Biblical Theology of Technology
In the late 90s, I destroyed my first computer. I’m not exactly sure what I did to it, but I know that taking it apart and putting it back together didn’t fix the little blinking cursor on an otherwise blank screen. A few years prior, I saw for the first time a computer play a video from a disc. Now, the marvel of technology in my own bedroom with a CD-Rom, file folder structure, and a program for restitching MIDI files too large for a single 1.44 MB floppy disk was dead. I had recently been adopted into a better living situation by older parents who thought a computer would benefit me. But, they sure didn’t know how to fix it—nor how to even turn it on. A computer repairman said it was done. Thus began my fascination with technology.
Later, we went to Circuit City and bought a newer model. This one had something called the Internet. We signed a plan with CompuServe, and I picked out my first email address; it contained “23” as an homage to Michael Jordan. And as a kid takes off the training wheels when learning to balance, I soon after bought a Windows XP Home Edition upgrade disc and felt unleashed. We later upgraded from a dial-up connection to 1MB cable internet, and I can still visualize how the MSN homepage loaded without delay. Over the years, I returned to Circuit City and purchased more of these amazing tools: for example, a Sony Clié personal digital assistant, a USB thumb drive (that held an enormous 128MB for only $149—what a deal), and a digital camcorder… All was well until I was invited to an event at BJU. There on display in the bookstore was an Apple iMac G4, still one of the most iconic and masterfully designed computers ever made. Thus began my fascination with Apple technology.
Where was God in all of this? At that point, I had been a Christian for less than two years. It was fall 2002, and I was taking night classes at a small Bible college in Greenville and working the third shift at Ryobi. I was almost always completely alone for at least 5–6 hours a night in a 500,000 square foot building. These were the circumstances that formed my fascination with using technology (and enjoying using technology) for God’s glory.
At the beginning of 2003, I used my new college student discount to buy an education bundle that included a laptop and something in a new category of devices called an iPod. In the slow and dead hours of third shift, I used my time to learn an entirely new operating system and work on college assignments. In the calmness of the midnight hours, I would listen to sermons on my iPod as I walked outside around the Ryobi property. At the beginning of 2004, some people in church donated some money so that I could start a 15-minute weekly program at our local AM radio station. In hindsight, it probably wasn’t the wisest thing to do: to give a new Christian attending a fundamentalist college a voice to say whatever was on his mind across the airwaves every Friday at 5pm. It wasn’t much, but it was what I had, and I wanted to give it to God. I read in a technology magazine about a new way people could download MP3 files on demand using RSS feeds called “podcasting.” The radio programs were already in MP3 format when I recorded them, so I used a template and taught myself the bare basics of writing an RSS file and creating a podcast in 2005. I was fascinated, absolutely filled with child-like wonder.
So at the beginning of 2005, alone at work in the middle of the night, I could listen to sermons from a pastor in Florida while walking under the stars. I could read the Bible and search for words in MacSword. With a microphone and SoundStudio, this little kid on nightshift could talk about the Bible. And with an RSS file with MP3 attachments, people beyond the AM radio signal could listen if they wanted to—the family in Indiana who blessed us with a gift for our marriage, the mother who recently miscarried in Wisconsin, the mother raising three children in West Virginia, the man in Oregon who donated web server space, and a pastor in Fresno… maybe the format was so new that the options were pretty limited. But like the lad with the fish and the loaves, I gave to Jesus what I had—a love for him and a desire to use technology for him—and he blessed it.
It was my feeble attempt to get in on what seemed to be a revolution in how digital media was being delivered and consumed. Life was simple, technology was changing, the spare room in our apartment was my computer room, and I had little knowledge of the Bible and little knowledge of how computers actually worked. Eventually, the local radio station closed, the podcast stopped, life got busy, and the handful of people who subscribed no longer heard me 15 minutes a week—the USB mic I bought for the radio program has been idly stashed in my desk drawer for nearly a decade.
I obviously didn’t change the world, but a new love for Jesus and an interest in technologies for the new millennium changed me. And without even realizing it, I think it was Jesus teaching me that I can find his fingerprints everywhere—even in operating systems, beautifully designed electronics, RSS and XML feeds, website design software, MP3 sermons, and an email folder to keep correspondence with people who told me thank you and to keep going.
Spiritually and technologically, it is the most sentimental time of my life. This paper, written as an assignment in biblical theology, will surely not start any academic flames. But, perhaps God can use it to rekindle the spark of wonder I had years ago, that he cares about how we might live all parts of our life for his glory. For those who think it may be too technological and less biblical, I’ll blame that on my lack of biblical knowledge—I can’t even read the Greek or Hebrew behind our beautifully typeset English Bibles. For those who think it may be too biblical and not enough bits and bytes, I’ll blame that on my lack of technological knowledge—I have no understanding of the code behind our beautiful graphical user interfaces. And if anyone wonders why someone with little understanding of both the Bible and technology wants to write something about how both come together, that is because I never want to lose my child-like sense of wonder as I wander through this world marveling at all the ways the Creator has interwoven doctrine and data, theology and technology in such beautiful, biblical, and innovative ways.
“This is a day I’ve been looking forward to for two-and-a-half years. Every once in a while, a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything. And Apple has been – well, first of all, one’s very fortunate if you get to work on just one of these in your career. Apple’s been very fortunate. It’s been able to introduce a few of these into the world. In 1984, we introduced the Macintosh. It didn’t just change Apple, it changed the whole computer industry. In 2001, we introduced the first iPod, and it didn’t just change the way we all listen to music; it changed the entire music industry. Well, today, we’re introducing three revolutionary products of this class. The first one is a widescreen iPod with touch controls. The second is a revolutionary mobile phone. And the third is a breakthrough Internet communications device. So, three things: a widescreen iPod with touch controls, a revolutionary mobile phone, and a breakthrough Internet communications device. An iPod, a phone, and an Internet communicator. An iPod, a phone … Are you getting it? These are not three separate devices, this is one device, and we are calling it iPhone. Today, Apple is going to reinvent the phone, and here it is.” Steve Jobs, January 9, 2007
Perhaps the most consequential product release in our generation, what should a Christian think about this revolutionary announcement? It is hard to believe that it was only a little more than a decade ago when the smartphone started to gain mainstream usage. When Apple released its iPhone, it was by far the most advanced device in its category (and almost immediately cannibalized devices in many other categories). What kept the fanfare from reaching instant ubiquity was its high unsubsidized price and its service being limited to only one carrier. A year later, the phone started selling at a lower carrier-subsidized price. Three years later, it moved to the largest network in America and the rest is history. However, the fascination we have with technology did not start with the smartphone but has a linage that goes back before most of us were born as each recent decade has been filled with marvels of innovation.
