the desire to make the world a better place grounded in our desire to enjoy a better world or, at least, to have the satisfaction of knowing we made the world a better place? Or finally and most obviously, isn’t pursuing good character because it can be rewarding clearly self-interested (p. 43)? Now Miller seems to try to avoid this conclusion by distinguishing between the goal of good behavior, which should be others-oriented, and the by-product of good behavior, individual reward (p. 47). However, I’m not so sure this distinction lets him off the hook. Later on, Miller returns to the question of motives, and he asserts that egoism—the idea that we are always motivated by self-interest—is clearly false, asserting that we can also be motivated by duty, altruism, and a number of different motives all at once (p. 150-153). Miller, no doubt, did not have time in this book to dive into a huge debate in the philosophy of ethics about motivation, so I can’t fault him. But further work on character will probably require deeper treatment of this issue.

Third, I wonder if there’s a flaw in the method of obtaining support for the main proposal that most of us are not good or bad. This thesis is supported by the studies explored in part 2. However, at the very beginning when Miller explains what character is, he makes the point that “mere behavior, no matter how consistent it might be, is never enough by itself to indicate good character…It’s hard to tell whether someone is truly virtuous” (p12). As far as I can tell, he makes this claim for two reasons. First, we cannot always discern the motivation behind an act. Second, one act, by itself, does not give us enough information about a person to establish a pattern. It seems, then, the studies Miller explores throughout the book cannot reliably tell us about the character status of the persons involved. Most of the studies cited involve single acts where no motive can be certainly discerned. I’m not sure the empirical methodology can do the work Miller asks, but this concern may only reflect my own limitations in understanding research methodology.


My questions aside, I happily commend this book. We could all use some encouragement to pursue virtuous character, and there are some good tools in this book to help us move in that direction. Furthermore, the topic is one we sorely need to discuss more as a society preoccupied with technique, efficiency, consuming, and entertainment. I’m grateful for Miller’s work, and if you take the time to get a copy and read it, I suspect you will be too.

[Disclaimer: I should note that I majored in philosophy at Wake Forest University before the author started teaching there. However, I do know the author personally, and I received a free copy of this book by the author in exchange for a fair and honest review.]


Top Christian Podcast Recommendations

I had a meeting this morning with a congregant who asked for podcast recommendations that could help him grow in his understanding of the Bible, Christianity, and the Christian life. I realized I am being asked this more and more often. Podcasts seem to be a great medium for the age of the smart-phone commuter. That’s why we started one at Trinity.

I’d love to hear of other recommendations, but here’s a list of the podcasts I find most helpful:

  • Tim Keller’s Gospel in Life sermon feed
  • The Salem Presbyterian Church sermon feed
  • The Bible Project – A collection of in-depth conversations about the Bible, theology, and history
  • The Allender Center – Features Dr. Dan Allender and his team engaging topics on healing and restoration through the unique intersection of theology and psychology
  • Center for Faith and Work – Exploring and investigating the gospel’s unique power to renew hearts, communities, and the world, in and through our day-to-day work
  • Vocation and the Common Good – featuring a variety of Christians whose vocational pursuits have led to meaningful contributions to culture and the common good
  • Risen Motherhood – A weekly podcast for moms
  • Unbelievable – Engaging in fundamental questions on Christianity with the intention to openly discussing different opinions between Christians and non-believers

I hope you find them helpful too!

Recent Reading Recs – 2018/04/21

It’s been awhile, but here’s a collection of blog posts, articles, podcasts, and books that I have recently found interesting, helpful, challenging, important, or funny. I don’t endorse everything I post, but I only post content I think is worth taking the time to consider. We all have to make choices about what content we “consume,” so I hope I can point you in directions that are worth your time.

Blog Posts & Online Journals

  • Jesus Creed, “The Death of the Church, Part 1” & “Part 2” Guest writer Todd Dildine explains how the American church is responding to its decline in all the wrong ways because we have failed to see it as part of a larger decline of community and social life in general. His solution revolves around building community by committing to live near one another.
  • TGC, “How the Baptism of Jesus Echoed the Future” – Trevor Laurence
  • TGC, “It’s Time to Reckon with Celebrity Power” – After the public fall of yet more famous celebrity pastors, Andy Crouch calls for change in how evangelicals relate to famous ministry figures.
  • TGC,Why We Play” – Erik Thoennes argues for the goodness of play.
  • Paul Tripp, “Toward a More Balanced Gospel” – Paul Tripp confesses his failure to see how the gospel applies to the issue of racial injustice and his failure to speak and act accordingly.
  • The Art of Manliness, “How to Whistle with Your Fingers” – Brett McKay illustrates this useful skill.

