On the eve of the release of the iPhone 5, I thought it would be timely to revisit a seminar I gave on “Christ & Technology.” This seminar addresses the intersection of faith and technology, and how we should wield technology for the glory of God (along with some practical warnings). Parts of this seminar have been edited for brevity sake. And yes, I will be part of the masses waiting in line to get my hands on the new iPhone.
There are those who refuse technology, claiming “simplicity” as the flagship way of life without technology. There are those who embrace technology, wrapping their arms around “progress” and getting giddy about the newest gadgets. Then there are those who endure wave after wave of technological advancement, bewildered about the implications that technology has on their lives.
Yet no matter how we view technology, one thing is clear: we’re all avid users and approvers of technology. Think about it. Yes, society has created new phones and iPads, devices big and small, but whether you purchase new gear or not, you’re still a patron of technology. Everyone uses technology. At some point in history, cars were the newest technology, the first computers were for the rich, and the printing press was supposed to (and did) change our lives. If you’ve come into contact with any of these technologies, you’re a technology user and approver––you don’t have to be a hip graphic designer or an Apple fanatic. Technology just seems more prominent now because it’s flashy and fresh, they’ve moved out of the realm of efficiency and have entered the world of luxury.
As followers of Christ though, we’re presented with quite the conundrum. On the one hand, we live in a fallen world and technology seems to tempt and distract, which gives way to shallow thinking, and therefore, shallow living. But on the other hand, technology can be used to further the kingdom of God and encourage believers around the world. So the question arises: how are Christians supposed to think about and interact with technology? Should we embrace or flee from technology? In order to answer the question, we need to properly define technology. John Dyer helps us do this through an illustration:
Imagine for a moment that we see an advertisement telling us how exciting our world could be with several holes in the ground. The advertisement convinces us that a shovel is the means by which we can get to the wonderful world of holes, and so we purchase the shovel and begin digging. After some time we put the shovel down, wipe our brow, and survey the work we have done. Proudly, we see the world is quite different than it was a few hours ago. We, dear friends, are now standing on “hole-y” ground.
But if we stop for a moment more to look down, turning our palms toward our eyes, we’ll see that our hands, too, have been changed by the shovel. They will be rubbed raw, exposing the first sign of blisters that are sure to develop while we sleep.
Over time, as we dig hole after hole, reshaping the world as we see fit, our hands, arms, and backs will be changed as well. Those blisters will turn into calluses, and our once weak arms will grow stronger and more muscular. Our minds too will develop a sense of the land and how best to approach it. When the job is completed, the tool will have transformed both the creator and the creation.
From Adam’s invention of clothing (Gen. 3:21) to Edison’s invention of the lightbulb, technology is the means by which we transport ourselves to the better worlds we are constantly imagining. The allure of technology is a promise that the right tools will bring about a better world. What we often fail to notice is that it is not only the world that gets transformed by technology. We, too, are transformed.
Though we might shape the world using technology, we must consider how technology, in turn, shapes us. From a faith perspective, we acknowledge three key aspects of technology:
- Technology is a God-given gift (Gen. 1:26-27),
- Technology is subject to the curse (Gen. 3:17-19), and
- Technology can be used to honor God or further human sin.
We must see technology as neutral, but as something that reveals our hearts. Whatever is in our hearts will also play out in how we use technology, whether to honor God or as a means of furthering our sin. Technology is one of the chief means by which humans attempt to create a world without God. As our technology grows more and more powerful, the illusion of control becomes increasingly convincing. This can lead us to become more dependent on technology rather than depending on God, and there’s great danger in this. Thus, technology can become the idol or technology can intensify other idols. So you can be asking yourself: Has your use of technology become an idol? Does it intensify your sinful habits?
In light of this, here are some practical encouragements for how you can use technology well:
- Be Visible.
Visibility can work to keep us from slipping into sinful patterns of living and communicating.When you find yourself pursuing anonymity, question your heart (Prov. 15:3; Lk. 8:17).
- Be Accountable.
Have someone keep up with your digital activity (online, cell phone). Give them free reign to approach you with words of warning, caution, or rebuke when necessary.
- Be Aware.
Understand that we derive truth from technology. Be aware of your shifting beliefs and know where to draw the line. Be on guard against these tendencies.
- Be Humble.
Recognize when your use of technology is unhealthy and take steps to remove those distractions. Delete accounts, unsubscribe, and be determined to focus more on friends, family, and God.
- Be Mature.
Simply act like a mature Christian. Commit to those things that God tells us to do, and turn away from those things he tells us to avoid.
Technology is a God-given gift. Our goal is to avoid the corrupting power of technology, and to wield it for the glory of God in our lives and the lives around us.
Dyer, John. From the Garden to the City: The Redeeming and Corrupting Power of Technology. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2011.
Challies, Tim. The Next Story: Life and Faith after the Digital Explosion. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing, 2011.