Navigating Technology — Discussion Questions

The following is a list of discussion questions composed for a CrossWay Community Church small group, Christ & Culture, for use in March of 2019. It is based on chapters 2 and 4 of James K.A. Smith’s book You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit.


A Theology of Technology

Jim Samra, Mini Theology of Technology  (from Gen 1-11)

Definition (broad) — “Technology includes all tools, machines, utensils, weapons, instruments, housing, clothing, communicating and transporting devices and the skills by which we produce and use them.”

  1. Technology is possible because man is created in the image of God (Adam and Eve — see Gen 1:26-30 — bearing God’s image; having dominion over creation).
  2. Technology often hinders our ability to recognize our need for God and can be used to attempt to render God unnecessary (Cain — killing Abel, ch. 4).
  3. Technology can free us to sin by attempting to shield us from some of the consequences of sin (Lamech — murder — and Tubal-Cain — forger of bronze and iron instruments).
  4. Technology is used by God to rescue us, to help alleviate some of the consequences of the fall, and to help us worship God (Noah, e.g., the ark).
  5. Technology is inherently dangerous because it is the product of purposive human activity, and we need help from God in limiting its use (Tower of Babel).
  • Studying the cross as a form of technology led to my recognizing that technology is dangerous inasmuch as it is constantly tempting us to imagine a better life available to us through technology: to covet and to put our faith in technology rather than God. The cross is associated with the Jewish leaders coveting a world without Jesus (Luke 20:9-19) and their idolatry in embracing Caesar rather than God (John 19:13–16).

Questions for discussion:

  • What do you find helpful here?
  • Is there anything you are not sure you understand, or you think you might disagree with?
  • Which points do you see rooted in scripture? … How so?
  • How do you see these things playing out today in our world with today’s technology?

Tony Reinke, Core Theological Convictions on Technology

  1. God is the Innovator, the fountain of every innovation and innovator. Steve Jobs was a sub-creator, and any digital device he envisioned manifests God’s glory in new ways to us all. Technology opens new avenues to see God’s brilliance as technology and media serve as a key source in this world to feed our awe and wonder.
  2. Most of our key innovators are non-Christians. The history of innovation in Scripture manifests a rebellious self-sufficiency from Babel to Babel-on. It will be through rebellious Cain’s lineage God will introduce the world to metallurgy and music making (Gen. 4:21–22), innovations to later make Noah’s ark (metal tools) and temple worship (instruments). Innovation introduced to creation via fallen man produces technologies God’s people adopt and adapt in serving God and neighbors, vocationally and spiritually.
  3. Every human invention is made possible by existing natural resources and natural laws. Pre-ordained potentiality is the cause of every human innovation. One hundred lighting bolts hitting earth every second for millennia is the first cause of the digital age. Even our most advanced technologies (medicine, atomic energy) are in some way extracted from creation, the manifestation of potentialities God built inside creation.
  4. Having been the product of natural laws and natural resources, technology remains under the curse, expires, breaks, and fades away. But while operational, our best technologies steward creation, cultivate the earth, preserve nature, foster human community, augment (but not replace) human labor and fruitfulness, and fix broken biological processes.
  5. Scripture warns us explicitly against corrosive media (eye lust); and warns us equally in overindulging of non-sinful media (what the Psalmist calls “worthless things”). Even non-sinful media must be resisted through temperance and temporary fasts to give space for the soul to flourish in joy as it lives to God and neighbor.
  6. In a world of technological marvels and captivating media, Christians are left to discern beyond the potential and possible, to embrace the rare tech and media that can edify, a feedback loop of innovation and adoption (or temperance) that cannot be settled simply, cannot often get legislated, and will become increasingly personal and complexified in the near future.

Questions for discussion:

  • What stands out to you as the most helpful here? Maybe pick on thing that was particularly illuminating?
  • Is there anything here you are unsure of, or would want to think about further?
  • Do you see these points reflection in scripture? … Which ones?

Engaging Our Technological World

Resource: Alan Noble on Disruptive Witness

Summary / review:

Q: How would you summarize the thrust or main claims of Noble’s thought?

Q: What did you find helpful?

Alan Noble claims that one of the effects of our technological age is that we are more susceptible to and able to utilize distractions to numb us from things we don’t want to deal with.

Do you agree? What effect does this have on us? On our witness?

Theological considerations:

  • The gospel and Christianity, although timeless and at its core unchangeable, is nonetheless also adaptable to various contexts and circumstances (compare e.g., Paul’s speech in the Jewish synagogue in Antioch Pisidia in Acts 13 with his speech in Acts 17 at Athens). → How do we adapt to our technological age, while maintaining the same old Biblical gospel?
  • Biblical images of sin’s effect (blindness, slumber, slaves, etc.) make sense and give categories to our desire to be distracted from “life’s ultimate questions” and the confrontation of the gospel. As Paul says in Rom 1, in our sinfulness we “suppress the truth in our unrighteousness.” In other words, our sin inclines us to the distraction of which Noble speaks, and it is a moral / spiritual issue.
  • In Romans 12:2, Paul tells us that we, as believers, are not to be conformed to the world. As such, we have a duty to be vigilant about the ways culture may be negatively affecting us, and to resist (nonconformity).

Q: Can you think of any other Biblical material that helps inform or make sense of our inclination to use technology to distract and numb us from the gospel’s call?

