Freedom of Expression in a Photoshop World

We live in a day in which understatement is an endangered species. We have no shortage of embellishment and exaggeration. Public communication is awash in grandiose claims. Parties, events, releases, political rallies must be bigger and better than the last.

In our society of hype and hyperbole, pomp and posturing, we create our own online profiles in a matter of minutes, select our most flattering photo, highlight our most impressive accomplishments and then fill our timeline with the confirming data. We are experiencing (not to overstate it) an epidemic of over-promising and under-performing. Few of us have the humility to report on our lives and experiences with simplicity and truth.

Sadly, we Christians too often fall prey to this cultural pressure. This Sunday, this conference, this study, this message must be more “epic” (talk about exaggeration) than the last. Such a penchant is perhaps especially acute in church planting and other ministry startups, when our collective insecurities and immaturities conspire to make it feel like everything needs to sound better than it actually is, to make us seem stronger than we truly are, to give the impression we have momentum and staying power, when really we feel powerless deep down, and gnawingly uncertain.

Why We Exaggerate

What our relentless over-the-top claims, and “holy” exaggerations, reveal is our deep-seated insecurities. Public speech, social media and personal conversations have become opportunities to compensate for what we know is lacking.

It is the insecure artist who needs his next album to be better than the last, the insecure actor who needs this new role to surpass all the others, the insecure employee who needs to brag about his latest feat, the insecure mom who longs to demonstrate her kids are the cutest, the insecure pastor who needs to exaggerate about how great things are going—or forecast, with a humble air, how historic his particular ministry venture will prove to be. By the Spirit’s help, of course.

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David Mathis
David Mathis (@davidcmathis) is executive editor at desiringGod.org and an elder at Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis. He has edited several books, including Thinking. Loving. Doing., Finish the Mission, and Acting the Miracle, and is co-author of How to Stay Christian in Seminary.