From The Garden To The City by John Dyer
"One of the most dangerous things you can believe in this world is that technology is neutral."
While God's words are eternal and unchanging, the tools we use to access those words do change, and those changes in technology also bring subtle changes to the practice of worship. When we fail to recognize the impact of such technological change, we run the risk of allowing our tools to dictate our methods. Technology should not dictate our values or our methods. Rather, we must use technology out of our convictions and values.
This means that our job, and the essence of what it is to be human, is to reflect God's image to the rest of creation.
If the fish were programmed to swim and the birds were programmed to fly, then humans were programmed to cultivate the garden.
This tells us something important about both human nature and the garden. It means that God designed the garden-even before the fall, sin, and death-in such a way that it needed to be worked on.
It's not that there was anything wrong with the garden, it's just that God didn't intend for it to stay the way that it was.
In a sense, Adam was to take the "natural" world (what God made) and fashion it into something else-something not entirely "natural"-but sanctioned by God.
The command to "cultivate the garden" was coupled with the command to "keep the garden." That word keep can also mean "guard” or “watch over,” and it conveys the idea that Adam was not only to shape the garden but to maintain something of its original form. He was not to overcultivate it or use its raw materials in a way that would unnecessarily harm it or God's creatures.
Whatever he chose to do, he would be taking what God had made and remaking it into a creation of his own. And in doing so, Adam would be reflecting the creativity of his Creator (who, at this point in the story, had done little but create).
The final aspect of our role as God's image-bearers, then, is our ability to create. When we cultivate the garden, that is, when we make things from what God has made, we are reflecting the image of God.
the sharing of things, images, rituals, and language mediates three things to us: identity, meaning, and values.
"...the materialization of meaning..."
Yet the word translated cultivate in Genesis 2 is elsewhere translated till, an action that assumes the use of tools. This seems to indicate that using tools was a part of God's design for humanity even before the fall.
God designed the world in such a way to be cultivated and shaped by humanity, and when we create we are operating as God's image-bearers.
a simple, encompassing definition of technology: "the human activity of using tools to transform God's creation for practical purposes."3
In addition, the presence of a cell phone in my pocket means that my conceptions of space, time, and limits are radically different than a world without cell phones.
The clothing was their way of transforming their circumstances such that they would no longer rely on God for anything.
So in this first human invention, we find that technology can at the same time be both a reflection of the image of God and a subtle rebellion against him and his authority.
In some sense, all of our technology can be understood as an attempt to overcome the effects of the fall.
Second, God made it known that from time to time he will participate with humanity in doing technology.
Today our technological creations still honor God, and they are still a reflection of his creativity. But we must be careful not to believe the lie that the right tools will enable us to live independent from our Creator, the sustainer of life.
And microphones might help us reach more people, but only a movement of God's Spirit can save them.
Cain was following the letter of the law when it came to the culture mandate, and externally there was nothing wrong with what he made from the world. Yet John and Hebrews tell us God rejected Cain's work for the sole reason that it wasn't offered in faith.
literally and figuratively moving farther and farther away from God, the garden, and who he was designed to be. He, like all of us in a sinful world, would never be able to return to his true home; and the more he sinned, the more physically and spiritually alienated he became.
Ellul points out that the Bible consistently portrays cities as places of evil, disconnected from God and creation.
This is in part because the city is humankind's first idol, the first attempt to use our creative powers to dislodge God from his place of preeminence and his rightful status as the sustainer of life. We use our idols fundamentally as a way of meeting our needs apart from God, and this is our greatest temptation with technology-to use it as a substitute for God.
God not only approves of but even helps with our technological development. At the same time, technology is also one of the chief means by which humans attempt to create a world without God.
"Our conventional response to all media, namely that it is how they are used that counts, is the numb stance of the technological idiot."1
Instrumentalism gets its name from the belief that technology is merely the instrument of the person using it. The tool itself is neutral in that it is interchangeable with any other tool with no effect.
This second view, called technological determinism, says that technology is an unstoppable power that has become the driving force in society. While instrumentalism claims that technology is completely inert and has no operative power in culture, determinism makes the opposite argument, saying that technology operates independently of human choices.
