How Christians Use Technology
Passage: Genesis 1:26–2:3
This morning we are going to talk about technology. But the difficulty in talking about technology to a large group of mixed ages is that your relationship with technology changes with when you were born. You see, they call me a millennial. But I’ve never really felt at home with that descriptor. I prefer to say that I am part of the Oregon Trail generation. This is an idea I stole from an article I read on facebook a couple years ago that described folks like me who grew up with technology, but not like our peers who are four or five years older than us. My first experience with technology was not a home computer or a number of computers in my classroom, it was in going to a computer lab. And putting in a floppy disk. And playing a version of the Oregon trail that had horrendous graphics and you could shoot in one of the four cardinal directions.So for us, technology was something that has always existed, but we first learned that they were things you went to a place to access for a specific purpose. Just like we would go to music class where the musical instruments were stored and would play them there, we would have computer lab time where we would go to the place where computers were stored and use them there. That is radically different from children who first encountered technology as a regular part of their home classroom.
Which brings us meanderingly to our introductory point. How we first interact with technology shapes and forms how we view technology for much of our lives. For those that didn’t grow up with technology, with computers and screens, constantly existing, the disposition towards technology is something foreign that needs to be learned. Our children that are growing up with technology, with hand held screens, as a part of everyday life have vastly different attitudes towards new technology. The studies and literature written digital immigrants vs digital natives could have its own section in libraries.
These varying attitudes and basic dispositions towards technology, as well as the speed by which the digital world changes, have left me wondering whether or not we have traded wisdom for knowledge. With a smart phone we have access to any information we could ever need. Every six months there’s a new app or program to master for our jobs. And yet, do we have the wisdom to discern how best to engage with the digital world? Do we have the wisdom to discern how best to introduce our children to this world?
When Christians seek wisdom we often turn to Scripture. But the authors of Scripture could not have imagined smartphones and tablets. We at least not what we mean by tablets. So reading Scripture for explicit teaching and direction on when to let your child have a cell phone will leave you disappointed. And we are left wondering how Christians ought to use technology.
Scripture however does provide us the tools we need to gain the wisdom needed to confront the increasingly daunting challenge of the digital age. To do this we will need to look at principles that govern the Bible and imagine how they could apply to the world of technology. To do this, we will make use of the work Andy Crouch has already done in his book The Tech-Wise Family.
But first let’s chart our course through Scripture. And we are going to start in the very beginning to when God created the heavens and the earth. Technology at its heart is pure creation. To gain wisdom we need to look at how God interacted with creation and how God created.
In the first chapter of Genesis we get a particular story about how God created the heavens and the earth. And there’s this rhythm that we see each day. God creates light and then separates the light from the darkness. God creates a firmament in order to separate the waters above from the waters below. God separates the waters below to allow land to appear. God creates lights in the sky to separate light from day. In the early days of creation God creates and separates. Light has its proper place, as does darkness. Waters above have their proper place as do waters below. Land has its proper place as does sea. Day has its proper place as does night.
The lesson we learn fro this is that all things have their proper place. And this is the axiom with which Crouch begins his book. And it follows that if all things have a proper place there is a proper place for technology. Which also means that there are places that are meant to be separate from technology. Which itself is anathema to what we hear about technology from the companies that sell technology.
When the smartphone first came out it was this beautiful, miraculous device that would allow you to do all things all the time. You can take email, the internet, word documents, spreadsheets, everything with you wherever you go. Instead of letting email pile up over the weekend or overnight you can keep tabs on it all the time. Not get all the data entry you needed to complete done during the day? No problem. Put the spreadsheet on the cloud and access it from your smartphone at home! One cell phone company even went so far as use as their tag line “Get more done.” And we have bought this mantra and have let technology become as central to our lives as breathing. Can you imagine a bigger family crisis than the home wifi going out?
This has left us disconnected. If you’re available all the time to your coworkers and to your job, you’re never fully present to your family. We are digitally connected to thousands of people at all times, but that digital connection takes us further and further away from the people with whom we are supposed to feel the greatest connection. For instance, my wife used to coach track. And in her tenure as a coach she saw technology changing how her team bonded. The varsity team would take a couple overnight out of state trips a year. And in her first years of coaching, the trip up to Yale or New York City was a huge bonding time as teammates talked to one another, decided on communal music, etc. In her last years of coaching those long car trips were reduced to a van full of students each with their own set of earbuds in listening to their own music not saying a word to one another. The only place of bonding on those trips became the charging stations at the meet.
If this is happening in a high school track team, what is happening in our families?
The antidote for all this comes from putting technology in its proper place and comes from looking at what God does once he has finished creating, once he has finished acquiring all his technology, if you will.
Genesis 1:26-2:3 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so. God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day. Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.
We are going to work backwards a bit. We see at the end of this text that God had finished doing God’s work of creation. And instead of continuing to create, instead of continuing to make more and more, do more and more, instead of getting more done, God rests. God takes a day, God takes time, to rest from God’s labors.
Why this is important to us is found at the start of this text. We are created in the image of God. We are created to rule over creation, to use creation, to create ourselves. There’s a special feature in humans that allows for the type of discovery that can turn the electron into an electrical grid. That can turn the magnetic forces found in nature into metro rails. We have this creative potential and I think that stems from the image of God within us.
