I had a crack at writing a book. About Instagram.

I realise those are two slightly odd statements, particularly when you put them together, so this post is my attempt at an explanation. But if you just want to check out the book itself, then click over to this link where you can currently download it for free.

IMG_2199If you haven’t heard of Instagram then let me fill you in…

Ok, I’ll resist asking you where you’ve been. Like a form of Twitter, but with images instead of ‘tweets’, Instagram is a social network and phone app. It revolves around taking, editing and sharing photos with your followers, and has become particularly known for the way in which it allows an image’s appearance to be ‘filtered’ with a range of pre-fixed and often nostalgic glosses.

‘So, what?’ you might well ask!

Well, that’s part of the surprise with Instagram. It may not sound particularly novel. But it’s become a social media phenomenon.

Since launching in 2011, Instagram has swelled to over 300 million regular users. Just think about that: that’s more people than the populations of UK, Germany, Australia, France and Canada combined, all of whom have made this little app a regular part of their lives. In particular it has captivated the younger generations; a third of all Americans aged 14-34s apparently now use the app.

Doing the Instagram Math.

It’s these kind of stats that led me to put together this little eBook, Filtered Grace: Finding Goodness, Desire & Meaning in Instagram.

Having been first drawn to the app back in 2012, I began to notice how using it both felt like a natural response to my faith, but it also raised challenges too. One of my assignments at Oak Hill led me to explore Instagram’s cultural and theological significance in more detail, and increasingly I’ve found myself finding that the Christian faith makes sense of why Instagram is so popular.

The idea then came to turn this into a more accessible piece of writing, and I hope the end product (or the current version of it) is a stimulating read whether you’re a Christian who uses the app or whether you’re ministering with those who use it. If you wouldn’t call yourself a Christian, then I hope you’ll still find it engaging and that it might give you a surprising window into the Christian faith.

You Can’t Avoid Culture

It’s all too easy for us to simply write-off social media by over-simplifying why people use it. Christians can sometimes get a bit of a bad rep for avoiding or denouncing ‘culture’. But what is culture anyway? It’s just how we relate and make and live. We all ‘do culture’, the question is rather what we want our relating and making and living to be about.

It’s evident that Instagram has weaved itself into the daily rhythms and routines of lots of our lives; it’s become part of our culture. And so I take it that if we really believe Christian discipleship is an ‘all of life’ thing, then we can’t not engage with it. A withdrawal strategy forgets that the real problem lies not on the screen, but in our hearts.

This Is Our World, So Get To Know It

Besides, there’s also a missional imperative. Jesus spoke of making disciples that make disciples and, like it or not, one of the landscapes upon which many disciples and potential-disciples now live much of their lives is that of social media. How as Christians do we think and act in a Christ-centred way as we engage with it? How do we identify the particular idols that will lurk in its shadows? How do we appeal to the common grace that it celebrates? What are the particular challenges and opportunities for the gospel?

Of course we do all this with Scripture in our hands. We need the lenses of God’s revelation and his Spirit to help us truly ‘see’ something like Instagram, as well to know our own hearts too. But as we do so I’m convinced we’ll find the Christian worldview both makes sense of Instagram’s prevalence, as well as speaking compellingly into the Instagram culture’s particular aches and longings.

Let’s bring God back into the picture.

You can currently download Filtered Grace for free here. I’d genuinely, truly, really love to hear what make of it. And if you find it a helpful resource then why not share it with others – it’s pretty much guaranteed that it’s not going to get read otherwise.