  • The Bible claims that gospel the gospel is offensive and disruptive (e.g., 1 Peter 2:7-8; 1 Cor 1:18; 2 Cor 2:15-16). This both makes sense of why, in our sin, we want to numb and ignore it. But it also might help us consider how to present it in a distracted age.

Q: How might we utilize the gospel’s offensive nature to cut through the noise and (healthily and helpfully) disrupt nonbelievers?

Further discussion:

  • How we witness in our technological age?
    • How do our phones shape us? And how does this effect witnessing in our age?
    • In what ways does technology help and hurt our witness?
    • Alan Noble says that one of the best disruptive witnesses (i.e., ways to disrupt and open the door for the gospel) in our technological age is by our lives—the way we live. Do you agree? What do you think he means by this? How can the way we live our lives serve to disrupt those around us?
    • How do I share my testimony in a way that presents the Gospel as the truth and not one of many options?
    • How do we encourage people to ask and face uncomfortable questions?
    • What do you think being a disruptive witness looks like in your job/family/etc. context?
  • Utilizing a tool or perpetuating an evil system?
    • How do we reconcile the fact that human connection heavily relies on technology in the 21st century (like email, texts, etc.) with the idea in the talk that the Gospel may be shared more effectively through communication and reflection that does not rely on tech?
    • Can caring for our neighbors include things like communicating and reaching out via these new technologies (e.g., text message, social media, etc.), or are we in so doing unrightly perpetuating an unhealthy system?
  • Effect on relationships?
    • How does technology affect our relationships? Our ability to be with one another in community (e.g. Rom 12– weep with those who weep, and rejoice with those who rejoice)?
    • How does living in our technological, “smart phone” age affect that way we view and “do” church?
  • Diagnosis and self-assessment?
    • How do we ‘diagnose’ our hearts to know if we are using technology appropriately?
    • How do I know if I overuse technology? And, if so, what do I do about it?
    • What are things we can do to counteract or resist (be conscious of) any negative effect technology may have on us?

Engaging Technology Itself

Resource: Tony Reinke interview with Dan Darling

Theology of technology – What are some of the key principles and ideas involved in a biblical theology of technology?

Discussion:

Introductory discussion on technology and social media:

  • How do you think our smartphones affect us? Positive results of having smart phones? Negatives?
  • What are the pros and cons of social media?

How our phone use may reveal our hearts:

“In general, I think what the social media/smart phone age has done is it has brought every desire that you possibly have in your heart to a high-def screen right in front of you—whether that’s materialism, whether that’s pornography, whether that’s self-affirmation, whether that’s popularity—whatever it is that drives your heart is now presented to you in front your eyes. Essentially the desires of your heart are what pixelate your phone. The desires that you have inside of your heart are what you see on your screen. So it’s not as though [when we talk about our phones] we’re talking about this distant, separate thing—this appendage; it [our phone use] is actually a mirror into our deepest longings and desires. And I think what the digital age is doing is it’s showing us, if you do not have a settled affection for Jesus Christ and his beauty, you cannot resist the desires of your heart and the ease with which you’ll find sin in social media and through your phone. … We have to wrestle with this idea of, ‘How do we treasure God more … than these things?’” – Tony Reinke

    • What do you make of this quote? Do you agree? Disagree? What do you find helpful?
    • When we are in situations that we don’t like or find uncomfortable (e.g., bored; in an elevator with strangers), many of us often grab for our phones to distract or soothe. What does this say about us?

Technology and distraction vs. reflection: 

  • Scripture holds up the value of meditation, and it’s literature (e.g., Job, Psalms, Ecclesiastes, etc.) reflect the value of deep reflection. How does our technology inhibit this? Does it? And what are things we can do to try to correct this?

Technology and relationships / community:

  • What is a social media “echo chamber”? And how can the church help overcome this?
  • How can technology “buffer” us (i.e., create a barrier of protection between us and others, inhibiting getting to know the “real you”)? And how does this affect us as relational beings?
  • On social media, we can choose what we present of ourselves (we “broker” our public image). Sure, we can sharevulnerable things…ifwe choose. But even shows that we’re only vulnerable when we want to be (which kind of means were not). It’s “curated vulnerability.” // In person, in real-time, embodied, deeply invested relationships though, we are more truly vulnerable.
    • Do we have a need to be vulnerable? And is social media and technology hurting or helping this?
    • How can the church be solution to this problem?

Very practically…

  • Reinke stated used the category of “vocation” as a way to help us understand what use of technology looks like for each of us personally. What does he mean by “vocation”? And how does this help us think through our personaldecisions on technology use?
  • What are some practical things you do (or could do) to guard or be deliberate in you (and your family’s) use and restriction of technology?
  • The speed and convenience of technology often means that we find ourselves multi-tasking (even if we don’t intend to). What are the practical effects of this? And what can we do to address them, if needed?
  • Our new technologies often mean we are “immediately accessible” to others in ways we weren’t even just ten years ago (e.g., texting, email on our phone, phones in our pockets). Is this good? Bad? And what should we do about it?
  • Many of our favorite translations are now available to us on our phones; and so many of us use our phones for our Bibles. Very practically though, what are the pros and potential cons of using your phone for a Bible, or having your Bible accessible on your phone?