The Theology of Media Technology
This post was written in conjunction with Gary Weier’s appearance on The Steve Noble Show on Sept. 23.
Most of us instinctively think that media technology itself is neutral. We tend to think the only moral implications are how we use it — for good purposes or evil. In thinking this way, we fail to realize that technology itself can affect us regardless of the purposes for which we use it.
Students in a class I teach on media and culture read portions of From the Garden to the City: The Redeeming and Corrupting Power of Technology by John Dyer, who offers the simple example of using a shovel, which can be wielded to dig a foundation for an orphanage or a hole to bury stolen money. Obviously, one action is moral and the other immoral.
But in either case, using the shovel will affect you — it can build muscle, and it can give your hands blisters! In other words, using media technology either positively or negatively affects our relationships with others and God, and how we understand ourselves.
Since technology is part of our everyday lives, we should prioritize engaging our biblical worldview to understand technology and particularly the theological underpinnings to using it.
Technology and our use of it is an extension of our humanity, especially when we use technology to do things that reflect our nature such as communication. The Bible speaks truthfully and authoritatively to that humanity, so it speaks to how we should understand technology. Our need is discernment, the kind Paul describes in Phil. 1:9-10,
“that your (our) love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ” (ESV).
As fallen, broken humans, we should exercise biblical discernment to understand technology itself and how it affects us. Thinking about how we put technology to use is important but not sufficient if we’re seeking to approve what is excellent.
A Biblical Worldview of Using Media Technology
Here are four thoughts direct from God’s Word on that get us started down that road:
1. Recognize that technology is in fact a gift from God.
According to Genesis 1, as God’s image-bearers, we rule over creation under His authority. Within His creation, God gave us possibilities though ingredients empowering us to create anything from food to tools, and we continue to innovate new uses of those ingredients. Even the overarching story of Scripture of starting in a garden and ending in a city conveys that sense of progress.
Technology is also a manifestation of God’s mercy. He takes pity on our suffering and allows us to develop technology that relieves human suffering by fighting hunger and disease.
2. However, be aware that media technology in particular can distract us from God’s purposes.
During our micro-breaks, we pick up our phones to see what will capture our attention, reflecting how, on a larger scale, technology can hinder us from setting our minds on things above (Col. 3:2). Everyone from media companies to advertisers to peddlers of porn and other filth are constantly vying for our attention, and they are quite adept at capturing it using sophisticated techniques we don’t often take time to think about.
3. Confess that media technology can also become our idol.
Idols come in many forms, but anything can be an idol if we look to it for satisfaction, hope or solutions rather than God. Only wisdom from above is perfect (James 3:17-18), and “from him and through him and to him are all things” (Rom. 11:36 ESV)
4. With all this in mind, be intentional about employing media technology for God’s purposes.
We cannot sit back passively and allow technology to draw us into the culture. Again, we need to take charge of technology and not let it take charge of our minds and actions. 1 Peter 1:13 says, “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (ESV). As we live in light of God’s grace, we need to thoughtfully examine how our tools affect us.
Practical Steps to intentionality
Once we have better understood the theology of technology, we can take practical steps based on our understanding of our weaknesses in our humanity. Be honest with yourself. Then act on your evaluation. For example:
- Are you easily distracted? Turn off your notifications.
- Do you post out of pride or desire for reactions? Use media technology to keep up with people instead of looking for affirmation.
- Do you constantly post or scroll through a bottomless pit? Consider keeping social media off your phone to be more intentional with it, or putting time limits on its use. You can often better regulate your social media use if you have to log in on a computer.
Most importantly, we need to consider how social media affects loving relationships with God and others:
- How can you prevent media technology from creating a dehumanizing distance, based on your emotional reactions, from fellow image-bearers of God?
- How can you use media technology to help you develop your relationship with others and God to become more like Christ?
There’s no one set of practical steps that a given believer should use to approach social media. But there is one overarching principle: set your minds to use technology based on your theological understanding of God’s desire for you to be loving, discerning and blameless toward Him and others.