How the Apostles Wrestled with Technology

The Bible is not silent on evaluating issues of technology. There are five passages that speak reference face-to-face communication.

One of the more powerful urges of the digital age is to do what is easiest when it comes to exchanging information with others. Whether it’s simply news that you cannot make it to dinner or that you no longer want to date your significant other, we are tempted to use the mode of communication with the least amount of friction or discomfort, like texting or email.

The Apostles faced a similar temptation, albeit from a different medium.

New Testament Technology

They had access to a new technology which allowed them to communicate with groups of people they had loose connections to but lived miles and miles apart from.

It was called letter writing.

Letter writing is old news today, of course, but it was an amazing technological innovation in that day. John and Paul, two pillars of the early Church, actually wrestled with when to write letters and when to meet face to face with the people they ministered to. Let’s look at each of these passages.

2 John 12

At the end of John’s second letter he writes,

“Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink. Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete” (2 John 12).

John is aware that letter writing, though potentially useful and profitable, has its drawbacks. So he expresses a preference for embodied, face-to-face communication over writing a letter.

David Mathis, executive editor of Desiring God, writes, “John is not angling to erode our appreciation for paper and ink (or pixels), but he is celebrating the priority and vitality of relating face to face.” John even says that meeting in person with those he ministered to would lead himself and those he met with to a place where their joy would be complete, a benefit readers are left to assume is not capable of happening to the same degree through technology.

You’ve said similar things before. When you really need to talk about something sensitive or want to spend time with someone close, you want to do so in person. If you really want to learn something, you find someone to show you in person.

John’s third letter finds him wrestling with similar things.

3 John 13–14

At the end of his third letter, John wants to continue writing down his thoughts and instructions, but wonders if it would be better to visit his audience in person. He decides on meeting in the flesh:

“I had much to write to you, but I would rather not write with pen and ink. I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face” (3 John 13–14).

While John reiterates his preference for embodied, in-person communication, he still clearly saw value in communicating through the medium of letter writing, otherwise, he wouldn’t have written them.

When he’s prevented from being with the church he wishes to join in person, the Holy Spirit worked through the circumstances and the letter. “So,” writes John Dyer, “fully aware of the strengths and weaknesses of the new technology of writing, John makes a calculated choice to use a disembodied form of communication in service of the embodied life of the church, and in doing so he honors our Lord and builds up his body.”

Now let’s look at some of Paul’s writings.

1 Thessalonians 2:17

Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonian church traces a similar theme as John’s letters. Paul writes,

“But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, because we wanted to come to you — I, Paul, again and again — but Satan hindered us. For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy” (1 Thess. 2:17–20).

Just like John, Paul longs to see the people of the church face to face, for somehow his joy would be increased by being in the same place at the same time.

At the same time, one can sense Paul’s heartfelt and genuine longing to see his brothers and sisters in Christ in the flesh.

He has resorted to letter writing to keep communication going, but he prefers to be present with them if at all possible.

This sentiment is most apparent in Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians.

1 Thessalonians 3:10

Paul could pray and write letters remotely — and he often did — but he stilled prayed “most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith” (1 Thess 3:10 ESV).

David Mathis notes Paul’s disposition, writing,

“For Paul, writing letters presented an opportunity for fruitful ministry, and seeing his people face to face represented even more fruitful ministry. Similarly, with the many churches he planted, he knew he could only do so much from a distance. Letters could be misunderstood, and recipients could get the wrong impression.”

Both John and Paul’s comments suggest there would be something lacking if they could not meet with those they ministered to in person; that something would be lacking without the embodied experience of being present in the same place at the same time.

Hebrews 10:24–25

Though it doesn’t mention the term “face to face” explicitly, Hebrews 10:24–25 stresses the importance of in-person communication and gathering for the purpose of building up the body of Christ:

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

This text makes it clear that there will always be some who forsake the physical gathering of the saints, but this should not be so, for in the gathering of the people of God there is room for encouragement, building up one another, and urging each other to keep doing good works and pushing the mission forward.