In the world of modern technology, there are several events that could be called revolutionary. An approximate decade-by-decade sampling: In the fall of 1945, the ENIAC was shown in a public demonstration; it even had ping-pong balls over the lights to increase the dramatic effect. The microchip was put on display in NYC in 1959. Texas Instrument’s president said that “it would be the most important invention since the transistor.” Douglas Engelbart gave a live demonstration in 1968 of what we now consider the foundation pieces of computing; the event has been dubbed “The Mother of All Demos.” On January 11, 1971, Don Hoefler wrote a series of local news columns that referred to an area of California by another phrase that would stick: “Silicon Valley.” Jef Raskin’s private 1979 corporate essay Computers by the Millions opens and closes with these words: “If ‘personal computers’ are to be truly personal, it will have to be as likely as not that a family, picked at random, will own one… Is the designer of a personal computer system doing good or evil? The main question is this: what will millions of people do with them?” I admit my bias, but I still cannot watch the 1984 introduction of the original Macintosh without wondering what it would have been like to attend in person—the demonstration came to a halt for five minutes as the audience erupted with a standing ovation, fist pumps, cheers, and jumping up and down. A computer that had a screen, mouse, keyboard, and a graphical user interface (as opposed to a command prompt interface) was something the audience knew was going to change everything regarding how the average person used technology. The final decade of the millennium was filled with a four-paned logo of red, green, blue, and yellow that we call Windows, computer boxes and mousepads that looked like cow prints, and four infamous words that El Edwards recorded onto a cassette tape for a grand total of $200. Though the .wav file echoed as households around the country logged on, he never got to cash in on his voice. He made the voiceover as a favor for his wife who worked at a new company aiming to get America Online: “Welcome, you’ve got mail.”
Was God in any of this? “The computer and the Internet are among the most important inventions of our era…” Walter Isaacson opens his historical investigation into the digital revolution with these simple words. As Christians, what are we to make of such an obvious statement? Some see technological innovation as something that takes place in a realm that God has nothing to do with. Others see computers and phones as tools of idleness at best and evil at worst. One person has told me that God is not pleased with what we have today because it is not as he intended humanity to live. On the other end, some Christians see technology as a wonderful gift; though they can be objects of covetousness and idolatry, they are amazing tools that can enrich our spiritual lives. However, I think the large majority of Christians fit into this category—regrettably, they simply have not considered it at all.
In this paper, I want to consider what most Christians have not. What can we learn from the Bible about God and the creation of man? Was God lying when he said that his creation was very good? Through the biblical canon, did God’s people attempt to live as simply as Adam and Eve, or did they use the tools they had—even tools from pagan nations—as life progressed? Are there ways that technology comes short? Does God communicate with his creatures through the means they have in their time, and will those means ever be done away for something better? Though evils and pitfalls abound (clearly there are many objections to the good use of technology in light of all the evils online, but that is not my intention of this paper), what are some practical ways technology can enrich the life of the believer and their children? These questions will loosely guide me as I attempt to place technology and innovation in a biblical theology framework. Lastly, I will bring in the secondary topic we studied this semester—suffering—and see how it affected one of the greatest technological innovators of our lifetime.
A Genesis of Technology
In the beginning, God created… and those made in his image have followed his design. In Genesis 1:26, God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” Here, man is said to have dominion over God’s creation. Victor Hamilton comments on the dominion language by listing the ways this verb is used in the Old Testament: human relationships, masters over servants, administrators over employees, the rule of nations, shepherds supervising their flocks, and kings over subjects. Though he does not connect this to the progress of tools (or technology), that each of these situations involves using (and refining) tools for the job is obvious. The tools and technologies that will be used in these situations were not for lording over the earth but they are for caring for it. “What is expected of the king is responsible care over that which he rules. Thus, like ‘image,’ exercise dominion reflects royal language. Man is created to rule. But this rule is to be compassionate and not exploitative. Even in the garden of Eden he who would be lord of all must be servant of all.”
In Genesis 1:28, God told his image-bearers, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” This passage shows that God’s plan for mankind was to innovate using the resources that he placed on and within the earth. Greater, this command is prefaced with a phrase that shows humanity would do this in relationship with their Creator. The activity of man would not simply be a higher form of animal activity; it would be a way to fellowship with the giver of all innovative resources. “Like the animals man is to ‘be fruitful and multiply.’ But whereas v 22 simply gives a command, this verse adds ‘and God said to them,’ thus drawing attention to the personal relationship between God and man.”
Together, these passages show that God has created man to use the world’s resources to rule over all that he has made. Though man fell, this truth is repeated in Psalm 8, and its ultimate fulfillment is spoken of in Hebrews 2. As Christians, we are no longer in the garden; does that mean our responsibilities ended since the glow of Eden has been exchanged for the glow of our devices? We are surrounded by a culture of technology; are we to avoid it or adapt it for gospel purposes? “This creation mandate has not been rescinded by either sin or grace. On the contrary, it is reaffirmed. God’s grace comes to men in creation to help us fulfill the creation responsibilities in which we have failed (Heb. 2:6–10). The incarnation of Jesus Christ reaffirms the potential value of what we see and hear and handle in this world, for he came in the flesh, into a family and a community and a nation and a culture, into history. Christianity is not an otherworldly religion on the periphery of life—the doctrine of creation and the incarnation of Jesus Christ see to that.” Desi Alexander sums up the goodness of the creation mandate by noting the potential for evil does not come until chapter 3 (and he also includes technology as one of its trajectories): “Here the idea is that the man and woman are to make the earth’s resources beneficial for themselves, which implies that they would investigate and develop the earth’s resources to make them useful for human beings generally. This command provides a foundation for wise scientific and technological development; the evil uses to which people have put their dominion come as a result of Genesis 3.”
