Then God said,
“Let us make man in our image, after our
likeness. And let them have dominion over
the fish of the sea and over the birds of the
heavens and over the livestock and over all
the earth and over every creeping thing that
creeps on the earth.”
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
And God blessed them. And God said to
them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the
earth and subdue it and have dominion over
the fish of the sea and over the birds of the
heavens and over every living thing that
moves on the earth.”

– GENESIS 1:26-28

Packed in Genesis 1:26-28 is affirmation of our uniqueness as human beings made in the image of God. As this affirmation is made, our human task is given. The task is referred to in theological terms as the cultural mandate. This mandate escapes the notice of many Christians, yet it is a crucial truth that helps make sense of our lives. The mandate tells us that the Lord has given us a purpose to develop the earth further. Albert M. Wolters sums the cultural mandate, writing, “the human race will fill the earth with its own kind, and it will form the earth for its own kind. From now on the development of the created earth will be societal and cultural in nature.”(1) In other words, God has mandated that humankind develop the earth so that it is a civilized place in which to live, play, raise a family, engage in commerce, work, and the list could go on.


Forming a civilized world or civilization is facilitated by the advent of tools like the spoken and written word, the printing press, computers, axes, hammers, mixers, cappuccino machines, bulldozers, the Internet, washers, dryers, automobiles, ink pens, paper, laptops, and airplanes. In short, fulfilling the cultural mandate implies inventing and employing technology. Mankind has certainly invented and employed technology in abundance and we benefit greatly from technology every day. Technology has allowed us to live happier and more productive lives. In other words, technology has been our “friend.” Personally, technology has been my friend. For fifteen years I worked as an electrical engineer and helped develop technology that accomplished amazing things. The team I worked with created tools such as laser-enabled, night-vision devices and equipment that allowed aircraft pilots to monitor ground-level conditions. Technology is our friend every day. Think of how:

• X-ray technology helps maintain safer borders;
• Lasers correct failing vision;
• Grocery store scanners get us out of a store in less time;
• ATM machines give cash 24 hours a day;
• Pacemakers, artificial limbs, and cochlear implants correct disabilities and save human lives;
• The Internet makes way for worldwide communication and commerce like never before;
• The automobile widens our geographical options for work, school, and play;
• Telephones and cell phones give us instant and sometime critical communication.

Without question we have all benefited from technology. Advances in the medical, communication, transportation, entertainment, and information fields are staggering and just plain mind-boggling. However, because sin has entered the world, everything is affected, not only human beings, but also the technology humans create. Often we view technology in terms of its benefits, which are many, but in order to be discerning people we must also ask if there is a cost associated with the technology that is so involved in our lives. Just as technology is our friend, is it also our foe? Neil Postman writes, “A new technology does not add or subtract something. It changes everything” [italics added].(2) In other words, technology is not neutral. There is a cost associated with its use. Postman goes on to write, “[technology] attacks the culture” and seeks “…to become the culture.”(3) Postman argues that culture as we know it is fighting for its very existence because of technology. Technology is changing our reality. In many ways, our reality is not defined by our Christian worldview, but rather by the worldview of technology and its virtues: productivity, speed, efficiency, and convenience. Technology is changing or re-defining our reality in at least three key relationships: first, how we relate to ourselves, second, how to we relate to mankind, and third, how we relate to God.

Man Separated from Himself
First, technology has led to man being separated from himself. In other words, man is separated from what it means to be made in the image of God. To be made in the image of God means, among other things, that we are thinking, engaging, hands-on, reasoning, working moral agents. But technology has attacked this facet of what it means to be human. With the advent of some technologies, man is separated from his own dignity and image.

Man’s dignity and self-image suffers because technology has “graduated” the likes of typesetters, technicians, students, and aircraft pilots to mere button pushers and machine tenders. For example, in many automotive factories, instead of hands-on operation, men and women have become sitting observers of robots or computer screens. Sensory motor skills, acquired over decades, are being lost through atrophy.

Consider the clerk at your local grocery store who scans your food across a laser. The computer system does all the work for him or her. The system keeps track of inventory. The system identifies the product and totals the grocery bill. What is the cost of such convenience? Andy Crouch writes, “technology has given us…devices in abundance, inconspicuous black boxes that replace things that [once] demanded skills…” [italics added].(4)

In other words, the cost of using a computerized cash register/laser scanner system is that the grocery clerk’s mathematics skills get duller and duller. When our machines think and do for us – what do we gain? What do we lose? Who has dominion?

Man Separated from Mankind
Second, technology has led to man being separated from mankind. That is, technology makes it possible to have less and less contact with society. Some technologies have replaced the personal man-to-man interface with the impersonal man-to-machine interface. Again Andy Crouch writes, “technology has given us…devices in abundance, inconspicuous black boxes that replace things that demanded skills and [once] shaped relationships” [italics added].(5)

Consider this example. A St. Louis-area youth pastor says that with the advent of instant text messaging and e-mail, he is finding teenagers to be socially challenged. Why? Two factors of cyber-space communication inhibit meaningful and deep conversation. One factor is the short choppy style of communication that depends on abbreviations more than well-constructed sentences. (If you are going to BBL (6) and you think GMTA (7) [IMHO](8), you know what I am talking about.) Another factor is the lack of actual listening that happens in such communication. One cannot listen while “dialoguing” with a friend in cyberspace. Quentin Schultze writes, “…all good human communication still starts with listening.”(9) How can one “listen” in cyberspace or when sending messages back and forth via the cell phone? In our already socially fragmented world, the idea of socially challenged teenagers troubles me.

