Because we live in a world with so much ever-developing technology, it seems wise for Christians to regularly reflect on this technology available to us. Over the past few years I have given thought to cell phones (see this post from 2018) and the internet (see this sermon series from 2021), and I recently examined the topic of “Using Today’s Technology Wisely” at a Deep Dive event at Faith Church Beecher. You can find the recording of that session here, but I also wanted to share and further develop key insights in a couple of blog posts. This post will focus more on developing a biblical perspective on technology, while next week we will seek to think through some ways such a perspective shapes our approach to technology. A book that I found immensely helpful to think about technology from a biblical perspective is Tony Reinke’s God, Technology, and the Christian Life.
What is Technology?
When we think of technology, the first thing that might come to mind is electronics and digital devices, but technology is actually much bigger than that. Reinke points out that at its root, technology is taking the patterns and elements of our created world to amplify our abilities, allowing us to do more, faster, and better than we could in our own strength. Thus, a shovel is a piece of technology as well as a GPS-guided tractor. Every age has a certain level of technology, and every person uses technology to some extent. The issue is not if we will use technology, but what technology we will use and how we will use it.
At the same time that technology helps us do something we were not able to do (or do as well) before, it also has effects on other areas of life. Being able to plow the fields better might lead to overworking them. Burning of fossil fuels allows us to power things, but also produces carbon dioxide. Neil Postman said back in the 1980’s that television was shaping us – changing how we talk and how we think. Cell phones and the internet have also shifted and changed our lives in ways that may not have been foreseen, as many have noted the increase in anxiety and depressions as well as shifts in civil discourse and attention spans. The same technology that enhances life in certain ways can also be detrimental in other ways – and even deadly, as we think of the accidents that occur while using or making technology (e.g. car crashes).
Therefore, technology opens new doors but also new dangers in life. Such a recognition reminds me of the movie Jurassic Park in which scientists are able to recreate dinosaurs. While people were impressed by such a feat, Dr. Ian Malcolm (played by Jeff Goldblum) made this observation, “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”
Since those focusing on producing new technologies continually ask the question about what we can do next, those who use technology (all of us!) need to ask the questions of whether we should do this. But where do we turn for such wisdom? Technology itself does not and cannot address it; this sort of question reflects our ultimate beliefs and values, of what we think is most important in life and what we think is right and wrong. Christians turn to the Bible for such beliefs and values. While the Bible does address the technology of its age in various ways, I think a more fruitful and helpful way to see how the Bible influences our approach to technology is to look at the overarching storyline of Scripture. In particular, how it describes the creation of the world (and humans), the fall of humanity (and the world) into sin, the redemption of creation and people in Christ, and the promise of new creation – a new heaven and new earth at the return of Christ at the end of time.
What Does the Biblical Storyline Teach Us About Technology?
As I reflected on the biblical storyline of Creation-Fall-Redemption-New Creation, I came to see this conclusion about how Christians should approach technology: We should not be afraid nor absorbed by technology, but should adopt and adapt it to increase our love of God and love of others. Like most things in our lives, we find ourselves most faithful when we avoid the extremes (in this case, fearing technology or flocking wholeheartedly towards new technology), recognizing that good things are corrupted by sin but God is at work in this world to restore and transform things.
The idea of creation – that God made everything in this world from nothing – tells us that all technology ultimately traces back to God. Humans can’t actually make anything; we are putting together the things He has made. Our ideas and discoveries are not things that are new to God, but really just finding the patterns and principles that God placed in this world when He made it; the learnings used in technology are things designed by God (see Isaiah 28:23-29). Reinke points out that God made the inventors and innovators, those who “make” things and those who use them, a truth that God mentions in Isaiah 54:16-17 when He speaks about blacksmiths and ravagers. Not only did God create it all, He also continues to guide all things – a doctrine called Providence. When technology gets out of hand (as we saw at the Tower of Babel), God can and does intervene; this might be through direct sorts of actions but also through revealing insights that curtails what is going on. Therefore, we should not be afraid of technology, but recognize it as part of the design of God; He placed Adam and Eve in the Garden not as curators to make sure no one touches the earth, but to subdue it, to explore and develop it. When we use technology, we need to make sure that we praise God for these things – even more than the human inventors. We can utilize pieces of technology to the glory of God, as it says in 1 Timothy 4:4-5, “For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.” While humans have made things, God is the one who created them and thus they can be received with thanksgiving and prayer. When did you last praise God for your computer or phone?
