A Mini Theology of Technology

Pastor Jim Samra, writing in the new book The Pastor as Public Theologian: Reclaiming a Lost Vision, assembled by Kevin Vanhoozer and Owen Strachan (Baker; 2015), pages 67–68:

God has led me to realize that the Bible has much to say about technology — as long as we are willing to use a sufficiently broad definition: “Technology includes all tools, machines, utensils, weapons, instruments, housing, clothing, communicating and transporting devices and the skills by which we produce and use them.”

Stories from the first eleven chapters of Genesis give foundational principles relevant to the use of technology:

(1) Technology is possible because man is created in the image of God (Adam and Eve).

(2) Technology often hinders our ability to recognize our need for God and can be used to attempt to render God unnecessary (Cain).

(3) Technology can free us to sin by attempting to shield us from some of the consequences of sin (Lamech and Tubal-Cain).

(4) Technology is used by God to rescue us, to help alleviate some of the consequences of the fall, and to help us worship God (Noah).

(5) Technology is inherently dangerous because it is the product of purposive human activity, and we need help from God in limiting its use (Tower of Babel).

Of these five, I have found the last one to be the most difficult for people to grasp.

Studying the cross as a form of technology led to my recognizing that technology is dangerous inasmuch as it is constantly tempting us to imagine a better life available to us through technology: to covet and to put our faith in technology rather than God. The cross is associated with the Jewish leaders coveting a world without Jesus (Luke 20:9-19) and their idolatry in embracing Caesar rather than God (John 19:13–16).

Long iPhone Lines and Individualism

From Don Carson’s 2010 editorial, “Contrarian Reflections on Individualism”:

I wonder whether individualism is in reality as highly prized as some think. One could make a case that many people want to belong to something—to the first group that manages to purchase an iPhone, to the “emerging” crowd or to those who want little to do with them, to the great company that can discuss baseball or cricket or ice hockey, to those who are up-to-date in fashion sense, to those who are suitably green or those who are suspicious of the green movement, to various groups of “friends” on Facebook, to those who tweet, and so on. If you say that most of these groups do not foster deep relationships, I shall agree with you—but then the problem lies in the domain of shallow relationships of many kinds, rather than in individualism per se.

Techno Magic

Peter Kreeft writes that the following excerpt from C. S. Lewis, “contains the most important and enlightening single statement about our civilization that I have ever read.”

C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, page 77:

There is something which unites magic and applied science while separating both from the “wisdom” of earlier ages. For the wise men of old the cardinal problem had been how to conform the soul to reality, and the solution had been knowledge, self-discipline, and virtue. For magic and applied science alike the problem is how to subdue reality to the wishes of men: the solution is a technique.

Explains Kreeft:

If the Enlightenment helped the modern world discard notions of original sin and moral absolutes, it also uprooted the foundations of truth and goodness. Unlike the Medieval era, all we have left are vague political and psychological notions of what works efficiently. Technology has replaced religion as our civilization’s summum bonum. Naturalism has replaced supernaturalism. Subjectivism has defined a new age of moral relativity.

Explains Timothy Keller in The Reason For God, page 71:

In ancient times it was understood that there was a transcendent moral order outside the self, built in to the fabric of the universe. If you violated that metaphysical order there were consequences just as severe as if you violated physical reality by placing your hand in a fire. The path of wisdom was to learn to live in conformity with this unyielding reality. That wisdom rested largely in developing qualities of character, such as humility, compassion, courage, discretion, and loyalty.

Modernity reversed this. Ultimate reality was seen not so much as a supernatural order but as the natural world, and that was malleable. Instead of trying to shape our desires to fit reality, we now seek to control and shape reality to fit our desires. The ancients looked at an anxious person and prescribed spiritual character change. Modernity talks instead about stress-management techniques.