But if we have this creative potential because of the image of God within us, we need to take our cues from God as to the responsible way to use this. And the responsible way is to balance work and rest. The responsible way is to take Sabbath. The responsible way is to see the proper place of each thing and to be intentional about keeping things in their proper place.
Crouch highlights these Biblical principles as he puts forth 10 commitments that “Tech-Wise” families will make. Here’s the whole list and then we can go through them one by one.
The Ten Commitments of a Tech-Wise Family:
- We develop wisdom and courage together as a family.
- We want to create more than we consume. So we fill the center of our home with things that reward skill and active engagement.
- We are designed for a rhythm of work and rest. So one hour a day, one day a week, and one week a year, we turn off our devices and worship, feast, play, and rest together.
- We wake up before our devices do, and they “go to bed” before we do.
- We aim for “no screens before double digits” at school and at home.
- We use screens for a purpose, and we use them together, rather than using them aimlessly and alone.
- Car time is conversation time.
- Spouses have one another’s passwords, and parents have total access to children’s devices.
- We learn to sing together, rather than letting recorded and amplified music take over our lives and worship.
- We show up in person for the big events of life. We learn how to be human by being fully present at our moments of greatest vulnerability. We hope to die in one another’s arms.
We develop wisdom and courage together as a family.
This is the hinge on which Crouch’s argument turns. This is the most philosophical of Crouch’s commitments but it’s also perhaps the most important. Because what will follow will be hard, counter-cultural intentional choices his family has made and recommends your family make in the use of technology. And in order to get on board with all of those counter-cultural choices, and the complaining from children that will follow, you need to be on board with why you are making these choices. And you’re making these choices because of this commitment: we want to develop wisdom and courage together as a family.
How this relates to technology is pretty simple. Technology disconnects us from those physically closest to us. Right now instead of listening to me you could be interacting with thousands of people on social media. Instead of being physically in a worship service you can listen to Christian music on Spotify and sermons on podcasts many by preachers far better and wiser than me. Technology allows us to replace physical connection with digital ones. But digital connections are mere facsimiles of real embodied human relationships.
When it comes to our families, we can seemingly replace the connection and relationship we are meant to have with our parents, our siblings, our children with others. Our kids can reach out to their friends for advice 24/7 instead of learning virtues from their parents. And what’s more, technology has replaced a number of skills and arts children used to see their parents have mastery in and perform. Oftentimes my work looks a lot like a high school kids homework: typing into a computer. Meals can be “prepared” by taps on an app or putting something frozen into the microwave.
Crouch writes, “One of the most damaging results [of technology]…is that children never see their parents acting with wisdom and courage in the world of work….When the art of cooking is replaced by meals warmed up in a microwave—something a five year old can do as well as a fifty-five year old—then children no longer see their mothers and fathers doing something challenging, fruitful, admirable, and ultimately enjoyable. Instead, the family life together is reduced to mere consumption, purchasing the resulted of others’ work or toil.” The antidote to that is to intentionally develop wisdom and courage as a family. But that requires making others intentional choices as it pertains to technology.
We want to create more than we consume. So we fill the center of our home with things that reward skill and active engagement.
The way we orient space can make it easier or much more difficult to make the good choices we want to make. Crouch argues that if we have a tv in our main room, more often than not we will use it. The things that are around us most of the time are the things that get the most use. So if you want to develop wisdom and character, if you want to have a family based on real connection, surround the spaces that you spend the bulk of your time in with things that foster real connection. Books. Puzzles. Games. Arts and crafts. Push the screens to the edges where you have to make an intentional choice and exert real effort to use them.
We are designed for a rhythm of work and rest. So one hour a day, one day a week, and one week a year, we turn off our devices and worship, feast, play, and rest together.
We talked about this earlier: we are called to periods of Sabbath rest and renewal just as God engaged in Sabbath rest and renewal. How we orient our time reveals and reinforces what we value. If you intentionally put the screens away for an hour to have dinner with your family, it reveals and reinforces that your highest value if your family. If one day a week you go without screens, you’ll find that one day is full of connection and conversation, creativity and wonder. Who here has gone on vacation only to check email and have your vacation ruined by that one email you never should have read to begin with? Take ownership over your time rather than letting time have ownership of you. Put the devices away and truly rest, for an hour, a day, a week, in God’s gift of creation and relationships.
We wake up before our devices do, and they “go to bed” before we do.
Now we begin the incredibly practical commitments. We need rest. We need to sleep. And yet our devices are designed to captivate us and keep our attention. If we are truly going to rest, if we are truly going to sleep, we have to intentionally take a break from our devices. So Crouch recommends putting your devices to bed in a place that is not where you go to bed so that the last things you do in the evening, the first things you do in the morning, and what’s in between can be technology free. This is especially important for children and teens who can and will be up all night on their devices choosing entertainment and digital connection over rest.
We aim for “no screens before double digits” at school and at home.