The implication is that if we remove the technology, the problem will go away, because technology is the problem.
people are free to choose how they will use their tools, but that the tools themselves are oriented toward a particular set of uses that will emerge when a large number of people use them.
For example, a calculator extends our ability to do math, but it amputates the need to memorize multiplication tables. By doing math for us, the calculator retrieves time, yet when we use it too much we reverse into not being able to do basic math ourselves.
megachurch. The significant thing we can learn from media ecology is that new technology presents people with a different set of choices than they had before. Technology still doesn't make anyone do anything, yet it seems that the presence of technology does urge societies in a certain direction, giving them benefits while also presenting them with new problems.
As Christians, we often say, "the means change, but the message stays the same." However, while it's true that the gospel message never changes, the means by which that message is communicated does, in fact, bring with it additional ends. Much of this is due to the fact that like all other things we create, our technology brings with it a set of values.
We assign meaning to the things we make, and then when we use those things and perform cultural practices around them, they reflect back to us the values and meaning we assigned to them.
When we buy and use a tool, we are participating in solving what our culture considers to be a problem in need of a solution. For example, a culture that hunts game for food will tend to invent weapons, and it will value members of their society who can run fast. But a culture that plants crops for food will invent plows, and those people will value strong men and women. The hunter culture will then develop rituals around hunting and weapon-making that reinforce their importance for survival, while the farmers will create rituals around their seasonal planting.
This means that while technology contains in it the values of its makers, its users don't always react to those values in exactly the same way.
Somewhere in between, we can say there is a tendency in the way that we will use any technology, and out of those tendencies a set of embedded values emerge.
If we combine what we know about the flesh with McLuhan's idea that technology "amplifies" an aspect of our humanity, we find that technology can amplify the "incurvature of the soul" about which Augustine wrote.
Our task as believers is to work against the tendencies built into our devices, and to in effect become a predator of the media in the ecosystem of our lives.
Likewise, Christians who live God-honoring lives in the digital world are those who can discern the tendencies built into all technology and then decide when those tendencies are in line with godly values, and when those tendencies are damaging to the soul.
In what should come as a major surprise to us, it is through this human-made, God-designed ark-a technology created from the raw material of the earth-that humanity finds salvation from the floodwaters of God's wrath.
Yet we must also be careful to affirm that the redemptive capacity of technology is limited and temporary. Advances in technology can give us the illusion that it might someday overcome death, but this is a tragic and distracting lie.
Instead, we should view the redemptive capacities of technology as a temporary means of keeping humanity going while God does his work.
But if we take a moment to think about it from a fresh perspective, God could have simply leveled their tower and crushed the walls of their city as he did with Jericho. Instead, however, he chose to attack something more fundamental to their lives-their language.
A universal language has the built-in value of connecting a people with a single identity, and God chose to work against that value by breaking up their linguistic ties.
The Tower of Babel should remind us that social networks are not just toys-they are part of the most powerful technology in the world.
Finally, what happened at Babel illustrates that when a technological change happens within a culture, that change in technology results in a change in the culture. Technology does not make people do anything, but it does alter the choices people have in front of them.
God took a group of slaves and gave them a set of objects, images, rituals, and language that would transform them into an entirely new culture,
He handed them detailed descriptions of everyday cultural goods and artifacts as well as the practices and rituals they were to perform with them.
Writing is so ancient that we no longer see it as a technology, but it was perhaps the most transformative of all the "extensions of man" because it was the first to extend the mind.
By choosing this technology, God was communicating that his Law did not contain optional truths or malleable commands. His Law was literally set in stone.
In creating the culture of the people of Israel, God was giving the world his final, authoritative, and unchanging Law. And he chose a technological medium that reinforced those values.
Before God said anything about murdering, stealing, or coveting, he gave the people of Israel guidelines referring back to the creation mandate from Genesis 1 and 2. The Hebrews were not free to approach God however they pleased, through whatever means they might find enlightening, fun, or interesting. Instead God comes out of the gate with explicit commands on the relationship between their making and their worship.
