iDisciplines: Spiritual Practices in a Digital World

You and I have a problem. To an ever-increasing extent our digital technologies—especially the mobile devices and smart, Internet-connected things—these technologies are doing our work for us.  As I drove recently, the entire 3.5 hour drive was plotting for me by the Google Maps app.   Soon my car will drive the route for me.  When I arrived at the hotel, the television was already on, inviting me to spend some time on one of 300 channels. I was bewitched by the ease of entertainment, which sought to save me from my presumed boredom.  Soon I will be able to watch any movie, television show, or any sports game I want, at any time, through my digital eyeglasses, or my cyber-cornea.

You might say: what’s the problem?  These are helpful and enjoyable conveniences.  And indeed, I must admit, there is much to appreciate about these and other more serious advantages of our digital technology.  The problem is that all this functional and fun technology is disabling us spiritually.  It is amusing us to ignorance of the gospel, assisting us to weakness in character, connecting us to isolation from other Christians.   Our entertainment takes increasing time from serious study and discussion of God’s word; our access to information diminishes our ability and desire to work hard for what is good and true; and our ability to connect superficially at a distance makes it more difficult and less likely to meaningfully communicate and interact with others in society.  These critiques of technology are long-standing, represented, for example, in the work of Neil Postman, Jacques Ellul, and Sherry Turkle.

My goal is not to rehash these critiques of technological society, nor to persist or to be deterministic in such critique.  I wish to ask how we can grow as children and servants of God in such a digital culture.  How can we mature so that we know the fullest joy as Christians in this digital life?  How can we overcome these problems and have a full hope of heaven in the life to come?  And, perhaps most distinctively, how can our digital technology help to increase this true joy and hope?

Because I believe that answers to these questions cannot avoid the digital technology that is increasingly the air that we breathe, I think of Christian life needing to be rooted in “iDisciplines,” which is a term I will use for habitual and purposeful uses (and non-uses) of technology.  Within a Christian context, these iDisciplines are spiritual exercises modeled upon Biblical texts, and formative of character and conduct that follows Jesus by living faithfully with and through electronic tools and the digital environment in which they participate.  As we progress in this conversation, please consider what are the spiritual disciplines you need to be faithful in digital society.  How might your devices be the equipment for these Christian exercises?  And how does the Bible provide a formative basis for these transformative practices?

Knowing God through Experience: The role of personal testimony in baptismal services among Baptists

Knowing God Through Experience: The role of personal testimony in baptismal services among Baptists. A CHARIS lecture by Dr. Anthony R. Cross, Oxford University. Response from Dr. Everett Ferguson, Abilene Christian University.

Originally presented October 12, 2015, Chapel on the Hill, Abilene Christian University.

“The personal testimonies of baptismal candidates occupy a key place within the baptismal service, and provide a window into Baptist spirituality. Their strength is also their weakness: they are reflections of a believer’s experience of conversion and walk with God, their discipleship. Frequently lacking in theological sophistication, what they lack in theological insight they make up for in heartfelt conviction.” Continue reading “Knowing God through Experience: The role of personal testimony in baptismal services among Baptists”

The Sacrament of Baptism among the First Baptists

The Sacrament of Baptism among the First BaptistsDr. Anthony R. Cross (Oxford University). With a response by Dr. Doug Foster (Abilene Christian University).  Presented as a CHARIS lecture on October 13, 2015. Abilene Christian University.

“Baptismal sacramentalism continues to generate considerable interest, and often polarized views, among Baptists. With reference to the original documents, this lecture demonstrates definitively that many of the first Baptists understood baptism in sacramental terms.” Continue reading “The Sacrament of Baptism among the First Baptists”

ACU Faculty reflect on University Identity and Christian Heritage

In this video ACU Faculty reflect on University Identity and Christian Heritage.

Drawing from CHARIS-hosted conversations at Abilene Christian University during 2012-13 about faculty members’ relationship to their religious heritage, three ACU faculty share their reflections about the importance of faith tradition to personal and university identity.  This short video was shown at the ACU faculty “presession” at the start of the fall semester 2013.

