Apparently we’re living in an attention economy — where one of the most scarce and precious commodities is our attention.
What this means is that whoever and whatever can capture and hold our attention ‘wins’. (Which I guess means it’s fitting that I read about this attention economy by following a link from my Twitter feed.)
I certainly feel like ‘attention economy’ pretty accurately describes the situation in my household with an incredibly active and curious almost-two year old.
And I suspect many of us can resonate with this more broadly. Can’t we?
Think about the prevalence of the soundbyte. Or the highlight reel.
Or think about how quickly posts seem to appear and then disappear from your news feed on Facebook. Blink and you can miss massively important announcements — weddings, births, new jobs…
(In fact, the ‘experts’ tell me that in university student ministry, the ideal number of times to Tweet each day is between 2 and 8 times! That’s every day. Every. Single. Day. Posting mostly the same content. Just so people have a chance of seeing it.)
It’s like survival of the fittest for ideas!
But as well as keeping everything brief and punchy (to avoid tl;dr), our attention economy rewards novelty.
It’s all about freshness. Originality.
Everything’s got to be new — or at least wrapped in a shiny new package.
All of which poses some distinct challenges for Christians.
Because Christians are people who say we’ve had not just our attention but our loyalty captured and held by one thing. One person — Jesus.
Worse, the writer of Hebrews tells us that this Jesus is “the same yesterday, today, and forever”!
Worse still, Jesus himself tells us (in John 5) that he is supremely unoriginal. He does nothing new — but only what he sees his Father doing: “whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise”.
So in this attention economy is there anything that can stop Christians being boring when we always want to keep talking about Jesus?
And, maybe even more significantly, is there anything that can stop us getting bored ourselves? Not so much turning our back on Jesus as getting distracted — having our eyes and hearts drawn away towards something newer and fresher?
I’m sure this is the bit where I’m supposed to pull a rabbit out of a hat and resolve the attention economy dilemma.
That’s certainly what I’d planned to do. I’d planned to point to the inexhaustible richness of the Bible’s testimony to Jesus.
And I wanted to sketch out a flexible framework that would allow this rich, multi-dimensional witness to emerge with relevance to the questions and issues we encounter in our everyday relationships…
But I’m not sure I know how to do this. All I’ve got is a hunch — a hunch that people like Tim Keller are on to something when they talk about the “irreducible complexity” of the core Christian message about Jesus.
Commenting on how ready the Apostles were to draw a line between true and false gospels, Keller observes (Center Church, chapter 2): “It would be impossible for Paul to condemn a ‘false gospel’ and affirm the preaching of Peter as ‘the gospel’ without assuming a consensus body of gospel content. And yet it is obvious that the various biblical writers express the gospel in significantly different ways.”
It’s almost like God’s anticipated the problem of our attention economy. Or maybe it’s not such a novel problem after all…