Deciding How to Use Technology in Ministry

Can these things be done remotely? Yes—to a degree.

But according to John, and Paul, we should be striving to spend the majority of our time ministering to people in the flesh. And when we do need to resort to digital communication, it should be for the express purpose of building up the body in love, in service of people with whom we have in-person relationships with.

Face-to-face interactions are part of incarnational life, or bearing the image of God in the world He entrusted to us. And what does bearing that image look like in a technological world?

This brings us to a framework for assessing and applying technology, which I’ll cover in my next post.

Technology in the Cultural Mandate and the Coming Kingdom

Having discussed the good, the bad, and the ugly of technology, now it’s time to consider what the Bible says on the topic.

Technology and the Cultural Mandate

The first biblical consideration is the “cultural mandate” of Genesis 1:28, where God tells the newly created man and woman,

“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.”

Remarking on this passage, Nancy Pearcey writes,

In Genesis, God gives what we might call the first job description: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.” The first phrase, “be fruitful and multiply” means to develop the social world: build families, churches, schools, cities, governments, laws. The second phrase, “subdue the earth,” means to harness the natural world: plant crops, build bridges, design computers, compose music.[1]

Genesis 2 expands that job description, stating, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (Gen 2:15).

So God created man and woman to “subdue” the earth and “to work it and keep it.” In other words, God created man and woman to make something of the earth.

God created something that was good (creation), then commissioned humans to make it better. To take what was given them and shape it into something better. Subduing the earth implies the use of tools (or technology), for without tools we would be incapable of subduing the wildness of all that God created. Technology is inevitable if humankind is going to rule over that creation like God intended.

Technology is implied in the cultural mandate and in the coming Kingdom.

Technology and the Coming Kingdom

If you fast-forward to the end of the Bible, you see the New Heavens and the New Earth coming together in its most potent form in the New Jerusalem. It’s hard to imagine the New Jerusalem being possible without technology. Consider this from Revelation 21:

Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal

. . . . The wall was built of jasper, while the city was pure gold, like clear glass. The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with every kind of jewel. The first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst. And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass (Rev 21:9–11, 18-21 ESV).

John, the author of these words, is struggling to make any connections to real-life materials in order to explain the visions he experienced. He’s seeing the New Jerusalem, the city where Jesus will reign for all of eternity, which is part of the New Heavens and the New Earth. The Bible describes the coming together of heaven and earth as a physical reality that resurrected sons and saughters of God will enjoy.

So what John is seeing is not some ethereal, spiritualized conception of reality—it is reality. And that reality would not be possible without some form of advanced technology.

From the Garden to the City

Civilization started in a garden, but it will end in a city. The New Jerusalem is what God intended for humans to accomplish from the beginning. When God put Adam and Eve in the garden and told them to make something of it, surely this is what He had in mind.

The transformation from garden to city does not happen without technology, so the impetus for humans to create technology is inherent in our design. After all, humans are made in the image of a creator God.

John’s vision of the New Jerusalem goes beyond showing us that technology is part of God’s design, however. John Dyer writes,

“The promise of this new city tells us that God’s plan is not merely to regenerate human bodies and resurrect human souls but also to restore human creations to a world untainted by sin. . . . In the new city there will be no more sadness, pain, or death, only everlasting joy and glory to God.”[2]

What’s seen in Revelation is a vision of a redeemed technological city and people which bring glory to the God who created them and made everything possible.

Next, we’ll look at how the New Testament authors wrestled with the embodied technology of their day.


[1] Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2004), 47.

[2] Dyer, From the Garden to the City, 138.

The Good Kind of Fear

A friend of mine did time in the ’80s. He was awaiting his transfer from a county jail to prison when an older man he admired said to him, “You’re about to go to prison. If you want to survive, you’re going to have to earn respect. Here’s how you earn it: be honest, work hard, and never complain. If you do that, you can earn respect.”

