Jesus, Technology, and the Church

[Part III of my application for Candidacy in the PC(USA) Ordination Process]

In my personal statement of faith, I make an interesting word choice in describing the methodology of Christ:  I refer to him as “using the technology…of his day to convey God’s love and reign to all.” It may seem anachronistic to link Jesus and technology. But boats, roads, coins, bread, wine, and letters written in sand are all human technological developments, albeit ones that no longer impress us as much as contemporary machines, chemicals, and computers. Jesus did not hesitate to make use of them for the purposes of God. Likewise, the Confession of 1967 says that “the church calls every man1 to use his abilities, his possessions, and the fruits of technology as gifts entrusted to him by God for the maintenance of his family and the advancement of the common welfare” (9.46).

The nature and uses of technology are an important part of my identity and my sense of calling. But what does technology—specifically Jesus’ use of technology—suggest about God, humanity, and their interrelationships? It points to the incarnational nature of God. Not only did God become flesh (biology itself may be viewed as a divinely instituted form of technology) in order to dwell among us, but God also (through Jesus) used tools in order to communicate, teach, travel, and spread the Gospel message. If Christ’s incarnation in bodily form is an affirmation of our bodies and their “goodness” as part of God’s creation, then Christ’s use of technology is an affirmation of our propensity for tools and instruments—the synthesis of our God given minds and bodies with the resources God has placed at our disposal. Indeed, if all created things are from God, and inherently “good,” this must include technology and technological developments.

There is, however, another example of technology in the life of Christ: The cross upon which he was crucified was a horrific and powerful technological development in Roman execution methods. The wood of the cross, likely fashioned with the same tools, from the same trees that framed local homes and synagogues, reminds us that although all creation is good, humanity is broken and fallen. We take the gifts of God—technological and otherwise—and twist them to our own desires and selfish ends. In our use of technology, as with all things, we are dependent upon God’s mercy, forgiveness, and grace.

But the story doesn’t end there: The cruel technology of the cross became for Christians the very symbol (and the use of symbols for communication is a form of technology) of redemption. For two thousand years we have used our tools, instruments, and now even our digital technologies to replicate and reproduce the cross of Christ and raise it as a beacon (yet another technology) for the world to see and follow. My hope for ministry, reflected in my faith statement, is that when I—and we, the church—encounter new technologies, rather than resisting, denouncing, or ignoring them, we will affirm them as part of God’s creation and therefore inherently good, resist their uses for selfish and harmful ends (and resist those who use them in this way), and follow instead in the example of Christ, who used all technology (even the image of the sword!) to teach, to communicate, and to spread the Gospel.

 

1Were I to personally use the Confession of 1967 for teaching purposes, I would revise it to use language that addresses women as well as men. I presume this was the intention of the authors, and that our linguistic customs have changed since the time of its writing.


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