The Crouch family didn’t buy a tv until their youngest child was 10 years old. That is not a choice my family has made, we missed the boat on that one, and I’m not sure it’s one we would have made. I really like TV. But the overall point, and its one that I’ve learned in my brief time as a parent, is that technology is a lot like toothpaste in that you can’t put it back in the tube. Once you introduce technology to your children, it’s much harder to take it away. Introducing technology can be something we do without much reflection, but it needs to be as thoughtful a choice as when to introduce solid foods.
We use screens for a purpose, and we use them together, rather than using them aimlessly and alone.
This one if fairly straightforward. Especially with children, if you’re going to introduce and use technology, do it in a way that invites relationship with you rather than a way that disconnects from you. Oftentimes we give our children technology so we adults can get some peace and quiet. I'm guilty of that. But if we want the family to be the place where we develop courage and character together, technology has to bond us to one another.
Car time is conversation time.
Another one that’s straightforward, but is designed to turn a space where technology can distance us from one another to a space where we are connecting with one another. How many times do you pass a car on the road that has children in the back seat watching a DVD or teens in the back seat glued to their phones? Think about the relationship and connection and bonds that can be formed if every time you went for a drive you had a conversation together as a family? Having read this book, this is the commitment I became more intentional about in my own life.
Spouses have one another’s passwords, and parents have total access to children’s devices.
If my wife can’t look at anything and everything on my phone it’s because I must have something to hide. Simply put. Same goes for children. If you can’t look at anything and everything on your kid’s phone it’s because they must have something to hide. And in healthy relationships, we don’t have to hide things. Part of that is fostering open and transparent relationships with our spouse and our children. Part of that is manifesting that by saying I can know what’s on your phone.
We learn to sing together, rather than letting recorded and amplified music take over our lives and worship.
Music and communal singing used to be a regular part of communal life in our society. However, because of technology, we consign singing to only those that are experts. We do this in many other areas of life, however music is a prime example. I often joke that as an adult I play golf and I run because those are the only sports they let you do if you’re bad at them. But there are things we are meant to do as an expression of community and an expression of love that require skill even if we are not the most talented person in the world at them. And singing is one of them. Singing and music create bonds, they do something in our brains. But it only works if we sing together. If the family is a place where we learn courage and develop skill, we cannot outsource the primary places we can do that to Pandora. That’s why we sing here in worship. That’s why we keep kids in worship for the singing. So we can learn to sing together as a family and as a church, not outsourcing music to the uber-talented, but including all those who can make a joyful noise in our choir.
We show up in person for the big events of life. We learn how to be human by being fully present at our moments of greatest vulnerability. We hope to die in one another’s arms.
Technology can allow for myriad ways to forge digital connections or maintain connections in the digital space. But it will never replace real, embodied connection. Real, embodied connection can only be created and sustained through showing up, in person. I want to end this point and the sermon with he way Crouch ends the book. Because it gets at the heart of why physical connection is so important. Crouch says:
For one thing we can say for sure is that when we are at our body’s very limits, nothing but personal presence will do. A few years ago I had the great gift of being invited into the bedroom of my friend David Sacks, born in 1968 just like me but brought to the end of his live by cancer that, by the time it was discovered, had erupted throughout his body. After a glorious and grace-filled year of life made possible by medical treatment, David’s illness outran the drugs. In his last days he lay on his bed. The body that once had effortlessly beaten me in game after game of squash was now unbearably thin and weak. David was an internationally celebrated photographer, but he would never take another image. He had sent me countless text messages over the years—I never will have the heart to delete them from my phone—but now he was beyond text messaging. He has created a Facebook group where he and his wife, Angie, chronicled the story of his cancer diagnosis, treatment, and all the ups and downs that followed, but he would never again update it.
But he was still there, still with us, still able, just barely, to hear us praying and singing—able, in moments of lucidity, to open his eyes, take in the small group of family and friends gathered around his bed, and know he was not alone. His brother brought a guitar and we sang, several nights in a row, Matt Redman’s song “10,000 Reasons.”
The technology was over. The easy everywhere dream had ended. Now we could only be here, in our own vulnerable bodies, present to the immensely hard reality of a father, friend, son, and husband dying. Over the bed was a framed, calligraphed rendering of David and Angie’s wedding vows.
It was one of the hardest places I have ever been. It was one of the most holy places I have ever been. It was one of the best places I have ever been.
We are meant for this kind of life together: the kind of life that, at the end, is completely dependent upon one another; the kind of life that ultimately transcends, and does not need, the easy solutions of technology because it is caught up in something more true and more lasting than any alchemy our technological world can invent. We are meant to be family—not just marriages bound by vows and the children that come from them, but a wider family that invites others into our lives and even to the threshold of our very last breath, to experience vulnerability and grace, sorrow and hope, singing our way homeward. We are meant not just for thin, virtual connections but for visceral, real connections to one another in this fleeting, temporary, and infinitely beautiful and worthwhile life. We are meant to die in one another’s arms, surrounded by prayer and song, knowing beyond knowing that we are loved.
We are meant for so much more than technology can ever give us—above all, for the wisdom and courage that it will never give us. We are meant to spur one another along the way to a better life, the life that really is life.
Why not begin living that life, together, now?
Let us pray.