"It is a strange injunction to include as part of an ethical system [instructions on how they were to symbolize, or not symbolize, their experience] unless its author assumed a connection between forms of human communication and the quality of a culture."
God is telling Israel that the images, forms, and tools through which we approach him do, in fact, matter to him.
When we look around at other social conventions, we find that we almost always use older cultural goods when we want to signify that something is important. Couples getting married wear older styles of clothing-tuxedos and long, beautiful gowns-to make the statement that this is a significant event. If a couple wants to make a date special, they forgo driving their car around downtown in favor of hiring a horse and buggy to take them on that same path. The older technology makes the event seem more significant. Again, we see that technology as an element of culture is always mediating to us meaning, value, and identity.
Each of these new tools comes with the ability to communicate different kinds of meaning and to create a new culture intimately familiar with its use. People in that new culture will see the world in a slightly different way, not only because they communicate through different mediums but because they think differently. This is because in addition to creating culture, mediums also shape the way we think.
The printed book, then, encourages things like uniformity, accuracy, and complex linear thoughts; and it turns out these are features of the Scientific Revolution as well as much of the theological work that followed it.
The new numbering system made it much easier for theologians to refer to passages of Scripture in a consistent manner. But by adding the chapter and verse numbers, they had in a sense effectively systematized the Scripture itself. Today, whenever we open a Bible, we see the Word of God through this layer of technology, and we interpret the Scriptures according to this technological way of thinking. When we talk about our favorite verses or hold up signs at sporting events (John 3:16), we are performing technologically enabled activities.
The printed book, like all other technology, is value-laden. Printed books value things like objectivity, uniformity, structure, and logic. And when we look at the culture and thinkers who were native book readers, we find that way of thinking embedded in their thoughts and ideas.
Of course, this doesn't mean that images are always morally corrupt. But neither does it mean that images are a neutral medium where the only thing that matters is the content itself. No, as we've been saying, images as a medium shape our thinking and communicate meaning. Sometimes this meaning contains a powerful theological truth.
Newer tools bring us benefits, but those benefits come with a cost. Even the VP of Product at Facebook, Chris Cox, admitted as much when he said, "Facebook solved this problem of getting all your friends in one place, and created the problem of having all your friends in one place."
As Neil Postman said, "the advantages and disadvantages of new technologies are never distributed evenly among the population. This means that every new technology benefits some and harms others."
When the Greek tektōn is translated to Latin, it becomes faber; and, as we mentioned before, some anthropologists believe that homo faber ("skilled man" or "making man") is the best way to describe humans because our creation of and dependence upon tools is what sets us apart evolutionarily from other animals. Ironically, then, by the standard of nonbelieving anthropologists, the kind of work that Jesus did could not be more fundamentally human.
At Golgotha, Jesus hung naked and bloody from a tree that he had spoken into existence, but that humans had transformed into a tool of death. The cross, then, is a symbol of the distorted creation turning on its creator. That twisted tree represents the twisted us, a humanity transformed by sin and bent toward death.
In his death and resurrection, Jesus transformed the cross and the grave from symbols of death to symbols of life and the transformation that his Spirit begins to work when we believe that he is the Christ, the Son of God.
The Old Testament visions of the future are focused on the removal of sin and the dwelling of God among his people, and the place of this restoration is always the city.
"Thus the history of the city, divided in two by Jesus Christ, goes from Eden to Jerusalem, from a garden to a city."
Until that day, the New Testament urges us to use physical tools-specifically the Table and the Cup-to create a space for the embodied fellowship of believers.
Technology, then, is the bridge from this world to the imagined one. Storybooks give us a glimpse into an alternate world, but technology allows us to actually live in an alternate world.
The allure of technology, then, is a promise that the right tools will bring about a better world. We continually tell ourselves that with technology we can take this broken world and mold it into the better one that we all desire.
For example, Dutch engineering professor and theologian Egbert Schuurman writes, "We can say that we are talking about technology when we use tools to shape nature in the service of human ends."2 David Mindell sees technology as the "constellation of tools, machinery, systems, and techniques that manipulate the natural world for human ends."3 Technology, then, is the means by which we transform the world as it is into the world that we desire. What we often fail to notice is that it is not only the world that gets transformed by technology. We, too, are transformed. The Second Story
"We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us."
