by Tim Challies
Technology: It sometimes feels like you can’t live with it, and you can’t live without it. You are dependent upon it, but suspicious of its inevitable creep into every nook and cranny of your life, your family, your work, and, yes, even your church. Digital technologies are just like this: You rely upon them but distrust them. You love them, but loathe them all at once.
What is the Christian to do? How is the Christian to think wisely about all of these promising new apps, these glittering new gizmos and gadgets? How can a Christian live with virtue in a world like ours? To find compelling answers we need to go all the way to the beginning and to the day God spoke human beings into existence.
The story of human history can easily be told by and through our tools, which is to say, our technologies. God intended it this way. He created Adam and Eve, two naked people in a little garden, and told them their job was to fill this earth and to subdue it, to fill it with people and to exercise dominion over it.
These two people had a global mandate, and the only hope they had for carrying it out was to develop technologies. To grow crops for themselves and their family, they would need technologies to break up and turn over the ground. To reach far continents, they would need technologies to span rivers and seas. In this way, humans have always been responsible before God to create new technologies and to master existing ones. We simply cannot do what God created us to do without technology.
The relationship of humans to their technologies should have remained perfectly good and simple—create technologies and use those inventions to honor and glorify God. It would have remained simple if it hadn’t been for that evil serpent. Sadly, Adam and Eve chose to chart their own course rather than follow God’s, and as they did so, they plunged the world into sin. Their relationship with technology suddenly became complicated.
Now those same tools that could be used to do such good could also be used to commit acts of horrendous evil. Every time Adam and Eve touched one of their tools they had the choice to use it in ways that would carry out God’s plan, or to use it in ways that would hinder God’s plan.
What was true of them then is equally true of us now. What was true of the most ancient and rudimentary technologies is true of the most modern and advanced. And it is especially interesting that those theologians and theorists who have a particular interest in technology agree: Every technology comes with both opportunities and risks. Each introduces positive consequences and negative ones.
This is true even for you. Every technology you have introduced into your home, business, or church has brought both benefits and drawbacks. This was true when your family first brought a computer into the home—you now had access to a world of information, but also an endless torrent of pornography. When your church leaders decided to replace hymnbooks with PowerPoint, it was easy to add new songs to the repertoire, but somehow the older hymns went missing.
This was true when your daughter bought her first smartphone—you could now get in touch with her whenever you needed to, but she also began to live much of her life staring at that little glowing rectangle. Remember when you signed up for your Facebook account? You got back in touch with those old college friends, but you also found yourself spending hours mindlessly scrolling through your timeline. Each of these technologies brought both joy and pain, both good and bad.
Some people are so aware of the cost of technology that they consider it not worth the risk, and so they maintain a strict separation from new technologies. Some people are so attuned to the benefits that they never stop to weigh the consequences, and they enthusiastically embrace it all.
But the wise Christian lives somewhere between the two, as a person who exercises disciplined discernment. He or she carefully evaluates each technology, asking where and how it will bring opportunities while also looking carefully and prayerfully for where it will bring risks.
The times and technologies have changed, but the challenge remains. Not only do our God-given orders stand—He still calls us to fill and subdue the earth—but they have been expanded so we are now responsible to take the good news of the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ to the earth’s farthest corners.
Until that work is done, we remain responsible before God to develop and master new technologies. Awareness of the inevitability of both benefits and drawbacks is not meant to make us abandon technology, but to use it with wisdom and singular focus.
And, indeed, history shows this is exactly what Christians have always done. In the 16th century, Christians saw the opportunity afforded by the printing press and soon used it to print and spread God’s Word—actions that changed the world through a great Reformation.
In the 20th century, Christians saw the opportunity afforded by radio and soon used it to broadcast the good news all over the globe with countless thousands being saved. In the 21st century, we have seen the creation of many apps and devices that include the Bible, theological study tools, and other prayer and devotional guides.
And it all makes me wonder: What new technologies are waiting for us to see the opportunity, rightly weigh the risk, and then unleash them for the good of the nations and the glory of God?
TIM CHALLIES (@Challies) is a writer and church elder in Toronto, Canada, and the author of The Next Story: Faith, Friends, Family, and the Digital World.
Previously, Facts & Trends detailed 25 ways the web has changed the church and discussed how social media can lend itself to meaningless faith gestures. Eventually, some Christians need to take a “digital detox” and put their phone away.