Deep Communion vs. Digital Communication

This is an excerpt of an article by Drew Hunter over at Crossway.

Modern technology is a great tool for keeping up certain aspects of our relationships. Writing emails, sending texts, scanning posts—all of these helpfully complement true companionship. But they cannot fully replace it. These are the shallow ends of relationships. We find these tools convenient, but then we’re tempted to neglect the deeper waters of shared experiences and face-to-face conversation. Very often the way we use technology leads away from, rather than in to, stronger friendships. We often trade deep communion for digital communication.

Technology can hinder friendship in four ways. First, it often depersonalizes communication. We use it to connect, but over time, we feel less, not more, connected. We use it to move closer, but we end up farther away. We trade conversations and experiences for details and updates. We’re more connected to more people more often than ever before, but many of our relationships become more superficial and less satisfying.

Second, technology can disengage us from real communion. Sometimes when we connect with people through technology, we disconnect from those who are sitting right around us. Friends sit across the table at a coffee shop and enjoy friendship, but not with each other—with the friends on the other end of their phones. Once when I visited a workplace, I stepped into a break room and saw six coworkers sitting around a lunch table. The room was silent. Five of them stared at their phones while the sixth looked at her food. She sat at the table with them, but she ate her lunch alone. Surrounded by peers, she had no one to talk to.

Third, technology disembodies conversation. When we engage in person, we experience our friends in unrepeatable and holistic ways. We notice her expressions, intuit her moods, and learn her quirks. Embodied friendship is full of dynamic, realtime, give-and-take interaction. In contrast, digital communication doesn’t demand much more than fingers to flit around a keyboard. This has a place of course, but it doesn’t match experiencing a person’s real presence. For me to see Dane’s head roll back and hear his laugh, to talk through personal challenges across the table with Taylor, to see the romance in Christina’s eyes, to sense the sincerity in Bill’s encouragement, or to pick up the witty humor in Trent’s tone—there is simply no digital equivalent.

Finally, technology creates dependence on less personal ways of addressing personal issues. Confessing sin and admitting failure, or on the other hand, addressing sin and confronting failure—each of these is challenging, and digital communication seems easier. We take time to craft a statement, and we don’t need to worry about immediate reactions. But then we soon prefer to replace a personal meeting with a phone call; a phone call with a voicemail; a voicemail with an email; and an email with a text. Each step smooths the path for the next. Soon we can hardly muster the courage to say anything difficult in person. And without the reassuring eye contact, gentle tone, and responsive clarifications, we often end up adding complications rather than clearing things up.

The Believer’s Hope in Death

Losing someone can be devastating. The hole left by a loved one’s physical absence from this world is deep; so deep, it feels like you may never be whole again.

For believers, death is not the last word, however. And knowing this can bring great hope to those nearing death and those they leave behind.

The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica to show them the hope believers have in death and the encouragement that follows:

13 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. 14 For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15 According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep.

16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.

(1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 NIV)

The hardest part about death is that it means separation. When a loved one dies, we are physically separated from them. But Paul tells us that one day there will be a place where that kind of separation does not exist.

Hopeful, Not Hopeless

Believers are to be hopeful about death, not hopeless. Paul says that believers shouldn’t grieve like the rest of mankind who have no hope.

If you believe this world is all there is, then death brings you nothing but sorrow. But if you believe this world is just the beginning of greater things to come, then that sorrow quickly turns to joy when you grasp the full reality the death is a coming home, a reunion with the God who made us.

Knowing this reality, believers should be hopeful, not hopeless, in the face of death. If we are to be hopeful, then what is it that we are to put our hope in?

The Coming Resurrection

Well, the second thing Paul tells us is that we will be resurrected just as Christ was resurrected. And this is where our hope rests.

The Lord Jesus Christ came to this earth in the form of a man. He spent 33 years here, was crucified, and buried. Then, three days later, that man Jesus rose from the dead, defeating death in the process.

Friends, we believe in a resurrected, living Jesus. Death did not have the final word for Him, and it will not have the final word for us.

It will not have the final word for us because, as Scripture tells us, we will be resurrected on the Day of the Lord just as Christ was resurrected after three days in the tomb. This will be a physical, bodily resurrection.

The Hope of Eternity

In the end, the decay and death we all face can do no eternal harm to the believer who will be brought back to life to live with Christ.

Paul tells us that we will be in that place with the Lord forever. Forever. 

Just think about that. Cities will rise and fall and nations will come and go, but believers will reign with Christ forever.

A resurrected person cannot die, so there is no death in sight. Christ was resurrected to life and we will be along with him, enjoying the eternal communion with Him that we were created for.

A Framework for Assessing and Applying Technology

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:

  1. Learn broadly
  2. Evaluate biblically
  3. Discuss communally
  4. Engage skeptically
  5. 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.

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.