In this sense, technology sits between us and the world, changing and molding both at once. The world feels the spade, but we feel the handle. We use the tool to dig at the ground, but in another sense the ground uses the tool to chafe at our hands. The shovel connects us to the earth, but it also functions to insulate us from directly touching the soil. Our primary connection then is with the tool, not the creation itself, giving the tool the opportunity to simultaneously shape both the world and its user.
Again, as with the blisters and calluses from a shovel, these mental transformations happen without reference to morality. Whether a person spends long periods of time reading Christian apologetics or spends that time reading atheist literature, the reader will increase the ability to understand complex arguments. And whether a person reads thousands of tweets from Ashton Kutcher and Britney Spears or thousands of tweets from John Piper and a C. S. Lewis robot, the skill of consuming massive amounts of small information bites will increase.
In fact, sometimes the effects of a medium are more important than any content transmitted through that medium.
Second, from the fall, we found that every technology has the potential to be used for sin and rebellion. Though a mobile phone is not itself morally evil, it cannot be considered "neutral" either. Instead, embedded in its design is a tendency of usage from which a set of values emerge. Our flesh will often seize upon the power and value system of a tool and use it for evil. People have found all kinds of ways to employ mobile phones in service of selfish gain and destruction.
we must discern when those tools are in conflict with the value system of the kingdom of God.
We cannot mistake their power for the power of the one who one day will finally redeem us. Instead, let us view the redemptive functions of our tools as a foreshadowing of what is to come.
Kevin Kelly, in his book What Technology Wants, lists several tools whose creators promised that their devices would bring world peace.2 For example, Hiram Maxim, the inventor of the machine gun, insisted his invention would "make war impossible." Alfred Nobel believed his invention, dynamite, would "sooner lead to peace than a thousand world conventions." When Nobel realized that his tool was bringing about the exact opposite, he founded the Nobel Prize in hopes that his legacy would be one of peace instead of destruction.
However, over time our culture has begun to believe that technology will one day solve all of our problems, leading to a kind of utopia. Stephen Monsma calls this idea "technicism,"4 and he argues that it has become a kind of unspoken religion for the secular world.
Over time, as these developments stacked up, people began to think of these new tools in terms of "mastery over nature." For the first time philosophers started to speak of progress not in moral or civil terms but in relationship to advances in technology. As technology progressed, it gave humanity more and more control over the natural world, and people began to hope it would one day remove all human suffering from the planet.
In fact, technicism has all the elements of a good religion. It has a savior, which in this case, is obviously technology. It has prophets and preachers-the commercials that continually remind us of the greatness of the lords and saviors. Technicism also has a future hope (or eschatology) called the "singularity," which is when our computers become smarter than all of humanity put together, and they gain the ability to invent tools that our tiny little minds can't even imagine. Technicism even has a concept of salvation and eternal life, which will occur when the post-singularity computers invent tools that enable all humans to live forever, ushering in the post-human era.
Of course, Borgmann would say that this readily available heat is a good thing that often saves lives. But he points out that the device is also doing something that we don't notice-it is hiding the process of making heat. We press a button and heat comes out, but we don't know what goes on inside our walls or underneath our houses, and we no longer go about the practice of making heat ourselves. But why does this matter? The answer is that when a device hides a process, sometimes we lose out on an important part of human life.
Borgmann's point is not to say that we should get rid of our heating or cooling, but that we should be careful to notice the processes and practices that our devices hide and the humanity that is sometimes lost at the same time.
Borgmann, though, does not think the proper response to the device paradigm is to turn off our heaters or throw out our microwaves. Instead, he recommends that we take time to intentionally establish what he called "focal things and practices." These are things that might normally be hidden or made unnecessary by a device, but that we choose do anyway because of the kind of life we value.
Borgmann also concentrates his writing on the practice of the "Table" found in the New Testament. Fundamental to the life of the early church was the preparation and sharing of a meal. The table itself became a "focal thing," a place around which people gathered to share life and encourage each other in faith. Instead of living our lives according to the values of new technology, Borgmann urges us to determine what our values are first and attempt to use our tools in service of those values.