Online Newspapers & Magazines

  • Research Digest, “Another Nail in the Coffin for Learning Styles” – Christian Jarrett reports on new studies confirming once again that people do not learn any better when taught via their preferred learning style.
  • The Atlantic, “The Myth of the Learning Style” – Olga Khazan tells the story of how we all came to buy the “learning styles” myth despite all the evidence against it.
  • The Atlantic, “The Last Temptation– Michael Gerson talks evangelicals and Donald Trump.
  • Comment,The Creational Goodness of Sports” – Mike Goheen argues that competition is good and that Christians should embrace it with godliness.
  • NYT, “The Boys Are Not All Right” – Comedian Michael Ian Black argues that part of the reason we’re seeing mass violence is because America’s boys have been left behind and are broken.
  • NYT, “American Women Are Having Fewer Children Than They’d Like” – Lyman Stone looks at the declining fertility rates and the increasing gap between those rates and the number of children women say they want to have.

Podcast Episodes & Other Media

  • Quartz, “200 Universities Just Launched 600 Free Online Courses” – Dhawal Shah lists a bunch of free resources.
  • The Uncharted Life, “Faith and FOMO with Derek Radney” – I was invited by my friend Jacob Lyles to be a guest on his podcast to talk about faith in a secular age.
  • Revolutions – Mike Duncan tells numerous multi-part stories of various revolutions ranging from the English Civil wars of the mid 17th century to the revolutions across Europe around 1848.
  • WorkLife with Adam Grant, “How to Love Criticism” and “The Problem with All-Stars” –Psychologist, author, and professor at The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, Adam Grant hosts an excellent podcast with some fascinating episodes on leadership, management, and teamwork.
  • This American Life, “To Be Real” – Host Ira Glass explores how often we show the world a very superficial version of ourselves.


  • A Meal with Jesus by Tim Chester – a book looking at the meals of Jesus through the Gospel of Luke
  • Families Where Grace Is In Place by Jeff VanVonderan – a simple book exploring how grace operates in a family and the dangers of control, legalism, and performance

Book Review: The Death of Expertise

I’d like to recommend to you a book you probably don’t want to read or even think you need to read. In all likelihood, it’s a book you probably think other people need to read, especially if you graduated from college. It’s a book about knowledge and information, arguments and dialogue, citizenship and democracy. It’s a book about the relationship between experts and citizens written by professor of national security affairs at the Naval War College, Tom Nichols, and the title gives away the thesis of the book: The Death of Expertise: The Campaign against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters.

expertiseIn this straightforward book filled with colorful examples, Nichols argues convincingly that society increasingly relates to experts as technicians rather than as those most qualified to make judgments on matters in their field of knowledge. In other words, we’re skeptical of authorities and have a high self-regard when it comes to our own knowledge of complex issues. For instance, we have no problem going to the doctor to have a broken bone set, but we don’t trust our doctor’s ability to diagnosis, to give sound advice regarding our diet, or to provide a needed medication schedule. Nichols wrote the book to make the case that this proud skepticism of experts is bad for everyone and is undermining democratic society.

What does he mean by “expert?” Nichols defines an expert as someone who possesses considerably more skill or knowledge of a subject than the rest of us. Additionally, an expert in a particular field is one who has received formal training or education, demonstrates a high level of talent or aptitude, has experience over time, and has been evaluated by his or her peers so as to be recognized in the field. Notice then, an expert is not (usually) someone who is self-taught and self-appointed but one who has community credentials.

The Argument

The first chapter gives us this definition and narrates how we got where we are and why it’s a problem. The story he tells focuses on the shift from agrarianism to the Industrial Age. Agrarian societies were filled with people who had to have a little knowledge about a lot of different areas of life, but the rise of industrialization brought a rise in specialization, which made the gap between experts and ordinary citizens much greater. The populist spirit of America already had a tenuous relationship to establish authorities, but the American ideal of the omnicompetent common man served as the foundation to the American Dream. So with the rise of specialization grew the rise of hostility to experts, and with the death of expertise comes the demise of democracy.