Clearly, we are no longer in the garden. Shortly after the tragedy of Genesis 3, the next chapter makes it clear that innovative technologies were made long before the advent of transistors and microchips. Genesis 4:21–22 says that “Jubal was the father of all those who play the lyre and pipe. Zillah also bore Tubal-cain; he was the forger of all instruments of bronze and iron.” Though easy to skim over in a passage leading up to the genealogy of chapter 5, this passage is relevant to establishing a biblical theology of technology. “The emphasis in Genesis is on development of technology prior to the Flood… that is ultimately used on these named metals.” The writer, being familiar with these technologies, makes the biblical reader aware of where they originated; he felt that the history of the technologies used was important. But the innovations of mankind were not solely for utilitarian reasons. Martin Luther makes a very interesting observation on this passage. Not only were advancements made using the resources of the earth for practical matters—innovation purely for the enjoyment it produced also took place from the beginning. Luther says, “But if the Cainites had been so severely pressed by hunger, they would have forgotten the harp, organ and other instruments of music in their extremity; for the enjoyment of music is not characteristic of the hungry and thirsty. Their invention of music and their efforts in the discovery of other arts is proof that they had the necessaries of life in abundance… they wished to rule, and aimed at the high praise and glory of being men of talent.”
Why would God design such advancements in technology at such an early place in the canon? Perhaps it was owing to the big project that would arrive in Genesis 6–9. Surely, the ark made in the days of Noah would have been the exemplar of human innovation given enough time and resources. “The biblical description of Noah’s ark offers a stunning example of technology.” The principle point here to remember is that it was planned by God for the deliverance of his people. A few chapters later, the Tower of Babel shows an opposite motive for human ingenuity. “The good-bad-ugly mix of technology came to a particularly obnoxious expression at the Tower of Babel, an attempt to consolidate all known building innovation to build a rebel city.” This episode reminds us that the greatest human achievements are nothing if done for the glory of man instead of God’s glory and the deliverance and preservation of his people.
These brief particulars from primeval biblical history show the foundational truths for a biblical theology of technology. First, we are created in God’s image and have a special relationship with him that no other part of creation enjoys. In this earth we are to rule, God has placed abundant resources that we are to develop as we have dominion. These truths are not the consequences of sin, but these are good—very good—responsibilities that we are meant to enjoy as we fellowship with our Creator. Though fallen, the earliest chapters of the Bible demonstrate that mankind developed various forms of technology early in their history. Some of these were practical utilities, and some of them were for artistic purposes. The primeval section of Genesis closes with two events that show the two ways technology can be used: the deliverance and preservation of God’s people or in opposition to the worship of the one true God.
Old Testament Fragments
Moving to Exodus, there are two relevant passages for this study; one shows proper innovation and the other shows idolatry. In Exodus 31:2–5, God said to Moses, “I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft.” Historically, the crafting abilities of the ANE were advanced. Eugene Carpenter points to the tomb of King Tutankhamen. However, he goes on to emphasize that the innovation of the Israelites was a result of God and should result in obedience to him. “In Israel the skills possessed by a gifted person were attributed to Yahweh. A ‘natural theology,’ not tied to Yahweh in any way, did not exist. God ‘gifted’ every person by making them in ‘his image.’ The architect and craftsman of the entire project could sufficiently train and endow his workers from among his people. Yahweh imparted to him the ability to teach others the requisite skills. The purpose of all of this gracious endowment had one goal—to do ‘everything that I have commanded you.’”
John Durham notes that the skill of Bezalel was not only for the structure of Israelite worship, but it was so that Israel would look beyond him to their God. “Artisans already both skilled and gifted had their abilities enhanced and were to be guided by an ideal artist, one made wise and practical and facile by Yahweh himself… Bezalel, filled with Yahweh’s spirit, was to be as one divinely possessed, and Israel, looking at anything made under his direction, was to think not of Bezalel and his helpers, but only of Yahweh present.”
While Bezalel was used and empowered by God to use the earth’s resources and the related craftsmanship technologies to point people to the God of Israel, the next chapter shows that Aaron decided to do something else with the resources. Exodus 32:4: “And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’” In a recent podcast from RTS on the Christian’s use of technology, John Fesko makes this simple declaration: “The Israelites built the tabernacle with Egyptian gold; the gold was useful until they turned it into an idol.” He goes on to say that the Christian can use technological innovations, even those from non-believing sources, as tools for spiritual edification as long as they do not become idols.
As the Israelites moved from worship at the tabernacle to the temple, 1 Kings 7 makes the reader aware of the person, history, and skill of one chosen to contribute to the project. “Hiram is ‘filled with wisdom, and understanding, and knowledge to do all sorts of work in bronze.’ This threefold ability is reminiscent of Bezalel and Oholiab, the men who made the furnishings for the tabernacle. The author wants readers to know that a man of similar skill is on the job now. Careful artistry can be expected.” Mordechai Cogan connects the “innovative” terminology with Bezalel and Hiram but also traces it to the Creator in the past and the Messiah in the future: “This standard triad, ‘wisdom, understanding, and knowledge,’ is applied to Bezalel, the fashioner of the Tabernacle in the desert (Exod 31:3); to God, as creator of heaven and earth (Prov 3:19–20); and to the future Davidic king (cf. Isa 11:2, somewhat expanded).” The connection in these passages shows that using earth’s resources in innovative ways beyond their original state for use in the worship of the true God involves attributes that God himself has, gracious gives to those he has chosen for his service, and are escalated in the coming of the Messiah. When we follow this pattern, it is a mirroring of the one in whose image we are made. When the Temple was finished and the Israelites praised God with musical instruments in 1 Chronicles 15:16, they were sanctifying manmade objects of innovation that go all the way back to Genesis 4.