If the Internet is a technology, then we should assume that it will present us with powerful new ways to shape the world, but that same power will also shape us and the way we see the world. If used without reflection, that shaping will eventually make its way into our souls, influencing how we see ourselves and others and what we think is important. Many of these effects will be rather innocuous, but we should never underestimate the capacity of our flesh to find ways to use technology for self-serving ends and as a means of distraction from our deep need for a Savior and his Body, the Christian community.
If all we do is access information rather than acquire it, then our capacity for true wisdom is diminished.
Over time, as we cultivate the skill of scanning screens, many of us now find it more difficult to read a book word by word and line by line. Like a marathon runner who can't bench-press three hundred pounds, or a person who can bench-press three hundred pounds but can't run a marathon, we seem to cultivate either the skill of deep reading or the skill of scanning.
This means that we must be careful to cultivate and retain the skill of deeply reading and deeply contemplating the things of God, something the Internet and digital technologies do not value. We cannot read deeply when we spend all of our time scanning or when we allow distraction to rule our minds.
Perhaps our children will create gyms designed to strengthen their minds just as we created gyms to strengthen our bodies.
But as with other technologies we've looked at, our goal in answering these questions is to observe the tendencies of behavior built into social media, figure out what values emerge out of those patterns, and then carefully consider where those do and do not align with what is important to the Christian life.
But any time people are connected through a medium, that connection happens within the rules of the medium.
Our question then should not be "Is it real?" because connecting online is just as "real" as talking on the phone or sending a letter. The better question is, what are the rules of the medium and what are the underlying messages and patterns that emerge from those rules?
"Ambient intimacy is about being able to keep in touch with people with a level of regularity and intimacy that you wouldn't usually have access to, because time and space conspire to make it impossible."
As Sigmund Freud wrote almost a century ago, "If there had been no railway to conquer distance, my child would never have left town and I should need no telephone to hear his voice."10
our flesh will do whatever it can to make technology an idol of distraction.
We are attempting to balance the obvious usefulness of our tools with the knowledge of their inherent (sometimes positive, sometimes negative) value system so we can work both through their strengths and also against their weaknesses.
John was comfortable using the communication technology-pen and ink-of his day, but he did so with a set of values that were contrary to the tendencies built into the technology of writing. Whereas a letter requires that one isolated person write a message and then another isolated person later read that message, John says that his joy is never complete until he is physically present with his community.
When John could not be physically present with his community, he was comfortable using technology to communicate with them. But he was always careful to state that he considered technologically mediated relationships to be inferior to embodied relationships. For John, both embodied and disembodied communication were "real"; he simply believed that only face-to-face reality offered him "complete joy."
The great temptation of the digital generation is to inadvertently disagree with John and assume that online presence offers the same kind of "complete joy" as offline presence.
Rather, the danger is that just like the abundance of food causes us to mistake sweet food for nourishing food, and just like the abundance of information can drown out deep thinking, the abundance of virtual connection can drown out the kind of life-giving, table-oriented life that Jesus cultivated among his disciples.
always seeking to use technology in service of embodied life, not as a replacement for embodied life.
The guiding principle is this: technology is for the table.
This doesn't mean that technology and the table are in opposition, only that everything we do with our tools-scheduling appointments on our phones, heating up meals in the microwave, reading updates from friends and family on social networks-should all be directed toward enriching the few, precious face-to-face encounters we have in our busy world.
Rather than be shaped by technology, I try to understand how each new technology can shape me and then decide if that coincides with the kind of person I think God would have me be.
we must remember that we've not been called to go backward in time but to live faithfully in our own age.
valuation, experimentation, limitation, togetherness, and cultivation.
Anytime we choose to do technology together rather than as individuals, we are rejecting the self-centered orientation of the flesh and choosing to work out the togetherness portrayed in the Scripture and within the triune God.
Finally, in our attempts to approach technology with discernment, we must be careful not to enter into a kind of inactive stasis where we talk about technology but fail to support those who are actually doing technology in service of what God has asked of his image bearers: to cultivate and keep his creation and to make disciples of all nations.