Texas or Bust

Every family has a story. These stories are usually exchanged upon the knee of a beloved grandparent or told around the dinner table during the holidays. During the past month a patron has been kind enough to invite Special Collections into her own family’s story. We are proud to announce the acquisition of the Ervin Family Papers, which catalog the pioneering adventures of the Ervin family ancestors, Jonas Lafayette and his wife, Mary Hamilton Ervin. Of special note within this collection is a pair of letters written by Jonas Ervin and Mary Ervin during their first year on the Texas frontier. Both Mary and Jonas discuss the hardships of the frontier; topics range from not being able to afford vittles to suffering from scurvy.

It is important to draw attention to the structures of these two letters. When placed side by side you can identify congruent headings and salutations in both letters. It has been my observation that Mary demonstrates a higher level of literacy than her husband, Jonas. The script of her handwriting is much neater; her grammar and spelling is also up to standard while Jonas’ letter is peppered with spelling and grammar mistakes. It is possible that Jonas asked for Mary’s help in formatting his letter or at least copied her style in order to write a legible letter. As a researcher, it is interesting to notice the differing levels of education between Jonas and Mary. It is obvious that Jonas is barely literate while Mary has gone through some kind of formal instruction. Does it strike you that, as a female on the Texas frontier, Mary would have a higher level of education than her husband, Jonas?

These letters serve as excellent windows into what living standards were like in West Texas during the 1870s, as white pioneers from the east began to settle the area. Though the Ervins faced many perils and tribulations they were able to build a legacy upon the dusty, Texan earth and a life for their family; which consisted of thirteen healthy children, all of whom survived into adulthood. What is your family’s story? What obstacles did they face while taming the wild, open spaces of the Texan wilderness? You’ll be surprised by the historical landscapes that lay before you when you  examine your own family’s journey. Please share with us your family’s story so that we may all know more about our collective past.

ACU_Ervin.Family.Papers 1

The first page of Jonas Lafayette's letter.

The second page of Jonas Lafayette's letter.

The first page of Mary Hamilton Ervin's letter.

The second page of Mary Hamilton Ervin's letter.

Below are transcriptions of both Jonas’ and Mary’s letters. The transcriber has preserved the original grammar and spelling of each author. Some words are unintelligible. If you have any insights into what some of these unrecognizable words might be please comment. Thank you.  

Click here for Annotated Jonas Lafayette Ervin Letter Transcription

Click here for Annotated Mary Hamilton Ervin Letter Transcription

W. Carl Ketcherside Letters

Few individuals among Churches of Christ in the 20th century were as well-known as Carl Ketcherside (1908-1989). He described his journey as that of a piece-maker who became a peacemaker. He was for many a champion for the recovery of a lost unity amid a divided fellowship; for others, his voice represented a dangerous departure from historic restorationism if not biblical teaching. However his legacy is characterized, any interpretation of it rests on available sources: from a voluminous published corpus to archival materials from his own hand. On the one hand, ACU Special Collections holds a robust collection of his published books. Further we have copies or originals of as complete a set of his periodicals as is obtainable. On the other hand, we have numerous letters written by Carl to several of his associates. Never intended for publication, they shed additional light into his ministry and through his life, the wider story of Churches of Christ in his day. Each letter includes an attached transcription, and as a result of the typed transcriptions, the letters are now text searchable. We thank Ian Davidson, Cecil Hook. Hoy Ledbetter, Boyce Mouton and Terry Gardner for making the letters, transcriptions, and annotations available to ACU’s Special Collections.

During the 2013 ACU Friends of ACU Library luncheon during Summit Mac Ice discussed the archival significance of this correspondence and the role archives play in the preservation and dissemination of our faith story. A video of Mac’s presentation is available at the bottom of this page.


We have scanned over 125 letters from Carl to these four associates. Click the name below to access the correspondence (in PDF form) from W. Carl Ketcherside to that individual. Terry J. Gardner meticulously transcribed and annotated many of these letters.

Davidson, Ian

Hook, Cecil

Ledbetter, Hoy

Mouton, Boyce – First set

Mouton, Boyce – Second set

If you have any information about these, or any other letters to or from Carl Ketcherside – please contact Mac Ice.