There are other passages in the Old Testament that I believe could contribute to the theme of using earth’s materials in innovative ways for various uses, some good and some not so good. I will mention two more verses that are related to transportation. Originally, mankind walked, and so did their Creator as he walked with them (Genesis 3:8). Obviously, walking is a God-given biological way to travel. Transportation does not entirely replace walking since we still have to use our two legs to walk several miles a day in many tiny increments. Speaking technologically, the new methods of innovation—here transportation—are only extensions of a basic human function. Tony Reinke says, “Media ecologist Marshall McLuhan (1911–1980) reminded his generation that technology is always an extension of the self. A fork is simply an extension of my hand. My car is an extension of my arms and my feet, and no less so than Fred Flintstone’s footmobile.” As we look at this through a broader lens, it teaches us another truth. Since all forms of technology are only supplements to all human energies, they should not be the objects of our dependence or trust. Since we are foolish to hope and trust in our own human strengths and abilities, we would be even more foolish to depend on objects that are only “extensions of the self.”
At this point, I wish I could copy and paste (a term of innovative technology coined by Larry Tesler that escalated the practice of cutting strips of printed words and gluing them on another media) what Daniel Block says about a passage that I have never considered in my Christian life, much less in examining a biblical theology framework for technology. Judges 1:19 says, “And the Lord was with Judah, and he took possession of the hill country, but he could not drive out the inhabitants of the plain because they had chariots of iron.” Block comments, “The author ends his survey of Judahite fortunes in the fulfillment of the divine mandate to take the land by offering a summary evaluation. Positively, they were able to wrest control of the hill country. Negatively, they were unable to take the river valleys because of the Canaanites’ technological superiority. The infantry of Judah were unable to devise an effective strategy against these state-of-the-art military resources. Chariots were useless in the highlands of Judah, but in the valleys and the river plains they proved a great advantage.” Block continues the technological discussion later in this section: “The significance of the author’s reference to the Canaanites’ iron chariots lies in the theological implications of Judah’s inability to overcome superior technology. In light of Deut 7:1–3 and after the miraculous conquest of Jericho, no one, no matter how technologically superior to the Israelites, should have been able to withstand Judah’s attack. This verse must be read in light of Josh 17:16–18… Why is Yahweh’s presence canceled by superior military technology? The narrator does not say, but presumably the Judahites experienced a failure of nerve at this point, or they were satisfied with their past achievements.”
While there are several streams of thought, there is one main point to consider. Yes, there are advantages to technology and innovative uses of the earth’s materials. And, there are practical factors concerning the usefulness of different tools in different situations. But Block shows there is a more important factor than strict innovative advantages. David understood this: “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God” (Psalm 20:7). Technology and innovation will continue until (and continue into?) eternity. Adam walked, Noah floated, the Israelites drove chariots, and we are entering an age where being driven by a car (as opposed to us driving the car) will likely be commonplace for our children. If the last decade has seen what seems like an infinite explosion of technological power in things as ‘meaningless’ as tablet devices (in a little over ten years the iPad has seen a 1,500 times increase in graphical computing performance while maintaining almost the same cost), we cannot imagine the research going on behind the scenes in more ‘meaningful’ (aka profitable) matters of life like food, health, and transportation.
Whether it is Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin (with details coming tomorrow on May 5) or Apple’s top-secret Project Titan that has been hushed for years and will probably be for several more, this condition should be our guide… if when today’s realities disappear in the brightness of tomorrow’s inventions (as the 128MB MemoryStick that cost me $149 pales in comparison to today’s 16,000MB thumb drive for $4.97), they should still set the entirety of our hope for safety and deliverance in the same person that David did in Psalm 20. Some trust in autonomous vehicles, some will trust in semi-automatic handguns that only fire when connected electronically to its owner, some will trust in the rumored 2022 Apple Watch that offers noninvasive continuous blood glucose and blood pressure monitoring, but we will trust—and continue to trust regardless of what marvels of technology are invented—in the name of the Lord our God.
Wrapping up with the New Testament
God communicates to his creatures. Of all the ways he has done so, he spiritually blesses us with the word. I almost typed the written word, but we no longer communicate that way. In most of my Christian life, God has communicated with me through words not written. With an old Cambridge Concord, God communicated with me via a printed page that was set with a 1950s page layout. In 2011, Cambridge released their Clarion which reset the text using digital software and a new Lexicon 1 font. Today, I often communicate with God using a device that can continuously reflow the page layout with the click of a button that uses, not ink, but a technology called e-ink in the Amazon Kindle e-reader. If when the day comes that smart glasses allow pastors to read the word and their sermon manuscript in the bottom half of their eyeglasses as they look to the lens on their face and then through them to the congregation (a conversation I have had with a Logos employee who already envisions the same future ability), will God still communicate with us? Is the eternal, omnipotent God limited to what form of the words he uses to redeem sinners and preserve his children? I think not.
All technological innovations are meant to help us fulfill the creation mandate made in Genesis while longing for the beatific vision of Revelation. And the realities of day-to-day life remind us of the limitations of amazing, but imperfect, communicative inventions. John ends chapter 20 of his gospel with these words: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” There were many more realities that Jesus lived out, many other actions he performed, but he chose certain ones for a specific purpose to record manually with a writing instrument because his audience was removed from the events in space and time. He then closes chapter 21 by saying that “there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” Again, the technologies available to John were limited when compared to the limitless workings of the eternal Son of God.
