Monday, October 21, 2013

Ask Mr. Wisdom: Q & A #2

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[I have heard Christians say] that “If Jesus rose from the dead, then he was God”, but if that is the argument being made, why are the other people mentioned in the Bible who rose from the dead not God?

That is an excellent question. The answer is in the context. However even before that, it is necessary to pin down out exactly what the claim is. It isn't that Jesus rose from the dead and that makes him God. Rather, the claim is that the resurrection of Jesus demonstrates that he is God. That is an important distinction because it frames the resurrection as the ultimate piece of evidence that validates his divinity claims.

Note: for the purposes of this particular question, I am not addressing the issue of the Bible's historical reliability. That is, I am not addressing the question, "how do we know Jesus actually said that?" For this question, I am only addressing the claim, "if Jesus rose from the dead, then he was God," which is offered from a Christian perspective, and I will simply work within the Christian worldview to demonstrate that it is not contradictory or fallacious.

So, what is the context of Jesus' resurrection? He was a miracle worker who claimed authority, divinity, and autonomous power. He claimed the authority to forgive sins (Mark 2); when he spoke, he spoke with authority; instead of saying, "this is what the Lord says," he said simply, "I tell you" (Matt 7:29); He claimed to be the prophesied messiah (Luke 4); He took the divine name, "I am" on multiple occasions, all of which caused the Pharisees to rend their garments and take up stones to kill him for blasphemy--they knew exactly what he was claiming. There are other examples, but I am trying not to make this post unbearably long.

So, most relevant to your question: Jesus claimed authority to "lay his life down and take it up again" (John 10:18). He also made the bold claim that after his death, he would resurrect after 3 days (John 2:9). And consider what he told the Pharisees when they asked him for a sign to prove his authority. He said, "For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." Jesus was convinced that he would be the source of his own resurrection and he even predicted the time (after 3 days) that it would happen. There can be no doubt that he was claiming divinity and pointing to the resurrection as the ultimate evidence to verify it.

What about the other biblical accounts of resurrection? None of the people who were resurrected in the Bible (other than Jesus) made any claims to be divine. Neither were their resurrections prophesied. Furthermore, these resurrections always involved some prophet/apostle who did not claim to possess autonomous power, but only to be a conduit for the power of God. Elijah and the widow's son (1 Kings 17); Elisha and the son of the Shunamite woman (2 Kings 4); the dead man who touched Elisha's bones (2 Kings 13); Peter and Tabitha (Acts 9); and Paul and Eutychus (Acts 20).

In short, the context makes it clear that if Jesus did not rise from the dead, the whole Christian faith is a sham. Paul says as much in 1 Cor 15. That is a pretty hefty and unnecessary burden of proof to take on if the whole thing were just made up. On the other hand, the statement, "if Jesus rose from the dead, then he was God" is true; not because resurrection makes Jesus God, but because it validates his claim to be God.

Is there a dependable, UNBIASED list out there for someone searching for a church... I checked out a local Methodist church and it was verrrrry liberal. I learned that the word Methodist is painting with a very wide brush. Then there is Presbyterian, but there is FPUSA which looks like it allows a certain degree or liberalism, yet you need to go to the church to see exactly where they are. Is there a "gay marriage", "abortion", "tithing", "premarital sex", etc.... (All the biggies) sort of list so that someone could weed out what they aren't interested in?

Yes and no. Yes, there are some churches that are "confessional." That is, they hold firmly to a specific confession of faith. You would be able to ascertain what they believe about the majority of important issues before you even walk through the doors. Roman Catholic, Lutheran, and Presbyterian are among the most well-known churches in America that fall into that category. They tend to hold to some well-known confession and/or ascribe to a catechism (authoritative answers to a variety of doctrinal questions). However, you have rightly observed that even among confessional churches, there are often different groups. The Presbyterians have a more conservative branch (PCA) and a more liberal branch (PCUSA). The Lutherans have a conservative branch (WELS), a middle of the road branch (LCMS), and a more liberal branch (ELCA). Even so, within these particular distinctions, there is not much variation between individual congregations on what they believe about particular "hot button" issues. You can just do a quick search on the internet and get an idea what these groups believe (I quickly tested it with the PCA and PCUSA and found plenty of info) and the congregations in your area will almost certainly hold to these beliefs.

