A blog is an autobiography written as you're reading it.

The Wolf in their Pockets: a title so good I’m using it for the review

I first ran into Chris Martin through my work at Mere Agency. We work with his employer, Moody, on a number of projects, and shortly after that relationship began, my coworker tipped me off to his first book, Terms of Service, which quickly grabbed my attention. I work on the web: it’s a permanent part of my life at this point. Chris’ first book, a careful examination of social media and how it is designed to affect us, hit me like a rainstorm after a long drought. He helped to articulate vague feelings and concerns that have built up in me over years.

In some ways, our culture has never been more aware of the risks and dangers that social media present to our wellbeing. If you’re uncertain that there are human costs that social media exacts, I’d encourage you to go read Terms of Service.

But, that’s not the book I’m reviewing today. Instead, I’d like to talk about Chris’ follow-up: The Wolf in their Pockets: 13 Ways the Internet Threatens the People You Lead. While a pre-release digital copy of this book was provided to me for review, I’ll disclaim that I also purchased a copy of my own accord, to have on my shelf and recommend to others. Much like Terms of Service, this is further writing on a topic that concerns and interests me greatly.

We’re all tired of this. Much of my adult life in the United States has been defined by acrimony. The American church is not so different from the rest of the world in this respect: we have all walked through contentious elections, the exhausting pandemic (that’s still not truly over, or is it?), and the vicious culture wars cranked up to 11. We’ve watched families, churches, and friend groups splinter over everything from medical science to politics to conspiracy theories.

“Love your neighbor,” said Jesus, but how do we do that when your neighbor is the one spouting conspiracy theories about pizza parlors, or a family member getting in fights with strangers in YouTube comments, or even a church congregant using the internet to attack you personally? How do we respond with love in these new situations? If you, like me, are sick of beating up and being beaten up, The Wolf in Their Pockets is a simple call to love those around you. More specifically, it’s a call to love those you are responsible for: whether members at a church that you pastor, friends and neighbors in a weekly small group, or even your own children and family.

These are not social media problems, exactly. They’re sin problems, magnified through the new prism of social media onto our newsfeeds, inboxes, and text messages. We’ve seen these problems before, and we’ll continue to see them again with new technologies. We have all grappled with the effects of a world crippled by sin. Even so, each day we have the challenge of facing sin in new, unforeseen contexts.

“Deep in our hearts, we long to be seen, even if we often fear being truly known.”

— Chris Martin, The Wolf in Their Pockets

The Wolf In their Pockets is a handbook considering how social media reflects our own sin back at us in various ways. In many ways, both Terms of Service and The Wolf in Their Pockets strike me as a Christian Neil Postman for the 2020s (indeed, Postman is amply quoted throughout this book, to great effect). Chris does an excellent job of contextualizing the struggles that we face on the social internet: both with the teachings of the Bible, and against the backdrop of a broader timeframe of culture and history.

Each chapter considers a particular topic (anything from entertainment to friendship to worship), and briefly explains the biblical teaching behind it. Then, the chapter considers how social media affects us individually in this area of our lives.

Finally, each chapter then concludes with intensely practical applications in the lives of the people we lead and love (for those of you who skim, these takeaways are helpfully bolded). I found myself shaking my head nearly every chapter: after convicting me of my own flaws, Chris then turns around and gives me some of the most practical and helpful guidance on how to respond to the people around me when they exhibit the same flaws. I’ll quote just two, from the chapter on purpose, for your edification:

How to capture this in a single sentence: this is my purpose as a leader, and it feels like too often over the past five years I’ve wandered from it.

This is a careful book. It is written not only with care and love for the people that we lead, but also with great care for the leaders: those of us reading the book, who’ve maybe given up on the idea of reaching out to this person, or loving that person who has wronged us. You may find – as I did – that this book falls on welcome ears, encouraging and restoring a mind too prone to cynicism and despair (there’s even a whole chapter about cynicism: as someone who really needed to hear it, thanks, Chris).

I read The Wolf in Their Pockets first as a valuable field guide for loving the people around me as they interact with the internet: the internet that I help to create each day at my job. But second, I read this book as a much-needed reminder to myself to be cautious over how I let this Pandora’s box whisper truth to me. Being reminded of the latter has given me a renewed vigor for the former.

The Wolf in Their Pockets is available from Moody Publishers, Bookshop, and Amazon (this is an ItB sponsored link). I cross-posted this review under my own name on both Goodreads and Amazon.