He writes about “writing” in his epistles as well. Eighteen times in 1–3 John, the word for writing is used. In 1 John, he says that he wrote for our joy, that we not sin, about a new commandment, to little children, fathers and young men, to battle deception, and to gain assurance. Those are good reasons to write to someone, yet in the closing of the final two epistles John expresses one way in which written words are not the ultimate technological innovation—they, or any other form of human communication, cannot fully substitute for direct communication. Why? Because John says that there is a joy that comes with not just sharing words but sharing ourselves. “Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink. Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete” (2 John 12).
By no means do the prior forms of communication become less significant—they are the very things that bring us into initial communication in the first place. When John spoke to the elect lady and Gaius, it did not diminish the importance of what he had previously written and communicated. Nor would John’s presence have added to the truthfulness of his words. Yet, the heart’s desire was the fellowship with the one communicated to. “John closed one of his ancient handwritten letters with a line [in 2 John 12] of enduring relevance for those of us who now write with our thumbs… John used technology to communicate, but he knew that his letter was only part of the communication. It was a way of expressing anticipation; face-to-face fellowship had to follow.” God has put into us this human desire as a little imaging mirror of the greatest reality, that we would one day be in perfect fellowship with the one that has communicated himself to us. In Revelation 22:4, John writes what the ultimate “upgrade” to the innovation of written divine communication will be—we will see God’s face. This event will not decrease the worthiness of all prior divine communication; rather, its worthiness will be upheld when it becomes clear that seeing the Author face-to-face was the chief end for which all prior divine communication was initiated.
Even so, click ‘upgrade,’ Lord Jesus!
Apps, or applications, are something we think of in technology as synonymous with programs. Or for those nerdy, we think of apps as a file that has .exe at the end. However, an application and a program are not the same things. Whereas programs are a collection of instructions executed by a computer, applications are programs designed for end-users. In laymen’s terms, programs are the sets of instructions and instructions; applications are something the user can actually do something with. A biblical theology that only gathers data is of no use if it does not trickle down in some way to the individual life of the believer. And since so much of the individual life of the believer is spent using technological innovations, I believe that a biblical theology of technology is more practical than one might think. So, with the small set of instructions behind us, what can we actually and practically do with this information? Are there any apps?
Application 1: a Christian who thinks theologically about technology can trace God’s hand in the most pervasive science of our era, not only in the creators but also in the users. Since innovative technologies are useless if not used, then their benefit is not only in being made but also in being applied. Not only is God concerned with Bob Pritchett as the CEO of Faithlife, but God is also concerned with me when I took a picture of technologically-related Bible verses, uploaded it to my Logos software, scanned it for references, and made a passage list of over 40 biblical references for this paper… all without typing a word. Amazing! Absolutely amazing, and I thank God for it.
Along these lines, this allows us to be thankful for such wonders even if we go our entire lives without creating anything innovative. However, even that statement is blurry. Because using technology is actually creating tiny pieces of innovation, to say that we only use technology without making innovations would be untrue. Returning to Logos, I would have no idea where to even begin creating the most basic app. However, that has not stopped me from making twenty notebooks, 800 notes, and 6,700 highlights. In exercising dominion over the 27” screen before me and the keyboard and mouse in front of me, I am following in the steps that God ordained me to walk in back in Genesis 1:26–28. Wayne Grudem clearly points this truth out; we can live out the creative mandate on God’s earth even if he is the only one who ever knows our name. “Our creation in the image of God is also seen in our human creativity in areas such as art, music, literature, and scientific and technological inventiveness. We should not think of such creativity as restricted to world-famous musicians or artists—it is also reflected in a delightful way in the play acting or skits put on by children, in the skill reflected in the cooking of a meal or the decorating of a home or the planting of a garden, and in the inventiveness shown by every human being who ‘fixes’ something that just wasn’t working correctly.”
Application 2: a Christian who thinks theologically about technology can attempt to trace God’s hand into the future. Because technological innovation is rooted in the command of an infinite God who has given his creatures virtually unlimited resources to rule over, we can view this subject as a nearly endlessly mental exercise of all the ways God can work in this world. Last week, an announcement was made concerning the use of artificial intelligence in examining the authorship of the Dead Sea Scrolls. A few weeks ago, Zoom announced a feature that visually places a group of users within a familiar setting to make the engagement more in line with what was customary, i.e., several remote working conversing as if they were in an office together. Regardless of the theological questions of ecclesiology, who will be the first church that uses similar features joined with the soon-coming augmented reality glasses to place remote congregants in a building that may be tens or hundreds of miles away from? If I can imagine it, surely others already have. And one day the question will not be, “Should we include online viewers in our weekly attendance.” One day, the discussion will be, “Should we include augmented reality attendees in our local membership?”
Less antagonizing, think about these things gives us the opportunity to ask questions without worrying about the implications—we can simply wander and wonder and marvel. Lord, if Logos makes an app in 2030 that works with the new Apple Glasses, how can I use that feature to ‘invisibly’ read my sermon notes without ever having to look down at the podium and better engage the audience? Lord, how can Christian software companies help the persecuted church worship where they are at? Lord, how can a Christian in a persecuted land use an unbelievers VPN app to watch American sermons without fear of a lowered social credit score? Lord, how can a terribly slow and lowly comprehensive reader like me use artificially powered intelligence to scan and summarize the main points in Jonathan Edwards’s 73 volumes so that I can better grasp his overall theological worldview. And speaking of Jonathan Edwards, even he spent time thinking about how the future holds limitless possibilities for the continual innovation of the technologies of his day for gospel purposes. In Miscellany 262, which he titled “Millennium,” he ponders the reality of inventions freeing up people’s time and the possibility of the navigation compass evolving into a device that allows people all over the world to communicate without having to make tedious travels…
“There will be so many contrivances and inventions to facilitate and expedite their necessary secular business, that they shall have more time for more noble exercises, and that they will have better contrivances for assisting one another through the whole earth, by a more expedite and easy and safe communication between distant regions than now. The invention of the mariner’s compass is one thing by God discovered to the world for that end; and how exceedingly has that one thing enlarged and facilitated communication! And who can tell but that God will yet make it more perfect; so that there need not be such a tedious voyage in order to hear from the other hemisphere, and so the countries about the poles need no longer to lie hid to us, but the whole earth may be as one community, one body in Christ.”