In perhaps the most important chapter of the book, Nichols points the finger at us in chapter two by suggesting specialization isn’t the biggest reason for the death of expertise. With a number of humorous illustrations and findings from studies, he discusses confirmation bias, the tendency to believe what we want to believe and to only look for information that confirms what we believe. He also explores what psychologists call the “Dunning-Kruger Effect,” the dumber a person is the more difficulty he has in recognizing his incompetence. Though we all tend to overestimate ourselves, studies have shown that those who have the least understanding of an issue often have the highest levels of confidence in making a judgment on the matter. Similarly, those who have no idea how to make a logical argument cannot realize when they’re failing to make a logical argument. The chapter also includes a fascinating examination of wives’ tales, superstition, and conspiracy theories. As someone who has been friends with a number of conspiracy theorists and wrestled considerably with how to understand and reason with them, Nichols’ insights here resonated. He roots the appeal of conspiracy theories to our sense of personal heroism, narcissism, powerlessness, and fear. He ends the chapter discussing the difference between stereotypes (negative value pre-judgments) and generalizations (probabilistic statements based on observational facts), which are necessary not only in scientific research but also for ordinary life.

Chapters three through five examine a number of the contributing factors to the death of expertise: the increase in those who attend college, the Internet, and the new journalism.

Nichols argues that in the pursuit of universal college education, college degrees have been watered down as higher education institutions have adopted a consumer-oriented college experience to an expanding market of college attendees, leading to a higher percentage of the population feeling they have arrived at knowledge rather than being equipped to be lifelong learners who are still not experts in much of anything.

In his chapter on the impact of the Internet, Nichols makes the argument most readers expect when they see the title of the book. The World Wide Web gives everyone access to endless information, inflating our sense that we understand complex issues while we lack context and the filters necessary to organize information on a subject properly. Nichols notes Pommer’s law: “the Internet can only change a person’s mind from having no opinion to having a wrong opinion.” It gives the fool a platform to disseminate bad information that can never go away once posted, and it eliminates the distance between experts and ordinary individuals giving the illusion that everyone’s opinion on a matter is equally valid.

Chapter five on the new journalism shows that even though there’s more news than ever before, we’re less informed on the substantive issues of the day than those in previous generations. Technology has collided with capitalism, and now journalism is driven by website clicks and ad revenue. This means there’s less substantive reporting, less clarity, and more entertainment in news than ever before. Lower barriers to reporting means news travels faster, but it also means editors no longer curate content and standards fall. Citizens can interact with the news immediately via Twitter, phone, or webpage comments, but this displaces the role of experts. All of this contributes to the illusion of being informed. Additionally, the politicization of the news has led to dramatic distrust on the right and left of each side’s respective trusted news agency.

Thus far, it might sound like Nichols’ book suggests experts are never wrong, but chapter six explains that while that’s not the case, we still need to trust in experts. Yes, experts make mistakes. Sometimes they commit fraud, make judgments outside their area of expertise, or foolishly predict the future rather than explaining the present. But even with those mistakes, they’re vital to every aspect of society every day. Nichols also makes an important argument experts need to heed. On matters outside their area of expertise, studies have shown that experts fared no better than laypersons. Actors aren’t qualified to speak to medical issues like vaccines. Doctors shouldn’t act as foreign policy experts. Scientists shouldn’t venture to speak authoritatively on philosophy or religion.

Solutions and Problems

The last chapter offers some ways forward to our struggling republic, but honestly, he doesn’t offer much hope. Most of what he offers here is an education on what we should expect of experts and the difference between a republic and pure democracy. Very little addresses the devastating criticisms he levies in chapter 2 regarding confirmation bias, the Dunning-Kruger Effect, and narcissism. Perhaps related to his inability to offer helpful solutions, my biggest critique of the book relates to the story he tells in chapter one on how we got here. Nichols says almost nothing about why trust in our society has eroded or, for many oppressed or marginalized groups, why it hasn’t ever existed in the first place. There’s no attention to power dynamics whatsoever, and so he fails to address or wrestle with those who have good reason to suspect the system and its experts are biased to protect their own place of power.

Overall, Nichols makes a compelling and sobering case about the problems with hostility to experts that should encourage any reader to be more humble, less reactive against ideas with which we disagree, and more realistic about what we can expect from civic leaders and the experts that advise them. I highly recommend this book to all. However, I suspect those most resistant to this recommendation probably need it most.

Twitter Guidelines

A few weeks ago, a friend asked me how to use Twitter, so I sent him some thoughts and a basic philosophy I have developed over the past 10 years that guides how I utilize it as a tool and seek to avoid some of the dangers and negative ways the platform can act back upon us.

