byFaith | 8.29.16
By Alan Dowd
Amid the constant
distractions generated by iPhones and tablets, the contrived urgency of
text-messaging, the selfie
narcissism of Facebook and Instagram, the torrent of Twitter tweets, and the
tidal wave of online pornography, it’s easy to dismiss today’s technologies as
beneath God’s purposes and out of bounds for His children.
But instead of
surrendering the new frontiers of technology to an unbelieving world, we should
follow the example set in scripture and use the technologies at our disposal
for Kingdom work—but wisely.
First things first: God’s people have always used technology to share His word, do their work
and change the world. Consider some of the highlights:
- Noah built a great seagoing ship to preserve the human
race, which means he lived out one of the main definitions of technology:
“a manner of accomplishing a task, especially using technical processes,
methods or knowledge.”
- David used a slingshot—the high-tech, stand-off weapon
of his time—to slay Goliath.
- Solomon used stonecutters, carpenters, silversmiths and
surveyors—the very best Israel had to offer in technology—to build
- Luke was a physician, doubtless with training in the
best Greek and Roman medicine of the day. The New Testament records times when Paul and
Luke—a preacher and a doctor—worked together to heal
- Paul relied on transportation technologies to travel
all around the Mediterranean. He drafted scores of letters and fired them
off to the Church. If he were in ministry today, he would be hopping on
planes, Skype-casting, tweeting and blogging.
- The Church and its enduring mission to carry the Good
News to the ends of the earth was transformed by the printing press—and
again by the telegraph and telephone, and again by radio and television,
and again by satellites and fax machines, and again by computers and the
In short, those
who went before us did not reject technology or refuse to take advantage of it
just because someone else misused it.
Technology is, in most
cases, amoral. From the most primitive tool of the ancients to the most sophisticated
computers of today, technology can be used for right or wrong purposes.
Consider websites like creativepastors.com and sermoncentral.com. The former sells sermons for $10; the latter serves as a
library for more than 120,000 sermons—searchable by
denomination, date, topic, passage and subject. Used in the right way, websites
like this are a miracle of the Information Age, allowing pastors to share
insights, teachers to plumb the depths of the human soul and explore the
heights of faith, and seekers to learn more about Jesus.
However, these websites are also breeding grounds for what’s been
called “pulpit plagiarism.”
Dr. L. Roy Taylor, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the PCA, reports that “With
the advent of the Internet, the sermons of ministers have become more
accessible both to ministers and anyone else who makes the effort to access
them. Modern communication technology makes research much easier than before.”
When that research
turns into cutting and pasting without attribution, the result is plagiarism, which is
stealing, which is something we shouldn’t do.
Of course, Taylor
notes that “the use of others’ sermons in whole or in part is nothing new.” He
points to Reformation-era England, when theologians—ahem—borrowed from
collections of old homilies.
What is new is
how easily sermons (or anything) can be plagiarized nowadays, thanks to Google
and the Internet. Given “the
accessibility of so much sermon material through the Internet,” as Pastor
Timothy Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City,observes, “the temptation to simply re-preach someone else’s sermon is very
that’s new, Taylor adds, is that “plagiarism is easier to detect because
preachers are not the only persons with access to Internet sermons.” Indeed, there
are scores of websites that scan for plagiarism.
is using the Internet to address this Internet-fueled problem: an online “Preacher's
Pledge” challenging pastors to “engage the Bible
in their sermon preparation and not simply short circuit the process with
someone else's study.”
Thanks to today’s digital technologies, there’s an endless stream of apps, websites and
podcasts believers and seekers can easily access, search and share.
Bible Gateway website offers 89
versions of the Bible in 42 different languages—English and Bulgarian, Chinese
and Tagalog, Arabic and Hebrew, Korean and Kiswahili. It provides audio
versions of the Bible for the visually impaired. Some 12 million people visit
the site every month. And best of all, this virtual library never shuts its
Websites like Our Daily Bread, byFaith and equip.org offer
resources for Christian living, witnessing, teaching and learning. An
old friend has been sending out ODB devotionals by email since the
mid-1990s—basically since most of us first heard about the Internet—to his
entire electronic address book. It would be virtually impossible for one person
to send a snail-mail letter to hundreds of people each and every day. But email
allows my friend to reach more people in a single day than Paul might have
reached his entire life, and God uses this to encourage His people.