… Amazing! Absolutely amazing.
Application 3: a Christian who thinks theologically about technology will allow their children to trace God’s hand in their life after they are gone. Think of the biographies that have been written that were based on nothing more than a few major life events and one water-damaged or tattered journal. Think of all the genealogists that have wished they had more to go on than a handful of oral traditions passed down on the farm. Well, we now live in a generation where one backup hard drive containing documents, music, pictures, home videos, journals, and Bible study notes can write volumes of autobiographical material that our children can publish posthumously with a few clicks of the mouse. Amazing! Absolutely amazing. I have spoken on this topic before (though who wants to listen to someone ramble for 30 minutes on 16 reasons a Christian should backup their computer), but if someone knows how to backup their most precious electronic data with three clicks and a USB cable, is it not bad stewardship to not do so?
My words on Psalm 20 above are still true here. Some trust in complex backup strategies, some trust in cloud-based redundancy, but I will (I should) trust in the name of the Lord our God. In theory, every time I turn on my computer every file should automatically backup within the hour as well as instantaneously backup to the cloud. With a home computer, an office computer, and a mobile laptop, that means this happens three times. And with each computer having its own external hard drive, this then doubles everything prior. Since each computer is in its own location, this redundancy allows for backups of backups in the event of a physical disaster. With a total of eight copies of my data (all backed up locally on the hour when logged in and backed up to the cloud instantly when online) across multiple devices in multiple locations, I think I am ok. And peradventure chaos wipes out all these, I have an iPhone, iPad, USB drives, and burned DVDs with some of the more important files scattered about.
Perhaps overboard (though nothing is overboard if you have ever heard a hard drive start eerily making a metallic clicking sound), what is the point of all this? Our family photos, videos, and documents are there. Emails from dead relatives are there. Emails from former podcast listeners are there. Emails from the lady who died with cancer who got a Bible I sent her are there. All my college work is there. All my AU graduate work is there. All my passwords, family financial items, and scans of important documents are there. And in the event I leave this world early, my wife can unlock it all with one password. I may not be the most handy or wealthy, but if loving your wife involves caring for her after you are gone, then nearly everything she would ever need in the short-term or pass down to children and grandchildren in the longterm is a click away. And since it is electronic, it is not limited to one copy for children to chose between. They can each sort through the eight copies. And if there are more Walker descendants than that who want a copy… well, there’s an app for that.
Application 4: a Christian who thinks theologically about technology can uncover a world of illustrations to describe biblical truths to people. Since all examples come from something in the creation anyway, this should be no surprise. However, since innovation often involves ideas that seem to be super powerful and nearly omnipresent, they can help stretch the mind. Tony Reinke makes the point that they can be abused (as any other illustration can), but still, they are helpful. I will give one example. What could prior generations possibly point to as a sermon illustration on God’s omniscience and the final judgment? Though God needs no illustration, we try to help people understand with examples, parables, and things similar. I remember how eye-opening Edward Snowden’s memoir was for me in fall 2019. In the chapter that describes his emotional experience while watching an innocent young boy sitting on his father’s lap on the other side of the world who was being wrongly placed under surveillance, he describes a national security tool that allowed the agent to use nearly any personal identifier and view almost any person’s online activity—logs, emails, histories, and even screen recordings. They could even set up “push notifications” so that they could receive an alert if someone they were interested in got online and monitor them at that moment. Snowden had heard of the tool, but when viewed for the first time he said that “nothing could prepare me for seeing it in action. It was, simply put, the closest thing to science fiction I’ve ever seen…” Reflecting on this in light of Matthew 12:36, I made the following note for future sermon illustrations: “There's coming a day when XKeyscore will look like child's play–when God reveals, not only what we said with our voice and what we typed with our fingers, but what we thought in our mind and what we believed in our heart.” Amazing! Absolutely—and frighteningly—amazing. A Christian who thinks theologically about technology can uncover a world of illustrations to describe biblical truths to people using current events in the ever-expanding world of technological innovation.
Application 5: a Christian who thinks theologically about technology will have a more faithful view of God’s attributes, such as common grace and providence. While exchanging emails last with author Tony Reinke, there were a few exchanges that stood above the rest. Concerning common grace, he made the point that our high view of innovation glorifies the work of the Holy Spirit. “God intentionally designs and gifts each innovator in Silicon Valley. Even Calvin stressed that the same Spirit who converts souls is the same Spirit that gifts Steve Jobs and every one of Walter Isaacson’s innovators. It’s a radical line of thinking that pushes the Spirit front and center in the ‘common grace’ of science.”
Though it might shine through this paper that I enjoy thinking about these matters, there are authors that have spent many years thinking, and talking, and writing about these topics. I realize that many Christians do not think about these matters, but Reinke has finished a new book that should be out in 2022. As our email continued about his new work, he told me that his basic argument is this: “When it comes to tech-talk most Christians default to Open Theism and bail on Reformed categories. That’s a problem that needs to be addressed… Many Christians, even the sharpest Christians who rightly celebrate the sovereign providence of God, tend to wrongly assume his reign ends somewhere around the boundary line of Silicon Valley.”
Yes, he is Lord of all—from the valley of the shadow of death to the Silicon Valley—he is Lord of all.
File… Save… Shut Down.
I began with how I destroyed my first computer, and somehow God used that to make computers such an uplifting hobby in my life. When I later became a Christian, God taught me that even bits and bytes could be part of his redemptive plan. Then, and now, I have wandered through this world marveling at all the ways the Creator has interwoven doctrine and data, theology and technology in such beautiful, biblical, and innovative ways. Next, I transcribed the most influential product release of our current generation, the iPhone. However, modern technology prevailed prior to 2007, and I related several instances of modern marvels through each decade from 1940 to the present. Then, I asked this simple question: Was God in any of this?