Widely used new technologies provide obvious benefits, but they also change and shape us. Many people fear these changes and, seeing negative effects, swear off the new technology altogether. Over time, I’ve been convinced it’s more important to think carefully about the technology, the habits of use we form, and how to use the technology wisely. If you haven’t read Andy Crouch’s The Tech-Wise Family, I strongly recommend it. You can read my review of it here.

In the spirit of wisdom and along the lines of Crouch’s book, it’s important to ask how we should and shouldn’t use social media like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. For now, I’d like to focus on Twitter, which I’ve used for 7 years out of its 12-year existence. Some of my advice can transfer to other platforms and some is unique to the features of Twitter.

Like with all social media and new technology generally, it’s important to think carefully about our purposes for using Twitter, the practices fitting to those aims, and the rules that should govern our use. Here’s my approach.

My Purposes

Before becoming a user and creating a Twitter handle, I spent time learning about how it works by watching others. Eventually, I decided that out of the many reasons a person might use Twitter, I would stick to these five.

First, I use Twitter to be exposed to people (academics, pastors, thinkers, leaders, etc.), information (local and national news, events, etc.), and content (articles, ideas, books, etc.) that I find helpful or that I probably wouldn’t easily come across otherwise. Because users share content and link to other users, Twitter makes it possible to see people and content I wouldn’t know to look for.

Second, I use Twitter to capture live responses to mass events like conferences, presidential debates, or unfolding situations (like a mass shooting or sporting event). Hashtags and trends make it possible to get crowd reactions, insights, and perspectives really quickly.

Third, I use Twitter to interact and dialogue with people I don’t have a chance to talk to in person. This is perhaps one of the top reasons I use Twitter, though this is also one of the more challenging or dangerous ways to engage. Because of how Twitter works, anyone can comment on any tweet and talk back to or tag any other user. This gives unknowns a lot of access to famous, credentialed, or accomplished individuals. As a pastor, I’ve benefitted a lot from interactions with scholars, pastors, and leaders who were gracious enough to respond to my questions, challenges, or rejoinders.

Fourth, I use Twitter to persuade and inform others. I do this in a number of ways. Most of my original tweets (that is, my tweets that are not responding to the tweets of others) aim to direct people to helpful resources, articles, and ideas that I hope will alter what other people believe and think. I often tweet quotes from books I’m reading, or I’ll tweet thoughts I have as a result of my reading.

Fifth, I use Twitter to laugh and be amazed. Because Twitter is filled with people, it’s filled with humor and wonder. I follow some people just because they’re funny and other accounts that somehow demonstrate the awesomeness of our world.

My Practices

With these purposes in mind, here are a few practices I have developed.


Every Twitter user must start with the matter of who to follow. I generally only follow people I know personally, people I’ve engaged in conversation on Twitter that appear helpful, people who have a proven record of helpful content and interaction, and experts in the fields that interest me or are important to my work.

I also limit the number of people I follow to a manageable level. I regularly review and trim down who I am following because my timeline can become overwhelming with too many people. I seriously don’t understand how a person can follow more than several hundred users. I suspect those who follow more than that are doing so only to try to gain followers back, and they probably curate whom actually shows up in their timeline. Many Twitter users evidently use Twitter to become famous, and so they adopt many practices aimed at growing a larger following. It’s one thing to have a large following because of the content you are producing. It’s another to use Twitter to have a following. The difference is evident in the practices users adopt. More on this below.


Because Twitter allows for rapid interaction with people who are often strangers, the platform regularly devolves into insults, sarcasm, proud self-congratulation, tribal protectionism, and other forms of unloving communication. The platform provides little accountability and often rewards those who exacerbate controversy and cloud issues rather than bringing light to conversations. So I regularly talk to a friend of mine who is also on Twitter to see what he thinks about how I’m interacting with others. In other words, I have a Twitter accountability partner to help me see when I’m not interacting well with others.


Because Twitter is a public platform that anyone can access (and here I’m speaking about non-protected accounts), I do not post pictures of my children. My wife and I seek to limit how many digital pictures of our children end up online because we are uncertain how they will feel when they’re adults about their lives being documented for anyone to see.

My Rules

Twitter is an amazing platform, but there are many dangers. Oddly enough, many users publicly lament its problems, threatening to deactivate their account. I suppose that’s because we all see how dysfunctional and unhelpful it can be. It certainly does encourage vices like vanity, anger, envy, and prideful self-promotion. So here are a few rules I have for myself that I aim to keep. I’d encourage you to adopt them as well.

