I’ve been reading a book by John Dyer, From the Garden to the City, about “the redeeming and corrupting power of technology”. I’m less than half way through the book, but it’s certainly made me think, especially about how my use of technology is shaping me, not just the world around me. For example, I know (and am convicted by) how easily distracted I am by my phone. Wrestling with Luke, talking with Lynn, on the ball field with the boys – it’s hard to ignore the ‘bing’ of my phone telling me I’ve got an email or text. I’ll think and write more on that later. This post is about God’s use of technology to advance his story.
Dyer writes, “In one story, there is a God who is moving humanity along a timeline. He has a purpose and a plan, and there is an end point toward which he is moving all of history. Technology plays a role in this story (emphasis mine), but it is a subservient role, not an ultimate one. The only true salvation offered to humanity comes from God himself, through his Son Jesus Christ.”
To be honest, my initial response was a pretty cynical snort – “God doesn’t need our cell phones and ipods to advance his story.” The more I thought about it though, that response reveals two false beliefs/assumptions: 1) a hyper-calvinistic belief that God will do whatever he will do without any concern for means. I’d want to distance myself from if it showed up in another form (i.e. “We don’t need to preach and call people to repentance. If God is calling them, they’ll come”). And 2) a very limited role of technology.
It is true that God doesn’t need our technology, even when broadly defined, to advance his story. He could meet every person personally on the road in a blinding light like he did Saul. But, God has ordained to work through means, namely his church – his people, to advance the redemptive story, spreading the gospel to the nations. It is possible for God to call people directly through dreams, visions, etc. But, for the most part, he has chosen to call people through his ambassadors (that’s us). And while God doesn’t need technology, we can’t do much without it.
God certainly is using tech to advance his redemptive story – a story that includes people coming to Christ from every tribe and nation. I know of some groups that are being reached with portable radios. The tribes aren’t literate, so printed Bibles would be of limited use in the first stages of reaching them. The missions agency has provided radios tuned to one frequency – it broadcasts the Bible, and people are hearing the good news through this technological innovation. I know chat rooms are effective tools for reaching people, especially people who aren’t comfortable going to church (like those in closed countries where it may be illegal or dangerous). Or, the Bible software that helps pastors read, research and preach the gospel weekly – all ways tech is serving to advance God’s story.
But there’s a bigger, more fundamental way God has used technology to advance his story. I remember sitting in class at Covenant Theological Seminary when it hit me, sadly for the first time, that the Bible isn’t just about God’s mission to the world, it’s a integral part of it. God’s story is being carried forward as His Word is brought to people (individuals) and peoples. It’s not just the container of the drama, it’s an actor in the drama. And, it’s technology. Maybe from our perspective it’s not very advanced technology, but the written word is ““the human activity of using tools to transform God’s creation for practical purposes” (Dyer’s definition of technology). At some point, pen and parchment (or papyrus) was cutting edge. Dyer explains, “…the Greek philosopher Socrates expressed concern about the technology of writing. He believed that learning in dialogue was the key to helping people grow in wisdom, and he worried that writing would make people knowledgeable, but it would fail to make them wise.” So even before the printing press, God was using technology to carry his story along. Actually, language itself is a form of technology – a human tool we use to shape the world.
I’m amazed at how quickly we (maybe it’s must me) can turn preferences into principles. You see it in the worship wars. Someone likes the hymns and they act like those Ira Sankey songs were written and song by Peter himself. They baptize their preference for old style organ music and hymns with a principle (God likes orderly worship, we shouldn’t be too much like the culture, etc.). We can easily treat technology in the same way. We prefer books to webpages, hardbacks to ebooks, hymnals to projectors, classroom to online learning, etc. As Dyer points out, no technology is entirely benign – it’s all shaping us and we need to be aware of that. On the other hand, we can’t function and we can’t do ministry without technology – primitive or cutting edge. God isn’t dependent on it, but we, as his ambassadors, very much are.