While he was incarcerated, my friend did exactly what the man said. Before long, he was earning respect from others. But he still had insecurities.

In fact, the more my friend worked at being respected, the more he worried about what everyone thought of him. Would he make a mistake that ruined the respect others had for him? Would he become a target? Worrying about these things filled his days with anxiety.

Respect is often based on fear. If you’re a fan of a professional football team that isn’t the Patriots, you respect Tom Brady when your team is down by three, there are only two minutes left, and the Patriots have the ball. Even if you don’t like the Patriots, you respect their ability to dominate on the field.

More seriously, there may be people on your unit that no one messes with, not because they are well-liked, but because they know how to intimidate—or worse.

But is that the only way to do time? Watching your back and earning or showing respect based out of fear?

Respecting God—a Healthy Fear

The Bible tells us there’s a better way. Matthew 10:28 says, “Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”

So, are you just supposed to cower before God instead, hoping a lightning bolt isn’t headed your way?

No. The Bible talks about different kinds of fear. There’s the kind you usually think of—the fear you experience when a threatening person or situation confronts you. It’s fear that makes you comply with someone’s demands to avoid getting hurt. The Bible says that God’s perfect love, demonstrated through His Son Jesus, casts out that kind of terror.

But there’s another kind of fear—the loving, respectful fear that a child has for a good, loving, and committed parent. A child who loves and respects his parent wants to do everything he can to please him or her. He fears the consequences of disobeying his parent—not because he fears the punishment, but because he doesn’t want to disappoint or hurt the most important person in his world.

When the Bible talks about fearing God, it’s referring to this loving type of fear—fear rooted in respect and love for God the Father.  So, a man with a healthy fear of God is not terrified of Him. He understands that while God can destroy the body and soul, He doesn’t want to. In fact, God “wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).

Respect is Earned, Grace is Given

The truth is that God is full of grace. He loves you so much that He sent His Son, Jesus, who willingly sacrificed Himself and died for everything you’ve ever done wrong. All He asks in return is that you put your faith in Him.

In our world, gaining someone’s respect can come at a cost, and often takes effort. But God’s grace does not need to be earned—it’s free and available to all who believe in Jesus.

My friend spent eight years behind bars worried about what others thought of him. And his stress didn’t end with his sentence. After several years struggling to earn the respect of people on the outside, he found himself back in prison for four more years.

But during his second sentence, my friend decided to fear God instead of people. He decided to accept God’s gift of grace, and let that relationship determine his values and actions. He spent those four years at peace with himself and his fellow prisoners.

What if you did the same? What if, instead of fearing other people and their opinion of you, you were unconditionally loved and accepted by an all-powerful God?

Being respected and respecting others is important, but as my friend learned through his anxieties, you will never find peace by focusing only on the respect of others. True peace comes from the Lord.

If you fearfully respect God and accept the never-ending grace He freely offers, you’ll find what you’ve been searching for all along.


This article originally appeared on Prison Fellowship’s blog.

Technology is Not Neutral

Most people think technology is neutral and can good or bad, depending on how you use it.

That would be true if forms of technology were value-less, or didn’t come with their own inherent set of values.

But they do.

Technology is not neutral. I repeat, technology is NOT neutral.

Why Technology is Not Neutral

Tristan Harris, a former design ethicist at Google, says in an interview[1] that social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are, indeed, not neutral.

Many people assume these platforms are neutral and believe their experience is based on how they choose to use them. But that understanding misses the reality that each of these companies has thousands of “attention engineers” working to distract its users away from whatever they are doing, and then keep their attention as long as they can.

Harris explained that the theories behind how they engineer their products are coming from the casino industry — an industry notorious for its manipulation of consumers. His comments from one an essay are worth quoting at length:

If you’re an app, how do you keep people hooked? Turn yourself into a slot machine.

