By Helen Gibson
Do pastors and theologians need digital designers and coders?
If you ask John Dyer, he’ll say yes. In fact, Dyer sits uniquely between these two worlds.
On his personal website, he describes himself as “a former youth pastor turned web developer” and says he’s built tools for companies like Apple, Microsoft, Harley-Davidson, and the Department of Defense. He’s also a dean and professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, and he spends a great deal of time writing and teaching on theology.
Dyer recently spoke on the convergence of these two worlds at Lifeway’s Faith Leads Tech conference, a one-day, single-track conference designed to bring together followers of Jesus Christ who are focused on technology and innovation.
Here are Dyer’s top three reasons why people from these two seemingly disparate professions need one another.
1. God is creative, and He values human creativity.
Dyer began his talk by pointing back to Genesis and describing God as inherently creative.
“We’re introduced to God as a creator, and a few verses down, it tells us we were made in His image,” Dyer said.
“Theologians spend a lot of time telling us what the image of God means, but certainly one of those things is that He is creative, and when we create anything, we do something that is bearing the image of God.”
Dyer went on to say that God’s instruction for humans to fill the earth in Genesis doesn’t only imply that humans should reproduce. He argues that it’s also a call for us to be creative ourselves.
“All the things we make — music and roads and beauty and art and symbols and language — all of these things are what God is hoping we would do, and at the same time that we’d keep and guard and preserve something of creation and humanity,” Dyer said.
After all, Dyer said, human creativity is not just for this age, but for the one to come too.
“When we think through to the future, to the re-creation of all things, we don’t go back to a garden,” Dyer said.
“We don’t frolic naked among the trees, do we? What do we do? Instead, the Scriptures tell us that God will remake the new heavens and the new earth, and He’ll bring down a city full of all the things humans have made — roads and trumpets and banners and thrones.”
2. Creativity and technology are a part of God’s story.
Dyer added that God’s display of creativity doesn’t end with the act of creation. Instead, God weaves creativity and technology throughout the rest of the story of Scripture.
“The church needs creators and technologists and designers not just because technology’s good at telling stories, which it is, but also because technology’s a deep part of the story of God,” Dyer said.
Moments after the fall, we see this start to take place. Stitching together fig leaves, Adam and Eve immediately take on a creative act and create something new.
“Thy run, and they hide, and they immediately engage in creativity,” Dyer said. “They figure out there’s a problem here, and they want to solve it by making something new.”
This story certainly has theological implications, but Dyer said it also points to something else.
“It’s also saying, you know what, in this day and age, you’re going to have to be using technology in part to overcome some of the effects of the fall, to push those things back, to help clothe the naked and help the blind to see,” Dyer said.
“This is what you’re going to be doing in the rest of your life, and God makes this so clear through story after story.”
Dyer also adds that it’s human creativity that leads to the creation of the Tower of Babel and the cross—objects that humans intended for one purpose, but God used for another.
And as a carpenter, Jesus himself was a creator.
“What’s amazing to see here is that Jesus is fulfilling Adam’s role to be righteous, but he’s also fulfilling Adam’s role as being a creator,” Dyer said. “He’s fulfilling all of what humanity was meant to do.”
3. The ways we use technology matter—and perhaps nobody knows this better than designers, coders, and technologists.
Just as different tools at the gym work different muscles, Dyer said different forms of technology can imply different messages and have different outcomes, and perhaps no one understands this better than designers, coders, and technologists.
He uses the history of how technology has impacted Scripture as an example. Before the invention of the printing press, people often memorized Scripture, Dyer said.
After the printed Bible became widely distributed, things started to change. Suddenly, people began reading Scripture for themselves, which led to choosing favorite verses and inventing “quiet times.”[epq-quote align=”align-right”]“The Word of God hasn’t changed, but when we put it through different conduits, it has different effects.”[/epq-quote]Dyer recalls his own experience of starting to use a projector in church services for the first time. He thought this change would keep his church members from having to pass out Bibles in the service; he didn’t realize this would also lead to fewer and fewer people bringing their Bibles to church with them.
At the same time, however, having the Scripture on a screen led to more unity.
“Instead of everybody having their own version of the Bible—different translations, and some people had the teen study Bible and some people had the cat lover’s Bible and all these different things that were very much about them—all of a sudden, we’re kind of restoring something of the community by all looking at the same thing. And now, we all bring our phones into church, and that brings us more translations and more wonderful things,” said Dyer.
“Remember, the Word of God hasn’t changed, but when we put it through different conduits, it has different effects.”
Designers, coders, and technologists have the insight on how to best use technology, and they have the knowledge and the skills to use it well. They can be integral in helping pastors and theologians figure out how to best share the message at hand.
“We are the ones who are going to be able to help our churches say, ‘when do we use technology to build trust, to build connection, to have confrontation, and when can we use our media in a way that helps us continue and deepen those relationships?’” Dyer said.
“We’re the ones who are equipped, I think, to best help our churches do that.”
To watch John Dyer’s full talk — in addition to 20 other talks, interviews and presentations — purchase the Faith Leads Tech conference recording. To learn more about Faith Leads Tech, explore the conference website.
HELEN GIBSON (@_HelenGibson_) is a freelance writer in Nashville, Tennessee.