On the other hand, while Assemblies of God, Episcopal/Anglican, Baptists (other than Reformed Baptists) and Methodists have basic statements of beliefs, they tend to allow for some amount of individual church autonomy. So, one may be very liberal and another very conservative. And I am not just talking about what the pastors believe. Even if the pastor would candidly give conservative answers to the tough questions, his congregation might be largely unaware of his positions. These denominations will all basically affirm the main points of traditional Christianity reflected in the Nicene Creed and Apostles Creed; although some (like Baptists and AofG) will not usually appeal to the creeds. In any event, it will not always be possible to know ahead of time what they might believe about certain "hot button" issues.

With all of that said, I wouldn't say that a confessional church is objectively better than a non-confessional congregation or vice-versa. You may find that you enjoy the consistency and clear doctrinal teaching of a confessional church, but you might not agree with them across the board. As a layperson, that may not be an issue. However, if you were going to teach, preach, or represent that denomination in any way, it would be very important. On the other hand, you might find it frustrating to search for a non-confessional church that suits all of your particular theological leanings, but you might like the freedom that they allow in non-essential issues.

All of that lengthy exposition to basically say... it just depends on what you are looking for. Confessional churches will require less time, research, and awkwardness in order to find out what they believe on these issues. With non-confessional churches you will just have to figure it out on a case by case basis.

A question I have had for a while is the issue of Christian getting tattoos. I realize many things have changed since the Old Testament, but would the idea of a Christian getting a tattoo (even a Christian one) fall into the New Testament category of not blending in with the world?

The New Covenant follower of Christ is not bound to the letter of the Old Covenant Law, and as such, the apparent prohibition against tattoos is not applicable. I say "apparent," because I do not think that Moses could have conceived of the modern process of tattooing. What seems to be in mind in the Leviticus 19:28 is the process of mutilating the body as a sign of mourning--a pagan practice--not decorating it by adding pigment in particular patterns. For example, it seems clear that piercings were acceptable for women. Speaking of the redemption of Israel, (and by extension, of all true Israel), God says, "I put a ring on your nose and earrings in your ears and a beautiful crown on your head." I think that is more comparable to the modern practice of tattooing than what was forbidden in the Law. Furthermore, I specifically say that we are not bound to the "letter" of the Law because we are still obligated to observe the principle of the Law--since they were given to reveal God's holiness and our desperate need for a Savior. You are right to point out that we should not be actively seeking the approval of the world. However, if a person is getting tattoos purely for the sake of popularity or gaining the approval of the world, the real problem is not in the his skin, but in his heart. The good news is that by Grace, the blood of Jesus purifies hearts and justifies them to God. And so, a person who has gotten tattoos, even for totally wrong reasons, has nothing to be ashamed of before God if they are in Christ.  

Even so, I will leave you with one additional thought. As someone who has 3 tattoos, I can say that I still do not think getting tattoos is the wisest decision. Consider my friends who, like me, wanted to get tattoos when we were younger and/or playing in the band, but unlike me, they never got a tattoo. I think they made the wiser decision. To a certain extent, getting the tattoos puts me "in a box." That is ironic, because everyone who gets tattoos thinks they are breaking out of the box (there is some deep spiritual gold to be mined in that). But, people will inevitably think certain things about me when they see me at the pool with my son or wearing a pair of shorts (which I cannot do at work). Does that mean that I regret getting them? No, not necessarily. They mean a lot to me (I have a Lion, Paschal lamb and a lamp post that says "Every New Day"). I didn't get them to impress people. Most people never see them. And one day, I may even get the last one that I originally planned on getting (to complete the theme I was going for), but have not been able to afford. But if you don't have any, I would suggest that it is a much wiser decision to stay tattoo-less (apologies to my friends who tattoo people for a living). The question is not whether or not it is acceptable for a Christian to get a tattoo. The real question should be: "is it wise for me to get one?" Hope those thoughts help out.


