In his landmark book, Technology and the Contemporary Life, Albert Borgmann 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.
But how do we do that? How do we determine our values and then attempt to use technological tools in light of those values?
Let me suggest a decision-making framework based on five steps for assessing and applying technology.
When considering the use of any technology, Christians should be LEDERs, meaning they should:
- Learn broadly
- Evaluate biblically
- Discuss communally
- Engage skeptically
- Revisit regularly
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.
Too often we make assumptions about technology because of our personal views, which lead us to make uninformed decisions that are either isolationist or overly accepting, neither of which is healthy.
Christians should be learning broadly about the technological trends shaping the world around us, or else the world will shape us without our knowing.
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 values (called “commandments”) written in stone to reflect their never-changing nature (see Exodus 20).
So while the Bible is seemingly silent on virtual reality or artificial intelligence, it is not silent on technology, values, morality, and identity.
As we have seen, technology brings with it morals and values of its own. The Christian’s job is to see where there are areas of overlap or incongruence, and then act accordingly.
John Dyer sums this up well:
“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 when 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 loving, sacrificial, and social community.
When it comes to evaluating technology, that community can be a source of wisdom, insight, and discernment that proves invaluable 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, and especially within the context of one’s own family.
Technology is too complicated and its implications are 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.
Step 4: Engage Skeptically
Once a Christian has learned broadly about a technology, evaluated it biblically, and discussed it within their community, they should have the information needed to determine how, when, and how often they will engage with it.
Regardless of what conclusion is arrived at, it would be wise to engage with the technology in question 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. John 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, or give themselves over to, technology, because they know its natural bent.
They should engage it skeptically, asking questions along the way about its effects on themselves, their families, their community, and their society.
This does not mean one cannot find true joy in using technology, but that one should be wise about its uses and effects.
Step 5: Revisit Regularly
The last step in applying technology to the life of a Christian is to revisit its use regularly.
If steps one through four above were followed, one 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 adopt 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 this out is by limiting or abstaining from the use of the technology for a time. Removal of the device or tool will highlight the value assigned to it.
Using some sort of framework, whether the LEDER framework I’m suggesting or some other system, can help us from being blown about by cultural winds. Each technological tool has values that may work against those encouraged in the Bible.
There may be healthy and helpful ways to engage technology without compromising our values, but without thinking through our relationship with these tools, we will find we are compromising our values as a result of unhealthy and unhelpful relationships with the technology of our day.