The average person checks their phone 150 times a day. Why do we do this? Are we making 150 conscious choices?

How often do you check your email per day?

One major reason why is the number one psychological ingredient in slot machines: intermittent variable rewards.

If you want to maximize addictiveness, all tech designers need to do is link a user’s action (like pulling a lever) with a variable reward. You pull a lever and immediately receive either an enticing reward (a match, a prize!) or nothing. Addictiveness is maximized when the rate of reward is most variable.

Does this effect really work on people? Yes. Slot machines make more money in the United States than baseball, movies, and theme parks combined.

… But here’s the unfortunate truth — several billion people have a slot machine their pocket:

  • When we pull our phone out of our pocket, we’re playing a slot machine to see what notifications we got.
  • When we pull to refresh our email, we’re playing a slot machine to see what new email we got.
  • When we swipe down our finger to scroll the Instagram feed, we’re playing a slot machine to see what photo comes next.
  • When we swipe faces left/right on dating apps like Tinder, we’re playing a slot machine to see if we got a match.
  • When we tap the # of red notifications, we’re playing a slot machine to what’s underneath.

Apps and websites sprinkle intermittent variable rewards all over their products because it’s good for business.

Technology is not neutral; it’s designed to get your attention, whether intentionally or not. And that’s because technology has values.

Technology Has Values

Since most people today think technology is neutral and its moral value is found in its uses, they miss something crucial to understand about technology — it comes with its own values.

Technology is not built in a moral vacuum. A technology’s design imbues it with a set of morals which are then inherent to its use.

John Dyer uses the example of iTunes and the music industry to illustrate how technology has inherent values:

In previous decades, music was recorded on and sold by physical means — vinyl, cassettes, CDs.

In the years since iTunes was released, the music industry has shifted almost entirely to a digital (non-physical) medium of distribution, giving birth to a world where small bands could be known around the world, where consumers buy less music, artists get paid less per song, and many brick-and-mortar stores and businesses have gone bankrupt.

These changes happened because iTunes values quick, easy, and cheap access to music.

While these values may be neutral in and of themselves, iTunes is certainly responsible for positive and negative changes in the world of music.[2]

Another example Dyer gives is cell phones. Originally, people began buying cell phones for safety reasons; they wanted to be able to call someone in need of an emergency.

“We bought our phones,” says Dyer, “because we valued solving one problem (safety) without realizing that the phone also brings with it the value of constant connection.”[3]

Because we didn’t recognize that value of constant connection, we now live in a world where our phones beckon our attention away from whatever is in front of us around the clock.

Yes, anything we could want to know is available all at once, but to have that possibility required us to give up the ability to be fully present.

Technology is not neutral because each form of technology comes with its own set of values — values you may or may not share.


[1] https://samharris.org/podcasts/what-is-technology-doing-to-us/

[2] Dyer, From the Garden to the City, 88 –89.

[3] Ibid., 95.

How to Calm and Quiet Your Soul

I careened into the driveway and slammed the engine into park. My breathing was shallow and quick. I was hot and sweaty and felt like the car was closing in on me.

I flung open the door and hung my legs out, hunching over on my knees. What is happening to me? I wondered. I re-traced my day, realizing I had lost myself in a mental spiral about my career. I knew I would soon be looking for another job, though I didn’t know what kind, if I would have to move my family, or what that would even look like.

Fortunately, I was seeing a counselor around that time. I told her what happened, and she asked about my prayer life. “Huh?” I said, confused. “Your prayer life. How is it?” she replied.

Ugh, I thought, knowing it was basically non-existent. “It’s not very good,” I told her.

As we talked, I realized that as my anxiety increased, my prayer decreased. As my inner world became noisier, I filled the prayer space with podcasts, music, and audiobooks—anything to keep me from dealing with my thoughts.

And it was ruining me.

Read the rest of my article at Gospel-Centered Discipleship