Blessings and Curses of Technology

A Response to Al Erisman’s ‘The Face-to-Face Gospel and the Death of Distance

I often awake at 5 AM, not quite ready to get out of the bed. So I click a preset button on my mobile phone and for the next hour or so listen through a book of the Bible. I couldn’t have done this just a few years ago.

Even in the days when audio Bibles in mobile phones did not exist, there were quite astonishing technologies revolutionizing the way we could interact with the Bible. Just 15 years ago I installed an online Bible on my personal computer and on the computers I sold. Using Strong’s Concordance I found myself, a layman, comparing the English text with the original languages. Indeed, it was a celebration of ‘the death of distance’ between modern English and the original languages of the Bible. I could now prepare more detailed notes for use in a Bible study or a sermon.

Since I am now able to listen to the Bible almost anywhere and anytime, I can convert wasted time into profitable time. And ministry? The audio Bible in the fingernail-sized 1.5 GB MicroSD is increasingly my gift to those who admire my own audio Bible.

That is not to say all technological developments have a positive contribution. When from the pulpit my eyes fall on a member of the audience texting as I preach, I am rudely reminded of the disorienting impact of technology. When someone tells me their e-mail address has been hijacked and is now being used to send out invitations to porn sites, I feel both angry and helpless because I know such evil will continue unabated.

I do not desire all that is traditional to give way to technological approaches. I don’t want technology to replace the intimacy of my personal conversations with brothers. I have become used to new recorded worship choruses that use more instrumentation than voices, but I’d still rather be part of a congregation where I sing old Christian hymns, even if the words are now projected on a screen instead of read from a printed hymn book.

Sometimes technological advances are outright retrogressive. Very personally, to cite only one example, all the floppy diskettes on which I ‘saved’ important notes are now unusable, while my written scrap pads from the 80s still survive.

The key, therefore, is to understand what best fits the context and then do our best to apply technology appropriately—for ourselves and for ministry. As part of the human race we will suffer through poorly designed PowerPoint presentations or agonizing conversations over a poor connection. And think about when brethren ‘spam’ others with emails laden with 5mb attachments, causing the recipient to grudgingly pay per megabyte to receive the unsolicited mail. Not prudent. However, we know the dark side will apply to any development, technological, social, or cultural. We live in an imperfect world, where we still see as in a mirror, albeit much clearer mirrors than the brass types of the first century.

When I was 28 and oblivious to my technological advantages, I once held a conversation with my boss about technological advancements. Unable to appreciate or even grasp recent technological developments, he was totally disoriented as I thoughtlessly advanced my position. My boss did not appreciate my arguments, and, inevitably, I lost a huge opportunity. In time, the experience made me aware of the responsibility that comes with change. Those who find it natural to grow into new technologies must invest in the education of those (the majority) who do not.

A greater concern has to do with the undesirable baggage that inevitably comes with technological developments. It’s great to access a clean, educative website, or to download an inspirational song onto my mobile medium, or to extend my impact when I share a message or testimony with millions of people over the Internet. But those interfaces are also like a city in which you will find 20 nightclubs, a gang that robs and kills, and, if the law does not prohibit, even naked girls sitting inside glass shop windows. A newcomer from the rural area finds a first time experience in this city very puzzling. He needs someone to come get him from the bus stop. He needs help shopping. Then, with help and in time, he may discover that lo, there is also a church with true believers in the city, a counsellor’s office right in the middle of the city, and even a cinema hall that only shows Christian films.

Ideally, the bad should not exist alongside the good. But that lies in the future, after the Lord sorts out this wicked world. A lot of learning and discretion must be exercised in the meantime. Just as parents have to think through the management of the television or the video, so we must search carefully for the best way to use—or not use—technology.

Haron Wachira is managing director of Information Technology Associates in Nairobi, Kenya.

This article was a part of a special series called ‘The Global Conversation’ jointly published by Christianity Today International and the Lausanne Movement in the months leading up to Cape Town 2010: The Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization to help prepare the global church for the issues to be addressed at the Congress. Each lead article had several commissioned responses, and was published by dozens of publications around the world. (View all Articles)

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