I attempted to begin my answer by going to the very beginning of the Bible. Genesis 1 and the creation mandate was my foundational support biblically. The rest of primeval biblical history is filled with examples of people innovating with the resources God created. This pattern, established in the garden, continues through Old Testament areas such as music, worship, and architecture. Even the transportation of chariots, as Daniel Block showed us, is filled with observations for the technologically inclined reader. However, this is all kept from running wild with the somber reminder of Judges 1 and Psalm 20 that no technological innovation can substitute for the protection and presence of God.
In the New Testament, we primarily saw how the apostle John spoke of the technology of written communication. Each of his writing contained some element that contributed to the formulation of a biblical theology of technology for the Christian life. And as his writing and the Bible itself ends with the ultimate escalation, so to will all innovations be eclipsed when we see the face of God.
Since biblical theology is for living, I wanted to show a few specific ways that this theology can be lived out. With the idea of technology already being something that many ignore or think irrelevant, I felt that it was necessary to show real-life examples. First, this allows us to see ourselves in the creative mandate regardless of how big or well-known our innovations are. If we do good with what good things God has created, then we are participating in the command he has given to mankind (and even more so when we fulfill the creative mandate using opportunities that flow into great commission activities). Second, we can think through these things, as Jonathan Edwards did with the compass, and meditate on all the possibilities that God will fulfill his will in future generations. Next, thinking about technology from a biblical perspective will teach us that we can leave digital memories that testify to future family members of our faith. Fourth, these seemingly infinite works of innovation are tiny glimpses of the infinite God that makes them possible. Therefore, we can see living illustrations, even digital ones, all around us that can help explain theological concepts in technological language. Finally, thinking theologically about technology will help us to maintain a consistent view of God. Seeing that God is Lord over every innovation that has come from Silicon Valley will help us to remember that he is also in control of every device that could possible come to us or against us. The instrument of Roman cruelty was used for evil, but God turned it to the ultimate salvific good. The question of whether he is in control over lesser things will fade away from our concern knowing that he truly is Lord of all.
“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face” (1 Corinthians 13:12). In a world of never-ending upgrades, may this paper serve as a perpetual reminder to me, and perhaps any others who read it, that the right uses of the greatest marvels of technological innovation are but one tiny and dim way that we can faithfully live out what God commanded in the garden in Genesis 1 until we see him face to face in the city of Revelation 21–22.
One more thing…
“Even though they were not fervent about their faith, Jobs’s parents wanted him to have a religious upbringing, so they took him to the Lutheran church most Sundays. That came to an end when he was thirteen. In July 1968 Life magazine published a shocking cover showing a pair of starving children in Biafra. Jobs took it to Sunday school and confronted the church's pastor. ‘If I raise my finger, will God know which one I'm going to raise even before I do it?’ The pastor answered, ‘Yes, God knows everything.’ Jobs then pulled out the Life cover and asked, ‘Well, does God know about this and what’s going to happen to those children?’ ‘Steve, I know you don't understand, but yes, God knows about that.’ Jobs announced that he didn't want to have anything to do with worshipping such a God, and he never went back to church.”
It is easy when studying things that fascinate us to forget that there are real people, real souls behind the inventions that capture our attention and create amazement. How sobering it was when I read the quote above in Steve Jobs’s biography. While he will give an account to himself before God, what if—what if—this curious teenager had received an answer about suffering more mature than, “I know you don’t understand.”
Perhaps the pastor meant well. Maybe the pastor miscalculated how insightful this thirteen-year-old boy in his congregation was. Perhaps Jobs’s tone of voice was matched with one equally stern. I don’t know. Yet, I can’t help but wonder what if the pastor had spent years thinking about suffering, what if the pastor had experienced tremendous suffering, what if instead of insulting the teenager’s intelligence he said, “It’s a long answer; I’ll pick you up for lunch and I’ll tell you what I’ve learned”… or even better, “I don’t understand it either, Steve. It’s heartbreaking, and after all my years pastoring, I still haven’t come to grips with why the world suffers so much, especially children.”
It is beyond dispute that the man behind Apple, the Macintosh, the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad, the iTunes and App Stores and digital subscriptions, and Pixar and film animation left an imprint in the lives of so many people who use these technologies (and the resulting devices and services that came about as a result of competition) daily. However, being a conduit of common grace does not mean the same as being a recipient of the saving grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. As a youth pastor, I am challenged to give meaningful answers to insightful teenagers—the impact may go way beyond what I realize. As a lover of technology, it is a reminder to thank God for giving us richly all things to enjoy, even innovations created by people without a relationship with the Creator. As a Christian, it is a reminder that sometimes listening to hard questions is better than giving rehearsed answers.
For Apple technology fans, it is common knowledge that Steve Jobs’s last words were, “OH WOW, OH WOW, OH WOW.” His biological sister, Mona Simpson, gave the story in her eulogy. It is also apparent in the Isaacson biography that Jobs’s mind was on God and death multiple times. A WSJ article summarizes: “Jobs biographer Walter Isaacson, in a recent interview on ’60 Minutes,’ said that in his final encounters with his subject, the Apple founder began to talk more about his thoughts on God and an afterlife.”
Ron Johnson (the person responsible for creating a new experience for computer retail shopping and troubleshooting and repairs, the Apple Store) worked under Steve Jobs for a decade. After he departed from Apple, his name faded from the technology information news outlets. However, as I prepared this paper I came across a piece of information for the first time. In 2017 he gave an interview that offers a Christian lover of technology something to consider. The interview said that Jobs knew Johnson was a Christian who taught Sunday school classes and respected him when he talked about faith. When Jobs found out he had cancer, he and Johnson had a long phone call about death and eternity. Johnson also revealed that he visited Jobs about a week before he died in what he described as “a spiritual experience.” I do wish the interview used more direct, concrete, sermon-like language. Nonetheless, what if God countered the Lutheran pastor without answers with a technology retail visionary who did have answers?
