I found it noteworthy that as I read the book iGods by Craig Detweiler, about technology and theology, in a local coffee shop, several of the surrounding conversations centered on technology. One group was discussing the speed of their home Internet, Apple’s Time Machine device and smartphones. Another couple was celebrating Skype and the ease of connecting visually with friends. Technology is all around us, in us and is clearly one of the major culture creators. Books like iGods are crucial for the church today to read, digest and grapple with, as the explosive technology revolution of our age is shaping ideas about spiritual formation. As unmistakably stated in the book, technology is not neutral but is a defining force shaping how we view ourselves, community, faith, spirituality and God. Both overt and subversive, technology companies like Apple, Google, Amazon, Facebook and others are impacting the church with the same force as the printing press did over five hundred years ago.
Detweiler opens his book by stating, “Our faith in technology is impatient. It does not tolerate delays.” Technology trains us to move fast, think fast, respond fast and get what we want fast. If the video is buffering or the website bogs down or the computer takes too long to turn on, we grow impatient. The daily paper delivery and nightly news are dinosaurs of a day long gone. Why wait twenty-four hours or even a few hours to get the news when you can have the news instantaneously streamed to your portable electronic device. How fast is fast enough? Not even a consideration. Fast enough no longer exists in an emerging 5G world. Has technology trained us to get what we want when we want it and how we want it? It is not a stretch to say a resounding, yes. And yet, how counter to the Christian story this is. God worked through thousands of years to bring the prophecy of a Messiah to fruition and two thousand years of post-Christian history has still not seen the words of Revelation 21, with the New Heaven and New Earth, fulfilled. Peter writes that God is a patient God and that a thousand years are but a day to the Creator of all things. The lost discipline of waiting on God has been eroded away by the technological cult of fast and now. Detweiler writes, “Patience is repeatedly celebrated as a virtue. Waiting seems to be an inherent part of Christian discipleship. Speed is never held up as something valuable or desirable. In fact, the notion of eternity challenges the entire notion of faster.”
Jesus took three years to focus his attention on a small group of followers called the disciples. The very foundation of Jewish disciple-making had to do with intimate time together. A disciple was not just a person who wanted to know what the rabbi knew, but was also one who wanted to be what the rabbi was. They listened to the rabbi’s interpretation of the Torah but they also wanted to see how the rabbi interacted with leaders, the government, widows, Gentiles and shepherds. To be a disciple was a complete and utter transformation of thinking and action. Faith and belief in the Jewish mind were never purely cognitive endeavors, but rather a complete change of essence. This was and is true of discipleship. Technology infects us with the idea that we cannot wait three minutes, let alone three years. No wonder many church-based discipleship programs fail to truly make committed followers of Jesus Christ when the discipleship is squeezed into a one-hour, ten-week group. If I purchase a book on Amazon through my Kindle Fire (I purchased and read iGod along with several other books on my Kindle), the expectation is that the moment I push the purchase button, I get what I want instantly. How counter this is to following Christ, which is a long, slow journey in the same direction. Amazon and Google provide, at our fingertips, more information than any one person or community could ever digest. And yet has this abundance of information created Christians who believe that discipleship is just the accumulation of more knowledge? The more I know, the holier I am. It has now moved beyond what we know to how much we can access through Google, Bible Logos, Blue Letter Bible and Bible Gateway. The more we can access, the more we perceive that we grow in our Christian maturity. This is an age-old danger. It was not created by modern technology. Our obsession over information access has poured rocket fuel on the already enormous challenge of connecting the mind and heart.
Community has always been and will always be at the core of the Christian story of spiritual formation. The necessity of community began in Genesis and continues into Revelation. The story of time, as we know it, begins in a garden with people and will end in a city with people. This insatiable need for community is birthed in the truth that we are created in the image of a God who exists in the perfection of Community. Because God is three in one and we are created in the persona of God, we need God and each other. Facebook, Twitter and other social media services have scratched this heavenly itch. And though we are more connected than ever before, we are living in virtual communities of distracted isolation. “We are hyperconnected and easily distracted, always available and rarely present.” Facebook has given us hundreds of friends and in doing so, stripped us of friendship. It has created pseudo-communities of individuals sharing their lives with a group of people who don’t really care. Our Facebook friends have become our audience to affirm us, to like us and to re-post our life. The bigger the audience, the more likes, the greater value we have. Social media increase the desire to self-promote and show the world that we are important, needed, and living the good life. It is no longer enough that our identity is in the image of God or that we are part of a spiritual family (unless God and our church community friend us). As Detweiler writes, “Sophisticated Facebook users perfect the art of the underbragger. Rather than tooting accomplishments, the underbragger manages to seem humble while still getting out the overall message, ‘Look at what I’m doing.’” Whether it is underbragging or sharing too much, they are both a desperate plea to be noticed. This a clear challenge to what Paul writes in Philippians 2, pointing to the example of Christ who was the ultimate servant living for the fame of his Heavenly Father.
All of this is not to say that Facebook, Google, Amazon, Apple and the other technology companies have not helped, expanded and positively informed the Christian story. I am so thankful for the research, resources, communication and connectivity that each of these companies has provided to aid in the journey of following Christ. The clear vision of Christ to go into the world and make disciples has been catapulted forward by the use of modern technology. Technology has not only provided resources for spiritual formation, but has also shaped what the process looks like and the very definition of formation. And this is where the caution lies. Embrace the opportunities technology offers, but do it with an I-pad in one hand and the Bible in the other. We cannot just brainlessly utilize every technology because it seems to “work”. We must evaluate technology through the grid of the special revelation of God’s Word. In doing so we become like Daniel, knowing when to abstain and when to partake as we pursue our journey of becoming more like Christ.
Lead Pastor, CrossWay Church,