As Dr. Dale Sims of Dallas Baptist University observes,
among the positives of today’s information technology is how it has “magnified
the voice of those preaching the gospel” and “increased the number of channels
of distribution of the gospel.” It also has “provided helps for the
encouragement, the strengthening and edification of the saints.”
Amen to that. I recently downloaded some of my pastor’s sermons,
which my church provides in podcast form, to help me get through a couple
flights. Hearing my pastor’s voice, while I flew threw a storm somewhere
between Indiana and Texas, calmed me and transported me back to my church home,
sitting next to my wife, listening to my pastor talk about our savior.
But this, too, is a double-edged sword. Being able to pick
and choose what to hear, being able to tailor and narrowcast the message, being
able to have the message delivered to me at a time of my choosing—these factors
can pull a believer away from community, away from the Church, away from the
Church attendance and
religious affiliation are declining. Some researchers have drawn a correlationbetween these trends and the tsunami of information technology, concluding that
“The increase in Internet use in the last two decades has caused a significant
drop in religious affiliation.”
George Barnawarned more than a decade ago that larger
numbers of people will come to rely upon the Internet “for their entire
spiritual experience.” Millions of Americans are dropping out of the physical
church in favor of what Barna calls the “cyber-church”—which lacks the touch and togetherness of real
The birth of the Church is recorded in the Book of Acts. Importantly, one
of the most common themes of Acts is togetherness, reminding us that we are the Body of Christ, not me—something to keep in mind in this age
of iPhones, myspace and iPads. The word “together” appears at least 25 times in
Acts. There’s a message in that for us: We are designed not to be the creators
and consumers of our own tailor-made versions of Christianity, but to be
connected to each other and to Christ. That means worshipping together.
You With Me?
Many of us use technology to share burdens and joys, prayers
The Pew Research Center has found that 38 percent of what it
labels “Religion Surfers” use email to send prayer requests. After 9/11, “41
percent of Internet users, many of whom had never considered themselves online
spiritual seekers, said they sent or received email prayer requests.” There are
entire Facebook pages and blogs focused on prayers for the sick, suffering and
lost—virtual communities that connect people from around the world. What a
blessing and inspiration.
limited to spiritual matters; it also applies to the nuts and bolts of everyday
life. The Sagamore Institute’s Center on Faith in Communities created the
Faith and Service Technical Education Network website (FASTEN) to provide
faith-based leaders with how-to guides, videos and other resources on planning,
funding, launching and sustaining service programs. The site enables clergy and
lay leaders to borrow from best practices implemented at other churches and
learn from one another.
These are examples, as Sims notes, of how information
technology “allows Christians to administer grace to a world that is distracted
and burdened, by using tools that people are familiar with and expect to see in
However, we, as individuals, must guard against the faux
community that can develop in these virtual meeting places. How many times have
we been at church or lunch or a family event—enjoying real community—only to be
distracted and pulled away by a text or Facebook post or tweet? In those cases,
real community—real connection—is supplanted by virtual community. And that
undermines real community, because it deprioritizes the people we are really
According to a 2008 study, in just a decade, the average
person’s attention span fell from 12 minutes to five minutes. This is evidence
of what scientists call “neuroplasticity”—the brain’s ability to adapt and
reorganize neurons based on inputs. In a sense, we are rewiring ourselves to
have shorter attention spans, to think about more things but with less depth,
to become less patient and more impulsive.
“Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram and the rest have made
impulsiveness a new social norm,” as author Lee Siegel laments. This is at odds
with what God asks of us and wants for us. We’re not supposed to be governed byimpulseor the tyranny of the moment. We’re supposed to reasonand abideand live
Church communities, too, must guard against misusing
technology or becoming slaves to technology.
“Because technology provides immediate information and
feedback,” Sims warns, “churches have begun to operate on a fad or poll
basis…Because our technical-driven culture requires efficiency, convenience and
entertainment, then the Church must provide that.” The result can be “a worship
experience of isolation and entertainment rather than one of reverence and
Indeed, today’s on-demand, narrowcast technologies streaming
to us at light speed condition us for instant answers, instant gratification,
instant solutions. But churches are not made to deliver instant solutions. Faith
is not about instant answers. It’s not about finding an app that satisfies and
serves me. It’s often about patient
waiting—and always about serving God.
Believers should never be afraid to use technology—it can help us reach the
lost and expand the Kingdom—but we should never put our faith in it.