Since the dawn of man, life has continued to increase in complexity at a more rapid pace. Each societal, cultural, and technological change requires wisdom for how to navigate the new, more complex world. Complexity requires wisdom.
We used to have decades, or even centuries, to develop a base of wisdom through living and thinking deeply. But that world no longer exists.
Remarking on this in the preface to his book The Tech-Wise Family, Andy Crouch writes, “the pace of technological change has surpassed anyone’s capacity to develop enough wisdom to handle it.” His point is that technological change is coming much faster than we’re able to develop wisdom about how to assess and apply it to our lives.
Fortunately, believers like Crouch, John Dyer, Tony Reinke, and Albert Borgmann, among others, have laid the groundwork for us to begin developing wisdom about the technology we’re surrounded by.
Based on my survey of Christian and secular literature on the topic of technology and how it’s affecting us, I suggest five steps for assessing and applying it to our lives, which can be summarized with the acrostic LEDER:
- Learn broadly
- Evaluate biblically
- Discuss communally
- Engage skeptically
- Revisit regularly
I’ll walk through each of these in more detail below.
Step 1: Learn broadly
When beginning to think through any form or application of technology, the first step is to learn broadly. To learn broadly about a subject is to study it generally and widely. This means Christians should be well-informed about new and old forms of technology.
Learning broadly can help keep us from jumping to incorrect conclusions or beginning with false assumptions. For instance, many Christians make assumptions about technology because of their personal views. When they do this, they make uninformed decisions that are either isolationist (no tech at all) or overly accepting (no tech is bad)—neither of which is healthy.
What, then, should Christians be aware of when learning broadly about a form of technology?
We cannot think well about technology without understanding its purpose, use, values, and tradeoffs. If understood, these four areas will give one a broad enough knowledge of the subject, leaving them well-informed to make decisions. (For more on these four areas, read this.)
In his seminal book Technology and the Contemporary Life, Albert Borgmann, a Catholic philosopher doing great thinking on the subject, suggests that instead of living our lives according to the values of new technology, people should determine their values first and attempt to use their tools in service of those values.
This should be what Christians are after—to use technology in the service of their values. But to do so, we will have to learn broadly about the tools and devices of our day.
After you’ve learned broadly about technology, step two is to then biblically evaluate a specific form or application.
Step 2: Evaluate biblically
As believers in the God of the Bible, Christians must submit all of their thinking and behavior to that described in the Bible. This means returning again and again to the Scriptures to see what Christian doctrine teaches us about our identity and values.
The Bible has much to say about who Christians are supposed to be and what is supposed to mark them, from compassion for the poor to those who hold marriage to be sacred, and much, much more.
God is not silent on his values, either. Most notably, he handed down Ten Commandments written in stone to reflect their never-changing nature (Exodus 20). So while the Bible is seemingly silent on virtual reality or artificial intelligence, it is not silent on values, morality, and identity.
Technology brings with it its own morals and values that have the power to shape our identity. The Christian’s job is to see where there are areas of overlap or incongruence with their biblical worldview, then act accordingly.
John Dyer sums this up well:
“Our task as believers is to work against the tendencies built into our devices, and to in effect become a predator of the media in the ecosystem of our lives. . . . Christians who live God-honoring lives in the digital world are those who can discern the tendencies built into all technology and then decide when those tendencies are in line with godly values, and then those tendencies are damaging to the soul.”
Step 3: Discuss communally
God’s people were never meant to exist alone. They were always meant to live in a loving, sacrificial, and social community. When it comes to evaluating technology, that community can be a source of wisdom, insight, and discernment that proves valuable to a Christ-follower seeking to live faithfully in the digital age.
This can take the form of simple conversations with one’s small group or fellow believers, more formal conversations with pastors or denominational leaders, or trial and error within the context of one’s own family.
Technology is too complicated and its implications too broad to try and come to conclusions on our own. God’s people must consult the best of familial, ecclesial, denominational, and historical wisdom to help them navigate technological considerations. (John Dyer has rounded up a helpful list of resources on technology. His site Don’t Eat the Fruit is also worth following.)
Step 4: Engage skeptically
Once you’ve learned broadly about a technology, evaluated it biblically, and discussed it within your community, you should have the information needed to determine how, when, and how often you will engage with it. But regardless what conclusion you arrive at, it would be wise to engage the technology skeptically.
The reason for skepticism is because technology’s values are usually opposed to Christian values. While this does not always have to be the case, the reality is that humanity is sinful. Dyer explains,
“What the Scriptures call our ‘flesh’ is that part of us that is always bent towards self, at the expense of others and the exclusion of God. Our flesh, then, will always gravitate towards technology that favors the individual over the group.”
Just as Jesus did not entrust himself to men because he knew what was in their hearts (John 2:24), Christians should not entrust themselves to technology because they know its natural bent. We should engage it skeptically, asking questions along the way about how it affects us, including how it affects our family, community, and society.
This doesn’t mean we can’t find true joy in using technology but that we should be wise and realistic about its uses and effects.
Step 5: Revisit regularly
If steps one through four above were followed, you would have entered into (or continued) a relationship with a specific technology skeptically, questioning its use along the way. Such questioning should be revisited regularly.
Once you’ve adopted a technology, you have ample experience to reflect on its positive and negative effects. For example, you can reflect on how it has affected you emotionally, mentally, relationally, physically, and spiritually.
One way to help sort out a technology’s effect is by limiting or abstaining from the use of it for a time. Removal of the device or tool will highlight the value assigned to it. A healthy way to start is by building a practice of Sabbath into your life, resting from work and technology.
If you follow the five steps of LEDER (learn broadly, evaluate biblically, discuss communally, engage skeptically, and revisit regularly), you will no longer be driven and tossed in the wind by the powers-that-be in Silicon Valley.
As people of the Word, Christians should be LEDERs when it comes to discussing, innovating, and engaging with technology. But unless we do so with wisdom, we’re bound to create idols which work against our values.