Thursday, October 17, 2013

Servant Apologetics: Inner Circle Dwellers and Selfish Body Builders

In That Hideous Strength, the third installment of C. S. Lewis' grossly underappreciated space trilogy, Lewis addresses a subtle, yet pervasive human problem. He offers a version of the "grass is always greener" dilemma. Lewis says that human beings perpetually long to enter the "inner circle." Discontent with his current station, man inevitably longs to become part of some elite group. However, as soon as enters the inner circle that he has idolized, he realizes that there is yet another, more elite circle. Even powerful leaders of countries long to be in the inner circle constituted by those who have left great legacies. Until they can get into that elite group, they will feel unfulfilled. If they reach that level, they will long for something yet more exclusive.  The cycle is never ending. 

When I first began studying apologetics, the "inner circle" temptation was extremely strong. I saw an opportunity to reach a level of knowledge that very few Christians possess. That would put me in an elite group. I would be somebody special. I have a suspicion that my experience is not unusual, especially for young people getting into apologetics. There is a bent towards elitism, even amongst many who have been involved in the field for a long time. It is the 800 pound gorilla in the room. Today, there is a great gulf that exists between the average church and the apologetics community. That is due in part to the rise of anti-intellectualism in Western Christianity since the second great awakening. It is also largely due to an elitist/separatist mentality propagated by many apologists. It is not unlike the marriage where the husband is convinced that his arguments are logially sound and that his wife just needs to get with the program. Of course, she is equally convinced that he is heartless, cold, and unloving. The result is a strained relationship.

With the background painted, I would like to suggest that it is time for a trip to the motivational chiropractor. Those of us who love apologetics need to have our posture adjusted. It is time to for us to adopt the posture of a servant. For far too long we have carried ourselves in the corporate church world as superiors. Pontificating about the shallow and anti-intellectual shortcomings of the masses, we became separatists, (at least in our hearts) seeking to impress one another--creating smaller, yet more elite inner circles. We have been like the body builder who only works out to attract flaberghasted looks and win awards from body building organizations, but goes through life ignoring the needs of others that he could meet with his superhuman strength.

Instead of seeing the lack of zeal for apologetics in our churches, youth groups, and colleges as an obstacle, we need to start viewing it as an opportunity. We cannot approach our pastors/youth leaders/missionaries/campus ministers and say "You need less emotional back-patting and more apologetics!" or "this church is all fluff and no stuff!" While these statements may be true, that is exactly what they expect from us, and a lot of the reason we are stuck in a viscous cycle of resentment. Instead, we need to approach pastors, youth leaders, missionaries, and campus ministers by saying "God has given me a passion for apologetics and I want to make use my unique skills to serve in any way that I can." To be fair, some of you have tried that and found that you never got any feedback. But you cannot simply give up there. If the bodybuilder just approaches the church and says, "I can lift big things, let me know if you need me," he may not get a lot of calls. People will assume he is probably busy being huge and doesn't have the time. Or, they might just be intimidated by his massiveness. Whatever the case, we need to take it a step further. That means seeking out and even creating opportunities to serve. Maybe that means finding out what sermon series your church is doing over the next month or two and thinking of a way you could serve that  incorporates your love of apologetics. When you approach a pastor/Sunday school teacher/campus pastor and say "hey I heard you were planning X, could I help out by doing Y?" you will probably (no guarantees) be amazed how much more receptive they are. Rather than expecting others to change what they are doing to accomodate us, we need to get involved in what they are doing and offer our unique gifts. We need to adopt the posture of a servant rather than a superior.

For years evangelical pastors have been screaming for "revival!" "What the church, the country, the world needs is another great awakening," they say. I agree. I just want to suggest that the spark may come from somewhere that they (and we) have not been looking. By and large, people today are not searching for a "cooler" Jesus that they can hang out with. They are not interested in being patronized. They don't want more things to believe. They want reasons to believe what they have been told. I don't buy the claim that "Religion is just wishful thinking for people who won't face the facts." The truth is that people of faith are often the most skeptical of faith claims. The sinful nature desperately wants to convince us that there is no God, no objective morality; that I am my own master and can play by my own rules. People (including Christians) are searching for reasons to reject belief in God, the Bible, and Jesus, and the atheists are committed to offering compelling reasons. What is more, they are dedicated to packaging those reasons in an engaging format. All the while, the Church seems to be asleep at the wheel. If you are invovled in apologetics already, you are probably nodding your head as you read this. But the question remains: what is going to reverse the momentum? I will leave you with a few thoughts that I hope will help tie everything together.

