As Christians who desire to bring every thought captive to the Lord Jesus Christ, we must assess everything in this world from the biblical perspective and use it accordingly. 1 Corinthians 7:29-31 is a classic text on this. Christians are neither ascetics nor hedonists, although unbelievers might call us both. We simply operate according to a wholly different perspective on this world. This world is passing away, but we live for what is eternal.
Our present society places great stock in technological progress. In fact, we may fairly say that we live and die by technology. This is only logical if we worship Man and his greatest achievement, Science. But as Christians, we see the race of Adam for the farce and failure he is, and we put our trust only in the Second Adam, the God-man Jesus Christ. This means that while we will certainly use technology for the glory of God, we can never trust in it to achieve the good life.
I recently came across some questions to ask of any technology in attempting to properly assess it. These are from a leading social critic of recent years, Neil Postman. He is perhaps most well-known for his book Amusing Ourselves to Death. These questions, however, come from another of his later works, Building a Bridge to the Eighteenth Century. Postman did not attempt to think biblically. Nevertheless, he did manage to keep technology at a sufficient distance to criticize it thoughtfully. Here are some questions he recommends.
1. What is the problem to which this technology is the solution? He goes on to write, “This question needs to be asked because there are technologies employed – indeed, invented – to solve problems that no normal person would regard as significant. Of course, any technology can be marketed to create an illusion of significance, but an intelligent, aware person need not believe it.” As Christians living in light of eternity, we should understand our problems and their solutions primarily in terms of what will allow us to participate with Christ in his mission. Technology must serve this goal.
2. Whose problem is it? Just because “everyone” “needs” a given technology does not mean that you or I need it. Since we have different goals, it may well be that what the rest of the world needs we do not need. Conversely, we may need things that the rest of the world would scoff at.
3. Which people and what institutions might be most seriously harmed by a technological solution? Whether we pay attention to it or not, there are always trade-offs involved in adopting any given technology. Too often, we don’t pay attention, and we are caught spiritually unprepared for the changes that technology brings. The industrial revolution is an example writ large in the history books, but we could multiply more mundane examples in everyday. A growing family may opt to solve their scheduling issues by buying another car. This will certainly bring certain benefits. But it will also bring challenges that the family may only be dimly aware of until it has taken its toll on them.
As Christians, we must be seriously concerned in our day about the institutions of the church and the family. We dare not rush into a technological solution to woes which cannot be solved by technology. The technology we do adopt must be done with eyes wide open to the possibilities and also the problems.
4. What new problems might be created because we have solved this problem? Postman writes, “It is doubtful that one can think of a single technology that did not generate new problems as a result of its having solved an old problem.” True. This is because at the root man’s problems are not technological. They are spiritual. Our ultimate needs are not for faster travel, faster communication, improved manufacturing, lower prices, and more stuff. We need righteousness, which is as much as to say, we need God. He alone can satisfy our souls. Technology will never give us God (remember the
5. What sort of people and institutions might acquire special economic and political power because of technological change? The obvious example Postman exploits is television. He correctly notes that Abraham Lincoln very likely would not have become president if there had been television in his day.
6. What changes in language are being enforced by new technologies, and what is being gained and lost by such changes?