1. Love your neighbor as yourself.

Love must govern how I listen to the tweets of others. I need to listen charitably to try to understand people, assuming the best. Usually, when Twitter isn’t working well it’s because people fail to show grace to one another. Tweets can only be 240 characters, putting a limit on how effectively a person can flush out an idea. So I have to avoid reacting, work hard to press in for understanding, and give people the benefit of the doubt.

Furthermore, instead of sarcasm and dismissal, I try to engage people respectfully. Sometimes love involves putting things in a pointed and sharp way, but the aim must be the good of my neighbor and not victory over them.

2. Follow people and organizations outside of my tribe and with whom I probably disagree.

One of the dangers of social media platforms is ideological siloing. This is especially dangerous for Facebook users, but it’s possible on Twitter as well if you don’t take steps to follow a variety of people.

3. Don’t virtue signal or twitter shame.

I’ve resolved not to tweet to display to the world my own sense of superiority. This includes commenting on issues simply to show everyone which side of an issue I’m on so I will be recognized as belonging to the “good” side. It’s fine to weigh in on and speak to issues I believe are important and just, but if I’m not doing anything to contribute to the issue, I’m most likely just posturing and signaling. This danger seems to grow the more followers a user acquires.

The flip side of virtue signaling is twitter shaming. I refuse to quote tweet others simply to run them through the mud because of some terrible thing they’ve said or done. This rule is a bit tricky because part of dialoguing with people or debating ideas involves showing the problems with their ideas or actions. Sometimes there’s a fine line between twitter shaming and highlighting a problem, but if I do the later, I aim to interact with the idea and not trash someone to elevate myself.

4. Don’t subtweet.

Subtweeting involves tweeting in reference to a particular user or a tweet without direct mention, typically in a dismissive or mocking way. This is another form of virtue signaling because it refuses to bring the person you disagree with into the conversation in order to debate. It’s an obvious way to criticize another to show your own goodness. It’s smug and not helpful.

5. Don’t humblebrag.

A humblebrag is an ostensibly modest or self-deprecating statement with the actual intention of drawing attention to something of which one is proud. If someone compliments me or my work, the humble response is to reply, “thank you.” But to retweet the compliment or to quote tweet it with a “thank you” or any other reply is to broadcast to all my followers what someone else has said about me. This is blatant self-promotion and the very opposite of humility, even if I say I’m humbled that they would say such a thing.

6. Don’t name drop or use Twitter to have private conversations.

Mentioning other Twitter users in my tweets should only happen to engage the person in conversation or to promote them or link others to them. I won’t use Twitter to show all my followers that I know someone, am excited to see them in person soon, or had a great time with them. Furthermore, if I want to have a conversation exclusively with a few people, then I contact them using the message function, via text, or through some other messaging platform.

7. Don’t buy followers and don’t follow people just to get them to follow me.

Since my purpose in using Twitter does not include gaining a following in order to be influential, I follow people because I value the content they produce or link to. There are many strategies users employ to gain followers, to be important, and to establish a large platform that avoid the difficult work of actually providing value. This celebrity culture actually leads to some of the worst aspects of Twitter, and I’m pretty sure that if I go that route, I’ll lose my soul.

8. Block trolls and spam.

I regularly get followed by a fake or smutty account. Sometimes, I’ll come across a user who starts trolling or repeatedly engaging in bad faith. I block them all.


I really value Twitter for what it can do to connect me with people, to expose me to helpful ideas, to disseminate my ideas, and to provide an opportunity for dialogue and debate. But I have to be careful to regularly review why I use the platform so that I don’t wander into malformative habits. Many of my rules are aimed at helping me avoid self-promotion, self-righteousness, and self-importance because Twitter can very easily play to my pride.

I’m sure some of you have thought about this too, and I’d love to hear how you approach using the platform.

Recent Reading Recs – 2018/02/27

Here’s a collection of blog posts, articles, podcasts, and books that I have recently found interesting, helpful, challenging, important, or funny. I don’t endorse everything I post, but I only post content I think is worth taking the time to consider. We all have to make choices about what content we “consume,” so I hope I can point you in directions that are worth your time.