The pastor cries "we just need revival!" and the apologist rolls his eyes. The apologist cries "we just need apologetics!" and the pastor scoffs; but their sentiments are not mutually exclusive. I believe that our churches need the support of apologists in order to spark a revival. And not only to reach the world, but also to heal and sustain the body (that is hemorraging members at an alarming rate). However, there is currently a stigma attached to apologetics/apologists in the vast majority of Christian churches. We are viewed as elitists, snobs, opponents of "true" faith. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, we have adopted the posture of "inner circle dwellers." The way to change the relationship is to change our posture.* We need to be servant apologists.

*I am not suggesting that one side bears all of the blame for the rift in the relationship. However, I am convinced that we have to be proactive in addressing the problem, rather than assuming the other side should act first.


Monday, October 7, 2013

Ask Mr. Wisdom Q&A #1

This is the first installment of what I hope will become a weekly exchange. If you have questions that you would like answered on the topics of the Bible, theology, apologetics, ethics, and religion, send them to

Question 1:
How do we know we know the truth? Conversely, how do we know we are not in/under heretical and false doctrine? Muslims, JW's, Mormons, Buddhists are all convinced they are right.

First of all, you are right to say that other groups seem equally, if not more earnestly convinced that they possess the one true religion. If all we had to work with in dividing truth from fiction was sincerity of heart--if there were no evidence that could be examined--we would be in a pretty serious pickle. However, I am convinced there is overwhelming evidence that supports the truth of Christianity. I do not take this issue lightly. I have no interest in believing something that is not true.

When dealing with difficult questions like this, the rule that I teach my students is "Always start with Jesus." The reason is that if the Gospel evidence about Jesus is historically unreliable, then Christianity falls apart. On the contrary, if the Gospel evidence is historically reliable, then we can know a lot about Jesus.  Without going into great detail, there are gobs and gobs of scholarly works written on the reliability of the Gospels. Just glancing at my bookshelf, I would recommend Cold Case Christianity by J. Warner Wallace. Minus the supernatural elements of the Gospels, even most atheist scholars will affirm that they are historical bedrock. There are also excellent works on the historicity of the resurrection. Once again, from my own library, I would recommend The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus by Gary Habermas and Mike Licona. All of that is to say that if Jesus did what the Gospels say he did, and said what they claim he said, then we have very strong reasons to think that Christianity is the one true religion.

At the same time, I am convinced that the evidence for other worldviews is terribly weak. Mormonism, for example, is fraught with historical inaccuracies and problems of forged translations among other things. Jehovah's Witnesses are in a similar boat. They build their theological distinctives around very specific translations and interpretations that are contradict all scholarship outside of their own camp. As such, they advance an totally separate religion from Christianity, while attempting to smuggle in the parts that they like to prop up what would otherwise be a religion with no foundation. As for eastern religions, while they have many elements of truth, I have a hard time finding much connection to reality in the fundamental teachings--evil is illusory, millions of demi gods, that all is divine and the like. Then there is Islam which depends on the claim that the Bible has been corrupted and/or misinterpreted. But the evidence for the faithful transmission and preservation of the biblical manuscripts is outstanding. Furthermore, Islam rejects the death of Jesus by crucifixion (a fact agreed upon by practically all historians). Going back to what I said before about starting with Jesus, each of these religions has a different view of Jesus from what is portrayed in the Gospels. So, while interpretation (which is subjective) certainly plays a role, the law of non-contradiction (which is objective) tells us that while they could all be wrong, they cannot all be right. If the Gospels are historically reliable, preserved, and translated correctly, then they clearly point to the teachings of classical Christianity. Again, while I am having to move quickly here, this is not something that I take lightly. If I am wrong, I want to know.

Question 2:
My study group is missional based, and most of the books we read and work we do reaches out to our community and communities throughout the world. This to me, embodies christianity much more than sitting in a pew listening to preachers and deacons spew their agenda. Do you think that this type of worship is a suitable replacement for traditional sunday worship? I do feel like i'm not getting to know the bible quite as I should, we only touch on it directly on occasion, but the books we read reference it often, i guess you could say i'm learning by proxy(but who's to say that the english translations of the bible aren't this sort of 'proxy' to the original text anyway).

