Ruled by Machines? The Church’s Love of Technology

Calvin-worship-TVI want to challenge an assumption – that all technology is good and should be uncritically embraced by the church.

In the movie Jurassic Park, scientists discovered a way to clone dinosaurs using DNA found inside fossilized mosquitoes. They turned this discovery into a theme park based on their new creations. In a tour of the park, mathematician Ian Malcolm – played by Jeff Goldblum – remarks:

“…your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

While the church’s uncritical use of technology won’t result in giant lizards snacking on humans as it did in Jurassic Park, the same critique leveled by Malcolm against the scientists could be leveled at the church. In our American love affair with technology we simply don’t pause in our rush to adapt every new advance to our lives and the church.

Is replacing physical Bibles with Bible apps always a good idea? Will a generation that only types Bible references into a search bar understand the context as well as generations who turned its pages? How are worship services changed by video screens ever increasing in size, clarity and centrality? Are congregations taught by a video preacher worse, the same, or better than those with a flesh and blood preacher? Is something lost or gained when giving is done online instead of as part of the liturgy? Can lights, sound, and production reach the point of distraction or is more always better? Does the use of technology to connect the church to the culture become so successful that the church only feels like an extension of that culture?

Just asking these questions can be dangerous. One might be labeled a “dinosaur”, lampooned as “irrelevant”, or accused of not caring about “reaching people.” Two weeks ago Matthew Barrett at The Gospel Coalition questioned the wisdom of bringing an iPad into the pulpit. It generated 226 comments that contained such ire you would think he suggested women should only wear dresses. He was accused of bibliolatry, legalism, and setting back the church.

Yet, how did we end up in a place where it’s okay to question the Bible’s teachings but not the medium through which we communicate those teachings? Have we unwittingly embraced America’s technology idolatry? In our culture, we trade in our phone for a newer one every few months, take on debt to finance our flatter and wider television, and calm our toddlers with Sesame Street on the tablet. We are in trouble when worship services, churches, and Christian lives become about adapting God to technology instead of the other way around.

In 2005, Passion Conferences hosted a gathering of over ten thousand college students in Nashville, Tennessee. I was there for the final night of the conference which featured a late night worship service, one of the centerpieces of which was a giant LED wall that had the capability to display bright, stunning images and split into four moving parts. It was an awe-inspiring addition to the worship. However, the next morning at the closing session, speaker Louie Giglio made this confession:

All of a sudden I realized from the Spirit of God that I’m enthralled by the wall. I’m just in awe of it. I’m almost worshiping the wall. I turned around and walked under the stands and said, ‘Jesus, wall or no wall, I’m worshiping you. I am not interested in something that’s moving and how big it is. I love it and its helping me and encouraging my soul, but I think for a minute there I was more interested in it than I am in You.’

Could this same thing be playing out in our hearts week after week? Could it be the reason we are so unwilling to question the use of technology in the church? Is Jesus winning this struggle for affection in our hearts or is our Samsung Galaxy?

We need the courage to let our theology drive our technology. We need the courage to ask questions about the way we use it. Is what we gain in adding technology greater than what we lose?  Does using a particular device help us treasure Christ and see His glory more clearly or does it make the church more consumer-driven and individualistic? When David and the Israelites were bringing the Ark of the Covenant back to Jerusalem in 2 Samuel 6, they used a cart instead of poles carried by four men to transport it. This was more technologically advanced and more convenient, but it also failed to honor God. When someone asks why we choose to use a certain piece of technology our answer should not be “because we can” but should flow out of Paul’s command in 1 Corinthians 10:31 to do all to the glory of God.

I love using projectors to display song lyrics for worship. I think what we gain in artistic expression (Ex. 35:30-33) and in accessibility to the congregation (1 Cor. 14) overcome the loss of singing multiple parts and seeing on one page the unfolding arc of the hymn. I use a Bible and not an iPad when I preach because I fear my listeners may miss out on the depth of the biblical context (Acts 20:27, Jn. 10:35) if they follow my example and view only a few verses on a smartphone (2 Pet. 3:16). You might do differently. That’s fine; these decisions are not Bible imperatives. But know why you do – biblically, theologically, and for the glory of God. Don’t be so quick to rush ahead with what you “can” do that you fail to think about what you “should” do. It will shape not only you but the fruit you seek to grow for King Jesus.

-Brian

(image credit)

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