The man-to-man separation is also related to economics. Not every person or family can afford technology. Neil Postman writes, “…the benefits and deficits of a new technology are not distributed equally. There are, as it were, winners and losers.”(10) Social scientists have called this phenomenon of winners and losers the “digital divide.” The poor may be interested in technology, but necessities for living – shelter, food, and clothing – trump this interest. This is not only true for the poor in the United States. Entire countries lag behind in modern development. For instance in the Arab world, “there are 18 computers per 1000 people compared with a global average of 78.3 [computers per 1000 people]. Fewer than two percent of Arabs have access to the Internet. The reasons? Widespread poverty, low literacy rates and inferior phone lines.”(11)

Some segments of our society just do not speak the language of e-mail, megabytes, CD ROM, RAM, and zip files – this is especially true among the elderly. The poor, the elderly, and those in undeveloped countries are alienated and isolated from the world of costly technology that so many of us take for granted.

A church staff should never assume a newsletter sent by e-mail will be received by everyone in the congregation. Wilbert Shenk warns, “we the church must reflect on the nature of modern culture and its impact on human beings – both individually and collectively.”(12) The church would be foolish to apply or appropriate a technology without first assessing the pros and cons regarding its use. Shenk goes on to write, “… technology seems to offer many opportunities for an expanded…means of witness. But all technology is based on technique. Scholars have demonstrated that technique results in alienation. If the church relies on technique to carry out its witness, what is to guarantee that it will not result in alienation?”(13)

Man Separated from God
Third, technology has led to man being separated from God. Technology can seduce us into believing that we are in control because we are fast, efficient, and productive. We are able to make our lives “fuss” free. A worldview defined by technology leaves little to no room for God’s providence in our lives. Who needs God if we are able to control and orchestrate our own lives? How do we address the serious problems of our technological day? Neil Postman writes, “the computer argues… that the most serious problems confronting us at both personal and public levels require technical solutions through fast access to information otherwise unavailable.”(14) As Christians, do we see reality through the lens of technology or through the lens of Scripture?

Do we see answers to the problems confronting us at both personal and public levels through the lens of technology or through the lens of Scripture? Do we expect God to be fast, efficient, and practical without a great sacrifice or fuss on our part? Is God, like technology, viewed as just another technique to try? For example, can technology lull us to believe that prayer is an option? A friend of mine attended a church leadership retreat. The senior pastor reviewed the previous year and talked about his vision for the future. The retreat started at 8:00 a.m. and ended at 4:00 p.m. Much to my surprise, my friend informed me that they spent a grand total of thirty minutes in prayer. He later wrote on his survey that the church leadership needs to spend the bulk of the time in prayer for this awesome Kingdom work. Is this unique to my friend’s church? I suspect it is not. Is this because prayer is seen as just another ‘tool’ in our ‘technocratic tool box?’ Has your view of God changed in our technocratic age?

So what is the Christian response to technology?

Consider the following ways to respond:

1. Praise God. If you are reading this work, sitting in an air-conditioned or cozy heated room, and you have a clock to tell what time it is, you are a beneficiary of technology. Praise God for technology – it is a good gift!

2. Pray. Pray for discernment for the appropriate use of technology.

3. Use technology in moderation. Learn to take sabbaticals from technology, otherwise technology can become our ‘master.’

4. Technology for man, not man for technology. The Apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 6:12 “…I will not be enslaved by anything.” We must be careful that technology is not enslaving us. For instance, remember “e” in e-mail does not mean emergency but rather electronic.

5. Weigh the pros/cons of using technology. For example:
– When is it better to make a phone call versus sending e-mail? This especially applies in conflict. Are you saying in an e-mail what you do not have the courage to say face to face?
– Do you seek to be known or be anonymous through the use of technology?
– When you use technology to save time, do you then use that saved time to step out and engage in relationship or to become busier and busier?
– Are you becoming weaker either physically or mentally because technology is doing work for you? If so, what can you do to exercise the mind and body God gave you?

6. Be human. We live in a culture where “listening and speaking have become of secondary importance.”(15) But part of being made in God’s image is being personal and relational as we work together to develop creation. Is your use of technology hindering the relational side of you? Jesus was personal and relational. Let’s imitate Him in our technocratic age.

Luke Bobo


Footnotes:
1. Wolters, Albert M., Creation Regained,(Grand Rapids, IL: Eerdmans Publishing, 1997), 36.
2. Postman, Neil, Technology: The Surrender of Culture to Technology, (New York, NY: Vinage Books, 1992), 18.
3. Ibid, 28.
4. Crouch, Andy, “Rekindling Old Fires,” Christianity Today, August 5, 2002, 56.
5. Ibid, 56.
6. Be back later
7. Great minds think alike
8. In my humble opinion
9. Schultze, Quentin J., “Technology and Moral Turmoil: Virtue, Democracy, and Faith in the Information Age,” The Witherspoon Fellowship Lectures, April 11, 2003, 8-9.
10. Postman, 9.
11. Bahrani, Yasmine,“Internet Will Help Open Up Arab World,” USA Today, Friday, Nov 14, 2003.
12. Shenk, Wilbert, Changing Frontiers of Mission, (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1999), 136.
13. Ibid, 136.
14. Postman, 119.
15. Burke, James and Ornstein, Robert, The Axemaker’s Gift: Technology’s Capture and Control of Our Minds and Culture, (Penguin Putnam Inc.,1997), 307-08.