While I understand, and often share your frustration; I think you may be "throwing the baby out with the bathwater." In short, I wouldn't equate what you describe as "listening to preachers and deacons spew their agenda" to "traditional Sunday worship." You have to remember that there are 2000 years of church history behind us. I think that what you (and a lot of people, including me) have experienced is a rather recent phenomenon (last 150 years or so, and especially the last 40). I also think, (crossing my fingers), that a lot more people are seeing it for what it is and it is losing steam. Anyway, all of that is to say that I think small groups are great and it sounds like you are part of an awesome one, but I also think it is important to belong to a church body and sit under the teaching of a pastor who is teaching and leading effectively. That is really hard to come by, and again, I know the frustration. I know how tedious it can be to search for the right place, but trust me, it is worth it when you get there. Anyway, I would simply say that I don't think there is any "replacement" for being part of a healthy church family. Notice I said "healthy," not "perfect." Anyway, I suggest that you keep doing what you are doing, but I would also do some research and visit a few places. You will probably be surprised to find that there are a lot of congregations in your area comprised of people who feel the same way you do.

Question 3:
What do you think about the morality of doing wrong to do good? For instance, if you did something morally wrong to get money so that you give it to charity and do good with it. Can good come from intentional wrong doing? 

What you are suggesting is a form of consequentialism, or "ends justify the means" ethic. That is, what makes something moral is the ultimate result. However, on its face, it is incompatible with a biblical view of ethics. From a biblical perspective, moral duties are grounded in God's character and subsequent commands. He has revealed these through both general (we intrinsically know right from wrong) and special revelation (through the giving of Scripture and culminating in Christ). I think your example is actually pretty easy to deal with. You have the choice to either steal or not steal. Obviously, it is not justified to steal simply because you plan to do something good with the money. However, there are much more difficult examples to be offered. For example, what if you are faced with a situation like Corrie Ten Boom--you can lie to protect people or tell the truth and subject them to torture and death. Or if you are in charge of switching the train track and there is a boy trapped by the switching mechanism. You need to flip the switch or an oncoming train with hundreds of passengers will crash, but by flipping the switch, you ensure the boy's death. Both choices pose a serious moral dilemma. It is only in these types of circumstances that I think it is morally right to choose the "wrong." Unfortunately, this often gets called "the lesser of two evils." I don't like that name because the moral decision is necessarily not evil. Some biblical ethicists suggest that God will always provide a third option in these circumstances. While I think that is very often true, it to me seems that there are possible scenarios where there simply is not a third option. Furthermore, I think Scripture provides examples of this. One famous example comes from Exodus, where the Hebrew midwives are commended for disobeying and lying to Pharaoh. Likewise, Rahab lies about hiding the spies in Jericho. She is also commended, and even integrated into the Davidic/messianic family tree. is obviously a hotly debated and complicated issue, but these are my thoughts in brief.

Question 4: 
I have two questions to ask. One, how did you keep yourself most accountable while you were touring and still in Becoming The Archetype? Also, what advice would you give someone who wants to write songs and work within the Christian music industry?

I am going to go a different direction with my response than you probably expected. I presume that by "keep yourself accountable," you are referring to avoiding temptations--substance abuse, sexual impurity etc. I will simply say that those things were really not big struggles for me. And while they are for many other people, I think that there is a tendency to focus so heavily on these "big" issues that we totally overlook the "smaller" ones. Far too often, young Christians fall into the trap of equating spiritual development with a check list of big things to avoid. That is a terrible thermometer for gauging spiritual health. Let me give you an example of what I mean. While I didn't struggle with the "big" things, one of the strongest temptations that comes with being in a band (or being in any profession) is to become cynical--unnecessarily negative and pessimistic. I wish that I successfully avoided this temptation while on the road with the band, but I can't. While this is probably not the answer you were looking for, I feel like it represents an equally important lesson to learn.

With regard to getting into the music industry, my advice is three-fold. Develop your ability to the highest possible level, make a lot of friends, and keep yourself available. Don't be afraid to play second fiddle (pun intended) to anyone and everyone. The most successful musicians that I know are not people who made it big by starting a band from the ground up. Rather, they are people who got in playing guitar, bass, drums, violin, etc for someone else. Many of them have since moved on to very successful solo careers and/or bands of their own. But the way the industry is today, you are very unlikely to make a name for yourself simply by jamming with some buds and starting a facebook. There are just too many bands starting up every day. Lastly, keep yourself as available as possible. In a strange coincidence, a lot of young musicians are also convinced that they need to get married really early. Maybe it is their creative/romantic bent. But it will seriously limit your availability. And it will also limit your ability as a husband/father. Of course, some relationships work just fine within that framework, but I think that is the exception rather than the rule. Again, that probably isn't what you expected me to say, but I hope it helps. 

