Advertisers should revive their egg in the skillet. You know the PSA from the 1980s: “This is your brain. This is your brain on drugs.” I’d suggest a slight revision for the 2020s: “This is your soul. This is your soul online.”
True, the internet is an unprecedented tool for good. But if unfettered human knowledge were sufficient to make us complete and equipped for life, surely by this point we’d all be paragons of wisdom and virtue. Clearly, we need something more than our phones to keep our souls from sizzling away in the frying pan of infinite connectivity.
Of course, there’s the incongruity that you’re reading this online. And I’ll point you to a book that you can buy online. The answer isn’t to go off the grid, but to realize that God has ordained other sources of wisdom we can barely see if our eyes are conditioned only for the glare of our screens.
In The Wisdom Pyramid: Feeding Your Soul in a Post-Truth World, Brett McCracken demonstrates that if we truly want to be shaped by godly wisdom, we must discipline ourselves to manage our information intake, just as we manage our food intake. Riffing on the idea of the “food pyramid” for healthy eating, McCracken—senior editor and communications director for The Gospel Coalition—presents a paradigm that ranks information sources for the Christian in a manner that will foster spiritual health. The foundation of the pyramid (the source we should consume most often) is the Bible; the tip of the pyramid (what we should ingest most circumspectly) includes the internet and social media. In between, McCracken considers the place of the church, nature, books, and beauty as sources of wisdom.
Created for Wisdom
James 3:17 describes godly wisdom as “first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.” McCracken writes that “Wisdom is knowing what to do with knowledge gained through various means of education. . . . It’s about living rightly” (66).
God created his people for wisdom, but sometimes we are lazily content with our lack of wisdom. While we mentally acknowledge the nobility of wisdom, we functionally live as if it’s beyond our reach. Perhaps we assume wisdom is only for the elderly—the select few who sit atop a mountain of acquired life experience. While it’s true that “wisdom is with the aged” (Job 12:12), wisdom isn’t the exclusive domain of octogenarians.
God created his people for wisdom, but sometimes we are lazily content with our lack of wisdom.
Christians are supposed to be marked by wisdom and always increasing in wisdom. We’re told to teach and admonish one another “in all wisdom” and to “walk in wisdom toward outsiders” (Col. 3:16; 4:5). Most pointedly, we’re told to seek wisdom by asking for it; and promised that when we do so, God will grant it (James 1:5).
What does it look like to pursue wisdom in our distracted age?
While knowledge doesn’t equal wisdom, McCracken’s premise is there’s a connection between the quality of the information we take in and our growth (or decline) in wisdom: “Wisdom and knowledge do have a symbiotic relationship. We can become more or less wise depending on the good or bad knowledge we take in” (66–67).
In other words, quality matters. “Garbage in, garbage out,” as the adage says. Our problem isn’t that we fail to take in knowledge (we read a novel’s worth of words every day on our screens; 41), but that we’re often mindless in what we consume.
We can meet our daily calorie requirement with just a few minutes in the drive-thru lane, but we know the inevitable consequences of eating that way every day. But if the bulk of our information intake is an unsourced, untested stream of internet blather, is it any wonder when we find ourselves lacking in wisdom?
The challenge, then, is to apply discipline and discernment in managing the knowledge we consume. What if, instead of being content to snack all day on the mostly worthless “attention candy” of the internet (44), we raised our standards? What if we instead began to think of our fellow church members—those closest to us in real life—as fellow guests at a feast, and we chose to help one another savor the sumptuous meal spread out for us in the pages of Scripture?
Beyond Scripture and the church, McCracken emphasizes the role of both nature (“one big, beautiful symphony that is always playing, if only we take out our earbuds long enough to listen”; 105) and books (“they connect us with other people, and they connect the dots of ideas”; 118) in the pursuit of wisdom.
I most appreciated the chapter on beauty, which challenged my natural bent toward productivity and efficiency. “Beauty and Sabbath go hand in hand,” McCracken writes. “Both are extravagant. Unproductive. Unnecessary. Both are reflections of God’s abundance and reminders that the world is chiefly a gift to receive, not a prize to be earned” (140). The beauty of a mountain range, an artist’s canvas, and a musician’s melody all point us to the God who wants to be not merely known, but enjoyed.
I read The Wisdom Pyramid during Christmas break, and I entered the new year determined to better manage my information intake to foster growth in wisdom. For the first few days of the year I barely glanced at social media, and instead dug into a lengthy book I had neglected. I even scheduled a camping trip. I was progressing nicely until the Capitol riot of January 6 (I made it less than a week), when I forgot about the book and reinstalled social-media apps on my phone so that I could consume every last scrap of news and analysis.
The beauty of a mountain range, an artist’s canvas, and a musician’s melody all point us to a God who wants not merely to be known, but enjoyed.
A few days later my wife kindly asked if I was all right. She pointed out I’d been unusually quiet and withdrawn for a couple of days, and seemed like I had a lot on my mind. It didn’t require extensive scrutiny to piece things together: after just a few days of gorging at the Twitter buffet I was mentally nauseated, spiritually drained, and generally gloomy.
How thoughtful are you in your pursuit of wisdom? Do you crave the wisdom you know you lack, or are you content to roll your eyes at the folly of others? Do you begin each day with a plan to nourish your soul, or is most of what you consume the product of mindless scrolling?
Say no to the wisdom of this age. Feast instead on the wisdom from above. The Wisdom Pyramid can help you choose the all-satisfying bounty God provides. He’s eager to share it with all who ask.
The Gospel Coalition