I surely have no idea where Steve Jobs is, but this research has given me another side to the story of his unanswered question of suffering as a thirteen-year-old. I can’t help but wonder: what if God moved Jobs to create an entirely new computer experience and get Johnson to resign as Target’s CEO and join Apple—not primarily so that Apple could create a store—but so that in his dying days with cancer he would have a Christian high up his corporate ladder and in his circle that could tell him all suffering, that of starving children in Biafra as well as cancer-stricken CEOs in Silicon Valley, is to cause us to cry out for deliverance from the crucified and risen Savior who defeated suffering by living and dying through it.
I don’t know what Ron Johnson told him. But as a Christian fascinated with technology who worked at the Apple Store ever so briefly before Jobs died and Johnson left, I truly hope he answered the questions his childhood pastor left unanswered 43 years earlier. And if he did, I hope even more that he believed and trusted them so that his final “oh wow’s” were not regret in the face of death. I hope those three final “oh wow’s” were amazement at the One who turned the technology of Roman crucifixion into the means of eternal deliverance.
Block, Daniel Isaac. Judges, Ruth. Vol. 6. The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999.
Carpenter, Eugene. Exodus. Edited by H. Wayne House and William D. Barrick. Evangelical Exegetical Commentary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012.
Cogan, Mordechai. I Kings: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. Vol. 10. Anchor Yale Bible. New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2008.
Crossway Bibles. The ESV Study Bible. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2008.
Durham, John I. Exodus. Vol. 3. Word Biblical Commentary. Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1987.
Edwards, Jonathan. The “Miscellanies”: (Entry Nos. A–z, Aa–zz, 1–500). Edited by Thomas A. Schafer and Harry S. Stout. Corrected Edition. Vol. 13. The Works of Jonathan Edwards. New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2002.
Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Second Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic, 2020.
Hamilton, Victor P. The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990.
House, Paul R. 1, 2 Kings. Vol. 8. The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995.
Isaacson, Walter The Innovators. New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2015.
Luther, Martin. Luther on Sin and the Flood: Commentary on Genesis. Edited by John Nicholas Lenker. Translated by John Nicholas Lenker. Vol. II. The Precious and Sacred Writings of Martin Luther. Minneapolis, MN: The Luther Press, 1910.
Myers, Jeff. Understanding the Culture: A Survey of Social Engagement. Colorado Springs, CO: David C Cook, 2017.
Reinke, Tony, and John Piper. 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017.
Snowden, Edward. Permanent Record. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2019.
Walton, John H. Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary (Old Testament): Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. Vol. 1. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009.
Wenham, Gordon J. Genesis 1–15. Vol. 1. Word Biblical Commentary. Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1987.
Christianity Today. Washington, D.C.: Christianity Today, 1969–1970.
Time, slow down.
For the Christian that feels rejected...
For the pastor that has been rejected...
1 Timothy 4:16 Priorities
Being with Christ or working for Christ... which is better?
Who Chose Who?
Jonathan Edwards Trip Videos
Jonathan Edwards Tour
God Give Us Men
Sermon for a church grieving the Spartanburg serial killings
New Poem: Sowing and Reaping
“Look at how many came in
Through my great and mighty ministry!”
“Well, remember all praise goes to the Lord.
And remember, someone else planted those seeds.”
In our day almost all churches demand
That a minister’s main goal is to be successful.
But, remember what our God only demands
Is that His ministers be found faithful.
Many want to brag about their harvest
While few want to be in obscurity willing to toil.
Many want to be the ones that reap
While few are willing to systematically break up the soil.
The planter must not envy who reaps,
And the harvester must not despise who plants seeds.
But, both must remember that they are nothing
Because God alone is the one that gives the increase.
So focus on the field and the work
And not on how great will be your reward.
For we’ll all be surprised when we see
That the majority of the reward will go
To the laborers who came before you and me.
Gleanings from Stockbridge
Gleanings from Stockbridge - August 2016
Exodus 15: Marah
After searching to no avail for something to satisfy them on the inside, they came (again, led by God, see Exodus 13:21) to Marah. Marah was a place of bitterness that reminds of sin. Just as there was no drop of water free from bitterness, there is no natural born man that is free from Adam’s sin. While Israel complained about the situation there was one man who did what the others did not do... Moses prayed.
In response to the prayer of Moses, God showed him a tree. The plan for this tree was to be beaten, cut down, laid flat, then lifted up and cast into the waters that it had been planted for all along. Before Israel ever came to these bitter waters, God already had a plan in place. He already had a remedy to change the very nature of the water from bitter to sweet.
Do you see the see the type? Can you say, “Yes! I see it! By faith I trust the Savior who died on the tree of Calvary and he changed my nature from a child of wrath to a son of God!” That is what the cross does. It appears foolish to those who are spiritually blind, but to us it (the preaching of the cross) is the power of God. Praise God for the plan of salvation, praise the Lord Jesus Christ for dying on the tree, and praise the Holy Spirit for changing our nature from bitter to sweet, for making us new creatures in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).
As self-centered fallen humans we all are guilty of wanting attention. And, even if we put on a front of humility, inside we still like it when our name and what we have done is glorified by others. How do we combat the pride in our hearts that crave glory? We pray like the psalmist prayed: “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory, for thy mercy, and for thy truth’s sake.”
His first realization was that God is deserving of glory. He also said that God deserved the glory not for his blessings or his benefits, but simply because of his attributes, namely, his mercy and his truthfulness. Do we glorify God because of what he gives or because of who he is? Do what praise him for what he was done for us or for what he is within himself? The answer to those question will reveal to our hearts what is our focus. Are we focused on God or us, the Creator or the creature, the Savior or the sinner? May God help us all this month, and forever, to increasingly seek to glorify God and not ourselves.
If you've got time to browse around I hope you'll check out the Videos, Writings, and other links as well. There's plenty here for those interested!
And since I have spent all weekend typing and copying and pasting etc… if you see any typos feel free to let me know. Thanks.