We also need to recognize the impact of humanity’s fall into sin. Because of the curse of sin placed upon creation, advances in technology have their side effects that may make work more difficult in other ways. We also see the effects of sin in how people often make and then use technology to defy God. One can think of the Tower of Babel as the preeminent example, but we also should recognize that the earlier “inventors” came from the line of Cain, as Genesis 4:20-22 shows that his descendants were the ones “who dwell in tents and have livestock…play the lyre and pipe…forge all instruments of bronze and iron.” While inventions might spring forth from people who are running from God, their work is still not outside of God’s purposes and plan; the issue is the use and implementation, not the work itself. Therefore, we have to be careful to make sure technology doesn’t draw us away from the love of God or love of others, as we can easily find ourselves in awe of people instead of God and ignoring or hurting our neighbors instead of helping them. These words of Paul were not directed at technology, but I think they apply: “‘All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful for me,’ but I will not be dominated by anything…..’All things are lawful,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up”(1 Corinthians 6:12, 10:23). Technology is okay to use, but there might be times we need to guard ourselves against it so it does not dominate us or prevent us from building up others.
The story of technology does not end with it being twisted by humans who have fallen away from God’s intended purposes, as God is at work bringing redemption to the world through Christ. The idea of redemption through the work of Christ reminds us that technology can make life better, but it can’t fix our problems. There is no technology that changes people’s hearts or conquers death. Yet technology can be used as tools as God does those things; just as Noah built an ark (that’s technology!) to save people, so God uses the technology of this day to mitigate the impact of sin in our lives and also to bring people to know Christ. Technology can help us fight disease and feed others; technology can free us up to be able to dig deeper relationships with others and create extra space to know God. Technology can be used to proclaim the good news of the gospel. Therefore, not only should we praise God when we see technology, we should also ask how technology can help us overcome the effects of sin – either reducing its pain upon our lives or bringing the message of freedom and forgiveness. When we do so, however, we need to remember to trust in God’s work, not our technology, at all times. A verse that Reinke pointed out that I think is helpful in this regard is Psalm 20:7: “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” Chariots and horses were ancient technology. We should not trust in technology, but it does not mean that we can’t use them in the work of redemption.
The final act in God’s salvation plan is the new creation, a new heaven and a new earth. God is one who transforms this world, so we need to remember that our technology cannot bring about “utopia” or meet our deepest longings in life. In fact, this idea of new creation reminds us that this world is not ultimate; the best gadgets of this world will not only be surpassed by their next iteration (e.g,, the iPhone X+1) but by the new creation. Because the picture of new creation is a new heaven and earth, I don’t think this means that all the technology of this age becomes obsolete, but is transformed….and we very well could be continuing to develop new things (but without the effects of sin getting in the way, without worshiping them or seeing their side effects). Therefore, as we use technology, we need to remember our future city and home; as John says in 1 John 2:15-17:“Do not love the world or the things in the world. …. the world is passing away.” Do I love this technological age more than the age to come?
Review and Preview
I’ve given you a lot to think about when it comes to understanding what technology is and how the storyline of Scripture helps us look at it through a distinctly Christian lens. To tie it all together, let me go back to where I started: Christians should be not afraid or absorbed by technology, but adopt it and adapt it to help them love God and love others. This means we don’t run blindly to it, making sure it does not distract us or cause us to trust things other than God or celebrate things (or people) in place of God. But we also don’t need to run away from it, as we can praise God through it and go closer to Him. In the next post, I’ll give some more practical principles about technology in light of this biblical wisdom.
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