Blog Posts & Online Journals

  • Christ and Pop Culture, “Male and Female He Created Them” – Ellen Mandeville reflects on sex and gender and the complementarity of the sexes who share a primary unity as image bearers of God.
  • Psychology Today, “American Narcissism and Mass Shooters” – Jean Kim, M.D. suggests American narcissism and its toxic fulfillment in the form of a mass shooter is a big reason why, unlike other countries, we’re facing the common occurrence of mass shootings.
  • Desiring God, “A Movie So Good It Ruins You” – Tony Reinke discusses David Foster Wallace’s famous critique of American entertainment culture in Infinite Jest.
  • TGC, “Sex in Zero Gravity” – Alistair Roberts reviews a controversial new book by sociologist Mark Regnerus on sex and the changing landscape of relationships in the modern world .

Online Newspapers & Magazines

  • WSJ, “How to Raise More Grateful Children” – In this Saturday essay, Jennifer Breheny Wallace addresses the problem of entitlement allegedly stemming from the self-esteem movement and argues that it’s possible to cultivate gratitude with practices aimed at helping children think gratefully.
  • NY Magazine, “The Poison We Pick” – Andrew Sullivan surveys this deindustrializing American life and the hellish opioid crisis which has developed to escape it.
  • NYT Opinion, “You’re Wrong! I’m Right!” – Nicholas Kristof urges us to consider how our ideologies are making us dumber and less able to have civil dialogue.
  • LA Times Review of Books, “The Rise of Network Christianity” – James K.A. Smith reviews the new book by sociologists Brad Christerson and Richard Flory profiling the populist and fast growing movement of post-Pentecostals / Neo-Charismatic Christianity exploding through the internet and without any central authority or responsible governance.
  • CT, “What ‘Black Panther’ Means for Christians” – New Testament Professor Esau McCaulley and frequent writer on the black experience reflects on the significance of the new Marvel movie which invites the viewer to consider various approaches to the question of black suffering.

Podcast Episodes & Other Media

Recent Reading Recs – 2018/02/13

Here’s a collection of blog posts, articles, podcasts, and books that I have recently found interesting, helpful, challenging, important, or funny. I don’t endorse everything I post, but I only post content I think is worth taking the time to consider. We all have to make choices about what content we “consume,” so I hope I can point you in directions that are worth your time.

Blog Posts & Online Journals

  • Circe Institute, “Creating Homes of Beauty” – Lindsey Knott argues that a home is perhaps the finest earthly work at which a man or woman can labor.
  • Sistamatic Theology, “Decolonized Discipleship” – Ekemini Uwan asks us to consider what sort of disciples we’re producing, those that reflect the image of the oppressor and the empire or the marginalized and colonized, urging us to incorporate decolonization into our approach to forming mature disciples.

Online Newspapers & Magazines

  • NYT, “What Teenagers Are Learning from Porn” – [CAUTION: THIS ARTICLE EXPLICITLY DISCUSSES PORNOGRAPHY AND IS NOT SUITABLE FOR EVERYONE.] As the ripple effects of the #MeToo movement continue, Maggie Jones suggests teens are watching more porn than their parents know, arguing that it’s negatively impacting their ideas about pleasure, power, and intimacy, but she offers very little in terms of helpful solutions.
  • NYT Opinion, “Let’s Ban Porn” – Ross Douthat makes a brief case for censorship of porn on the basis of the evident harms we are now recognizing it causes.
  • The Atlantic, “The New Preschool Is Crushing Kids” – Erika Christakus argues that today’s young children are working more but learning less.
  • Pacific Standard Magazine, “An Interview with Bryan Stevenson” – James McWilliams interviews the Harvard trained public defense lawyer about race, segregation, and listening to minority voices.
  • Fathom Magazine, “The Voice Evangelical Men Wish They Had” – Dr. Anthony Bradley, professor of religion, theology, and ethics at the King’s College in NYC, explores Evangelicalism’s pained search for healthy masculinity by examining the recent popularity of clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson.

Podcast Episodes & Other Media

  • Vocation & the Common Good, “Isaac Wardell” – Host Philip Lorish interviews the Director of Worship Arts at Trinity Church in Charlottesville, VA and leader of the Porter’s Gate Worship Project, discussing the missionary calling of the church for our neighbors, the hymns of the church, and the church’s relationship to the broader culture.
  • On Being, “Brené Brown” – Krista Tippet interviews the renowned University of Houston research professor of social work who has written and spoken extensively about shame, vulnerability, courage, and human connection.
  • Redeemer Ardmore Media, “Uncommon Family Panel Questions” – Giorgio Hiatt tackles a few basic questions on racism, bias, and why the church must pursue racial unity.


  • Making Room by Christine Pohl – a survey and recovery of the great Christian tradition of hospitality
  • The Hospitality Commands by Alexander Strauch – a survey of the biblical commands to show hospitality