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Internet Conversations For Dummies

We have all witnessed internet conversations gone terribly wrong. Such interactions are becoming increasingly difficult to avoid. The phenomenon has caused many people to avoid/abandon social media altogether. Many others have simply started ignoring topics that they know are likely to spin out of control. That may seem like a wise decision, but I actually think it is a mistake. Let me explain.

I think the internet is actually an ideal training ground for developing your ability to talk about important issues. Having good conversations does not come naturally. We all need practice. The internet offers several unique opportunities for practicing good habits.* Here are my top 5.

1. You can screen your own thoughts. Lesson: You learn to be intentional.
Contrary to popular belief, you do not have to post everything that you type. Unlike face-to-face conversations, you can get your thoughts out, read over them, make edits, and then decide whether or not to post your comment. Also contrary to what you may think, it is absolutely not a waste of time to type out your thoughts and then simply elect not to post them. I do this A LOT. Sometimes you realize that you do not have anything indispensable to contribute to the conversation. Sometimes it just is not worth it. Even so, working out your thoughts will help to prepare you for future conversations. What is more, learning to screen your thoughts is vitally important for face-to-face interaction.

2. You can do your research.  Lesson: You learn to be informed.
The person that you are talking to on the internet might be really smart. OR, he might just be sitting in an office surrounded by books on the topic. That is one great benefit of digital communication. If you don't know what to say, you can stop, do some research and then come back. That is a luxury that you would not be afforded in a heated face-to-face discussion. Is it "cheating" to do research in between comments? Only if the point of the point of the discussion is to determine who knows more off the top of their head. I have never been part of such a conversation. And who would enforce that rule anyway? On the other hand, if the point is to have an intelligent discussion and work toward finding the truth (as it should be), then you are really doing a disservice to everyone by staying in the dark. What is more, getting in the habit of being informed will improve your face-to-face conversations as well.

3. You can choose public or private.  Lesson: You learn to be tactful and sensitive.
Suppose that your friend posts something controversial on Facebook. You notice it in your news feed. If you sense that you have something to contribute, but you do not want to jump into the fray; you can offer to take the conversation to email or private message. Maybe you just want to talk to your friend. Maybe there is an outspoken person hijacking the conversation. You can politely ask to speak to either of them privately. I almost always prefer this approach over having a knock down, drag out, public debate that will attract trolls and bandwagon jumpers alike. It is not always possible to "go private" with a face-to-face conversation, but it is always necessary to exercise tact and stay sensitive to the particular situation.

4. No one can see your face. Lesson: You learn to be calm.
Are you frustrated because some bonehead refuses to engage your arguments, and instead just keeps attacking your character? Of course you are. The good news is that no one can see the constipated look on your face. Don't blow it with a hasty response. Step back, take a deep breath, scream into a pillow, count to ten, say a prayer. Then, come back with a calm and collected response (if one is even warranted). People who are watching the conversation will be amazed at how well you handled yourself. They don't ever need to know that you punched yet another hole in the wall. As it applies to face-to-face conversations; this is a case of "fake it 'til you make it." Practice staying cool until it becomes natural. As a general rule, the man who loses his cool also loses the debate.

5.  Many opportunities to practice humility. Lesson: You learn to be humble.
I once heard a pastor say that it is dangerous to pray for patience. Within a few days of making this request to God, you will almost certainly find yourself in a situation that dramatically tries your patience. The same is true of internet conversations. Do you need to work on exercising humility? We all do. Well, just jump on social media and you will almost certainly find yourself in a situation that demands tremendous humility. I am not suggesting that you should deliberately put yourself into situations that you know you can't handle. However, if you intentionally enter into discussions with the intention of showing humility, you will develop a great habit for face-to-face conversations in the future.

*I am not suggesting that internet conversations are a substitute for face-to-face interaction. They are not.